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NHTSA Probing Chrysler Models for Ignition Switch Issues

June 19, 2014

Photo of 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan courtesy of Chrysler Group.
Photo of 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan courtesy of Chrysler Group.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported it has begun investigating consumer complaints alleging that some Chrysler models have ignition switches that can inadvertently move out of the “run” position – a defect similar to the one that triggered General Motors’ Chevrolet Cobalt recall.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation on June 16 launched two separate probes that will determine whether any recalls are warranted. A critical finding will be whether any identified ignition switch defect can result in unintentional air bag deactivation. At stake is the potential recall of more than 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles.

One investigation will focus on 2008-2010 model-year Dodge Journey, Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country vehicles. Consumer complaints allege that the ignition key can inadvertently rotate from the “run” position to the “ACC” (accessories) position.

In 2011, Chrysler recalled Dodge Journey, Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country vehicles in the 2010 model year to address the issue. But NHTSA said the agency has received similar complaints tied to 2008 and 2009 models. What’s more, some owners of the 2010 models that received the 2011 recall remedy have filed complaints alleging that the problem still persists.

NHTSA has received 23 complaints tied to the alleged ignition switch problem in these vehicles. 

When the driver first starts the vehicle, the ignition key is released from the “start” position and a spring force rotates the key back to the “run” position, according to Chrysler. But in some instances, the switch may move too far, leaving the ignition key between the “run” and “ACC” positions. In this intermediate mode, the switch might move to the ACC position if the ignition key is jostled in some way – typically because of rough road conditions or making contact with the driver’s leg. Such a scenario poses the risk of unintentional air bag deactivation.

Any recall arising from the probe results would affect an estimated 700,000 vehicles.

The second investigation involves 2006-2007 Jeep Commander and 2005-2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles. Vehicle owners have filed complaints alleging that after they accidentally bumped the ignition key fob or chain with a knee, the ignition switch turned to the “off” or “ACC” position. As a result, the engine shut off and the power steering and brakes were affected.

This investigation will evaluate the scope, frequency and consequence of the alleged defect, NHTSA said. The probe will also determine whether the vehicles are at risk for inadvertent air bag deactivation. A recall would affect an estimated 525,000 vehicles. NHTSA has received 32 complaints alleging this ignition switch problem in these vehicles.

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