US safety agency closes probe into Dodge and Ram rotary gear shifters without seeking a recall

U.S. auto safety regulators won’t order a recall after a seven-year investigation into complaints that Dodge and Ram vehicles can roll away after being put in park.

The problem was similar to the one blamed for the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, although the company was in the process of recalling its 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee to address the issue.

The investigation, opened in December 2016, covered nearly 1.3 million Ram 1500 pickup trucks from model years 2013 through 2017, as well as 2014 through 2017 Dodge Durango SUVs.

These involved electronic, rotary gear selectors which were new at the time and different from previous mechanical shifters that used a lever to select gears. The knobs are turned to the left or right and have catches that click into the gear.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in documents posted on its website Monday that it and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, had received nearly 1,500 complaints that the vehicles would roll after drivers put them in park.

But the agency said it found no evidence that a design or manufacturing defect caused the rollover incidents. In addition, Fiat Chrysler conducted a “customer satisfaction campaign” to update its software so that the vehicles automatically go into park when the driver’s door is opened.

The agency said it monitored vehicles that received the update and found that the service campaign was “effective in reducing the frequency of rollover incidents in the affected vehicles.”

Researchers also analyzed reports that the vehicles had driven away even after the software update, but found no “actionable defect” causing the problems. The agency also said that after the service campaign, customer complaints have decreased significantly.

“Given the absence of an identified safety defect based on available information and FCA’s customer satisfaction campaign addressing the failure mode, further action is not warranted at this time,” the agency wrote.

Yelchin, 27, known for his role as Chekov in the Star Trek film series, died in June 2016 after his Jeep pinned him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his Los Angeles home.

His Grand Cherokee SUV was among a group of vehicles recalled due to complaints from drivers who had difficulty determining whether they had placed the console-mounted shift levers in park after stopping. Many reported that the vehicles sped off after the driver got out.

The Grand Cherokee’s shift levers, like Yelchin’s, had to be pushed forward or backward to change gears, confusing many drivers. During the recall, Fiat Chrysler changed the software so that the vehicles automatically go into park when the driver’s door is opened.