Chrysler, feds probe dangerous stalling – USA TODAY
Chrysler Group says it is investigating complaints about an array of electronic glitches, including potentially dangerous engine stalling, that could afflict millions of its most-popular models.
Vehicles that could be involved include Chrysler and Dodge minivans, Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and Ram pickups made since the company adopted a new electronic control module in 2007.
Government safety regulators haven’t yet begun their own probe, and no recall has been announced for the vehicles.
The automaker’s disclosure came late Friday after a consumer group asked federal safety officials to investigate the potential fault, linked to an what Chrysler calls a Total Integrated Power Module, or TIPM.
Chrysler emphasized that it began its investigation before the complaint, without pinpointing when.
The company said, “Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed all applicable safety standards. However, in keeping with sound engineering practice, the Company is actively investigating customer complaints and retrieving components from the field for closer analysis.”
Complaints say a faulty TIPM can make electrical accessories, such as power windows and theft alarms, operate unexpectedly even when the ignition’s not on and neither the key nor the driver is in or near the car.
Some of the hundreds of complaints say the vehicles can quit running, leaving them stalled in dangerous traffic situations.
Stalling not only kills the engine but also shuts off power assist for steering and brakes, and — depending on a vehicle’s design — can disable airbags.
The Chrysler situation differs from General Motors cases of stalling that prompted a recall of 2.19 million 2003 – 2011 small cars in the U.S. — 2.6 million worldwide — in February and March. In those cases the ignition switch was operating normally, then inadvertently turned out of the “run” position, disabling airbags.
GM links 13 deaths in front-end crashes to the fault. It links another three fatalities to a similar problem in different models with different switches. GM recalled those June 30 — 6.44 million in the U.S., 7.2 million worldwide.
Despite the potential consequences of engine stalling, there’s not universal agreement that it is, on its own, a safety defect. GM in fact had been saying for years that stalling was an inconvenience, not a safety problem, because even without power assist, cars still can steering and stopped.
That was before GM knew that its cars disabled the airbags when the engine quit running.
Now, the automaker agrees with what appears to be a consensus on stalling. CEO Mary Barra told a House subcommittee in June, “Any time a car stalls now we consider it to be a safety issue.”
That’s significant, because once an automaker determines a vehicle has a safety problem, it must notify the goverrnment within five work days and begin a recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said late Friday it received the petition from the Center for Auto safety, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., and “is reviewing its merits, and will take appropriate action as necessary.”
If NHTSA decides the Center’s petition has merit, it will begin an investigation. That’s the first step in a process that can — but often doesn’t — lead to a recall.