Dangerous car shifters could put drivers at risk
Sandra Hermiston and Ross McLaughlin , CTV Vancouver
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017 6:00AM PST
They may look better, but new car shifters in automatic vehicles can be confusing and potentially dangerous. In fact, one of these new designs in the 2015 Jeep Cherokee may be to blame for hundreds of crashes, including the crash that killed Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, who ended up pinned underneath his vehicle in his driveway.
Carmakers say the new designs can set their models apart or offer a touch of luxury, but experts warn those new designs can be complicated and even counterintuitive.
“The problem with these unconventional gear selectors is that they make it hard to consistently pick the right gear, especially park. And worst case, that means the car could roll away,” said Tom Mutchler of Consumer Reports.
In a Mercedes Benz GLC, the shifter is a mono-stable electronic shifter, what that means is that no matter what position you’re in, it always returns to the centre, and that makes it hard to see what gear you’re in. Putting it into park is actually a small button at the end, which is completely blocked by the steering wheel.
Another problem: Since it's not immediately obvious whether the transmissions are in gear, neutral or park, on some models it's possible for the car to roll after the driver gets out. But some manufacturers have built in safeguards. Ford, Lincoln, Acura, Honda, and GM vehicles all automatically return to park if the door opens with the engine on, or if the engine is shut off in gear to prevent those roll-aways.
Consumer Reports believes so strongly that these confusing shifters can be dangerous, it now deducts points for cars that don't have built-in fail-safes that prevent roll away accidents.
So far, in Consumer Reports ratings, more than 50 cars had points deducted from their scores due to confusing shifters. Models from Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, and the Lexus CT200 have actually dropped their ratings enough to lose their recommendation.
And last year, Fiat Chrysler agreed to recall 1.1 million vehicles because of its confusing gear shifters in Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler vehicles.
If you already own a car with one of these shifters, it's recommended that you always double-check when it's in park, and use the emergency brake any time you are going to step out of the car.