• Possible Design Defect in Automatic Shifters
  • July 10, 2017
  • If you have been in the market for a car in the past few years, you may have noticed that the automatic transmission lever in many vehicles does not look the same as in earlier models. Technological advances have led to many auto-designers electing to install “e-shifters” instead of the usual gear-shift. The problem is that many drivers do not find the new e-shifters or monostable shifters intuitive, suggesting a possible design defect. This increases the risk of car accidents and injuries when drivers put their car into the wrong gear, or rollaways after a driver thinks they have safely parked their vehicle.

    The traditional automatic transmission shifter uses a series of positions where the shifter can be inserted. Once situated at “R” for reverse, “N” for neutral, or one of the other gear positions, the lever does not move. The new monostable shifters have only three positions—front, middle, and back. In the middle, they are at rest. To move through the different gears, one must either move up a given number of times, or move back down. But the shifter always returns to the neutral middle position, making it impossible to tell what gear you are in by looking at the stick.

    Dangers Incite Recalls

    BMW was an early adopter of unusual shifter designs in the early 2000s. Since then, other manufacturers have also made alterations to their design. An indicator of just how dangerous the new automatic shifters are, in April of 2016, there was a major recall. Chrysler had added the unusual shifters to some of their cars beginning in 2012. The company is now voluntarily recalling those cars to make them safer, and have changed current models to address the problem. The recalls began after 41 people were reportedly injured by the product as a result of the unusual shifter design.

    According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 100 car accidents were caused when cars rolled away after the owners thought they were in park. A famous actor was fatally injured in June of 2016 after his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled into him. Although some models have built-in safeguards to prevent these types of accidents, not all makes and models feature that technology.

    Car Buyers Beware

    Even Consumer Reports has taken note, deducting points from a vehicle’s Overall Score if it is found to have a shifter that is confusing or difficult to operate. Additional points are deducted if a shifter does not automatically return to park or engage the parking brake when the engine is shut off, or when the driver’s door is opened with the engine running.

    Prospective buyers should look for a car with either a traditional shifter or safeguards that reduce the risk of rollaways or slipped gears. It is best if you can see what gear the car is in just by looking at the shifter. Opening the driver’s door should result in an e-shifter automatically going into park. Some models (such as Mercedes Benz) put the car in neutral instead of park when the door is opened, and these vehicles can still cause rollaway accidents and injuries.

    New Jersey Product Liability Lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow & McElroy, LLP Advocate for Those Harmed by a Design Defect
    If you or someone you love has been injured as a result of a confusing or defective e-shifter, we can help. With offices located in Edison, Red Bank, and Toms River, we serve victims of auto defects throughout New Jersey. To learn more, call the experienced New Jersey product liability lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow & McElroy, LLP today at 732-777-0100 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.