Back in June, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles faced a problem with its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. One so significant, in fact, that it briefly stopped production of the vehicle. After recalling all models sold to date to replace faulty inverter diodes, production resumed, ending the problem of hybrid minivans suddenly going dark while underway.
The Pacifica Hybrid’s electrical gremlin appears slayed, but there’s no such luck with the gasoline-only version. Public safety advocates are raising their collective voice following multiple complaints of 2017 Pacificas behaving possessed while on the road.
As of this writing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has logged 105 complaints about the model, many stemming from unexplained shutdowns that took drivers by surprise (and left their vehicles in traffic, dead in the water).
Each account varies, but most involve claims of the vehicle’s engine shutting off and the gauges and touchscreen going dark. The circumstances are equally varied — drivers report the shutdown occurring at low speeds, while braking, while stopped, and while cruising at highway speeds. The driver is then unable to accelerate, with power steering and brake functions compromised. In some cases, the instrument cluster displays a message urging the driver to shift into park and press the ignition button (which sometimes remedies the situation), which requires the driver to first come to a complete stop. In one case, a 12-day-old vehicle with 400 miles on the odometer required towing to a dealer’s service bay. Others affected vehicles show lower mileage.
Some of the complaints involve a sensation of the transmission slipping out of gear, hampering acceleration, with the gearbox then re-engaging with a lurch.
Not surprisingly, the Center for Auto Safety is now urging the NHTSA to open an investigation “to determine that this dangerous defect requires a recall by Chrysler.” The safety group’s media release highlights the family nature of the Pacifica, perhaps to an excessive degree (most vehicles are family vehicles). At this moment, it seems FCA has not yet identified a cause.
“Chrysler claims it has not identified the source of the failure and instead of removing the vehicles from the nation’s highways this holiday season, it has asked owners to continue driving the defective vehicles,” the group stated. One owner tracked down by the Center for Auto Safety is Adam Cohen, who claims his 2017 Pacifica shut down twice while on the road. He states that while FCA has not yet discovered the source of the problem, the automaker would not provide him with a loaner vehicle.
The automaker “has instead asked my family to continue driving the car with a data recorder
attached to help Chrysler figure it out,” he said, adding that the idea of serving as a “guinea pig” was not a pleasing one. Cohen is a co-signer of the group’s petition to the NHTSA.
Of course, automakers do not order recalls (nor does the NHTSA) until the issue — like the Pacifica Hybrid’s — is discovered, and a remedy agreed upon. The NHTSA has not announced an investigation at this time. Usually, the agency lets the automaker investigate, stepping in if necessary.
Still, safety advocates aren’t waiting around for FCA to pinpoint the cause. “Just as it is not necessary for Chrysler to identify the exact cause of the defect before it provides its owners loaner vehicles for their safety, NHTSA should not wait for a body count to exercise its authority under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act to ensure consumer safety,” the group said.
For its part, the automaker claims the issue is being examined, and complaints read. In its correspondence with The New York Times, FCA said it has not found information that points to the specific problem. Eric Mayne, FCA spokesman in charge of engineering, safety and regulatory affairs, stated that the minivan’s airbags and seatbelt tensioners are not compromised by an engine shutoff
The company “is unaware of any injuries or accidents associated with these complaints,” he added.
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]