LOS ANGELES – A federal safety agency has opened an investigation into complaints that more than a million Jeep Grand Cherokees may have a safety problem that causes them to suddenly shift out of gear when in park position.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 48 complaints of what it calls "inadvertent rollaway in reverse" involving 1995 through 1999 model Grand Cherokees, according to agency officials.
No deaths have been reported, but the incidents have led to 32 crashes and 14 injuries, according to reports to the agency. Most of the incidents allegedly occurred while the sport utility vehicles were idling with the gearshift in the "park" position.
NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson said Wednesday that the investigation was opened late last Monday "because of an apparent problem with vehicles jumping out of park with or without the motors running."
Tyson confirmed that the agency had received complaints that included one incident involving a woman's leg being crushed and another in which a motorist was pinned against a pickup truck.
Other drivers have complained of Cherokees taking off on their own in parking lots or crossing roads and crashing into trees and buildings, according to the NHTSA files.
While not wanting to prejudge the case, Tyson said these incidents reflect enough of a trend to warrant an investigation. The preliminary probe covers 1.3 million 1995 through 1999 model vehicles. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is made by DaimlerChrysler.
"We've been through this same problem with another DaimlerChrysler product," said Tyson. "We did an investigation and recall of Dodge Dakota pickup trucks for the very same problem."
He said the Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Dakota pickup have similar transmissions.
The investigation was first reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Dominick Infante, safety spokesman for DaimlerChrysler, told the Times the company is cooperating. He said the vehicle has been redesigned, and models since 1999 have a different type of transmission.
"We don't believe there is an issue with the vehicle, but we will investigate," Infante said.