Progression is a trait that humans have displayed since time immemorial—ever since we started building fires and drawing on caves, we’ve proven that we can do things that no other species on this planet can. It certainly wasn’t the plankton in the ocean that built the Panama Canal.
Yet, for some reason, some of us cannot figure out how to put a vehicle with an automatic transmission into “PARK”.
This isn’t a sarcastic slight at the public’s level of intelligence. This is a well-documented problem in the automotive world, unfortunately. Worse still, lives have been lost as a result. Most of these failures have been linked to strangely-designed gear selectors that drivers just can’t seem to figure out.
In all fairness, the most notorious design is legitimately stupid. From my own experience, I can personally tell you that the ratcheting “T-grip” shifter is about as awkward as “dipping your pen in the company ink.” It’s not a design that makes any sense to me. You tilt the gear lever down from Park to Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Sport mode; and you tilt it up to put it back into Park. The key difference between this and a normal gear lever is that it returns to centre by ratcheting into a rest position. Because of this, you can’t rely on tactile feedback to tell you what gear you are in. You have to check the instrument cluster and/or the indicator on the shifter itself.
I admit that that ratcheting T-grip shifter wasn’t very good at all. In fact, I believe that it may have a role in the death of rising Hollywood star Anton Yelchin, who died after being run over by his own 2016 Grand Cherokee. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to introduce a safety fix—after the recall issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA), FCA implemented failsafes that would keep a vehicle from rolling away even if the driver did not put it into Park. To FCA’s credit, they did this even though there was never, in any case, evidence of the shifter itself actually failing.
Better still, Jeep decided to put in a conventional shifter (shown above) for 2017 models. It does the same job, takes up the same amount of space, and is more elegant than the T-grip. Most importantly, though, you’ll know when you are in Park by feel. Why wouldn’t they have just done this in the first place? Who knows, but you would think that this proves that FCA knows when they’ve made a mistake.
But not every new gear shifting mechanism is stupid. I’ve actually held the controversial opinion that the infamous “Ram knob” is a smart piece of design. By getting rid of a console shifter (something that I think should never be in a truck to begin with), you make it possible to have either a large centre storage area or a bench seat. You also have somewhat of a tactile cue to let you know what gear you are in. And FCA apparently agrees with me. As a result, the rotary gear selector is making its way into more of the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep lineup.
So, when NHTSA recently announced an investigation into a series of rollaway incidents involving Ram trucks, I was annoyed but unsurprised. A lot of people seem to hate the Ram knob, and I don’t know why. When electronically-controlled 4WD switches came out, about the only bad thing about them that I could think of was that it wouldn’t let you purposefully sabotage your transfer case (and your life) by shifting it into low-range while on the highway.
However, the knob-Luddites have a fairly trivial answer—one could say that FCA might as well just go back to the old-school steering column shifter. While I don’t think that’s a bad idea, it hardly means the knob is dangerous. In fact, if you’re responsible, neither is the T-grip.
Speaking of responsibility, do you know who’s responsible for putting the car in Park?
That’s right, barring mechanical failure, it’s the driver. If you possess a driver’s licence, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. You are in care and control of your vehicle when you are behind the wheel. You are responsible for understanding how your vehicle’s controls work. You are responsible for securing your vehicle when you park it. As an owner of a truck that can be started, in gear, with the clutch all the way out, “design flaws” are not an acceptable defense for your vehicle getting away on you. It’s not overly hard to put the clutch in, shift into neutral, or both; so why does the government need to get involved when someone doesn’t put their automatic-transmission car into Park?
I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who died or was injured as a direct result of FCA vehicles fitted with, what I frankly consider to be needlessly awkward gear selectors. But that doesn’t change the fact that they were negligent. They should have been more careful. And, while FCA definitely didn’t do anyone any favours by putting in that stupid ratcheting shifter, it ultimately did what it was designed to do. Speaking from experience, it’s not hard to get the hang of it, but you always have to be careful.
But blaming rotary gear selectors for roll-away incidents is, in no uncertain terms, frivolous. Using a dial to control something isn’t a foreign concept to most of us. In fact, if you’re going to do away with a lever, using a dial is probably the next-most intuitive switch for an automatic gearbox. Until we start exercising more personal responsibility, though, FCA’s lawyers are going to be in for another big payday…
This content was originally posted by a Car Throttle user on our Community platform and was not commissioned or created by the CT editorial team.
Well if you even can’t put a car into park or use the e-brake to keep it stationary…..well Darwin is at work there. But sad thing is that most likely the guy who forgot it is not the only one to pay the price.
Most of these are actually now programmed so that the electronic e-brake automatically kicks in when the vehicle shuts off in gear and the driver’s door is open
MattKimberley I think you might like this one…
Negligent or not, I am absolutely in favor of banning ratchet / return-to-center selectors. The lack of feedback is stupid and shouldn’t be allowed. It’s not even just putting in park. Recently I was with my family and our car was in the middle of our gate and somehow it started closing on us. My mom panicked, tried putting it in D but forgot to press the little unlock button so it didn’t work and the car revved in neutral, then she did press the unlock button but thanks to having the RPMs raised up the computer blocked the change. The result of this is a gate f—king our fenders.
Although I got super pissed at her at the time, I must understand that my mom’s aged reflexes aren’t the same as mine, and in her mind, in that moment of panick, she did move the selector to D! If it was an old style selector like I have in my personal older vehicle, you wouldn’t be getting it out of its position without actually changing something. That’s feedback: you know what you’re doing without having to pay attention to details such as a little indicator LED on the knob.
I do find the rotating knob complaints stupid, though.
damn. that’s a long comment
Fixed it, thanks!
I wrote a post like this not too long ago (my dad has the knob shifter in two of his trucks) because I know how easy these shifters are to use. Heck, I can use them without an issue. People are ignorant, and Chrysler takes the fall, like fat people trying to sue McDonald’s.
Yes looking at something to see what position it is in sure is difficult.
Or perhaps those idiots should all learn to drive a stick shift car.
Honestly, the rotary gear changer in the ‘16 Durango R/T was probably my most favourite gear selector of any other automatic vehicle. It was simple, minimal, and had a very solid feel as you switched gears. Add to that, it stayed out of the way.
Here’s an idea, no matter what gearbox your car has, use the bloody handbrake!!!
Nobody uses handbrakes in automatics. There is literally no point to them if the vehicle is in Park, with a parking pawl locking the transmission and wheels.
my dad has a grand cherokee, and hates the shifter. lol
Manual is always better, especially because you can get a pokeball shifter.
In theory, a CVT is the fastest way to accelerate because the car can be constantly at peak power and there’s no delay when changing ratios.
Besides, you can put Pokéball shifters on anything if you try hard enough.