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Car and Driver: ZF Recalls Nine-Speed Automatic for Random Drops into Neutral


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ZF Nine-speed automatic transmission


After more than two years, thousands of warranty claims, and hundreds of owner complaints, transmission supplier ZF is finally issuing a recall to fix its nine-speed automatic.


The transmission can unexpectedly shift into neutral while driving due to an improper crimp on a wiring harness attached to the sensor cluster, which controls the “shift pattern and quality,” according to ZF. The manufacturing defect results in high electrical resistance that causes the transmission to shift into neutral. So far, ZF says this problem affects 505,000 cars in the United States, the majority of them sold by Fiat Chrysler. A software update will either prevent the random shift to neutral or give the driver “adequate warning” before the transmission does so anyway.




ZF is not recommending automakers make any physical repairs to the affected cars despite making a crimping change to its production line starting in July 2014. Reviewing the database on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, we found at least 895 owners complaining not just of sudden shifts to neutral but acceleration surges, rough shifts, hesitation to downshift, and even vehicles that rolled away in neutral or engaged drive after the owners claimed they had selected park. At least 10 related injuries have been reported to NHTSA, three of which involved drivers who claimed they were run over as they got out of their cars after selecting park.


When asked if it would fix these other reported problems, ZF deferred to the automakers.


“In this instance, ZF provided the necessary documentation to NHTSA to address a specific issue,” company spokesman Bryan Johnson said. “All other concerns and filings need to be addressed by our customers. It is ZF’s policy to refrain from speaking on their behalf.”


Current vehicles equipped with the ZF 9HP transmission include the 2014–2016 Jeep Cherokee, 2015–2016 Jeep Renegade, Chrysler 200, and Ram ProMaster City, 2016 Fiat 500X, 2014–2017 Range Rover Evoque, 2015–2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport, upper trims of the 2015–2016 Honda Pilot, and six-cylinder versions of the 2015–2017 Acura TLX. Other than FCA, no other automakers have issued a recall.




Problems with the ZF transmission surfaced first on the redesigned Jeep Cherokee in May 2014, months after FCA delayed the new vehicle’s launch by several weeks to recalibrate the transmission software. At that time, a dozen owners reported vehicles shifting into neutral and poor shift quality. By February 2015—when FCA recalled nearly 78,000 Chrysler 200 sedans for apparently unrelated electrical problems that caused the same transmission to shift into neutral—more than 120 transmission complaints were registered with NHTSA on the 2014 Cherokee. A second recall involving the Chrysler 200 this past May cited faulty parking pawls and rods within the transmission for causing roll-aways. Nearly 4000 warranty claims have been submitted to FCA through June 30 of this year, according to the automaker.


To date, there are at least 661 complaints regarding the Cherokee’s transmission problems and more than 130 complaints on the Chrysler 200. Of the 10 total injuries reported to NHTSA related to this transmission, nine injuries have occurred in FCA models. FCA dealers—as well as Honda and Land Rover dealers—have continued to update the transmission software and replace entire transmissions to no avail, according to complaints. FCA is only recalling models up to the 2015 model year (412,855 in total), despite at least 16 more owner complaints on 2016 models. Another 10 complaints on 2016 Honda Pilot and Acura TLX models have also been logged.


ZF and FCA are also under fire—including a NHTSA investigation into the death of actor Anton Yelchin—for the design of an eight-speed automatic shifter on several late-model Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge models. FCA has begun to recall the 811,000 cars to apply a software update to those models.


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