(Updates with Chrysler comment in the fifth paragraph.)
May 23 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators are looking into whether there may be a new ignition-switch defect, this one involving older Dodge Ram pickups made by Chrysler Group LLC.
There have been three reports of the pickup trucks starting without the clutch being engaged. In an incident that occurred Aug. 25, a young child got into a cab, started the vehicle and struck another child resulting in a death, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today.
The reliability of key ignitions has become a focus of regulatory review following General Motors Co.’s recall this year of 2.59 million cars to correct a flaw in which switches could slip out of the “on” position while driving. NHTSA has logged more than 18,000 complaints industrywide about key ignitions, according to a Bloomberg News analysis.
The Dodge investigation involves about 110,000 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks from model years 2004-2006. NHTSA formally opened the case on May 19, the agency said.
Chrysler, owned by Fiat SpA, said it’s cooperating fully.
“Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed all applicable safety mandates,” the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company said in an e-mailed statement. “Customers who have concerns about the way their vehicles are currently performing should contact their dealers. As with any vehicle, do not leave it unattended with the key in the ignition and follow correct operating procedures.”
In one of the Dodge Ram incidents, the truck’s interlock safety switch was original and hadn’t been tampered with; tests showed the switch to be defective, according to the complaint posted on NHTSA’s website. In another incident, a truck started as a person was working on it. The person was knocked to the ground but not injured.
The owner complaints aren’t unique to Dodge pickups. Automakers have recalled about 21 million vehicles for issues related to the keyed ignition switch, including more than 8.8 million from Ford Motor Co., 5.5 million from GM, 3.5 million from Honda Motor Co. and 1.6 million from Chrysler and its predecessors.
The level of complaints has raised calls to speed up the transition to push-button starters, which send electronic signals to the engines and have few moving parts. The button only works if the driver brings a small remote unit -- like a keyless fob that also locks and unlocks the doors -- into the vehicle.
Push-button start, which showed up in Mercedes models in the late 1990s, is now an option in 72 percent of 2014 cars and trucks in the U.S., according to Edmunds.com.