DETROIT » The ignition switch defects that engulfed General Motors are now a rapidly growing problem at Chrysler.
Chrysler said Tuesday it is recalling up to 792,300 older Jeep SUVs worldwide because the ignition switches could fall out of the "run" position, shutting off the engine and disabling air bags as well as power-assisted steering and braking. That’s the same problem that has forced GM to recall more than 15 million cars over the last six months.
Chrysler’s recall covers 2005-2007 Grand Cherokees and 2006-2007 Commanders. The company said it is not sure exactly how many will be recalled, but said it will notify customers by mid-September.
Chrysler said an outside force such as a driver’s knee can knock switches out of the "run" position. Engineers are working on a fix.
The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, said it knows of no related injuries and only one accident. But it said owners should keep clearance between their knees and keys until repairs are made.
Chrysler has now recalled more than 1.7 million vehicles for ignition-switch problems. In June, the company added 696,000 minivans and SUVs to a 2011 recall to fix faulty ignition switches. Those recalls covered Dodge Journey SUVs and Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan and Volkswagen Routan minivans — which Chrysler made for the German automaker — from the 2007 to 2010 model years.
Tuesday’s recall is the outgrowth of two investigations opened by U.S. safety regulators last month as part of a broader probe into ignition-switch and air-bag problems across the auto industry. The agency wouldn’t say Tuesday whether its investigation could lead to recalls at other automakers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in June that it was investigating Jeep Commanders and Grand Cherokees after getting 32 complaints that a driver’s knee can hit the key fob or key chain, causing the ignition switch to move out of position.
The federal investigation is still open. The agency said Tuesday that it is requesting additional information from Chrysler to ensure that its repairs will be effective.
The investigations and recalls come after GM bungled an ignition-switch recall of older small cars. GM acknowledged that it knew of the ignition problem for more than a decade but failed to recall the cars until earlier this year, when it recalled 2.6 million small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. Subsequent safety reviews caused GM to recall millions more vehicles for faulty switches.
"The GM Cobalt recall brought to light new information that NHTSA will use in the future to evaluate stalling issues," NHTSA said in a recent statement. "While there is no specific standard regarding ignition-switch torque and no standard regarding the amount of weight from key chains and keys that an ignition switch must be able to handle, NHTSA will continue to conduct research to determine additional improvements that can be made to the nation’s fleet."