Detroit, Michigan — About 703,000 Fiat Chrysler SUVs and minivans will have to go back to the shop to fix malfunctioning ignition switches that can cause the vehicles to stall unexpectedly.
Chrysler also is warning owners to remove everything but the ignition key from their key rings until repairs can be made. The switches can slip from the "run" to "off" position on bumpy roads, causing the engines to stall without warning. If that happens, it will knock out power steering and brakes, which can cause a crash.
It can also disable the air bags, according to documents posted Friday by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The recall, which is the second repair for many of the vehicles for the same problem, covers Dodge Journey SUVs as well as Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans from the 2008 through 2010 model years.
Chrysler says in the documents that it will replace the faulty switches, but the parts are now being manufactured and won't be available until at least April. Until then, the key rings should be cleared because swinging keys can help cause the switches to change position.
The problem is similar to one that forced General Motors Corp. to recall 2.6 million small cars last year. The GM switches caused crashes that killed at least 57 people and injured at least 104 others. GM has acknowledged knowing about the problem for a decade but failed to recall the cars until last year.
The safety agency began investigating the Chrysler vehicles in June of last year, after problems surfaced with the GM ignition switches. It closed the probe earlier this week, after Chrysler agreed to replace the switches, according to the documents. Chrysler and the safety agency received 89 consumer complaints about the switches with one accident report and no injuries, the documents stated.
"This situation is extremely dangerous, and if it has not caused any deaths yet as with the current GM ignition problem, it will," the owner of a 2010 Grand Caravan wrote in a complaint filed with NHTSA in March of last year. "Something needs to be done." People who complain to NHTSA are not identified in the agency's complaint database.
Fiat Chrysler U.S. spokesman Eric Mayne said about 196,000 minivans and Journeys from the 2010 model year were repaired under a 2011 recall that took care of the potential stalling problem. But those vehicles still had problems with the switches sticking.
The 2008 and 2009 vehicles, although recalled last year, didn't get any repairs and still have the potential for the ignitions to slip out of position, he said. All 703,000 minivans and SUVs will now get completely new switches made by a different manufacturer, according to the NHTSA documents.
Chrysler plans to start notifying owners to bring their vehicles in for repairs starting April 6.