I believe some car manufacturers design certain parts so they will fail. I don’t know this to be a fact. I don’t have proof. I don’t have statistics, but I have personal anecdotal evidence and suspicions based on the type of failures, the low risk consequences (manufacturer not likely to be sued for loss of life), and the design of the part. We have had two failures of this type on our 2007 Dodge Charger over the last 3 years.

The first failure caused the shifter, once in park to stay in park. The consequences of this was that my wife could not drive her car the morning she discovered it. The dealer wanted several hundred dollars to fix the problem so I did some looking around on the internet. Based on what I was seeing online, the actual part that I suspected of failing was a small pink plastic part that was part of shifter/brake lock mechanism inside the shifter mechanism on the console. What failed was a small fragile plastic hook on that part that a very strong metal spring was connected to it. Making this part from plastic was a bad design. I have no doubts about that and no qualms about saying that who ever made the decision to make that part from plastic had to know it would fail. These are people who design cars, they are professionals, and they aren’t amateurs or hobbyists. What I can’t prove is that this was intentionally done to sell replacement parts and bring simple profitable repairs into the dealership. What I will say is that I suspect it with every fiber of my being! Why am I so suspicious?

1. This is a part that fails often. In fact it fails so often that there is an after market part that is identical, except it is made from metal. If this failure was uncommon, there would be no market for this part.

2. The part is buried in a hard to get assembly that is not supposed to be opened that is inside the console which is difficult to remove also. The car manufacturer wants a person to give up without trying, and bring the car in for repair. Even though the replacement aftermarket part can be bought for less $20 , it is not easy to get to and most people will not try. These illustrated instructions show the parts and how to get to them. It takes some patience and finesse, but it was worth the satisfaction of not paying Dodge for the repair. Plus if you replace the part with the dealers assembly, the cheap, poorly designed part is right back in your car and could easily fail again.

3. It is very unlikely that a person will be put in danger by this part failing. If they happen to stop in a remote area, with no cell phone service, no passers-by, and nowhere to walk to, and it is freezing, it may be life threatening to be unable to put the car in gear and move. This is a very unlikely scenario. It likely fails to be a reason for a safety recall. The government is not likely to require the manufacturer to replace this part regardless of how badly it was designed.

4. It is likely that when this part fails the owner will not have the time or ability to fix this in any other way than buying a dealer part. I happened to get lucky because it failed in our driveway on a Saturday morning. If it had happened on a busy weekday we would have likely had the car towed to a repair shop. Even with time to do some research, and time to take the console apart to see if the suspect part was the culprit, I would likely have taken the car to a repair shop and had the dealers part installed, but there was a work-around to be able to temporarily get the car out of park.

The second failure did not happen as such a relaxed time, and even if it had, there was no temporary work-around. However, the failure fit the same profile and again aroused my suspicions. This issue occurred with the same 2007 Dodge Charger. We were on the way to the happiest place on Earth, and decided to stop for a bite to eat to avoid the high food prices at Disneyland for at least one meal. Unfortunately when I got back behind the wheel the car would not start. I knew immediately that this was not a normal dead battery, or failed engine part. The key turned to easily, and even when I removed the key, the car still thought it was in the ignition… the reminder to remove the key went “ding, ding, ding” even with the key out. Our plans were not flexible for Disneyland so we had to have the car towed to the dealer (on Sunday) and rent a car for a couple days while the repair could be completed. We had a great time at Disneyland (although we were hungry again by the time we got there).

Even though the dealer would be fixing this part, I would not help but do some research to see if this issue could be due to a poorly designed part. It fit the same profile for safety. If you can’t start the car it is not likely to be a safety issue except in the most unusual of situations. I was not surprised when I found that again there was an aftermarket fix for a part that is likely to fail. Because this part would have allowed the original key to work it would have saved hundreds of dollars in costs on the repair. Re-programing keys was a big part of the expense for this repair.

Is it possible that these were simply design mistakes? Yes, of course, but the possibility that these issues were mistakes does not overcome my suspicions. Car manufacturers make simple mistakes all the time. Cars are subject to failure due to wear and tear, that cannot be avoided, so this can not be proved short of finding a memo that describes the intent to do this intentionally. I don’t have a memo and have no idea if one exists.

Is it possible that these were tradeoffs to keep prices down in a very competitive market. Of course car designs have to compromise to keep prices down, and non-critical systems or subsystems are likely targets for cost cutting. I would have gladly paid $5 more for a car that did not eventually require a $700 repair, but not making any compromises would add up.

Although I would hope that car manufacturers track failures to learn from their mistakes, and to improve quality, I just can’t help letting the suspicions creep in that they have no interest in designing out these issues. The made money on the car sale, they did not and are not likely to be required to recall cars because of the two examples I gave, and the manufacturer and deal make money on the repairs. I’m not sure they even see an issue here… Of course, I’m very unlikely to buy another Dodge of any type! They have done everything necessary to be added to My List.

Have you had a similar experience with a Chrysler/Dodge product? How about some other car brand?

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