By The Associated Press
Federal safety regulators are investigating problems with the automatic shift levers on several General Motors Co. cars that have caused at least seven crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website Monday that the probe began with complaints about the Saturn Aura midsize car from the 2007 and 2008 model years, affecting nearly 89,000 vehicles.
But the agency said it is now checking to see if the problems extend to other GM vehicles. The Chevrolet Malibu from the 2004 to 2008 model years and the Pontiac G6 from the 2005 to 2008 model years have similar shifting systems, the agency said in documents filed on its website.
NHTSA said the protective jacket around cables connecting the floor shift lever to the transmission can deteriorate, exposing the cables to the elements. Cables can corrode and weaken, and the shift lever position may not match the car's gear. That means a driver could put the car in park but the transmission could be in drive or reverse. In some cases, the car may not shift at all.
The agency said it received three reports of crashes caused by the problem, while GM reported four, with one person hurt. In that crash, the driver put the gearshift in park, got out of the car, and was hit when the car unexpectedly rolled backward, NHTSA said in documents filed on its website. No details were given on whether the driver was seriously hurt.
In another case, a driver put the car in park, but the transmission stayed in reverse. "When the driver exited with the engine running, the vehicle continued (accelerated) in reverse and struck a building," NHTSA said.
GM told the agency that the problem affects mainly models with four-speed transmissions, but not six-speed transmissions.
Company spokesman Alan Adler said GM is cooperating in the investigation.
NHTSA said it has upgraded the investigation to an analysis that will check how many times the cables have failed, the consequences "and the scope of vehicles that may be affected, including the models, model years and transmission types."
An investigation doesn't necessarily mean that the vehicles will be recalled.