5 On Your Side

New gear shifters have function taking a back seat to style

Posted April 3

Many drivers of new cars are being surprised by a complicated new feature that has function taking a back seat to style.

Car makers are adding stylish shifters that might look better, but Consumer Reports said many are confusing and potentially dangerous.

There’s usually nothing to shifting a car with an automatic transmission. For decades, they’ve had straightforward shifters, but some newer cars have ones that look or function differently.

Carmakers said the new designs can set models apart or offer a touch of luxury, but Consumer Reports warn many are complicated and even counterintuitive.

“The problem with these unconventional gear selectors is that they make it hard to consistently pick the right gear, especially park. And, worst case, that means the car could roll away,” said Tom Mutchler with Consumer Reports.

Since it’s not immediately obvious whether the transmission is in gear, neutral or park on some models, it is possible for the car to roll away after the driver gets out.

Some manufacturers have built in safeguards. Ford, Lincoln, Acura, Honda and GM all automatically return to park if the door opens with the engine on or if the engine is shut off while the transmission is in gear to prevent rolling.

Jake Fisher with Consumer Reports said one of the problem cars is the Mercedes Benz GLC, which features a mono-stable electronic shifter.

“What that means is that no matter what position you’re in, it always returns to the center, makes it hard to see what gear you’re in. And putting it into park is actually this small button at the end, which is completely blocked by the steering wheel,” he said.

Consumer Reports believes so strongly that the confusing shifters can be dangerous that it now deducts points in its reviews of cars that don’t have built in fail-safes to prevent roll away accidents.

So far, Consumer Reports deducted points from the scores of more than 50 cars because of the confusing shifters. In some cases, vehicles actually lost their “recommended” rating.


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  • Steve Morgan Apr 6, 9:00 p.m.
    user avatar

    Another case of dumb people trying to drive smart cars

  • John Kramer Apr 4, 6:23 a.m.
    user avatar

    Seriously? Get real, consumer reports.

    Maybe you should set your parking brake. That is why they call it a parking brake!

    If they bothered to read the owner's manual they would discover that it is recommended in there. Consumer reports fails again!