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NHTSA Looks Into Jeep Transmission Inquiries

DETROIT, Nov 30 Reuters reported that Federal regulators said on Friday that they have found a rate of complaints about automatic transmissions of Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles far higher than in similar SUV models.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released additional information on its inquiry into complaints that the Jeep transmissions could shift from park to reverse on their own while the engine was idling.

NHTSA said it has compiled 865 complaints of the problem, including five deaths and 184 injuries. Earlier this month, the agency upgraded its investigation into the problem to an engineering analysis.

The Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG has maintained it has not found a mechanical cause for the complaints. NHTSA said the automaker told it most of the problems were probably caused by drivers getting out of the vehicle while it was idling.

Of 23 SUVs, the Grand Cherokee had the highest rate of complaints of transmission shifting from park to reverse per 100,000 registered vehicle years, according to data compiled by

Nhtsa.

The Jeep's rate, at 2.62, was four times greater than the nearest model, the Dodge Durango, and five times greater than the nearest non-DaimlerChrysler SUV. Ten of the SUVs had no complaints.

Earlier this month, NHTSA said its investigator was able to duplicate the problem on the Grand Cherokee, although an inspection of the test vehicle showed the automatic transmission linkage was properly adjusted and in good condition.

No park-to-reverse failures occurred during tests on a steep incline, but three failures occurred with the vehicle on flat ground, according to a summary of the investigation.

DaimlerChrysler said the government had gone to unusual lengths to replicate the problem, intentionally putting the shifter between park and reverse.

``DaimlerChrysler believes that the virtually universal 'causal or contributory factor' ... is the driver's decision to exit the vehicle with the engine running,'' NHTSA said in a statement. ``DaimlerChrysler is unaware of any vehicle design from any manufacturer that is not theoretically susceptible to unintended vehicle motion under these circumstances.''

DaimlerChrysler did not immediately return calls for comment.