Transmission problems continue to pester Jeep Cherokee owners with rough shifts, random drops into neutral, stalling, and other safety concerns in the six years since this crossover debuted, according to complaints logged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Fiat Chrysler is again recalling the 2014 Cherokee, its first model year on the KL platform, for defects with the ZF nine-speed automatic transmission after a 2016 recall that affected 329,540 cars—including four other models that used this transmission—for unexpectedly shifting into neutral. The new recall affects only 2014 Cherokee models with 3.2-liter V-6 engines. On these vehicles, FCA said a valve can stick and prevent a clutch from disengaging, which would then prompt the transmission to shift into neutral. More than 81,000 Cherokees are included. At least three out of every 100 cars in this population have undergone warranty work for the problem, FCA said. According to what NHTSA has posted separately, Jeep dealers will apply a software update starting in August.
But since the Cherokee went on sale in late 2013—after FCA delayed its launch by weeks to fix transmission calibration problems—the automaker has supplied Jeep dealers with no fewer than 11 separate software updates through 2016 intended to fix a multitude of transmission problems. Some of the updates were released by technical service bulletins in which customers first have to report a problem to their dealers in order to receive the fix. In other cases, FCA sent letters to Cherokee owners notifying them of software updates. They attempted to fix delayed downshifting, stuck gears, poor throttle response, surging, “busy” shift behavior, and rough coasting—the majority of which can be found reported in the more than 1500 powertrain complaintssubmitted by 2014 Jeep Cherokee owners to NHTSA as of June 25.
Software update after software update continued until February 2015, when FCA advised dealers to replace one of the clutches just weeks after it released a software update intended to stop a clutch ring from “dislodging,” according to filings on the NHTSA database. In this same month, while Jeep dealers were reportedly replacing more than a dozen transmissions a week, FCA recalled nearly 78,000 Chrysler 200 sedans for unrelated electrical problems that caused the same nine-speed automatic to shift into neutral. By March 2016, the problem became so widespread that FCA told dealers they could begin ordering replacement transmissions without receiving prior factory approval for repairs. In May 2016, FCA recalled the Chrysler 200 again for faulty parking pawls and rods that could cause the transmission to be in neutral when owners thought it was in park.
Owners of Jeep Renegade, Ram ProMaster City, Fiat 500X, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Evoque, Acura TLX, and Honda Pilot models with this same transmission have reported similar issues, with varying severity, over the same time period. When ZF issued a recall in August 2016 that included a majority of FCA cars—this was the original recall that affected 2014 and 2015 Cherokee models—the company blamed a bad crimp on a wiring harness that was causing these transmissions to shift into neutral. Despite ZF making a production line change to address this specific problem in July 2014, FCA continued releasing updates that did not appear to fix shift-quality problems. It even instructed dealers to train “Qualified Subjective Shift Quality Auditors” whose job is to drive customer vehicles and follow a lengthy procedure to calibrate the transmission’s adaptive learning software.
An FCA spokesman told C/D that a “running change” on transmission software for 2019 Cherokee models has resulted in about half as many reports of powertrain problems than the 2018 model, as referenced by the Cherokee’s scores in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. FCA did not cite whether or not Cherokee transmission warranty claims have similarly dropped. Newer models including the Honda Passport and Jaguar E-Pace also use this same transmission.
This story has been updated to reflect service letters that FCA sent to Cherokee owners and the automaker’s claimed improvements for the refreshed 2019 model.