Cars Roll While in Park? It’s More Common Than You Think

Despite safety technology that’s better than ever, there are recent reports of cars rolling while in park. If left unattended on some sort of hill, the parking brake may fail and release the vehicle. If that happens, there’s no telling the damage that can be done or the lives that can be lost from a driverless vehicle. Some of these recalls are old news, but if cars are so safe these days, how is this still a problem?

2016 Chrysler 300, Honda Civic, and Toyota Prius, cars that all can roll while in park
2016 Chrysler 300 (top), Honda Civic (bottom left), and Toyota Prius (bottom right)

2016 was an unfortunate year for recalled cars. In April, Fiat Chrysler recalled over 1.1 million vehicles, including 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s and 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees. Just six months later, Toyota recalled 340,000 of their newly designed 2016-2017 Priuses. And although the two cases had to do with runaway cars, one was a faulty part, the other was a plain user error.

The Toyota Priuses affected had a faulty parking brake that could snap if the handbrake was applied in any transmission mode other than Park. Certainly not something you’d want to happen, but few people would use the handbrake without first parking the car. Unless, of course, you’re doing J-turns in your Prius, which is pretty rad).

Meanwhile, the Fiat Chrysler cars had confusing, but functional shifters, which always returned to a central position. Driver’s would leave the car completely unaware that they hadn’t put it in park, meaning it could roll away in drive. When pressed by Jalopnik on the subject, the manufacturers of the ZF eight-speed shifter had this to say: “ZF delivered a fully functional state-of-the-art product, which was integrated into the vehicle architecture by the manufacturer”

But that’s not all for 2016, as Honda also got in on the action, or should I say class action, with faulty brakes in over 350,000 2016 Honda Civics. Rather than user or mechanical error, the Civics had faulty software in their Vehicle Stability Assist Electronic Control Units.

Porsche joined the party late, recalling 100,000 cars in 2019

2010 Porsche Panamera and Cayenne
2010 Porsche Panamera (top) and Cayenne (bottom) | Porsche

Three years later, in 2019, Porsche cherrypicked their lineup for 100,000 faulty cars that’d run away because the transmission disconnected from the gear lever. That meant the car wouldn’t be in park even if the driver shifted to park. Vehicles recalled ranged from 2003 to 2010 Porsche Cayennes and 2010 to 2016 Panameras. An odd age gap, but still a severe problem.

The point is that getting cars to stay in park is harder than it seems. Whether they’re electric glitches, mechanical failures, or morons are the cause depends on the car. Over the past five years, that adds up to 1.89 million cars recalled. But runaway vehicles are still a problem today, and not even Jeff Bezos is immune.

The most recent brake failures have appeared in Amazon delivery vans

Amazon Mercedes Sprinter Vans
Amazon Mercedes Sprinter Vans | Niall Carson via Getty Images

That’s right, the most recent reports of cars rolling while in park affect the Mercedes Sprinter vans, infamous for making up most of Amazon’s fleet. The issue has been known since 2019, but in March of this year, an Amazon employee reported the problem twice. That may have been the nail in the coffin before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had to get involved.

Mercedes is working closely with the NHTSA, which has just opened up an investigation. Meanwhile, Amazon has yet to comment. It’s important to note that Mercedes is taking swift action, even if there isn’t a total recall yet. Though if one does emerge, it could be massive. In 2019 alone, Mercedes sold almost 30,000 of them. And if the problem leaked into other model years, we’re looking at another 100,000 cars brought back to the shop.

Why parking brakes go so often is sometimes baffling, you’d think automakers would’ve figured out how to keep their cars in place. But thankfully, the older recalls have been addressed, and the present investigations are being taken very seriously. Who will be next to hop on the faulty brake bandwagon? Who knows. Just keep an eye on your car, even after you put it in park.

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