Regulators probing gear shift trouble with GM cars

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 received 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.

An investigation doesn’t necessarily mean that the vehicles will be recalled.

GM sold more than 815,000 Chevy Malibus in calendar years 2004 through 2008 and over 570,000 Pontiac G6 models from 2005 through 2008, according to Autodata Corp. and Ward’s AutoInfoBank. It’s unlikely that all of those cars will be covered by the investigation because they have several types of transmissions.

In March of 2009, GM recalled about 277,000 vehicles for a similar shift lever problem.

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