Turd of the Week: Transmission Failures, Engine Troubles and More!

Car Talk Car Complaints

Car Talk Car Complaints | Oct 19, 2015

By Jim Travers

Not all Chrysler 200s end up in rental fleets. We know this, because our pals over at Carcomplaints.com have been hearing from a bunch of unhappy owners who probably wish they had rented one instead.

Transmission problems and failures are on their way to becoming epidemic, and complaints of engines shutting off at the worst possible times - like when crossing a busy intersection or traveling on a crowded highway at 70 mph - are also on the rise.

In fact, in the wake of a 2015 redesign, a regular smorgasbord of problems with both four- and six-cylinder versions of the 200 are on their way to topping the charts on the Car Complaints hit parade.

“This vehicle has had so many issues that it is worse than a used car,” writes Izzya of Linden, NJ. “My first issue was so bad that I had to leave it at the dealer for 30 days until they figured out what was wrong. Every few months there is a new different problem -  suspension, electrical, computer software…Just last month I received the computer software recall update letter. Once it was updated, my navigation did not work for three weeks.”

And, as they say in Linden, Izzya alone? Sadly, the answer is no.

But even with such an assortment of problems, transmission complaints stand out at Car Complaints enough to warrant their own category. Owners report erratic shifting, clunks and noises, warning lights coming on, or complete failure.

The 200 uses a transmission developed by German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG. The world’s first nine-speed automatic, it was introduced with promises of up to 16 percent improvements in fuel economy compared with a six-speed automatic. Also found in models from Acura, Honda, Jeep, Range Rover, and others, the gearbox has been problematic from the start. Automakers - including Chrysler - have made multiple software updates.

But it is Chrysler 200 owners who have had the most complaints, some of whom have had more opportunities to sample car dealer coffee than anybody should have to.

“This is at least the seventh time the car has been in for a transmission problem within the past two months,” wrote William S. of Hollywood, FL. With less than 14,000 miles on his 200, he’s had enough. “They need to replace the total transmission, not just parts.”

Misty M. of Alabaster, AL, has a similar story, with a complete transmission failure after two months, 7,500 miles, and just one car payment. “We were informed there was a five-week back-log on transmissions,” she said. “I made my second payment, don’t even have my car, and I’m being told that I'm twelfth in line.”

Missy sums it up by saying, “I have lost all confidence in the dependability and safety of the Chrysler 200C, and I am one very unsatisfied Chrysler Customer.”

We contacted a Chrysler representative to see if the company is aware of the transmission complaints, and if a recall might be in the works. Here’s what he said in an email.

“FCA (Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles) U.S. has proactively worked to improve the powertrain’s responsiveness and shift-smoothness based on customer feedback since introducing the nine-speed transmission. The company has introduced both software and hardware refinements for the powertrain.”

Chrysler says they've made some changes to the 2016, pictured. (FCA Photo)

He goes on to say that Chrysler has made more changes to the transmission for 2016 models, and that, “There are no pending or current recalls related to the nine-speed automatic transmission in the 2015 Chrysler 200.”

Hopefully, they’ll change their mind about that. We’re guessing that William, Misty, and a bunch of other owners feel the same way.

Updated, October 23:
Since we went to press, Consumer Reports has released their annual reliability data, which confirms our diagnosis.

“We’ve seen a number of brands struggle with new transmission technology,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ Director of Automotive Testing. “Whether it’s a complex system such as a dual-clutch gearbox, a continuously variable transmission, or one with eight or nine speeds. Many vehicles require repair and replacements because of rough shifting among the gears and slipping CVT belts.”

You can read the rest of the press release here.

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