Freaky Friday: When Your Free Jeep Cherokee Recall Costs $24,000

Lucky is the new car buyer who isn’t saddled with a trip to the dealer for recall work within the first few years of ownership. The modern age provides us with a great many wonderful things — avocadoes year-round, transmission cogs we can count on all 10 fingers, UberEATS — but it hasn’t turned the average vehicle into a paragon of reliability.

Last year, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles issued a recall for 323,400 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokees, as well as 2015 Renegades, Chrysler 200s, and Ram ProMasters. FCA threw the 2018 Fiat 500X in there for good measure. The problem stemmed from the automaker’s finicky nine-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to insufficient crimps in the transmission sensor cluster’s wire harness (and the subsequent trouble code sent to the vehicle’s diagnostic system), some owners suddenly found their Jeep, Chrysler or Ram coasting along in neutral — a default position — instead of drive. Can’t have that.

The recall — a minor fix — didn’t seem like a big deal. The vehicles would normally be drivable (for a time, anyway) after the engine was shut off and turned back on again, making a trip to the nearest certified FCA dealership relatively trouble-free. For one Cherokee owner, however, the repair work stood to cost him $2,000 more than what he paid for the vehicle.

Our story begins far north of any reader’s hometown, in the small, treeless city of Iqaluit, Nunavut — a settlement on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic.

John Fawcett, upon discovering his wife Sandra was pregnant, set out to purchase his first vehicle. Child-rearing in a place where the record wind chill stands at a nippy minus 86 Fahrenheit could be unpleasant without a (block heater-equipped) car. So, with all-weather traction being in high demand in the high arctic, he decided on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, for which he negotiated a $22,000 bank loan. Fast-forward to this August.

While driving around the town of 7,800 people, Fawcett’s Cherokee suddenly shifted into neutral. The issue didn’t resolve itself. After a tow to a local garage, the mechanic informed Fawcett that he didn’t have the proper diagnostic equipment, so it was off to Google for an answer. Unfortunately, Google delivered some bad news.

Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had four recalls out on the Cherokee, one of which concerned the shifty transmission. New to the car-owning game, Fawcett took the news with aplomb.

“I didn’t feel like a sucker,” Fawcett told Canada’s National Post newspaper. “The recall was on Transport Canada’s website, and so I accepted that my car needed a bit of work — and that Chrysler was responsible for doing this work. That is kind of what I thought.”

It certainly was the automaker’s responsibility to hand over a freshly fixed vehicle. Sadly, after contacting FCA public relations staff, Fawcett also learned it was his responsibility to get the Cherokee to the nearest certified FCA dealer. Anyone with access to Google Maps will instantly see the problem here. Iqaluit sits on a barren Arctic island with no road connection to the mainland. Even then, a driver would find themselves stranded, as no roads lead into, or out of, the vast territory of Nunavut. Greenland is closer than the nearest highway.

To have his vehicle serviced by Fiat Chrysler, Fawcett would have to load his Cherokee into a converted Boeing 737 and fly to Ottawa, some three hours and 15 minutes by air to the south.

The cost of living the jet-set lifestyle in your Jeep? $24,000 return. A ship could lug his Cherokee to a dealership for a third of the cost, but the trip would take from August until the spring ice pack breakup next year.

“In my mind, I’d just been told by Chrysler that what I had was a $22,000 paper weight that nobody was going to fix,” Fawcett said. “I was very upset.”

Iqaluit may not have much in the way of roads or foliage, but it does have wireless. Sick of paying for pricey taxis and left with few good options, Fawcett took to harassing the automaker on Twitter, then formed a petition calling on all northerners to boycott FCA products. What followed was a “promising” phone call from a sympathetic-sounding FCA representative named Jessica.

The National Post confirmed Thursday that FCA, Fawcett, and his local garage have struck an agreement. The automaker will fly a certified mechanic to Iqaluit, where winter is closing in fast, to fix that wiring harness and get Fawcett’s life back in gear.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; Northern Pix/Flickr]

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