Consumer Reports criticises trend of weird and confusing auto gear shifter designs.

At a time when bench seats were the norm, grappling with a column gear change was a rite of passage for any new driver. Since then, car makers have dabbled in all manner of left-field controls for changing gear, and with the advent of new technology, gear levers for automatic transmissions have become nothing more than a fancy electronic switch.

This has allowed carmakers to exercise their creative juices and produce all manner of levers, paddles and rotary controls. The downside to this, reports TTAC, is the potential for increased user confusion.

And the situation has also come to the attention of the US-based Consumer Reports organisation. A little like the UK’s Which?, it regularly assesses and recommends cars that perform well.

A spate of instances in the US involving cars with unconventional auto gear shifters resulted in accidents, with some pointing the finger at the respective cars’ confusing controls. Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge have all adopted left-field interpretations of the conventional auto shifter, as has Honda, and GMC.

In some cases cars have rolled away as the driver failed to successfully engage the 'park' function. There was even a high profile case of an owner being crushed by his own car. Although it wasn’t proven, fingers were pointed at its unusual format gear selector.

And now, reports TTAC, Consumer Reports has chosen to take a tough stance against sub-par shifter design, saying it “believes so strongly that these types of shifters have the potential for harm that we are now deducting points from the Overall Score of any vehicle we determine has a shifter that is difficult to operate or that can be confused for other controls.”

Commenting on the issue, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing, Jake Fisher, said: “If done right, new shifter designs can actually result in safer cars. CR encourages innovations in design and engineering, but safety needs to be a priority.”

Regardless of where you’re shopping for a car, a good example of how to do it right is, apparently, a system that returns the vehicle to Park when the engine is shut off or the driver’s door opens.

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Source: The Truth About Cars

Gallery: Wacky gearshifts