Channel 2 Investigates 'possessed' cars and their dangers

ATLANTA — Drivers across the country say their vehicles act like something out of the movie "Poltergeist."

Owners report flickering dash lights, blaring horns and gauges going haywire.

Channel 2's Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland found that it's not demonic, but it can be dangerous.

Strickland learned that the problem potentially affects 5 million Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep SUVs and cars.

Chrysler built those vehicles with an electronic "brain in a box.”

It's a module located inside the engine bay that sends electricity to everything from the car's convenience features like the wipers, radio and air conditioning to the ignition and safety features like airbag sensors.

There is even a YouTube page where more than 150 owners documented the craziness that occurs when the module malfunctions.

"Wipers going for no reason. I can't shut them off because they're off," said one driver in a post to a YouTube page titled "Chrysler Electrical Problems."

"The keys are out of the ignition and the car is still running," another driver said, holding up the car key with the engine running.

"The radio is completely dead. No controls. Nor do the A/C and heat controls (work)," according to another video.

Dozens of videos show dashboards of Chrysler vehicles with gauge needles bouncing up and down and various warning lights on while the car is moving.

"I worry about it every day," Nic Cooper of Winder told Strickland.

The problems with his 2011 Dodge Durango began when it wouldn't start.

"(It’s a) high-end vehicle, and all of a sudden it wouldn't crank," Cooper said.

Cooper said he'd have to coax the car to start five times a day. A dealer told him to try popping off the push-button start button and use the key instead.

It helped some, but Cooper was still concerned.

"This is what carries my family around. My wife and daughter drive in this every day," he said.

The problem

A mechanic told Cooper that the problem was in the Durango's "Totally Integrated Power Module," or TIPM. It's a black box located inside the engine compartment.

The box is filled with fuses, relays and a computer processor that control all of the essential electrical systems.

"Some people refer to it as the Totally Insane Power Module," said Clarence Ditlow, who runs the Center for Auto Safety in Washington D.C.

Ditlow has received about 250 complaints about the TIPM.

"Any one of those number of the malfunctions from that module can cause a crash," Ditlow said.

Ditlow points to a wreck last November in Virginia.  A tractor-trailer rear-ended a 2007 Jeep Patriot. Investigators said the Jeep came to a dead stop in the center lane with no hazard lights or turn signals.

Ditlow said that could be a telltale sign of a defective TIPM. The Jeep's driver died.

"I mean, you spend money on a car, thinking you're getting something durable, close to what I spend on my house payment, for a vehicle that I want to be reliable for my wife and newborn baby, and to have issues like this," Cooper said.

The recall

Last September, Chrysler recalled 188,723 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees from 2011 for engine stalls.

Cooper's Durango was included.

The problem lies in the fuel pump relay, a part of the TIPM. Cooper showed Strickland the fix: an electronic fuel control that bypassed the TIPM.

"It was more or less a patch -- a roundabout way of fixing the issue without replacing the total problem," Cooper told Strickland.

The Center for Auto Safety wants a wider recall and petitioned the National Highway Safety Administration. A class-action lawsuit filed in May 2014 in federal court in California is working its way through the judicial process.

It demands actual and punitive damages and a repair for the TIPM.

Chrysler says the TIPM is not defective.

A recall in 2007 is blamed not on the TIPM, but on its software.

A spokesman said the recall affecting Cooper covered a bad portion of the TIPM (the fuel relay), not the TIPM itself.

Ditlow isn't convinced.

"Chrysler knows they have a serious defect on their hands,” he said. “The government is doing an investigation, and Chrysler should in fact do a recall without waiting for the government because it is such a bad problem."

Cooper just hopes for no more TIPM trouble. "I'm upside down on the payment,” he said. “Basically, I'm stuck with the car."