The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has intensified an investigation into whether there was a defect in the Saturn Aura sedan that would allow its automatic transmission to be in gear when the gear selector indicated Park.
The safety agency began an investigation last May, which covered about 44,000 Auras from the 2007 model year.
However, the upgraded investigation covers 2008 models, as well as the 2008 Aura hybrid, bringing the total to almost 89,000.
The agency said there were seven reports of crashes. In one case, a car struck a building. In another, a driver placed the transmission in Park and exited, but was hit when the car rolled backward.
According to the agency, General Motors said the problem “primarily affects” 4-speed automatics and not the 6-speed automatic found in Aura siblings like the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6.
The cover on the shift cable may weaken and tear, the automaker said, which could allow moisture to enter and potentially disrupt the proper functioning of the shifter.
The agency cited three problems that the condition could cause:
• The car won’t start because the shifter shows the transmission in Park when it is actually in a gear.
• The car rolls away because the driver, thinking it is in Park when it remains in gear, turns off the engine and leaves the vehicle.
• With the engine running, the car moves in an unexpected direction because the driver thinks it is in Park when it is in gear, or thinks it is in Drive or Reverse when it is in the opposite gear.
In a statement released Monday morning, General Motors said that it was offering an extended warranty for the 2007 and certain 2008 Saturn Auras.
“Customers will have 10 years or 120,000 miles from the date the vehicle entered service to have free repairs,” the automaker said in the statement. “For customers who already have had repairs made, they should keep their receipt for reimbursement.”