Deadly GM defect worries some car owners

The ignition switch flaw affects more than 1.6 million cars manufactured between 2003 and 2007.

By The Fiscal Times Mar 20, 2014 12:45PM

General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Mich., on June 6, 2013 (© Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images)By Beth Braverman, The Fiscal Times


Will Soto and his fiancee were in the hospital celebrating the birth of their son when a news item on the television caught their attention.


Turned out that Soto's car, a 2003 Saturn Ion, was one of the more than a million vehicles recalled by General Motors (GM) for a faulty ignition switch.


The defect has been linked to 12 known deaths, and GM reportedly had knowledge of the problem for more than a decade before disclosing it. "I'm a new, first-time parent, and now I'm just wondering whether it's safe to put my kid in this car," says Soto, 32, a security investigator in Henderson, Nev. "It's upsetting."


He and his fiancee ultimately decided they didn't feel safe putting the baby in their car. It's been parked in their garage since the family got home from the hospital, and they're sharing her Toyota to get around town.


Soto says he's been so absorbed with the new baby that he hasn't had time to figure out what to do about the car. While he'll certainly take it to the dealership to get it fixed, he also plans on selling it and buying a new vehicle as soon as possible. "I just don't even know if it's going to be safe after it's fixed."


Soto's not the only one worried about his GM vehicle. The ignition switch defect affects more than 1.6 million cars manufactured between 2003-2007, although we don’t know how many of these cars are still on the road. (Separately, the company has also issued recalls for another 1.5 million cars related to reports of engine compartment fires, although those recalls are not associated with any deaths or injuries.)

GM's CEO Mary Barra has apologized for the way the automaker has handled the recall and promised to change its processes for handling such decisions. On Tuesday, Barra named Jeff Boyer to the newly created position of Vehicle Safety Chief. Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the recall, and investigations are being conducted by the Justice Department, two congressional committees, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


The affected cars include some 2003-2007 Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Saturns. GM has set up a dedicated website with information about the recalls, and customer service phone numbers dedicated to answering consumer questions. In cars with the defective part, the key can move from the "run" position to the "accessory" position, shutting off the car's electrical power to components like the front airbags and power steering.


Owners of recalled cars will receive a letter in the mail notifying them when the replacement parts will be available at their local dealer. Parts will begin arriving at dealers in April, but given the scope of the recall, it could take through the summer and early fall for the company to build and ship enough parts to fix every affected car, says GM spokesman Jim Cain. "At least in the early days it's going to take some time, and we hope people can be as patient with us as possible."


In the meantime, the company is advising drivers of affected cars to keep only the key in the ignition, and remove any key chains, additional keys or key fobs attached to it. "That will make the vehicle safe to drive and address the concern," Cain says. "It seems to have been influenced by weight on the key."


However, not everyone agrees that such steps will make the cars safe to drive.


"There really is only one piece of moral advice that GM should be giving anyone, and that's 'Do not drive these cars.'" says Robert Hilliard, an attorney with the Texas firm Hilliard Munoz Gonzalez, who has filed a class-action suit against GM, and represents the family of victims killed in a Wisconsin crash involving a 2005 Cobalt allegedly due to a faulty ignition switch. "GM cannot guarantee that you won't be driving the car and drift into head-on traffic because you no longer have control of the vehicle."


GM has publicly promised that it will provide loaner cars to owners of recalled vehicles until their cars have been repaired. However, numerous posts by consumers on GM's Facebook page report that some local dealers are not honoring the deal, and Hilliard says many of his clients have described the same thing. Cain says that "most" GM dealers are participating in the loaner program, and that car owners who run into problems should call the customer care line for addition assistance.


Penny Samples Brooks, 52, of Kingsport, Tenn., says that she has experienced the problem first-hand when her engine shut down while she was driving on the highway about six weeks ago. "It was the scariest thing ever, the steering became almost impossible," she says. "I was able to make it over to the emergency lane, and by the grace of God, I'm still alive."


After her husband had a similar experience, Sample Brooks went online and found many people reporting similar problems with their GM vehicles. Then, she heard about the recall. "It petrified me," she says.


Samples Brooks, who says she does not drive with any additional keys on her keychain, was able to secure a loaner car from her local dealer after several conversations with a GM customer care representative.


Despite that, Samples Brooks says the entire experience has left her frustrated and worried that the car has lost any residual value that it had before this recall. (The car's worth just over $4,000, according to Kelly Blue Book.)


"The sad part is we are stuck with these cars because nobody else wants them," she says. "It's just not right."


More from The Fiscal Times


Tags: GM
15Comments
Mar 25, 2014 12:12PM
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I am not trying to make excuses for GM in any way, but this problem is not the only reason a car could lose its engine power while driving and require the driver to pull off the road.  If your fuel pump malfunctions, or one of the engine or emission computer modules is defective and cuts out, your car engine will be "dead".  I have had both of those problems in the past on different cars. You still are able to steer and brake but the power assist feature for steering and brakes doesn't work, so it may seem at first that you can't steer or brake because it's so much harder to do.  Unfortunately there aren't a lot of people around who have experience driving a car that didn't have power steering and power brakes, so they don't know what that feels like.  The problem with an unexpected mishap of this type is that inexperienced young drivers aren't able to properly react to the situation and this can have tragic consequences.
Mar 25, 2014 11:55AM
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Me thinks Beth works for Toyota. Maybe they would feel better if their throttle stuck to the floor. (How soon we forget in this pro-Japanese world.
Mar 25, 2014 12:20PM
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Well I guess we really can now concider GM Government Motors? They are acting just like the PEOPLE in gov. finding loopholes so they can keep all they have scraped into their pockets? Toyota just paid 1.6 billion was it I heard? Bet they are going to be pissed over this! I currently own mostly GM products, but with this kind of behavior I think I am going to switch over to ford, chysler isn't even an american company again? FIAT owns them?!!! And I AM AN AMERICAN!

 

I LOVE THE USA!

Mar 25, 2014 1:13PM
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I honestly think people are making too much of this whole thing...especially the sensation fired media.

Many don't realize it, but, ALL cars and trucks actually have the same problem, to a degree. If you go hanging horseshoes off of your keychain, it's going to ruin the lock cylinder, no matter what brand of car it is. Some seem to have the idea that a car becomes uncontrollable once engine power is lost. Not so. The brakes still work, steering and airbags continue to function...it's the law. Of course, your "tunes" stop, and the A/C....but that's not going to get you killed or injured. I feel it's much worse to have a car go full throttle, and not be able to shut it down.

Mar 25, 2014 12:36PM
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Well I can't afford a new car.  Are you offering to buy me one?
Mar 20, 2014 5:31PM
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Yes, this is a bad thing, but come on people...there is a certain amount of personal responsibility that everyone should take now knowing the issue and what causes the problem.  There seems to be a lot of whining going on - and besides, these cars are getting old.  Buy a new one...
Mar 25, 2014 1:25PM
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MY god! If this worries you go buy a Toyota or Honda and see how often they are recalled.
Mar 25, 2014 12:37PM
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Makes it a really easy decision when it comes to buying a new car. NOT going to be a GM product (nor a tie yoda either).  Ford didn't need government money, and makes a reliable truck.  Ford F150 for my next vehicle.
Mar 25, 2014 12:25PM
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GM has already screwed the tax payer to the tune of 10 billion dollars...They spend their money in China now.. Most GM's have china transmissions now. Buy a Ford much better anyway.....
Mar 20, 2014 2:23PM
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way to go GM!  circle the drain!  make choices based on your own cash position, not customer safety.  after all, they ALREADY BOUGHT your #$%^& CAR!

 

I guess if it's ok for Toyota, it's ok for GM?

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