Chrysler retools Safety Oversight; 3rd GM Recall for Trucks that catch Fire

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In a move that perhaps reveals the extent of pressure from lawmakers and the public to do more on car and truck safety, Chrysler Corp moved to establish a Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance department. This reorganization of their safety efforts is apparently an attempt to improve internal communication. It is likely in response to miscommunications and reporting failures that plagued GM and resulted in the ignition switch defect going unreported for approximately 13 years. Additionally, Chrysler has had concerns from the NHTSA regarding its own recalls. In July, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration inquired as to the duration of Chrysler’s process for producing new trailer hitches for Jeep SUVs vulnerable to a fuel tank fire.

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In July Chrysler responded to the NHTSA inquiry. Repairs for the fuel tank issue are to begin just over a year—13 months – from when Chrysler initially promised repairs.

However, a statement by the company characterized their reorganization as a measure that “will help intensify the company’s continuing commitment to vehicle safety and regulatory compliance.” CEO Sergio Marchionne promised to review the internal processes at Chrysler. He stated that this long-term commitment to safety would begin by comparing Chrysler’s methods to others in the industry. Time will tell whether Chrysler’s move to reorganize its safety efforts into a dedicated department will result in improved identification and hand handling of potential defects in cars, trucks, and SUVs.

GM Announces Recall for SUVs Susceptible to Catching on Fire

While the Chrysler division reorganizes and handles its own safety recall, the parent company General Motors announces a new recall regarding SUVs that can catch on fire even while parked. In fact, the problem is so severe that GM has advised customers to park their mostly model year 2005-2007 GMC Envoy Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Buick Rainier, Isuzu Ascender and Saab 97-X outdoors. Unfortunately for owners of the foregoing vehicles, GM has stated that replacement part will not be available for at least 6 to 8 weeks.  However, GM has indicated that notices to vehicle owners should be dispatched shortly and that a follow-up letter will be sent once parts are available.

This defect has been traced to wiring in the door of the vehicles. In cold weather states where the use of salt and other caustic chemicals are used to combat winter snow and ice, the problem is especially pronounced. The salt water mix can rapidly corrode the wiring and switches inside the door panel leading to a vehicle fire. However, while the defect is more likely to occur in cold weather states, it has also been reported in other states.

GM attempted to fix this problem in 2013 by protecting the circuit boards in the car door with a coating. Although this fix was reported to be unreliable and ineffective by customers thus necessitating this third recall.

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Reports of a New Brake Corrosion Issue?

This isn’t the first time GM has had corrosion problems in their vehicles. In 2005, GM recalled more than 600,000 vehicles in 14 northern states because of brake lines that corroded. At the time it was calculated that this defect resulted in more than 200 crashes. However, Consumer Affairs and other advocacy organizations are again sounding the alarm regarding corrosion of brake lines in GM vehicles. Consumer Reports indicates that the NHTSA has received 890 complaints from consumers regarding corroding brakes in Silverado pickup trucks (model years 1999 through 2003). 761 of these complains, approximately 86 percent, have come from states in the Snow Belt where salt and other chemicals are used on the roadways.

Retired IT engineer Joe Palumbo, of Newton Township, Pennsylvania, wrote on his blog GM Unsafe Brakes “We are not talking about super high mileage or very old vehicles, this is occurring on GM vehicles as young as 3 years old with less than 40,000 miles on the clock.  This problem is especially severe in the snow belt states and Canada where salt is used in the winter.” Perhaps more troubling is that Palumbo does not think the problem is limited to Silverados, “[T]he same components are shared by all Chevrolet and GMC light and medium duty trucks and SUVs over many model years.  In the case of the metal brake lines, the same material is used for ALL GM passenger cars and trucks.”

The New York Times has covered GM’s reticence to issue a brake line recall. GM has responded by stating that this is a maintenance issue that is experienced across all vehicle makes and models in the auto industry – it is not a defect. Furthermore, it claims that should the driver experience an issue, he or she should not lose all braking as the front and rear braking systems can independently provide sufficient pressure to stop the vehicle.

Only time will tell how the brake line situation will develop and what the NHTSA investigation will reveal. But in the meantime, consumers are urged to follow all instructions issued by GM or the NHTSA regarding announced recalls and potentially emerging concerns.

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