The GM ignition switch defect was permitted to linger uncorrected for more than a decade. During the time, the problem grew from one that affected, perhaps, a single vehicle line to one of the largest recalls in the history of the U.S. automotive industry. The recall resulted in millions of defective vehicle and, tragically, 124 deaths along with many life-altering injuries. In light of the scope and scale of the defect, GM CEO Mary Barra was contrite and stated that the mistakes that led to this problem, “should never have happened.”
In response to the massive defect problem, GM’s recall program sought to encourage drivers to bring their vehicle. While, at first, the recall and repairs stalled due to a lack of parts GM soon offered vehicle owners incentives, such as gift cards, to encourage them to bring their vehicles in for repair. The incentive program was intended to boost the historically low-rate of recall repair compliance. In fact, according to data compiled from numerous sources and reported in Insurance Journal, about one-third of recalled vehicles are not repaired. Furthermore, about one-in seven vehicles on the nation’s highway have at least one unrepaired defect.
Unfortunately, information emerging from safety watchdogs is suggesting that the stalling issues believed to be caused by the ignition switch problem may not have been fully and adequately repaired. If additional repairs are needed, GM’s initial efforts to entice owners to come in for vehicle repairs may have been for naught.
Vehicle Safety Advocates, NHTSA Receiving Reports that Repaired GM Vehicles Are Still Stalling
According to information reported by NBC News, one of the original “canaries in the coal mine” – the Chevy Cobalt the second vehicle the ignition switch problem was observed in back in 2004 — is now having problems despite being brought in for the recommended recall repairs.
Sandra Lortie was the owner of a 2006 Chevy Cobalt. Her vehicle was affected by the ignition switch defect and had stalling issues. She reported that, in 2014, before seeking repair that her Cobalt stalled in the middle of a three-way intersection. After this experience, she sought repair for her defective vehicle and stated that after getting the fix a representative at the dealership told her, “This is what’s causing it. You won’t have any more issues with this.”
However, despite this assurance, Lortie reports that her vehicle continues to stall as if the ignition switch problem was never repaired. Unfortunately, Lortie is not alone.
Consumers Report Continued Problems to Safety Watch List
The Safety Institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List is a consumer-sourced, independent watch list tracking safety problems in potentially defective vehicles. The list was established after the death of Brooke Melton who died as a result of the ignition switch defect and is sponsored by her parents, Ken and Beth Melton.
The 2005 Chevy Cobalt is the #2 most complained about car on the Safety List. Most of the list describe various “electrical” problems. A sampling of complaints includes:
- “On Saturday, April 11, I had went to the store, on my way back from the store the t/c light came on and so did the brake light and another light then the car just shut down by itself. I waited for another few minutes and started the car up and went home. I called a Chevy dealership and told them what had happened, they said as long as the light comes on, I am still ok to drive the car.”
- “After having the vehicle serviced under NHTSA campaign numbers: 14v171000 (electrical system) and 10v073000 (steering), the power steering failed and the check engine warning light illuminated. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The failure mileage was 24,000.”
- Attorney representing consumer writes in regards to steering wheel and brake system malfunction after recall work was done. “The consumer’s son was driving, when suddenly the steering wheels and brakes locked up while he was trying to negotiate a curve, causing him to have an accident. At the Present time, the key cannot be removed from the ignition. The consumer’s son was not injured, but the vehicle was totaled. The ignition lock cylinder was replaced on October 21, 2014.”
Most reports describe various electrical issues that include vehicle stalling and unexpected loss of power steering and other malfunctions. Many consumers also report the key becoming stuck in the ignition and being unable to remove it despite jiggling it and other suggested techniques.
Unfortunately, the Cobalt is far from the only GM vehicle currently on the list. In fact, various year models of the Chevy cobalt currently occupies four of the top five slots on the list. Cobalt model years 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 are all represented on the list and all are reported to have “electrical” issues similar to those in the 2005 model described above. An owners of a 2009 Cobalt reported that, “The vehicle stalled intermittently on several occasions. [Even after getting the ignition switch repaired] the failure soon recurred.”
GM, NHTSA Unsure of the Root Cause of Electrical Issues
At this point, both GM and NHTSA view the consumer reports merely as allegations although GM expressed that it was “very concerned” about the reports of the defect. However, GM reportedly told NBC news that it has identified electrical issues and fuel issues in about 50 vehicles that it has inspected. The company stated that it believes age and mileage may be factors in these failures, but did not elaborate as to the exact vehicles tested or where the problems were observed. General Motors and NHTSA both currently state that they have been unable to find a pattern in the data provided by The Safety Institute.
For its part a GM spokesman, again, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to safety and that practices have changed to avoid a repeat of the ignition switch debacle. GM spokesman Jim Cain stated, “We are a company focused on a zero-defect mentality when it comes to safety, and the changes we have made since the ignition switch recall in 2014 are working. We are identifying and fixing issues before they become issues for our customers.” Hopefully, the cause of these problems will soon be determined
Drivers May be Less Likely to Return for Additional Repairs
Unfortunately, if a new underlying cause for the stalling issues is discovered, the damage to overall highway safety may have already been done. Statistics bear out that the more times consumers are required to bring their vehicle in for repair, the greater number of unrepaired vehicles that will exist on the roadways. Consider this, federal regulators cite a recall repair response rate of about 75% one-and-a-half years after a recall. Thus, roughly 25 percent of vehicles remain unrepaired in any defect scenario. If a second recall requiring the consumer to bring in the vehicle occurs, it is likely that about 25% of those affected vehicles will also go unrepaired and so on. Of course, these unrepaired percentages are not simply additive because consumers who have sought repair previously are more likely, on average, to seek repair and previously unrepaired vehicles are already counted. However, there is certainly a level of recall and repair fatigue that will eat away at the compliance rate for the car and truck owners who did seek repair. In light of reports that it can take 10 or more years for the U.S. vehicle fleet to turn-over and that vehicles as new as new as the 2010 Cobalt and 2011 HHR reportedly have “electrical issues” this may mean that these problems are here to stay for several more years.
Unfortunately, the loss of vehicle control issues experienced in vehicles with both the ignition switch defect and these newly reported “electrical” issues can result in the loss of vehicle control. Thus, these are highway safety issues affecting all drivers on our nation’s highways and roads.
Injured by a Defective Car or Truck?
If you have been injured by the defective ignition switch causing a loss of control or a car accident in a GM vehicle, the experienced defective product and personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm can fight for you. Likewise, if you have been injured by another driver who lost control of his or her vehicle due to an ignition switch problem, we also may be able to help. For more than 35 years the lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm have fought for people who have suffered life-altering catastrophic injuries. To schedule a free and confidential initial personal injury consultation call (215) 246-9000 today. Alternatively, please feel free to complete the online form located in the upper-left sidebar to request a consultation.