Epic Embarrassment for GM as Massive Recalls Continue Over Decade-Old Ignition Problem

GM CEO Mary Barra testifies on Capitol Hill about her company’s decade-long delay in admitting a potentially deadly ignition issue. Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for General Motors.

We’re guessing you’ve heard a little about this one – the massive recall of GM vehicles over a problem with the ignition that, as it turns out, the company has known about for over a decade. Well, things just got worse, and we here at E3 Spark Plugs want to make sure you know the risk if you’re driving one of the recalled rides.

The controversy started in February with a recall of 780,000 GM vehicles, prompted by an ignition switch defect that can cause the engine to shut off unexpectedly and disable the airbags. GM officials attempted to at least partially pass the blame to car owners who load up their key rings and drive on rough terrain at high speeds, saying that those conditions can trigger the problem by moving the ignition switch out of position. That can cause all the electrical components, including the mechanism responsible for deploying airbags, to immediately shut down.

The initial recall came with news that the issue had contributed to 22 car crashes and six deaths, and affected Cobalt and Pontiac G5s from the 2005 to 2007 model years sold in the US, Canada and Mexico. In the weeks following, GM expanded the recall to include recalling Saturn Ions made between 2003 and 2007; and Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky cars made in the 2006 and 2007 model years. To date, the issue has brought recalls totaling 2.6 million. Oh, and the company admitted that it has known about the issue, which could have been fixed with a 57-cent piece, but kept mum, for some 10 years.

That’s a good way to tick off a whole lot of GM drivers and a few feds to boot. That as yet unexplained decade-long delay has brought two congressional investigations and probes by the Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Today, new GM CEO Mary Barra testified on Capitol Hill, admitting that the ignition switch fell below GM’s own specifications. In a prepared statement, she said she doesn’t know why it took years for the company to fess up about the safety defect, but promised that an internal investigation would turn up answers.

As if all this wasn’t trouble enough, GM last week announced two other unrelated recalls. The company recalled 490,000 late-model pickup trucks and SUVs because transmission oil cooling lines improperly secured in their fittings allow transmission oil to leak, potentially causing fires when the oil hits hot surfaces. That issue has caused three reported fires, though no injuries. The recall affects Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 pickup trucks from the 2014 model year; 2015 Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe SUVs and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs.

The same day, GM also announced a recall of 172,000 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruz cars, saying the right front axle shaft can fracture and separate while being driven. This can cause the wheels to lose power without warning, and cars would coast to a stop. GM says it has warranty reports of several dozen shaft fractures, though none have caused crashes or injuries.

Bottom line – if you own a GM vehicle, call your nearest dealer and find out if yours is affected by any of the recalls.