By on June 21, 2010

Remember GM’s Heated Windshield Washer Fire Fiasco? The one where the “Hotshot” unit got so hot that cars went up in flames? It sounded like it was a dispute between GM and the now defunct Microheat. Our friends at Carquestions did a little investigative reporting. Result? The part that caused a recall of 1.5m GMs comes from GM’s largest market: China. “But they didn’t happen to mention that in any of the recall documents the did submit to NHTSA,” says Carquestions.

Carquestions thinks they know why GM doesn’t want to emphasize the provenance of the part: “The’ve been doing pretty well in China.”

How did Carquestions find out? They followed GM’s supply chain with good old journalistic legwork: They looked at the label on the part. Nobody else bothered to. But watch the video. There is more. And it looks like there will be a part two of the saga.

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34 Comments on “GM Hotshot Recall Blamed On Chinese Parts...”

  • avatar

    Why would we want any Chinese cars imported here when the very parts that the manufacture either burst into flames (the above), have high levels of toxic metals (cadmium tainted bracelets for kids), or are so shoddily built that it breaks within a year (any plumbing part I buy from Home Depot or Lowe’s)?

    • 0 avatar

      Bertel has already detailed for us that the Chinese build parts to specifications unless you simply tell them to build it to a price. If all your worried about from your suppliers is the price… well you get what you pay for.

      If the true cost of an option is something your buyers aren’t willing to swallow, then you shouldn’t offer it. I have a feeling that make this part at the right level of safety and durability would result in a per piece price that GM wasn’t willing to pay.

    • 0 avatar


      Oh yeah, and $$$$$

    • 0 avatar

      GM didn’t do the specing and price point here. They were buying an off the shelf part from a 3rd party. I am not saying that GM isn’t responsible for this product. GM is responsible for the product because they used it in their vehicles. I am saying that your statements are valid because they are getting the products from a supplier who poorly designed it. My understanding is that this isn’t a problem of unit costs but engineering work on the supplier side.

  • avatar

    May we see Part Two please.
    This is very interesting

  • avatar

    ok, where’s part two?

  • avatar

    Was doing a bit of car shopping at a GM store this weekend and noticed on the window sticker of a 2010 CTS the Heated Windshield Washer Fluid option. Are they planning to sell in-stock vehicles with the HotShot operational or will they disconnect them before customers take delivery? Will the customer have the choice of a $100 rebate if the unit is disconnected, or can they choose to leave the unit operational? (My guess is no to the latter…)

    • 0 avatar

      When this feature begins appearing on other OEM’s vehicles, you can expect that GM will offer it again too… (but next time, I expect/ hope GM will be more circumspect in their specification and validation efforts.)

  • avatar

    I’m found of telling people – “Look, the Chinese make Jet fighter airfcraft, they make as high a quality manufactured product as anyone in the world” What is different (and less so each day) is that they can offer an enormous “can’t resist” second and third line product choice. If it turns out this product is of low quality and has resulted in its malfunction then I’m prepared to say without hesitation, that the customer most likely ordered it that way and turned a blind eye to the ramifications.

    • 0 avatar

      thast’s not the feeling I got watching your video. well done and interesting investigation, but the implication is that Chinese made parts are inferior. that with the understanding that you did state the problem as being one of disclosure.

      good work, and I’m not saying you’re wrong…just a feeling.

    • 0 avatar

      “Look, the Chinese make Jet fighter aircraft, they make as high a quality manufactured product as anyone in the world”

      While certainly that has big picture truthiness, the fact remains that it is not applicable across the board.

      Jade carving? Sure.
      Stone masonry? Check.
      Electronics assembly? You betcha.

      Fighter aircraft? Sorta. Jian-10/11 is ‘homegrown’, and third-gen. Yes, they’re trying to steal enough information to build something faster. Thankfully, they haven’t yet. But they will.

      Much of the ChiCom military hardware is still off-the-shelf Russian, or evolved from it. While they would have you believe they are technically advanced, they simply aren’t.

      (Putting a man in orbit is NOT impressive. The US and USSR did it 50 years ago with less computing power than in your Android phone.)

      Sorta the old May Day parades as a reason to fear the USSR. Any decent intelligence analyst knew that half the stuff was empty shells just to make the US nervous – never actual materiel that would/could ever be developed. But the US worried far more than they needed to.

      Oh yeah. Washer fluid heaters. GM did what GM does – spec it at the absolute lowest price possible. Then, had it manufactured in China.

      Bet the plastic is below-spec. Bet the metal thicknesses are below-spec. Bet the metals themselves are below-spec. I’d be interested to see a full analysis of a piece from the field.

    • 0 avatar

      My understanding is that it is a 3rd party who makes the product. The 3rd party designed and decided to where it was manufactured. Not that it isn’t GM responsibility to check its products out and evaluate them, but GM didn’t have this low spec’d and made in China.

      Tell me if there is a single manufacture that doesn’t have a component in their vehicles that isn’t made in China. My understanding is that this isn’t a manufacturing problem, but a design problem.

    • 0 avatar


      No disagreements with your comments.

      My point was that regardless of the sub, GM (especially, though not uniquely) will price the part at a point where the margin for the sub is razor-thin.

      The margin on that contract may have precluded manufacture anywhere but China. As the Chinese sub-sub may wish to also maximize their profit, it’s hardly unusual for shortcuts to be had.

      Even if the Chinese assembler tried to make the part to spec, chances are the company he bought his supplies from was skimping on the plastic and metal that he delivered to the assembler.

      I don’t argue for a second that one cannot produce a quality product in a Chinese factory. But, in order for it to produce an equivalent quality to a US/EU component, you have to watch the entire process from raw material to the end.

      Which seldom happens.

  • avatar

    Agreed that the source of the parts is irrelevant. The CTS gas pedals were made in USA, weren’t they? This is 90% the responsibility of GM supplier mamagement and Purchasing. And the other 10% for Engineering.

  • avatar

    Can anyone tell me why the country of origin is important in this? This seems to be the TTAC article is focused on, but I am not sure how it is relevant. When recalls are sent in the US, I don’t ever recall hearing that the part came from XYZ country for any manufacture. Would it offend all of the Chinese that a Chinese company manufactured a part that was poorly engineered in a different country?

  • avatar

    How difficult to design one of these? My Merc routed the hot water pipe into the washer reservoir. It even has a thermostat inside as when it gets too hot it will shut off water supply.
    Electric heated is also nice but how much power of a heater does it require?
    Heating on demand does require more wattage, as your water pass thru u need to heat them up in an instant.
    Heating from the reservoir by heating element would probably easier, need thermostat too.
    It would be naive to put a high power heater in it, for sure it could start fire easy when its empty. many of us do neglect to fill the fluid when empty too.
    I dont know how the Engineer got his papers? Down loaded it?
    People with no common sense should just do nothing as it can cause more grief for others.

    The $100 options probably paid someone in China 5 bucks to make the whole thing, sadly they should have water down the wattage this time! So in the event if the juice is connected all day without any fluid it will not melt or burn the res. In the old days the res was made of real glass.

    I have been driving since 70s and lived in the Great White North several times, cold weather unrivalled by Siberia, we never had the luxury of heated windshield fluid, and never got into trouble because of that.
    Are these a must have for a car?
    For GM they should improve quality before get fast as the old Midas Muffler adv done by Lee Van Cleef.

  • avatar

    BTW, the PA6.6 that Carquestions found moulded into the outside of the casing is a material designation to help in recycling … PA means Polyamide type 6.6, GF stands for Glass-Fibre, and the 30 IIRC relates to the content of glass fibre. This is a rigid material with good temperature resistance.

    • 0 avatar


      Here’s my question…

      Has there been a forensic analysis to confirm that, the housing is, in fact, made of the material designated by the stamp?

    • 0 avatar

      Porsche: I agree, it would be easy to cheat here … we’ve seen it enough to know that it did, does, and will happen. Determination of whether the material used is in line with the moulded characters would be easy enough for a Met/Mat Lab to do. I would expect that GM as part of its analysis of the unit, prior to litigating, would have done a material analysis… Somehow, I think that GM must have some real culpability here that keeps them from openly addressing the issue … either in the supplier selection process, or developing the spec., or determining that the validation met the spec., or in doing continuing conformance testing …

      But truth of it is, I rather strongly suspect, but with no proof other than what I have read in the news/inet, that GM probably did their validation testing with a power supply that replicated outputs expected of the vehicle’s on-board system, outputs that the system, in reality, did not meet in every case … so the heater passed in the lab but failed in the field…

      One other possibility, out of personal experience … we had a Bosch on-demand electric hot water heater installed at home … after a number of minor, yet just as irritating, malfunctions, the thermostatic control unit failed to recognize that there was no water flow thru the unit, and kept heating, eventually the PA housing softened due to the heat, deformed under the pressure of the cold-water line-in’s pressure, and exposed an o-ring, causing a leak … when we returned home 10 hours later, the house was flooded … if the unit had not been under pressure, I wonder if the unit would have burned down the house!

      (To be fair, I do not know the source of the ignition in the GM vehicles … was it the vehicle wire harness being undersized, or improperly fused, or was it the heater unit/housing itself, and did this happen when the unit was wet or dry … so many basic questions for which I have not seen an answer … but based on my water heater experience, I can’t help but wonder if the thermostat in the unit went rogue, and since there is no constant fluid pressue in such a system, the chamber would be able to get very hot under such a circumstance, question is, would it be enough to trigger ignition of the materials in the heater!)

    • 0 avatar


      Truly, the bench can never sub for the cornucopia of 1 in 1MM scenarios that real life dishes out.

      Combine that with corner-cutting and you get (most) plane crashes. Or, I dunno, a Gulf oil spill.

      Honestly, I do really want to see a valid post-mortem on this part – only way to have a clue as to the failure origin.

      Happens to everyone. Just far more likely when you sub to China.

    • 0 avatar

      You must see this video – its a perfect example – even the colour of the vehicle is correct.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “GM did what GM does – spec it at the absolute lowest price possible. Then, had it manufactured in China.”

    And let’s be sure to flame GM for that because we all know that no other U.S company would stoop to such levels!……LMOA

    Bring on the part 2 of the investigation please.

    • 0 avatar


      Not a GM slam, per se.

      More about the fact that stuff spec’d to the ragged edge, manufactured by corner-cutters, will inevitably hasten failure.

      Hardly unique to GM.

  • avatar

    Looking forward to part 2, but I don’t see a problem here.

    OK so the fuse is underneath(not what I would do, better to have the wiring above the water ) but GM wouldn’t be the first to hide a fuse.

    I doubt any garage tech would check the fuse anyway, just bill you for a $180 replacement.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly what I was thinking. If the fuse was blown, the unit could still be defective and need to be replaced. Replacing the fuse just might mean that you get to watch it blow another one.

    • 0 avatar

      Industry practice takes into account a discipline refered to as DFS (Design for Service) … a fuse hidden-away like that clearly violates this practice … unless it is clear that, in the event the fuse blows, the heating-units will need to be replaced 100% of the time…

  • avatar

    So the Chinese did a crappy job designing it and GM was too lazy to test the unit out.

    What a great pair of idiots. Maybe GM will learn from this? Probably not, they would rather cut corners and save time testing units I guess. It doesn’t actually save money if crap like this happens though.

    • 0 avatar

      The part wasn’t designed in China. The part should also be tested by the supplier before they try to sell it. Design defects like this costs the suppliers a large amount of money. Testing of this unit obviously wasn’t where it needed to be.

  • avatar

    That electrical tape wrapped around one of the wires looks like cloth, looks really sloppy and closely resembles some of the 90+ year old wiring in my house. Seriously. In other words, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. I was shocked to see that come from under the hood of a modern car. I wonder if all of those units really look as bad as this one.

    Just a random observation…maybe relevant, maybe not.

    • 0 avatar

      Friction tape is a very good material. Unlike corrugated plastic tubing, friction tape is easier to install, rarely comes loose, and never chafes the jacket of the harness … often times harnesses are wrapped with adhesiveless PVC tapes (no adhesive makes it easier to bend the harness during installation, the tape binds the bundle together, makes it easier to pull, and protects it against scuffing during installation.) But, in the case were there tight radii may want to be formed, and maintained, in the bundle, as well as protecting the bundle from a minor risk of scuffing due to vibration in-situ, friction tapes are a feasible, reasonable, and affordable alternative to other solutions.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Here is part #2 and it is even more interesting than part #1.

    Individual components badly made, poorly designed, and p*ss poor dealerships are why I gave GM the heave-ho finally in 1999, and why I gave Chrapster the heave-ho in 2003. Ford I gave up on earlier than that, even.

    So due to the fact that I had no AMC, Packard, International, or for that matter – Reo, Hupmobile, Studebaker or other American brands to choose from, I kind of either had to go buy a horse & Amish buggy, or go buy foreign brands.

    I’ve had two South Korean made cars (both of which were well above the standards of the American brands, some of which were made in Mexico – 1999 Neon being the LAST), two Hyundais made in Montgomery Alabama (some of the best cars I’ve ever owned in 36 years) and a couple of Japanese made Toyotas (some of the best cars I’ve ever owned in 36 years), and now have a US made Subaru (which has been flawless).

    Hopefully, Hyundai, Toyota, Subaru, Honda, Nissan and other such companies will source components wisely and engineer them well ongoing into the future. If they do not, then I’ll be looking at those nags and buggies because I’m rapidly running out of car companies….

  • avatar

    My major concern is twofold. 1. These vehicles need to have the module removed immediately, waiting for a couple days, weeks or months is not an option. 2. The thousands of vehicles that will not recieve any notification due to ownership changes, address changes etc. The vehicle I used never recieved the first recall notice or the second even though the GM dealer that sold it still has the correct contact info on file.

    In the interest of public safety there should be a public announcement played over a series of days – not a 30 second GM PR clip that fails to mention the immediate risk.

    The video is posted on Ray Lahood’s Facebook page so lets see what he can do

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