The Truth About Cars » Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 28 Nov 2014 15:49:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Piston Slap: Less Slap, More (oil) Control http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/piston-slap-less-slap-oil-control/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/piston-slap-less-slap-oil-control/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 12:57:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=898410 Pete writes: Hey Sajeev, I got one for you. Several engines nowadays are set up to operate on half their cylinders under light-load conditions. Would the design considerations for piston rings vary from those normally used for such cylinders that are only used part-time? The question arises in the context of a 2009 V6 Accord […]

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(photo courtesy: autozone.com)

(photo courtesy: autozone.com)

Pete writes:

Hey Sajeev, I got one for you.

Several engines nowadays are set up to operate on half their cylinders under light-load conditions. Would the design considerations for piston rings vary from those normally used for such cylinders that are only used part-time? The question arises in the context of a 2009 V6 Accord that is currently in the Honda dealer’s shop to have the piston rings replaced at the manufacturer’s expense to cure a continual oil consumption and spark plug fouling problem.

Sajeev answers:

We learned from a previous Piston Slap that General Motors answered your query:  the displacement-on-demand (DoD) 5.3L truck motor (and its sister, LS4-FTW?) needs new and redesigned piston rings to cut oil consumption in the four deactivated cylinders. The motors still (supposedly) performs as intended with strong compression from the compression rings, oil burning is only a shameful side effect. Not to make a molehill out of a mountain, but that’s it.

Or perhaps turn off DoD with a computer re-flash, since there’s no free lunch in this business: if you want fuel economy, buy a lighter, trimmer and smaller engined vehicle. But I digress…

Honda, operating under the same Laws of Physics (Thermodynamics?) has the same DoD problem. In theory, the design of the “oil control” piston rings is crucial: more info is in this insanely detailed article. Definitely great bedtime reading for the Pistonhead.

Honda’s Class Action lawsuit doesn’t seem to hurt Odyssey or Accord resale values, so dump it if you wish. Or regularly check your oil level and spark plug condition, doing so lets affected V6 Honda products live a long and happy-ish life. Heck, this much oil consumption (1-3 quarts per high mileage oil change) was once the norm (during old school 3000 mi intervals) and that’s without DoD’s inherent fuel savings.

But that fact remains: save fuel or save oil? Pick one, son.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Eye On Ignition Safety Recalls? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 12:20:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840690 Bruce writes: Sajeev, A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he […]

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Don't take it to the Red Line! (photo courtesy: http://article.wn.com)

Bruce writes:

Sajeev,

A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he was driving on 2 lane road at about 40 miles per hour and the car competely shut down…no power steering, weak power brakes. He was glad he wasn’t going faster & he wrestled the car into a parking lot, let it sit for a while, restarted it and drove home. He called the local GM dealership and they downplayed the incident and told him to bring it in at his convenience.

Now I’m really scared for him. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

Oh dear. I guess this corner of TTAC couldn’t remain silent on the ignition recall debacle forever. That said, your letter makes me wonder if there’s another problem on this 10-ish year old machine: the Saturn had to “sit for a while” before starting back up?

Are you absolutely, positively sure the ignition switch is to blame?

Bruce replies:

Not sure yet. I’m wondering if they even replaced the switch in the first place. Poor 24 y.o. kid doesn’t have $ to buy another car so he’s stuck with this one. He called Saturn 800 number at my insistence and Saturn called his local Chevy dealer and the service mgr called him and scheduled an appt. The first ignition repair took 2 months and he enjoyed an Altima, which was fine with him, lol. According to Saturn, he’s eligible for another rental. The saga continues….Thanks Sajeev!

Sajeev concludes:

The worst thing you can do now is stress out: nothing good comes from stress when you’re detached from the repair process. That said, I am not a father: I couldn’t possibly understand your anguish. But I can say the problem isn’t hidden in some file cabinet, locked in a dark room in the RenCen. Everyone is watching and there’s a system in place to fix the problem.

Every company goes into super-customer-service-savvy crisis mode in times like these. And here’s the plan to mitigate the crisis:

And this is cold comfort to you, sadly. A high level infographic isn’t reassuring when you must go through the steps again.  Luckily GM is willing to put your son in another rental, just make sure your son does step #1 and #2 until he’s in that rental.

Then have the dealer report back with a diagnosis.  If you don’t like the diagnosis/resolution…well, perhaps we should just hope that the problem is found and fixed. Running through the plethora of scenarios only increases the stress level, it doesn’t help one iota.

How would you handle this, Best and Brightest?

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GM Recalls Every Fifth Generation Camaro http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-recalls-every-fifth-generation-camaro/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-recalls-every-fifth-generation-camaro/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 14:37:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843545 General Motors has recalled 511,,528 Camaros – that is, every single current generation Camaro ever made – for a defect involving the ignition key fob being inadvertently bumped and switched to “off”. According to GM, General Motors will recall all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause […]

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camaro

General Motors has recalled 511,,528 Camaros – that is, every single current generation Camaro ever made – for a defect involving the ignition key fob being inadvertently bumped and switched to “off”.

According to GM,

General Motors will recall all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause the key to inadvertently move out of the “run” position, with a corresponding reduction or loss of power. 

The issue, which may primarily affect drivers sitting close to the steering column, was discovered by GM during internal testing following the ignition switch recall earlier this year.

GM is apparently aware of three crashes and four minor injuries that can be attributed to this problem. The Camaro recall is part of a wider recall that can be viewed here.

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Analysis: Why Isn’t NHTSA Sharing The Blame With GM? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/analysis-why-isnt-nhtsa-sharing-the-blame-with-gm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/analysis-why-isnt-nhtsa-sharing-the-blame-with-gm/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 15:54:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838473 As many of you know by now, the Valukas report on GM’s handling of the ignition switch depicts a fat, complex organization that is deeply broken. A company with so many incompetent cogs, it is incapable of coordinating a surprise birthday party let alone a conspiracy. And that’s the most alarming part of the report – […]

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GM

As many of you know by now, the Valukas report on GM’s handling of the ignition switch depicts a fat, complex organization that is deeply broken. A company with so many incompetent cogs, it is incapable of coordinating a surprise birthday party let alone a conspiracy. And that’s the most alarming part of the report – that none of the employees appear to have acted in malice or colluded to save money or protect the brand. Instead the report paints a picture of apathetic, lazy employees and an even more careless litany of incoherent processes in the mission to detect and address vehicle safety defects.

This is far more dangerous than any calculated, unscrupulous group of executives colluding to hide a safety issue. Incompetency, whether it is in engineering, investigations or the administration of both means defects just simply go unnoticed and as such unresolved.  In terms of corporate responsibility it’s the equivalent of a juvenile “whatev” *shoulder shrug*.

While Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer behind the infamous undocumented part change, is mostly to blame for delaying the connection between the ignition switch and airbag non-deployments,  the corporate mentality that something as vital as your ignition turning off can relegated to a “convenience issue” is scary. But this applies doubly to NHTSA as well. Remember America’s vehicle safety overseer received GM’s TSB regarding the ignition switch in 2005 and gave it the government nod.

While GM is responsible for the safety of its vehicles should NHTSA share in the blame?

The Valukas report references a crash investigation conducted by Indiana University’s Transportation Research Center of a 2006 fatal single-vehicle accident involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt in Wisconsin (pictured). The Valukas report says that GM had not seen that university’s 26-page report until 2014 even though it was found on GM’s servers.Crashed Cobalt WIS

The accident investigation was conducted at the request of NHTSA and references the 2005 TSB, confirms via EDR (electronic data recorder) that the ignition switch was in the accessory position during the crash and hypothesized that the ignition switch was one of two theories as to why the airbags failed to deploy. The other theory being that the first impact with a smaller telephone box may have signaled to the smart airbags that a deployment was not appropriate.

The team conducting the on-site investigation of the accident did not look closely at the link between the ignition switch and loss of power to the airbag because “such an undertaking was beyond the scope of this investigation.”  If the goal of the report was to determine the cause of the airbag non-deployment how could the relationship between the ignition switch and the loss of power to the airbag not have been within scope?

The university team provided the report to NHTSA in 2007. One page two of the report, the Technical Document Page, they state that the loss of power from a faulty ignition switch was one of two theories as to why the airbags did not deploy.  Did NHTSA take this and share it formally with GM? If not, why not? Are these reports reviewed by senior officials or are they simply rubber stamped and archived? Are potential defects identified referred from Special Crash Investigations (SCI), the division that requested this report, to the Office of Defects and Investigations (ODI), the group responsible for “undertaking” safety defect reviews? Could it be that NHTSA is as bureaucratically mismanaged as GM?

Keep in mind that unlike GM, NHTSA only has one single mission – oversight of vehicle safety. They are not surrounded by temptations like pleasing shareholders, cost targets or individual performance gains. Then again, given recent reports on employees at the Veterans Affairs Administration, maybe safety employees have some obscure rewarding metric on closing cases.

Last month the Department of Transportation Inspector General announced a review of NHTSA’s handling of the ignition switch recall among other things. In their review the IG should consider looking into the general information sharing practices between SCI and ODI when it comes to vehicle defects.

While the Valukus Report was intended to focus on GM’s handling of the defective part, it raises questions about the effectiveness of federal regulators who had similar (if not more) information than GM regarding the ignition failures and the non-deployment of airbags.

While Mr. Valukus and Ms. Barra will testify before Congress soon, NHTSA won’t likely be called to the Hill upon the completion of the Inspector General’s review. Depending on the IG review, we could learn more about if or how much blame NHTSA could share with GM in the timely discovery and remedy of vehicle safety defects.

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GM’s Recall Mania Hits Suzuki http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/gms-recall-mania-hits-suzuki/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/gms-recall-mania-hits-suzuki/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 17:57:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829866 Poor Suzuki. Even as it tries to make a graceful exit from the U.S. market, they get mired in the latest round of General Motors recalls. Suzuki will be recalling 184,244 GM-made cars, sold as the Suzuki Forenza and Reno, but originating as the GM-made Daewoo Lacetti. Automotive News reports that the recall is related […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Poor Suzuki. Even as it tries to make a graceful exit from the U.S. market, they get mired in the latest round of General Motors recalls.

Suzuki will be recalling 184,244 GM-made cars, sold as the Suzuki Forenza and Reno, but originating as the GM-made Daewoo Lacetti. Automotive News reports that the recall is related to a faulty part in the daytime running lights that could overheat and catch fire.

Suzuki’s U.S. auto operations filed for bankruptcy in late 2012, with the plan approved in early 2013.

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Was The Government’s Divestment of GM Stock Insider Trading? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/was-the-governments-divestment-of-gm-stock-insider-trading/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/was-the-governments-divestment-of-gm-stock-insider-trading/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 14:43:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829450 Back in 2004, perfectionist homemaker and well known TV personality Martha Stewart was charged with insider trading. As presented, the facts in the case were simple. Martha owned stock in a medical research company called ImClone and, like a lot of people who invest in tech firms, she was hoping for a big payout when […]

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Department of the Treasury

Back in 2004, perfectionist homemaker and well known TV personality Martha Stewart was charged with insider trading. As presented, the facts in the case were simple. Martha owned stock in a medical research company called ImClone and, like a lot of people who invest in tech firms, she was hoping for a big payout when their product, a promising new cancer treatment, went on the market. Unfortunately, the FDA chose not to approve the drug and the value of the stock looked set to take a beating once the decision was announced. According to the charges initially brought against her, Martha and many of the company’s top executives learned of the FDA’s decision though their inside connections the day before it was publicly announced and were able to sell their shares before they crashed. That’s against the law and many of the people caught up in the scandal, including Martha who was convicted on the charge of making false claims to a federal investigator, ended up going to jail.

The above case is a useful example because it offers a clear cause-and-effect pattern and plays out along such a short timeline. Despite Martha’s protestations that she was innocent, the dots here appear to be easily connected. Most insider trading cases, however, require a little more imagination. The connections aren’t always so clear cut and sometimes the cases play out over a period of years. Take, for example, the US Government’s recent divestment of its massive amount of GM stock and the subsequent recall debacle that now threatens to drive that company’s stock prices through the floor. Coincidence? Some people think not.

Last December, the US Government sold its remaining shares in General Motors and ended a controversial bailout program that ultimately cost the American taxpayer something on the order $10 billion. At the time, the move puzzled many investment experts who argued that the government could have lessened its losses by simply holding onto the stock, which was trending upward at the time, and selling when its value was higher. It makes sense, right? The USG bought high and then sold low, even a novice investor like me knows that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, so why not simply wait?

Recalled GM ignition switch

The move that looked so stupid then looks like genius today. In February of this year, just a couple months after the sale, GM announced the recall of 1.4 million cars for faulty ignition switches. In the months since, more GM vehicles have been recalled for other problems and, if you have been following the reports here on TTAC, you know that that the number of vehicles involved now exceeds GM’s total sales for the past 5 years! The question is did the government have inside knowledge that this was on the way? Well, evidence is emerging that GM had data going back to at least 2007 that the ignition switches were failing to function properly and the government’s own safety watchdog, the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute (NHTSA) shows the company was actively investigating the problem during the 2009 bailout. At some level, then, the government did know.

Whether or not the timing of the stock sale rises to the level of insider trading, however, remains to be seen. The US Government is bigger and more complex than most of us will ever know and the individual agencies don’t always communicate with one another with the efficiency we might expect. The NHTSA has an entirely different focus than the Treasury Department and the chances of their reports coming across the desk of the person charged with maintaining that portfolio are extremely small. Still, the appearance of malfeasance is enough to send the tin foil hat wearers into a frenzy and damage the public’s confidence in the markets. The matter needs to be looked into.

GM RenCen

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: How Do You Handle Recall And Service Bulletins? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/ask-the-best-and-brightest-how-do-you-recall-handling-service-bulletins/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/ask-the-best-and-brightest-how-do-you-recall-handling-service-bulletins/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 15:53:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=806346 Since arriving at TTAC, I have been continually challenged and impressed by the B&B. The knowledge, wisdom, and rather civil discourse that arrives in response to the so-called journalism I produce is awe inspiring, often. Thank you, B&B. I’ve also been tasked with handling the GM recall story, given my technical background and my familiarity […]

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cobalt report 19

Since arriving at TTAC, I have been continually challenged and impressed by the B&B. The knowledge, wisdom, and rather civil discourse that arrives in response to the so-called journalism I produce is awe inspiring, often. Thank you, B&B. I’ve also been tasked with handling the GM recall story, given my technical background and my familiarity with GM’s processes at the dealer level – but today, I want to turn the floor over to you.

A recent New York Times article, raised the notion of GM’s seemingly nonchalant responses to quality issues with their vehicles. It’s been my goal in covering this matter to be as objective possible and present as many primary sources as possible. Getting carried away with a story like this is easy, and in my opinion, the NYT does just that. There’s little to no context for the reader, and most people are unfamiliar with recall processes for any OEM, let alone GM.

The Times analysis of service bulletins was limited to General Motors. 

 

The article is centered around the letter from the NHTSA’s Frank Borris discussing GM’s responses to various safety recalls over recent years, a letter that apparently that came at GM executive Michael Robinson like a bolt out of the blue. Excluding the Cobalt ignition debacle, was GM truly surprised, rolling with the status quo until caught? Or are they particularly unique in their behavior?

Can we sit and point fingers at GM solely, or is this a common occurrence in daily operations at other manufacturers? My dealer experience ends with GM. Where does your experience begin? Work at a dealership with another automaker? Maybe you work in a similar engineering field, and have fought the wrath of bean counters? How do the other OEMs (Toyota, Ford, Honda…) mitigate product problems in practice, especially in the face of safety vs. costs? And how do they respond to field reports about product flaws?

Anonymous stories and tips can be emailed to Editors at ttac dot com

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Too Big To Fail, Too Confused To Operate: Analysis Of 619 Pages Of Cobalt Engineering Documents [w/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799138   The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out […]

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out of the “run” position; and in the case of several accidents, allowed the ignition cylinder to rotate out of the run condition before or during accidents, causing the airbags to not deploy when required.

The documents, totaling 619 pages (some with repeat info), reveal just how deep seated “old GM” was in their cost cutting ways (Driving down supplier costs to the point of sacrificing quality, admittedly poorly designed ignition cylinder, and removing internal quality control on the parts), and just how blind sided “new GM” was during their investigations. It also confirms how suspended engineers Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman were involved in the ignition switch response, and fuzzy problem solving. Full text and an analysis of key documents below.

We already know the basics of how this happened, but it’s still surprising just how ingrained GM was in putting the issue aside. The key issues are these:

  • GM became aware of the ignition issue in the 2001 preproduction Saturn Ion and the 2005 preproduction Chevrolet Cobalt.
  • Gary Altman initiated the report that lead to the insert, and Ray DeGiorgio consulted on the fix and argued against ignition switch changes.
  • Many different options were proposed, including suggestions from Delphi.
  • Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.
  • The later key insert was the result, and was seen not as a fix, but as a “containment.”
  • GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
  • GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.
  • This lead to ISB #05-02-35-007.
  • In 2006, DeGiorgio eventually signed off on design changes for Delphi, that included a stronger spring and plunger for the detent mechanism in the ignition cylinder, which provides a physical resistance between the different key positions.
  • When implemented in 2007, the new ignition cylinders cost less than a dollar per unit more than the original design; $400,000 to retool the production lines. These are the same changes that were deemed “not an acceptable business case” in 2005
  • As company, however, no one knew who signed off on the change until the Melton family lawsuit.
  • In court, DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of changes to the ignition cylinder that would have effected the detents, only mentioning the key change..
  • Later investigations showed that the Cobalt had a substantial number of airbag warranty claims.
  • Higher level GM representatives broadsided by NHTSA’s investigations and disapproval of their slow reaction to other recent recalls.

First up, Gary Altman’s and Ray Giorgio’s role in the ignition cylinder issue is a problem. In court, Altman claimed that he did not feel that the Melton’s car was “unsafe.” This coming after submitting the initial mechanical complaint about the ignition falling out of run, in 2004:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf
During the investigation, several different approaches to modify the ignition cylinder were brought up to DeGiorgio. All of which were quickly dismissed by DeGiorgio, because the switch was already “very fragile,”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (1)
Later on, all fixes were dropped, as it wasn’t deemed necessary. With a tight deadline and budget, the engineers could not justify any of the fixes at the time, as it wasn’t an “acceptable business case.”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (2) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (3) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (4)

In 2006, DeGiorgio finally signed off on a design change for Delphi. The design change included  a stronger spring and longer detent plunger to increase the force needed to switch the key between different positions, along with an unrelated electrical upgrade. In an unexplained move, DeGiorgio did not assign a new part number to the improved switch design. The design change added 90 cents to the parts cost, and about $400,000 in tooling costs.

 

cobalt report 3
docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD047.pdf (1)

But, with this large of a role in the decision to delay the redesigned ignition switch, DeGiorgio claimed that he was not aware of any mechanical changes to the switches during his testimony in the Melton family suit against GM:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD056.pdf
Though, he did sign off on the changes, and worked with Delphi to test batches of ignition cylinders that contained an upgraded PCB (Printed Circuit Board), and detent plunger:

cobalt report 14

democrats.energycommerce.house.gov sites default files documents GM-Commodity-Validation-Sign-Off-2006-4-26.pdf

 

Curiously enough, though, is that GM had very little oversight on Delphi’s quality control, and Delphi did not check the rotational torque needed to turn past the switches detents. GM simply accepted Delphi’s parts and trusted their QC. But with rumored tensions between GM and Delphi, it’s said that cost cutting measures might be to blame as GM forced Delphi to push prices down, sacrificing parts quality. If this were true, GM’s choice to outsource QC to the supplier left them in the dark for too long, preventing them from seeing the immediate effects of their problems with Delphi:

cobalt report 4cobalt report 18

While this was going on, GM released the key insert as a “containment solution;” it would be the minimum needed to alleviate the problem for effected customers. This was chosen over two other modifications to the ignition cylinder, which were seen as a “partial solution” in the case of adding an additional detent mechanism to add more resistance to rotating the key out of “run,” and a “sure solution” involving moving the ignition switch higher up on the column, using a gear drive system to reach the rotary switch responsible for selecting which electrical circuit to run on. The added gearing would also increase rotational torque, the design stated.
cobalt report 11
cobalt report 12cobalt report 13
In 2007, the NHTSA began to probe into the surprising number of airbag-related complaints, despite “GM’s indications that they see no specific pattern.”
cobalt report 15

The issue was set aside, for the most part, until GM was informed by the Melton suit that there was a possible design change in the switch, based on an investigation into junkyard-found switches from the effected models. The testing showed that there was a noticeable change in detent torque, but no documentation from GM to show the changes. The GM engineers and representatives in the case were caught off guard by this design change, and began an internal investigation. This investigation lead GM engineer Brian Stouffer to find the documents that showed DeGiorgio signing off on design changes with no part number change.

cobalt report 5cobalt report 16
Finally, the most impressive point of this story comes from GM’s reactions to the NHTSA’s investigations. The NHTSA emailed GM asking for clarification on several other recalls, documenting GM’s reactions to other product issues with a disdain for GM’s penchant for doing the least amout possible to avoid full recalls; ie: regional recalls for parts failures in the rust-belt states. Saying that some were broadsided by this information would be an understatement:

cobalt report 19[...]
cobalt report 19

The response by Mike Robinson, VP for environment, energy and safety policy, sums up GM’s perception and confusion over their responses to the Cobalt issue, and several other poor recall responses in the past. “This note from NHTsA, both the content and tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue,” he states, “We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide.”

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To summarize, GM is its own worst enemy. They responded poorly to incredibly early reports, dismissing the issue too quickly as a casual problem. With reports going back to 2001, during the Saturn Ion development, there is no reason why the switch should have come unmodified to the Cobalt development; never mind the dismissal of the problem before the car was produced. Ray DeGiorgio’s role in this problem is larger than he initially lead on in the Melton case, though his motive in this discrepancy is unknown at this time.

Full text to all 619 pages can be find here.

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Editorial: Get Ready For Massive Recalls Driven By Modular Platforms http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:01:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791697 Today’s recall announcement by Toyota estimated to span at least 6.4 million vehicles, serves as a nice distraction from the ongoing recall occurring at cross-town rival General Motors. The Best & Brightest are free to squabble about which faceless corporate entity with zero regard for their individual well-being is the superior one. The rest of […]

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Today’s recall announcement by Toyota estimated to span at least 6.4 million vehicles, serves as a nice distraction from the ongoing recall occurring at cross-town rival General Motors. The Best & Brightest are free to squabble about which faceless corporate entity with zero regard for their individual well-being is the superior one. The rest of us have bigger fish to fry.

At 6.4 million vehicles, this Toyota recall is massive. It won’t be the last one. In fact, I think that ten years from now, this will be a low number.

The big trend in the auto industry today is modular platforms, which allow an enormous range of vehicles to share components. Volkswagen’s MQB architecture is an oft-cited example of this, largely because it takes a holistic approach to modularity. Much like Lego bricks, different “modules” can be assembled to create different vehicles. MQB is capable of spawning everything from a B-segment Volkswagen Polo to a D-segment Volkswagen Passat to an Audi TT sports car to a Volkswagen Touran minivan. Only a small number of “hard points” like the dimension from the center line of the front wheel to the pedal box, or the engine mounts, are fixed.

Within these modules are a high level of common parts, designed to be used across the entire range of MQB vehicles. This can include everything from whole powertrains to braking systems to smaller components that could be shared across a range of small to mid-size vehicles – which is, in theory, a truly vast quantity. Other commentators have expressed worries that MQB will lead to components being mismatched to their application. An A/C system engineered for a Passat might be overkill on a Polo (or vice versa) from a utility or financial standpoint.

From a purchasing standpoint, MQB will allow Volkswagen to buy lots and lots of widgets, receiving a significant discount on the cost per widget. This will equal significant savings for VW (though just how much they’ll save seems to depend on who you ask) while leading to shorter assembly times and more standardized production of vehicles. In the event that demand for a given model changes, a factory could scale back production of a slower selling model to help meet demand for the more popular one. This gives Volkswagen unprecedented flexibility in the way that cars can be designed, engineered and manufactured.

It also leaves Volkswagen in a very vulnerable position. What happens if they get a bad batch of widgets from a supplier, or the widget in question was poorly engineered? What if a manufacturing process was poorly designed, and the widgets aren’t installed properly? With so many vehicles assembled with the same faulty part or process, the impact could be enormous: millions of vehicles requiring repair, a black eye for Volkswagen and, heaven forbid, human lives negatively impacted.

This kind of exposure to potential quality defects and mass recalls was dubbed a “Cascading Failure” in a prior article, but many readers with engineering backgrounds objected. Instead, we can call it a “platform level failure”, which is the key difference between the scenario outlined above, and the Toyota recall, which affects everything from the Yaris subcompact to the Land Cruiser SUV.

But in a future where every car maker will have to adopt some kind of modular architecture, the likelihood of these events occurring is almost certain. And those who have invested most in common vehicle architectures are at the greatest risk.

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General Motors Puts Stop-Sale & Recall On Chevrolet Cruze Due To Axle Failure [W/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/general-motors-puts-stop-sale-recall-on-chevrolet-cruze-due-to-axle-failure-w-full-text/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/general-motors-puts-stop-sale-recall-on-chevrolet-cruze-due-to-axle-failure-w-full-text/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 20:24:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785465 Last weekend, Chevrolet issued a stop-sale 2013-2014 Chevrolet Cruze equipped with the 1.4L turbo-four with no initial reason for the action. A stop-sale is an order given by a manufacturer to dealers to cease the sales of a specific model of car to repair a problem. It can be anything from minor quality issues, up […]

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Last weekend, Chevrolet issued a stop-sale 2013-2014 Chevrolet Cruze equipped with the 1.4L turbo-four with no initial reason for the action. A stop-sale is an order given by a manufacturer to dealers to cease the sales of a specific model of car to repair a problem. It can be anything from minor quality issues, up to major mechanical maladies. While not an uncommon event, this comes on the heels of a tidal wave of expanded recalls and investigations centered around the maligned Delta-Platform cars. TTAC was able to obtain a copy of the stop-sale notice for the B&B, which pinpoints the failure to the front-passenger half-shaft not meeting GM specifications, with the half-shafts possibly fracturing as the result. 

It is notable that this is the second time the Cruze was recalled for this exact issue last September. In GM’s letter to the NHTSA on September 23, 2013, GM noted the response time from the initial reports in July of 2013 to the initial stop-sale and recall in September of 2013 after receiving field report of the half-shafts breaking. GM found that poor quality control from the parts supplier lead to micro fractures inside the shaft. It’s unknown at this time why GM has again initiated this recall, but GM plans to release a full chronology in two weeks.

Below is a full text copy of the current stop-sale notice to dealers, and a partial copy of the recall letter which details the failure; the portion of the document left it is merely repair instructions for the technician.

GM CUSTOMER CARE AND AFTERSALES
DCS3173
URGENT – DISTRIBUTE IMMEDIATELY

Date: March 28, 2014

Subject: 14079 – Safety Recall — Stop Delivery Until Safety Recall Has Been Performed On Vehicle
Front Axle Right Half Shaft Fracture

To: All Chevrolet Dealers

Attention: General Manager, Service Advisor, Service Manager, Parts and Service Director, Parts Manager, New Vehicle Sales Manager

General Motors is announcing Safety Recall 14079 today. Please see the attached bulletin for details.

Vehicles involved in this recall were placed on stop delivery March 27, 2014. Once the service procedure contained in the bulletin has been performed on the vehicle, the vehicle is released from stop delivery and the vehicle can be delivered to the customer.

Customer Letter Mailing
The customer letter mailing date has not yet been determined.

Global Connect (GWM)
The “Investigate Vehicle History” (IVH) screen will be updated week of March 24, 2014. A list of involved vehicles in dealer inventory is attached to this message. Please hold all warranty transactions until the VIN appears in IVH.

Campaign Initiation Detail Report (CIDR)
The CIDR will be available in the near future.

END OF MESSAGE
GM CUSTOMER CARE AND AFTERSALES

And, finally, the recall report. Full text with photos detailing how to diagnose whether or not your Cruze has the defective half-shaft is here.

PRODUCT SAFETY RECALL

SUBJECT: Front Axle Right Half Shaft Fracture

MODELS: 2013-2014 Chevrolet Cruze Equipped with 1.4L Turbo Engine (LUV)

CONDITION

General Motors has decided that a defect which relates to motor vehicle safety exists in some 2013-2014 model year Chevrolet Cruze vehicles, equipped with a 1.4L turbo engine (LUV). The interconnecting tubular bar on the front right axle half shaft on some of these vehicles may not meet GM specification and could fracture and separate. If this occurs while driving the vehicle, steering and braking control would be maintained; however, the vehicle would lose power to the wheels and would coast to a stop. If a vehicle with a fractured half shaft is parked on an incline without the parking brake applied, the vehicle could move unexpectedly, resulting in a possible crash or injury to pedestrians.

CORRECTION

Dealers are to inspect and, if necessary, replace the half shaft.

[...]

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Guest Post: Society Of Automotive Analysts Reliability Study http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/guest-post-society-of-automotive-analysts-reliability-study/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/guest-post-society-of-automotive-analysts-reliability-study/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 21:42:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=771586 From time to time someone comes to me with a great idea: instead of surveying car owners to get TrueDelta’s reliability stats, why not use warranty claims data? The reason why not: manufacturers consider such data to be highly proprietary. So when I heard that the auto industry’s “first OEM warranty and recall study” was […]

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Warranty claims paid

From time to time someone comes to me with a great idea: instead of surveying car owners to get TrueDelta’s reliability stats, why not use warranty claims data? The reason why not: manufacturers consider such data to be highly proprietary. So when I heard that the auto industry’s “first OEM warranty and recall study” was going to be presented at a Society of Automotive Analysts meeting, I was intrigued. Had someone gotten their hands on this data? What were they able to learn from it?

Warranty claims comparison

It turns out that Stout Risius Ross, the financial consulting firm that conducted the study, didn’t have access to any proprietary data. Instead, they used recall filings and the manufacturer-level data available in financial statements. Recall filings include the number of cars affected. Annual costs of warranty claims must be disclosed in financial reports. These data tend to be messy, as different companies include different things in these costs; there’s no precise universal standard. Also, multiple model years are often lumped together, and changes in both warranty claims and recalls lag changes in the number of cars sold. Keep these limitations in mind when viewing the “warranty claims as a percentage of revenue” comparison.

Recall trends

The presenters downplayed the relationship between recalls and quality, as the latter includes things gone right as well as things gone wrong. So what’s the point of studying all of this warranty and recall data? The usual point for a business audience: money. Warranty claims and recalls cost manufacturers billions of dollars each year. Finance needs to be able to predict these costs so they can set aside appropriately sized contingency funds.

Engine vs. non recalls

Of even greater interest to the people in the room: who pays. OEMs want suppliers to pick up half or more of the cost of warranty claims and recalls. So far suppliers have been picking up only a small fraction of these costs, but OEMs have been getting more aggressive. Suppliers are smaller, sometimes much smaller companies. A big recall could bankrupt them—if they had to pay for it, and they were not insured.

Claims percent revenue

To help them not pay for it, they can hire good lawyers. One was on the panel. To the many suppliers in the room he suggested “if you’re not at the table, you’re part of the meal.” To avoid getting stuck with the costs of recalls and warranty claims, suppliers must first push to be included in any discussions the OEMs have regarding who pays. Otherwise they’ll just receive an invoice.

Despite the availability of excellent legal assistance, a supplier might end up having to pay out millions for a recall or warranty claims anyway. To protect themselves, they can buy insurance. The price of this insurance will depend on calculations of risk. Currently, no one outside the OEMs has good data on the costs of recalls and warranty claims. To fill this need, we have this study.

Two trends of greater interest to car owners did come up in the presentation. The first is fairly well known: warranty costs have been declining as cars’ reliability (a narrower term than quality) improves. The second trend is much less well-known: since the mid-1990s the number of cars recalled each year has been surging. The presenters weren’t able to get too far into the reasons for this. The addition of airbags has been one driver. When cars didn’t have them, they couldn’t be recalled. In recent years airbags have been one of the most frequently recalled systems. Engine-related recalls have grown much less quickly than non-engine-related ones. Also, the NHTSA has gotten more aggressive. The lawyer on the panel offered protection from big government—it’s important to push back.

A third driver of the increasing number of cars recalled wasn’t part of the presentation. To increase economies of scale, OEMs have been striving to communize as many parts as possible across multiple products. As a result, when a critical part does fail, a much larger number of cars can be affected. The number of cars recalled has grown faster than the number of recalls.

This is just the initial phase of a planned annual study. Perhaps they’ll be able to get more detailed data in the future? Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely. The people in the room (OEMs, suppliers, business consultants) generally agreed that the companies should not have to disclose any more detail; model-level information should be proprietary, and the requirements suck up an excessive number of person-hours already.

Warranty claims paid Warranty claims comparison Recall trends Engine vs. non recalls Claims percent revenue

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GM Found Ignition Switch Issues In 2001 With Saturn, Updated Chronology, New Study Shows 303 No-Airbag Deaths [w/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-found-ignition-switch-issues-in-2001-with-saturn-updated-chonology-new-study-shows-303-no-airbag-deaths-w-full-text/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-found-ignition-switch-issues-in-2001-with-saturn-updated-chonology-new-study-shows-303-no-airbag-deaths-w-full-text/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 20:45:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=771081 General Motors released their updated chronology to the recall effecting the 2007 and earlier Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR; Pontiac G5 and Solstice; and Saturn Ion and Sky. Most of the new chronology works just to update the document with the expanded recall, but there’s a key update: During the Saturn Ion development in 2001, a […]

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General Motors released their updated chronology to the recall effecting the 2007 and earlier Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR; Pontiac G5 and Solstice; and Saturn Ion and Sky. Most of the new chronology works just to update the document with the expanded recall, but there’s a key update:

During the Saturn Ion development in 2001, a preproduction model had  an ignition cylinder problem that was caused by, you guessed it, “low detent plunger force,” the result being that it takes a low amount of effort to knock the key out of the “run” position.

The 2001 Saturn Ion pre-production report goes on to say that design changes to the ignition cylinder seemingly eliminated the issue. However, in 2003 a report documented an instance where an Ion was brought in for repair, and the technician servicing the car experienced a situation where the Ion stalled while driving, due to the key rotating “off.” The technician noted that “[t]he owner had several keys on the key ring,” and initially thought that “[t]he additional weight of the keys had worn out the ignition switch.” The technician replaced the ignition cylinder, and the report was closed.

As we discussed in previous posts, Technical Service Bulletins (known by GM as Information Service Bulletins, or ISP for short) is the result of several field reports on a common issue, and is eventually entered into a database known as the General Motors Vehicle Information System, or GMVIS for short. ISB’s are not found by a tech unless they are searching for a related issue. Thus, the 2003 example above is an early report that lead to ISB  #05-02-35-007.

Also outlined in the updated chronology deals with Saturn’s  sensing and diagnostic module (“SDM”), which differs from the Cobalt in that it is designed to stop recording once the engine of the car is no longer running. This means that crash data from a Saturn Ion SDM is not as conclusive as a Cobalt’s, which continues to record the ignition position during an accident in which the engine has been turned off.

Despite this, GM believes that the ignition cylinder issue has lead to eight accidents and four fatalities involving a Saturn Ion. At least three accidents involving the Chevrolet HHR can be linked; but no accidents involving a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky have been found by GM. This brings the confirmed number of accidents to 31, and total number of deaths to 13.

The New York Times reports that in a study initiated by the Center for Automotive Safety (“CSA”), a private watchdog group, Friedman Research Corporation analyzed federal crash data and found 303 deaths linked to no airbag deployment in the recall-effected vehicles. The study does not link these no-airbag crashes to the ignition switch maladies, but questions why the NHTSA took so long to react to a mounting problem with the Cobalt and Ion.

In the letter to the NHTSA, CSA states the “NHTSA should have and could have initiated a defect investigation to determine why airbags are not deploying in Cobalts and Ions in increasing numbers.” And GM has began its own internal investigation, hiring former United States attorney for Northern Illinois, Anton Valukas to investigate.

“Research is underway at G.M. and the investigation of the ignition switch recall and the impact of the defective switch is ongoing,” Mr. Martin, the G.M. spokesman, said. “While this is happening, we are doing what we can now to ensure our customers’ safety and peace of mind. We want our customers to know that today’s G.M. is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust.”

What have we learned through all of this? The engineers and technicians did their job, and GM had every piece of the puzzle; but as explained in the chronology, each piece was scattered about by an alphabet soup of committees. The review process let us down, both with Delphi’s quality control in the early switches and GM’s internal reaction to the situation. Further investigation will hopefully lead us to fully understanding the error in GM’s review process.

The full text of the updated chronology can be seen here.

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General Motors Expanding Ignition Cylinder Recall To Other Models, Releases Timeline On Failure [w/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/general-motors-expanding-ignition-cylinder-recall-to-other-models-releases-timeline-on-failure/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/general-motors-expanding-ignition-cylinder-recall-to-other-models-releases-timeline-on-failure/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 22:19:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=755257 “The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.” — Alan Batey,  president of General Motors North America Yesterday, GM expanded their ignition switch recall to include the other models mentioned in […]

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“The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.” — Alan Batey,  president of General Motors North America

Yesterday, GM expanded their ignition switch recall to include the other models mentioned in the #05-02-35-007A Technical Information Service Bulletin (“ISB”). These include:

  • 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006 – 2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007  Saturn Sky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also launching a probe into why GM took so long to issue a recall. GM also released their chronology of the ignition cylinder issue and years of investigation to TTAC, which we will break down for your digestion along with the full text, after the jump.

You can read the full text here. Be warned, it’s over 2,300 words long. Here’s a detailed summary of the events:

2004

GM became aware of the issue around the time of the Cobalt launch, when GM learned of one incident where a Cobalt was turn off when the key was inadvertently knocked out of run. GM was able to replicate the issue, and an engineering query was started. Known as the Problem Resolution Tracking System inquiry (“PRTS”), it’s GM’s process for studying defects, finding a solution to the defect, and deciding whether or not the solution should be implemented.

“Engineers believed that low key cylinder torque effort was an issue and considered a number of potential solutions. After consideration of the lead time required, cost, and effectiveness of each of these solutions, the PRTS was closed with no action.”

2005

More incidents were reported to GM of the Cobalt’s ignition cylinder being easily knocked out of “run.” In a PRTS opened in May of 2005, an engineer suggested that the Cobalt’s key slot be changed into a holeThough the initial proposal was approved, the change was later canceled. This lead to the first ISB  #05-02-35-007 in December 2005, which included all of the models (Except for the Saturn Sky, which had not been released just yet) listed above in the current recall , but only up to the 2006 Model Year (“MY”). GM was aware of accidents that had occured before the ISB was issued, and responded to them in the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) according to the report.

The ISB was later updated to include MY 2007, and the MY 2007 Saturn Sky, which is the copy TTAC obtained last week.

“GM concluded in December 2005 that the Service Bulletin and field service campaign was the appropriate response to the reported incidents, given that the car’s steering and braking systems remained operational even after a loss of engine power, and the car’s engine could be restarted by shifting the car into either neutral or park.”


2006

The engineer responsible for the original ignition switch design signed off on the approval of design changes suggested by GM’s supplier, Delphi Mechatronics. The changes include, among other things, a new detent plunger design and stronger spring to increase the level of effort needed to twist the key between positions. The design was implemented by Delphi with out a change in part number, so GM did not have a hard date in which the design change made it to the effected models, but they believe it was for MY 2007. This is why ISB  #05-02-35-007 was amended to the  #05-02-35-007A in 2006 to include MY2007 models.

On August 1, 2006, GM opened a new PRTS when a Cobalt customer complained of stalling issues after receiving a new ignition cylinder. The PRTS was closed after the condition could not be replicated with 100 miles of driving.

2007

On March 29, 2007, GM employees met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to discuss occupant safety. In the meeting, the NHTSA informed the GM employees of a fatal accident that happened on July 29, 2005, where a 2005 Cobalt was involved in a front-end collision, and the vehicle’s sensing and diagnostic module (“SDM”) detected that the car was in the “accessory” position. Though GM’s legal department had opened a case in 2005, the GM employees at the NHTSA meeting were not aware of the incident.

GM tasked an investigating engineer to look into Cobalt crashes. By the end of 2007, GM found ten incidents where the car was claimed to have shut down prior to the accident. SDM was available for nine out of the ten crashes. In five of those crashes, the SDM reported that the ignition was in the “run” position, and four where in the “accessory” position.

2009

In Febuary 2009, a new PRTS was opened, and finally concluded with the design change in the Cobalt key suggested earlier. GM also met with Continental, the supplier of the SDM’s used in the Cobalt, in May. By this point, GM was aware of fourteen crashes, seven with the SDM reporting the key in the “run” position, and seven reporting the key in the “accessory” position. GM sent two Cobalt SDM’s that reported the ignition in the “run” position at the time of the accident to Continental for further testing. Continental revealed in the meeting that they had access to data that GM engineers did not, and found that in both SDM’s the sensing algorithm had been stopped while reporting the key in the “run” position. GM and Contentental discussed possible causes, but it is not known by TTAC at this time as to what those possible causes were.

2010

The Cobalt’s production was phased out as previously planned.

2011

GM launched an alphabet soup investigation using their Field Performance Evaluation (“FPE”) process, and assigned a  Field Performance Assessment Engineer (“FPAE”) to investigate a group of 2005-2007 Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 crashes where the airbags had no deployed in a frontal crash.

The results were inconclusive at first, with several other driver-factors that came into play with some of the accidents (Gravel roads, high speeds, etc). The only thing confirmed in the FPE investigation was that “some of the ignitions were recorded as having been in the ‘run’ position, while others were recorded as having been in either the “accessory” or “off” positions, at the time of the crash.”

The FPAE was asked to investigate if other known issues, namely the known ignition cylinder issues, were to explain the airbag non-deployment in the 2007 and earlier vehicles.

2012

In May of 2012, the FPAE tested the ignition cylinders of Chevrolet Cobalts, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac G5s, and Saturn Ions, in model years ranging from 2003 through 2010, according to the report. The cars were sampled at a salvage yard, and tested for their “torque performance,” or how much torque it takes to rotate the key though its detents. They found in vehicles made from MY 2007 and before that several switches showed torque performance below what GM had originally specified.

GM also looked to see if changes to the Cobalt’s anti-theft system in 2008 had any effect on the design of ignition cylinder, but results were inconclusive. GM opened two studies using their “Red X” and “Design for Six Sigma” problem-solving methodologies to look at why the tested ignition cylinders’ torque performance differed so greatly between one another. The Red X investigation was closed in November of 2012. The Design for Six Sigma investigation closed in January 2013. Both were inconclusive.

2013

In April of 2013, the FPAE discovered that the torque performance of a new GM ignition switch purchased after 2010 differed greatly from one in a 2005 Cobalt. The FPAE also learned that the plunger and spring differed greatly, as well.

Shortly after that assessment, GM consulted an outside engineering resource to investigate all of their findings. It was confirmed that the MY2007 and older cars regularly failed to meet the torque performance that GM had specified; that there was a change in the ignition cylinder design in late-2006 by Delphi, the part supplier; and that those changes were responsible for the different torque performance difference in the MY2007 and older cars when compared to the later model cars.

With all analysis complete, the results were brought to GM’s Field Performance Evaluation Review Committee (“FPERC”) and the Executive Field Action Decision Committee (“EFADC”) on December 17th, 2013, and a second EFADC meeting on January 31, 2014, when the EFADC directed a safety recall.

Conclusion

GM’s report summarizes it best:

Between 2005 and the date of this submission, GM is currently aware of 23 frontal-impact crashes involving 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the airbags’ non-deployment. During that same timeframe, of these crashes, GM is currently aware of six that resulted in eight fatalities of frontal occupants. GM employees became aware of many of these crashes within a month of the dates on which they occurred. As GM learned of these crashes, employees undertook to investigate the underlying facts and circumstances to determine, among other things, why the airbags had not deployed. With respect to 22 of the 23 frontal-impact crashes referenced above, the data retrieved from the vehicles’ SDMs indicated that the ignition switches were in the “run” position in nine of the crashes, in the “accessory” position in twelve of the crashes, and in the “off” position in one of the crashes. Throughout this period, GM was involved in claims and lawsuits in which allegations were made regarding the ignition switch issue that is the subject of the recall. These 23 crashes are out of a total U.S. population of 619,122 vehicles subject to the pending recall.

 

What’s clear to me is this: GM was neglectful in dismissing the issue so early on. While the design was repaired by Delphi in a reasonable amount of time, the implementation into the older models should not have been ignored for so long. This is where GM dropped the ball, in my opinion. The key design change was not enough, only bandaiding the fault of the ignition cylinder.

So, here is the question for you, B&B. Where is GM irresponsible?

Were they justified in delaying their full investigation with the FPAE until 2011, 7 years after finding the issue? And was their investigation timely? Delphi solved the problem in late-2006, why did it take GM until 2013 to confirm the changes and move forward with the recall?

[Ed. Note: Title updated with full text mention]

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GM To Recall 370,000 Silverado/Sierra Trucks For Fire Risk http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gm-to-recall-370000-silveradosierra-trucks-for-fire-risk/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gm-to-recall-370000-silveradosierra-trucks-for-fire-risk/#comments Sat, 11 Jan 2014 17:35:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=696537 The new-for-2014 Silverado charmed our very own Winston Braithwaite when he tested it earlier this year. But if you ran right out to buy one after reading the review (YES ADVERTISERS THIS HAPPENS EVERY DAY) you might be without it for a few days in the near future. GM is reportedly aware of eight issues […]

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The new-for-2014 Silverado charmed our very own Winston Braithwaite when he tested it earlier this year. But if you ran right out to buy one after reading the review (YES ADVERTISERS THIS HAPPENS EVERY DAY) you might be without it for a few days in the near future.

GM is reportedly aware of eight issues where 4.3-liter and 5.3-liter 2014-model trucks caught fire due to “overheated exhaust areas”. These incidents all happened during “very cold weather”, and the company is encouraging owners not to let their trucks idle. Given that half of the reason people buy these sleds is to let ‘em idle in the winter, it seems unlikely this advice will be honored in the observation more than the breach, so to speak.

The fix will be available starting Monday and appears to be a software reprogramming.

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Total Recall Update: Rustectomy Successful But Change Is In The Wind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-update-rustectomy-successful-but-change-is-in-the-wind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-update-rustectomy-successful-but-change-is-in-the-wind/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:56:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497310 Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under […]

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Freestar

Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under a recall issued earlier this year. I promised then that, once the repair was completed, I would report back to you on how everything turned out.

As you may remember from that earlier article, the damage to the van was fairly advanced. The area around the seat mounts was encircled with corrosion and, in some places, had rusted to the point that there were actual holes between the wheel well and the interior of the vehicle. The affected area had been concealed under a plastic panel so I had not noticed the issue earlier, but I had noticed the van felt and smelled damp. How the whole piece had stayed in place I have no clue as it seemed to me at the time I could have pulled the seat mount out with my bare hands.

rust 1

As usual, my local Ford dealer was excellent and scheduled the repair as quickly as they could. They took it in after work on Friday night, completed the repair on a Saturday and I had the vehicle back in my garage that night. Once again, Ford deserves accolades for their customer service and I came away quite satisfied with the transaction.

On Sunday morning, I went out to the garage and took a good look at the work done. From the wheel well side I could see where a new piece of sheet metal had been grafted onto the inner fender well. The edges appear to have been carefully caulked and the whole thing covered over with rubberized undercoating. To my eye it looks to be a neat and efficient repair.

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Inside the van, I once again removed the plastic panel to examine the backside of the repair. The most obvious thing the Ford techs have done is to totally cut out the rusted area. It appears as though they did the work with a pair of tin snips, nibbling away at the area one bite at a time and leaving a series of sharp metal teeth along the edge of their cut. Several sheet metal screws have been used to affix the panel and a large steel band has also been added to reinforce the seat mount. Besides the sloppy cut, which would have been neater and easier had they used a dremel or a sidewheel cutter, the repair seems to be a good one. Given that it was all done on the company dime and that all the sharp bits are hidden behind a thick plastic panel where they should never come into contact with soft human skin, I am satisfied with the work. Of course, since I am not a body and fender man, I’d be interested in everyone’s comments, too.

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To me, however, there is a larger issue brewing. This whole experience of finding massive quantities of hitherto unexpected rust has left me questioning whether or not hanging on to the Freestar for another year is really worth risk. I wonder now just what other parts of the vehicle are suffering similar issues and what the results may be if we have an accident. There are, I note, a few places around the body where rust bubbles are forming and I have over the past year assiduously attacked the red stuff wherever I have found it, in particular along the lower edges of the vehicle’s doors. With my eventual departure from Buffalo now less than a year away, I am thinking it may be time to replace the Gray Lady and I have a pretty good idea what we are going to end up with.

Am I wise to make a move or just worried rat trying to jump a holed ship that isn’t actually sinking? You tell me.

Photo courtesy of Netcarshow.com

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Total Recall: Ignore At Your Own Peril http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-ignore-at-your-own-peril/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/total-recall-ignore-at-your-own-peril/#comments Sat, 20 Jul 2013 19:43:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496152 In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that […]

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rust 1

In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.

Apparently the issue is more important than I thought because about two weeks ago my local Ford shop contacted me by letter to remind me about the recall and to encourage me to make an appointment for an inspection. But the cat was in the cradle with the silver spoon and little boy blue and the man on the moon and like so many important things in life, I never got around to doing anything about it. Yesterday, however, I decided to tackle one the van’s other annoying little problems, the malfunctioning rear air conditioning, and that required removing the interior panel that covered both the AC unit and the seat mount. I was utterly shocked by what I found.

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As you can see from the photos, the steel wall of the wheel well is almost entirely eaten away around the seat mount and in places the corrosion is so bad I could look through the holes in the body and see the garage floor. Because of the pattern of rust, in a complete circle around the mount, the situation appears to be quite dire in my opinion. I could have easily made a hole big enough to put a basketball through by simply pulling on the affected part with my bare hand. Given the fact that my son rides in that third row almost everyday I’m left a little speechless about what I found. All it would have taken to collapse the rear seat completely was one hard bump.

Naturally, I went to the Ford dealership right away and they scheduled me a time next Friday to come in and get the issue fixed. Until then, we will have to continue to use the van for daily errands, but I’ve told my wife to stay close to home as possible for the next week. Because we only have the two vehicles now, these repairs, which I am told will take about a day to complete, will be pretty inconvenient for us. Loaner cars are not covered under the recall.

Despite the inconvenience, I still have to commend Ford for their repeated efforts to get me to address what they knew to be a legitimate concern rather than just posting the information on their website and letting it languish. I wish now I had been more proactive about solving the problem and I encourage all of you to spread the word to anyone who owns one of the affected vehicles about the severity of this condition. I guess it pays to stay on top of these things. Lesson learned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better make that colonoscopy appointment I have been putting off…

2004 Ford Freestar

2004 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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NHTSA Probes GM’s Screening Test After Fire http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/nhtsa-probes-gms-screening-test-after-fire/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/nhtsa-probes-gms-screening-test-after-fire/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 13:59:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494616   The NHTSA is looking into whether GM is doing the right thing with cars it has recalled. According to Reuters, “the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has opened what it calls a recall query to look at whether a stress test GM is using on a portion of the recalled cars […]

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The NHTSA is looking into whether GM is doing the right thing with cars it has recalled. According to Reuters, “the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has opened what it calls a recall query to look at whether a stress test GM is using on a portion of the recalled cars is good enough, because a fire occurred after the procedure that was meant to catch the problem.”

In May, GM recalled 42,904 2012 and 2013 model Buick LaCrosse and Regal cars, and 2013 model Chevrolet Malibu Eco cars equipped with its “eAssist” mild hybrid system, after circuit boards did overheat and would “lead to a loss of battery charge or, in extreme cases, a fire in the trunk,” as the report says.

Of the recalled cars, about 22,000 are getting their battery packs replaced. The rest undergoes a screening test to see if the control module needs to be replaced.

Says Reuters: “NHTSA questioned the effectiveness of the screening test because the fire in March occurred in a car that had already gone through the testing as part of a service procedure before the recall.”  The NHTSA said that the fire drew “into question whether or not the procedure can effectively identify a defective control module.”

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Jeeps Get Hitched To Prevent Fiery Union http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/jeeps-get-hitched-to-prevent-fiery-union/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/jeeps-get-hitched-to-prevent-fiery-union/#comments Wed, 19 Jun 2013 15:01:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492669 As we reported yesterday, Chrysler will be recalling the 2.7 million  1.56 million Jeeps being targeted by NHTSA over rear-end crashes that can lead to a fiery death. The solution; a trailer hitch out of the Mopar catalog. Both Chrysler and NHTSA get to walk away from this one without losing too much face; NHTSA […]

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2005-2007_Jeep_Liberty_--_08-16-2010

As we reported yesterday, Chrysler will be recalling the 2.7 million  1.56 million Jeeps being targeted by NHTSA over rear-end crashes that can lead to a fiery death. The solution; a trailer hitch out of the Mopar catalog.

Both Chrysler and NHTSA get to walk away from this one without losing too much face; NHTSA appears to have compelled Chrysler to take action on the matter, while Chrysler’s “voluntary” action allows it to maintain that there’s nothing wrong with the vehicles, while also having the PR bonus of making them look responsible and caring in the face of a safety issue.

It’s likely that most of the Jeeps will pass the “visual inspection” and dealers won’t need to install too many of the Mopar factory trailer hitches. And every person that comes in is a potential sales lead. After all, some of these Jeeps are 20 years old by now. Certainly time for a new Jeep, isn’t it?

 

 

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Chrysler Stands Down, Recalls Jeeps http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/chrysler-stands-down-recalls-jeeps/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/chrysler-stands-down-recalls-jeeps/#comments Tue, 18 Jun 2013 18:47:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492574 Facing a looming deadline to comply with a NHTSA request to recall 2.7 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs – some of which are close to 20 years old at this point – Chrysler had decided to comply with NHTSA’s request. While Chrysler maintains that their vehicles are safety, the auto […]

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1993-1995_Jeep_Grand_Cherokee_--_03-30-2012

Facing a looming deadline to comply with a NHTSA request to recall 2.7 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs – some of which are close to 20 years old at this point – Chrysler had decided to comply with NHTSA’s request.

While Chrysler maintains that their vehicles are safety, the auto maker has decided to inspect and, if necessary, repair the affected vehicles, as per their official statement

As a result of the agreement, Chrysler Group will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.

The issue revolves around rear-mounted gas tanks in the two models and the question of whether or not rear-end crashes can cause vehicle fires. NHTSA has been investigating the matter since 2010 and reports a total of 51 deaths resulting from 37 rear-end crashes in both cars.

Chrysler not only maintained that the Jeeps in question were safe, but mounted a mini-PR war against NHTSA, providing data on rear end crash fatalities. The company may have been right, but public perception may have been such that Chrysler didn”t want to risk going through what Ford did during the Pinto fire controversy. The PR battle would have been unwinnable, given the complexity of the issue and the public’s general aversion to nuance and detail when it comes to any sort of discourse. We’ll have more as this story develops.

 

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Balls Of Fire, Then And Now http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/balls-of-fire-then-and-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/balls-of-fire-then-and-now/#comments Fri, 07 Jun 2013 14:12:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490598 Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past […]

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Burned-Jeep-jpg

Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand.

Because the root cause of the recall is said to involve rear-end collisions, ruptured fuel tanks, and the possibility of a death so gruesome that most of us shudder to even think about it, people are drawing a natural comparison between the current case and the Ford Pinto debacle of the 1970s. They appear the same on the surface but that’s only because, as much as I am loathe to admit it, the ‘70s were a long time ago and public awareness of the details of that earlier case has wasted away. In their rush to assert that history is repeating itself, people leap over a critical piece of the story that makes what happened almost 40 years ago much, much worse. Namely that Ford knew about the tendency of the Pinto to explode before the cars even left the factory, and, because it would cost an extra $11 per car to fix, they elected not to act.

The case against Ford was laid out in great detail by Mother Jones News in their October 1977 issue – view the original article – and it makes chilling reading. In a nutshell, that article states that the problems with the Pinto’s fuel tank became apparent during pre-production crash tests, but that Ford elected to go ahead with the car as designed because the tooling for the cars was already in place and because the overall cost to upgrade the car was deemed to be higher than the cost potential settlements to the families of those people unfortunate enough to be burned alive in an accident. Mother Jones backed up this assertion with a leaked Ford memo that revealed that an internal cost-benefit analysis had determined that the company’s average estimated payout in the event of a death caused by the defect would be $200,000. Crunching the numbers, then, was simple: $11 times X million cars over the car’s product cycle vs $200,000 times a projected 180 burn deaths per year. Chillingly logical, isn’t it?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Once Mother Jones blew the lid off this story, people got enraged and Pinto sales dropped precipitously. In 1977, seven full years after the car’s introduction, Ford finally made the required modifications and the car continued to appear on Ford lots where it sold in much smaller numbers until it finally went away in 1980. Today, the Ford Pinto has virtually vanished from the streets and, when they do appear, they seem more an oddity than a rolling death trap released upon the world through corporate duplicity.

I suppose that those whose lives have been effected by current “alleged” defect in Chrysler’s Jeeps will care little about the distinction I make between a vehicle that is determined after the fact to have a possibly deadly defect and one that left the factory with a similar defect with the full knowledge of the people running the program, but to me the difference is an important one. One is a mistake, the other is murder. One deserves to be prosecuted and the other made right. Both, however, need to be remembered in their correct context.

Even so, Chrysler should not ignore the lesson that Ford learned in the ensuing debacle. People don’t like to be burned alive in their cars. We don’t even like the thought of it. Over time we may forget the specific details, but we will remember the part about the burning. Don’t forget that. Make this right before its too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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NHTSA Not On Board With Panther Love http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/nhtsa-not-on-board-with-panther-love/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/nhtsa-not-on-board-with-panther-love/#comments Wed, 01 May 2013 12:30:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=486799 While we normally avoid recall related stories here at TTAC, our beloved (well, not by me, really) Panthers get so little love elsewhere, we figure we may as well bring this to your attention. NHTSA is looking into a possible defect in 2005-2008 Ford Police Interceptors, and I’m willing to bet somebody reading this site […]

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While we normally avoid recall related stories here at TTAC, our beloved (well, not by me, really) Panthers get so little love elsewhere, we figure we may as well bring this to your attention.

NHTSA is looking into a possible defect in 2005-2008 Ford Police Interceptors, and I’m willing to bet somebody reading this site drives that exact vehicle. As per Automotive News (via Reuters)

NHTSA said it is conducting an engineering analysis into model year 2005-2008 Ford Motor Co. Crown Victoria police models for a potential steering issue. A connection between the upper and lower shafts of the steering column may have failed, causing separation of the shafts, NHTSA said.

 

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QOTD: Is Hyundai Growing Too Fast? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qotd-is-hyundai-growing-too-fast/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qotd-is-hyundai-growing-too-fast/#comments Wed, 10 Apr 2013 17:46:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484247 A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover? Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues “Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep […]

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A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover?

Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues

“Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep up with its rapid volume growth,” said Kim Phill-soo, a professor at Department of Automotive Engineering at Daelim University College in Seoul. “The latest recall highlighted loopholes in Hyundai’s quality system.”

The most recent recall, which involves a brake lamp switch, affects 1.9 million vehicles in the United States alone, according to Reuters. There have been other recalls as well, including rusty subframes and self-deploying airbags. Despite these problems, Hyundai has managed to ride a wave of goodwill on the strength of their products and their image turnaround. Hyundai has become an underdog company that people are willing to root for, and the recent fuel economy snafu, that ended up becoming a non-event for many people, is strong evidence of how effective they are at managing their PR affairs.

On the one hand, I have to wonder if the latest recall is a result of the increasing standardization of auto parts. The nature of this phenomenon suggests that when parts fail, the failure can cascade across mass quantities of vehicles, resulting in the mega recalls we’ve seen over the past few years. With the implementation of modular architectures and further standardization, the potential for these mega recalls only increases. Just wait till Volkswagen’s MQB cars suffer their first recall for a look at the “new normal” of recalls will be.

But that shouldn’t discourage us from asking if there may be underlying quality issues at Hyundai. Jack Baruth noted that the Elantra he rented last year looked a little worse for wear compared to other cars of a similar vintage – though notably, the car’s fuel economy did meet his expectations.

Lacking the requisite manufacturing and engineering knowledge, I’ll put this one to the B&B, rather than submitting my theory as a definitive answer. Have at it.

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Gray Lady Down: A Tale of Rescue and Redemption http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gray-lady-down-a-tale-of-rescue-and-redemption/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gray-lady-down-a-tale-of-rescue-and-redemption/#comments Sat, 23 Feb 2013 09:44:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478245 To be frank, the 2003 Ford Freestar is a dowdy looking vehicle of ponderous proportions. Its short, squat body is purely utilitarian. The bulging fender flairs, which look like they were added as a stylistic afterthought, make the van look like a chubby woman in stretchy pants when viewed from behind. As a lover of […]

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2003 Ford Freestar

To be frank, the 2003 Ford Freestar is a dowdy looking vehicle of ponderous proportions. Its short, squat body is purely utilitarian. The bulging fender flairs, which look like they were added as a stylistic afterthought, make the van look like a chubby woman in stretchy pants when viewed from behind. As a lover of cars, I should hate everything about it.

But I can’t hate it. The short squat body makes getting in and out easy for my wife and kids, and “utilitarian” means “good” when you are talking about a people mover. From the front, the van’s large headlights, sweeping windshield and square grill give it an honest, open face that is pleasant to look at and, the truth is, I am a sucker for a pretty face.

The 1978 Action Thriller starring Charlton Heston as your brave Captain

Inside, the Freestar’s seats are wide and comfortable and the amenities are on par with most other mini vans of the era. The middle seats are removable, while the rearmost bench folds into the floor at the pull of just a couple of straps. Auto reviewers might decry the interior surfaces, most of which are molded in textured hard plastic that looks and feels cheap, but every parent who has suffered a car sick child absolutely approves of hard plastic, and so do I.

In general, the Freestar is a nice place to be, so nice that I have taken to calling ours “The Gray Lady.” It is comfortable and quiet on the move, and the low dash and enormous windshield put the driver right out front. On the road, the van feels substantial and solid, like a 70s luxury barge, and it floats over the roughest of Buffalo roads with surprising smoothness. The steering is slightly on the heavy side, but it feels appropriate for the vehicle. The brakes are generally decent, but you do feel the weight of the vehicle when you use them. Short stops are best avoided in non emergency situations. My only complaint was that the power train felt unsophisticated. The engine strained more than it should, and the transmission did hunt around for gears or up-shifted into overdrive at times when the engine speed was too low to support it. For an otherwise well sorted vehicle, that seemed odd to me, so I decided to investigate.

A little research told me that the Freestar suffers from transmission troubles. Fortunately, Ford was aware of the problem and had offered a recall. Although the Gray Lady hadn’t suffered a problem yet, it was acting strangely enough that I decided to ask my local Ford dealer about it. Sure enough, a quick VIN check revealed that my van was subject to the recall, so I took it in. A week later I had it back in the at home as good as new, or so I thought.

Three months after the recall work was done, I was out with the family when the trouble started. If the van had been fitted with a manual transmission, I would have thought it had a slipping clutch. The engine revved willingly but the power wasn’t getting to the wheels and, as we drove along, the car began to gradually slow. Once I realized there was no correlation between my tach and speedometer, I began working my way across the lanes towards the shoulder and not 30 seconds later all forward travel had ceased. We were quite literally left to be Found On Roadside Dead.

2003 Ford Freestar Interior

With the engine still running, we had heat and power so we were all warm and safe. To the great delight of my children, the police soon came and sat behind us with all their lights ablaze while shocked passers-by pressed their noses up against the windows as they went by and stared at what they surely assumed to be the Corleone family finally getting their comeuppance. Thanks to AAA, a tow truck and then a taxi arrived a few minutes after the police and my reputation was saved. We separated there, the wife and kids heading home by taxi while I stayed with the van while it was loaded. I rode with the tow truck driver to the closest Ford dealership.

This is the point where I confess that I have a problem with car dealerships and that I come from a long line of Ford haters. The Freestar is the first Ford product I have ever owned, and I told myself that this would be a real litmus test for the Ford Motor Company. If I was treated poorly, I decided that I would never again purchase another of their products. Also, I told myself, that if Ford failed to make the grade in any way that I would voice my disdain for them long and loud to everyone who would listen and, thanks to the Internet, that number is considerable these days.

Fortunately for Ford, this isn‘t an angry screed, it’s a love letter. My local Ford shop was amazing. They were open and honest with me throughout the whole experience and, although the factory ended up rejecting the claim (the recall it turned out was for the torque converter while the failed part was a pump) my local dealer presented me with several easy to understand options. The bad news is that I ended up paying $3765 for a new transmission with a four-year warranty, but the good news for Ford is that my dealer also worked with me to keep the costs down as much as possible and, as a result of their effort, I don’t feel like I was taken advantage of. The van is, after all, 10 years old with almost 125K miles on the clock. Things like this happen with older vehicles, I know, so the fact that the dealer actually waived some of the labor was unexpected but much appreciated.

2003 Ford Freestar sans stretchypants

The main reason I chose to repair the Freestar is that we will be moving overseas again in a couple of years and it doesn’t make sense for me to go out and drop tens of thousands of dollars on a new van while our ultimate destination is still up in the air. Also, the Freestar is our family vehicle and, despite having two other cars in the driveway, the van is the one we use to carry our kids around and it is the vehicle my wife drives most often. I figured it was worth the extra cost of a new transmission to ensure my wife and kids’ safety. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and I still think so.

Today, six months later, the Gray Lady is still a nice place to be. The view out the front is as panoramic as ever, and the ride is still stately and smooth. Even better, my prior complaint about the unsophisticated power train has fallen by the wayside. The engine is quieter, smoother and seems to strain less. The transmission is wonderfully smooth and shifts decisively at just the right RPMs. It is a genuine pleasure to drive.

Like so many work-a-day vehicles, the Freestar does exactly what it is supposed to do: haul my family around in the most unremarkable way possible. Moreover, as detailed above, the one bit of drama I did have was resolved quickly and efficiently thanks to my friendly dealer and, although I walked away from the experience with a smaller bank account, I did not walk away angry. Ford passed the test, and as a result not only will I shop them again in the future, I will sing their praises for all who want to listen. Ford, you did a great job.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Kids, Don’t Try This At Home In Washington: China Enacts Draconian Recall Law http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/kids-dont-try-this-at-home-in-washington-china-enacts-draconian-recall-law/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/kids-dont-try-this-at-home-in-washington-china-enacts-draconian-recall-law/#comments Thu, 06 Dec 2012 16:06:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=469305 Usually, China gets accused of copying from America. This time, U.S. lawmakers will itch to copy a new Chinese law that comes in effect on January 1. Stealing this idea could help solve the current cash flow problems in Washington, and could provide a happy ending to the DC fiscal cliff-hanger. It also could provide […]

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Usually, China gets accused of copying from America. This time, U.S. lawmakers will itch to copy a new Chinese law that comes in effect on January 1. Stealing this idea could help solve the current cash flow problems in Washington, and could provide a happy ending to the DC fiscal cliff-hanger. It also could provide an elegant way to eliminate disagreeable competitors. Car companies would not like it at all.

China’s new Administrative Regulations on the Recall of Defective Automobile Products, Number 626, were signed into law on October 22, 2012 by China’s outgoing premier Wen Jiabao. Previous rules provided for slaps on the wrists in the amount of $5,000 max if an automaker refused to recall defective vehicles. The new law raises the fine to $32,000, still bupkis compared to the $16.4 million an ignored recall could cost stateside. But wait, there is more, much more:

Egregious acts, such as failure to stop producing, selling, or importing defective automobile products; concealing defect information; and failure to implement a mandated recall can become extremely costly. In that case, says Article 24, China’s Product Quality Supervision Department shall impose a fine of “more than 2% but less than 10%” the value of the affected goods.

Let’s run the numbers: The gas pedal, floor mat, and steering rod affairs did cost Toyota $16.4 million each, for a total of $50 million (including $800,000 for legal costs…). According to published information, the three recalls affected 8.7 million units. Using an average price of $30,000 per unit, the matter would have cost … $26.1 billion under the new Chinese law.

Oooops.

In 2010, lawmakers tried to raise the cap from $16.4 million to $300 million.  That law never made it, but if enacted would have netted the Treasury less than a billion for the aforementioned affairs, still cheap compared what the fine in allegedly low-cost China could be.

There is another provision in the Chinese law that might be even more enticing to certain lawmakers: “In serious cases, the licensing organ may revoke the relevant permit of the concerned party.” Meaning: The company can be fined and kicked out of the country.

“Illegal gains shall be confiscated.”

Interested parties can find the law (in Chinese) here.

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Grease Causes Biggest Recall In A Decade http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/grease-causes-biggest-recall-in-a-decade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/grease-causes-biggest-recall-in-a-decade/#comments Wed, 10 Oct 2012 10:53:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463309   In the largest recall  since the infamous Ford thread separation, Toyota recalled 7.43 million vehicles worldwide today. The reason: The Power Window Master Switch could melt, go up in smoke, or cause a fire after the wrong lubricant has been applied in an attempt to fix a sticky feeling during operation. During the recall, […]

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In the largest recall  since the infamous Ford thread separation, Toyota recalled 7.43 million vehicles worldwide today. The reason: The Power Window Master Switch could melt, go up in smoke, or cause a fire after the wrong lubricant has been applied in an attempt to fix a sticky feeling during operation.

During the recall, the switch will be taken apart and special fluorine grease will be applied. The sticky feeling stems from uneven application of the grease during the switch assembly process at the supplier.

In the U.S., the following vehicles are affected:

The Grease Recall
2007 to 2008 Yaris 110,300
2007 to 2009 RAV4 336,400
2007 to 2009 Tundra 337,100
2007 to 2009 Camry 938,100
2007 to 2009 Camry Hybrid 116,800
2008 to 2009 Scion xD 34,400
2008 to 2009 Scion xA 77,500
2008 to 2009 Sequoia 38,500
2008 Highlander 135,400
2008 Highlander Hybrid 23,200
2009 Corolla 270,900
2009 Matrix 53,800
Total: 2,472,400

According to Reuters, an additional 1.4 million vehicles will be recalled in China, 1.39 million in Europe, 459,300 in Japan, 650,000 vehicles in Australia and Asia, 490,000 in the Near and Middle East, 240,000 in Canada and 330,000 elsewhere.

On August 21, 2000, Ford recalled 14.4 million Explorers for thread separation of the Wilderness tires. A year later, 13 million were recalled again.

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