GM Knew About Deadly Defect For Nearly A Decade, Dismissed It In Technical Service Bulletin

Phillip Thomas
by Phillip Thomas

GM is recalling 778,000 units of the 2005 through 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 over an issue where the ignition cylinder inadvertently turns out of the “Run” position, there by turning the car’s main electrical systems “off”. These systems include the engine, anti-lock brakes, and airbag systems. According to USA Today, GM knew of six deaths, and twenty-two other wrecks related to the ignition failure, and was aware of the defect since 2004.

The recall was issued last week to replace the ignition cylinder on effected models, but the problem is, GM knew about this failure early in 2006 in a Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB for short. In fact, the Cobalt and G5 have had two more ignition related service bulletins in the last few years, which TTAC has obtained.

Upon examining the full text of the 2006 TSB which dismisses the issue as a mechanical fault almost immediately, TTAC learned that dealers are instructed to adjust customer’s habits before carrying out the apparent fix, which involves changing the shape of the key ring design on the factory key.

According to court documents sourced by USA Today, GM is being sued by the estate of Brooke Melton, who died on March 10, 2010 when her Cobalt lost electrical power and she lost control of the car. This happened despite Melton’s car being returned to her from the dealer after ignition switch repairs, according to the Melton estate’s lawyer, Lance Cooper.

Lance Cooper also added that Melton’s car was not equipped with the modified key GM used for the TSB repair, despite having just left the dealership for ignition cylinder repair.

Full text of TSB and a full understanding of TSBs below:

: Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical System and No DTCs – (Oct 25, 2006)

Subject: Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical Systems and No DTCs [DTC stands for Diagnostic Trouble Codes]

Models:

  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2005–2006 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada Only)
  • 2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2006–2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003–2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007 Saturn Sky

This bulletin is being revised to add a model year. Please discard Corporate Bulletin Number 05-02-35-007 (Section 02 — Steering).

There is potential for the driver to inadvertently turn off the ignition due to low ignition key torque/effort.

The concern is more likely to occur if the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain. In these cases, this condition was documented and the driver’s knee would contact the key chain while the vehicle was turning and the steering column was adjusted all the way down. This is more likely to happen to a person who is short, as they will have the seat positioned closer to the the steering column.

In cases that fit this profile, question the customer thoroughly to determine if this may [be] the cause. The customer should be advised of this potential and should take steps to prevent it — such as removing unessential items from their key chain.

Engineering has come up with an insert for the key ring so that it goes from a “slot” design to a hole design. As a result, the key ring cannot move up and down in the slot any longer – it can only rotate on the hole. In addition, the previous key ring has been replaced with a smaller, 13 mm (0.5 in) design. This will result in the keys not hanging as low as in the past.

Part Number: 15842334


Description: Cover, Dr Lk & Ign Lk Key

This is one of many TSBs related to ignition problems with the Cobalt, among other GM models. Most of the issues were lesser related to the ignition cylinder itself, and more to do with the key being locked into the ignition cylinder when the shifter’s neutral safety switch failed, locking the key in.

But the first line in the TSB description states that there is a fault with the low amount of effort or torque needed to twist the key out of the “Run” position. The method advises by the TSB is to tell the driver to reduce the number of items on the key chain, and presumably adjust their driver position to avoid contact. It’s a fair mention, since having an excess amount of keys on a key chain can wear out the key and tumblers, which would mean it would be harder to ‘unlock’ the cylinder.

But in this case, it sounds more like the weight or size of the key chain can allow the key to back out of the “Run” position, thereby powering down all major driving systems. With the engine down, power steering is gone, and power brakes now only have a short reservoir of vacuum left — enough for one, maybe two pumps of the pedal. With the key out of the “Run” position, safety systems like the anti-lock brakes and airbags are no longer powered up.

In the worst circumstances, such as what was documented in the TSB, it’s easy to see how this would cause an accident. No matter who you are, or what kind of driver you suspect you are, the situation is very dangerous. Even with engine stalling issues for other vehicles, at least the anti-lock brakes and airbag system likely would be powered if there was an accident.

There’s different methods in which suggested repairs are sent to a customer, there are TSB’s (GM calls them Interstate Bulletins, specifically), and there are “Campaigns,” otherwise known as voluntary recalls. When a vehicle comes into a GM dealer, they check the General Motors Vehicle Information System, or GMVIS, for Campaigns.

Now, here’s the kicker, Techincal Service Bulletins are not displayed in the GMVIS report. TSBs are not required repairs. These are not recalls, and customers are not informed of TSBs, and they are only checked for by a service tech when there is a related repair. In this case, the customer would have to bring a car in with ignition problems for a tech to find the TSB.

This is standard practice for the industry, and it works this way for almost every manufacturer. But, whether or not something of this nature should have been left to a TSB and not a Campaign is another issue.

Poorly Photoshopped representation of the suggested 2006 key fix.

The hard solution in 2006 was to change the shape of the key ring hole in the key, from a slot to a hole. This would give the key chain less leverage on the edge of the key, reducing the key chains ability to rotate the key in the cylinder.

Below is a photo gallery of related TSBs with the initial problem description, along with the full description of the NHTSA Campaign issued last week.. The ignition interlock issues were repaired by diagnosing and repairing the shifter assembly. It is unknown at this time what ignition cylinder issue Melton had when she brought in her Cobalt for repair.



Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas

More by Phillip Thomas

Comments
Join the conversation
5 of 101 comments
  • MLS MLS on Feb 21, 2014

    Upon reading further, I've learned that of the six deaths, three involved alcohol and at least two more unbelted occupants. http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/02/13/gm-recalling-780000-cobalt-g5-ignition-engine-shutdown/

    • DeadWeight DeadWeight on Feb 22, 2014

      GM has a right to argue "contributory negligence" in motions and as a matter of evidence dealing with the issue of damages, at trial. Thus, to the extent that any particular plaintiffs' injuries or deaths were caused or contributed to by alcohol consumption, GM can attempt to establish to what degree or % this was so (in some jurisdictions, if such contributory negligence by a plaintiff was a factor contributing to death or injury by 51% or more, recovery is barred; in other jurisdictions, the % of contributory negligence reduces the amount of any award per verdict in proportionate %). As to lack of seat belt use, most jurisdictions now have rules of civil procedure that automatically reduce the amount of damages awarded in a tort suit by a specific % (usually 10%) for such an omission by any deceased or injured plaintiff.

  • Richard Chen Richard Chen on Feb 25, 2014

    Today's recall expansion, link to press release: http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2014/Feb/0225-ion.html “Ensuring our customers’ safety is our first order of business,” said GM North America President Alan Batey. “We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.”

    • See 1 previous
    • CJinSD CJinSD on Feb 25, 2014

      “Ensuring our customers’ safety is our first order of business,” said GM North America President Alan Batey. “We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can." Now that we've expended our legal alternatives and tested the media's ability to cover up our willingness to kill our customers.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.
Next