By on April 21, 2014

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?

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38 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: How Do You Handle Recall And Service Bulletins?...”

  • avatar

    1) In my opinion … unlike yourself the NYTimes writers are GENUINE journalists . Not vaporware virtual bundles of Zeros & Ones unable to succeed at real world complete with consequences journalism : posing as journalists on a somewhat interesting , sometimes entertaining but hardly Journalistic quality [ never mind investigative journalism ] automotive website

    2) GM is no doubt the worst at procrastination . Their MO / SNAFU since the 60’s at least . VW-Audi though trumps GM hands down for constantly and consistently ignoring major common problems with their cars reliability issues .. preferring short term ” fixes ” to get the car to the end of its warranty only to then have the Repair Bill Bomb fall on the heads of their customers

    3) In reality when it comes to the GM issues/story what any other manufacture does , did or did not do is completely and utterly irrelevant as well as totally out of context

    The ONLY thing that matters with GM’s present debacle is how GM is handling their situation . Not some vague and completely out of context comparison to any other auto makers behavior [ Journalism 101 … rule #1 …Context is EVERYTHING ]

    HINT ; Forget about what every other auto maker may or may not of done / is doing and FOCUS on the issue at hand . GM !! To bring/dredge up similar patterns out of GM’s past is completely relevant . Trying to attempt lame comparisons with other automakers in the vain attempt : using Politically Correct thinking to diminish GM’s responsibility and ethics is NOT !

    • 0 avatar
      Phillip Thomas

      1) I guess you didn’t read much into the sarcasm.

      3) Damning GM with while turning a blind eye to discussing how other manufacturers handle TSB and average recalls is irresponsible.

      • 0 avatar

        Let’s not take the NYT out of context. The newspaper relied upon NHTSA’s claim that GM’s approach to recalls lagged behind the rest of the industry.

        That reliance seems reasonable, assuming that NHTSA has some basis for making that accusation. It might not hurt if somebody would contact the agency so that we can get some details about what that actually means.

      • 0 avatar

        > 1) I guess you didn’t read much into *anything*.

        Probably more accurate. The NYT’s been milking their sob narrative same as CNN.

        The numbers for this defect tell the story. It’s significant, but of a level that could’ve slipped under the radar with the former admin’s NHTSA but not the new one (thus “bolt out of the blue”).

        danio3834’s comment that the details rely on specific competence of the eng/investigative team is cogent. This implies the situation cannot necessarily be easily generalized as the question demands.

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t tell if you just aren’t very good at communicating your ideas in writing, or if they’re as broken as they seem when they come out.

      “In reality when it comes to the GM issues/story what any other manufacture does , did or did not do is completely and utterly irrelevant as well as totally out of context”

      What does this mean? How is the context (i.e. the status quo of recall handling in the industry) totally out of context? Could you define context for us?

      Frankly you aren’t in a position to be sniping at anyone for their writing. Doesn’t matter who you are or who you think you are, if you’re anonymous, you’re judged only on what you’ve written here, and you’ve done nothing to inspire any confidence that you’re speaking from any authority at all; casual name-dropping and hinting at past glories doesn’t cut it.

      If you’re really a writer, let me know who edits your work so I can buy them a vacation.

      • 0 avatar

        > “The ONLY thing that matters with GM’s present debacle is how GM is handling their situation . Not some vague and completely out of context comparison to any other auto makers behavior [ Journalism 101 … rule #1 …Context is EVERYTHING ]”

        So funny. This is largely indistinguishable from a joke account.

    • 0 avatar

      @gtrslngr: Wasn’t your 2011 GLK350 recalled for potentially catching on fire because of a fuel filler leak? Wouldn’t want the finish of that Veillette getting scorched!

    • 0 avatar


  • avatar

    In contrast to this recent GM debacle, I can think of a few recalls that were rushed into service in an effort to correct the issue as fast as possible, only to find out that the “fix” generated some new issues of it’s own.

    In my experience, while all manufacturers have processes set up to deal with safety and product quality issues, the implementation is only as good or as urgent as the people that are supposed to be using them. Some product lines in the same company have excellent teams devoted to the identification and resolution of these problems and are on top of them. Other teams, not so good. The focus is non existent or in the wrong places.

    Bringing these issues to light and getting them dealt with requires empowerment of the identification team, accountability of the design and release team, and management that isn’t indifferent to what their teams are up to. Often it takes a few relentless squeaky wheels to break through the groupthink and get anything done. “Cost” often gets blamed for inaction. More often, it’s complacency.

  • avatar

    Last year my 06 Torrent started stumbling and misfiring on the way home from work. I got online and discovered fairly quickly that GM had identified a problem with the coil packs that caused exactly these symptoms and that the issue should be handled for free at my local dealership.

    Of course, when I called to ask about how the issue would be handled, the local dealership gave me some static. They told me that I had to bring the car in for a diagnosis and, if it proved to be some other problem not covered by the TSB, I would need to pay for their time. Frankly, that annoyed me. But looking at the situation from a more neutral viewpoint, I can understand their point. GM doesn’t know me, and they don’t have any idea of whether or not I can make an accurate diagnosis of a car’s problem. By threatening to charge me for the diagnosis means I won’t unnecessarily bother them.

    I wonder though, what if I had been broke and unwilling to risk the chance that I might have to pay 50 or more dollars for a technician’s time? What would I have done? In the end, I was right and they had the issue resolved in less time than it took me to walk a block to the local McDonald’s and have breakfast but how long would I have waited if I hadn’t had the resources to take the chance?

    Contrast that with Ford who sent me letters detailing various issues with my Freestar as they arose and my local dealership who worked with my schedule to get me into their dealership to resolve the problems. It was a much smoother process that left me with a much better impression of the company as a whole.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Ford sent you letters on TSB’s? Or were they recalls?

      • 0 avatar

        I got two letters, one for some transmission issue and another for a rust check that eventually needed a repair. It was a while ago and tt this point I don’t know what they were classified as.

        In the case of the Torrent, I want to be clear that the info was easy to find on-line once I knew to look for it and that they were good about fixing it once I had the issue.

        • 0 avatar
          sunridge place

          Transmission and rust on the Freestars were recalls, thus the letter.

          TSB’s don’t usually get letters nor are they always free.

          Was just curious.

          The grey area is the use of TSB’s on issues that could be related to safety. If you have 5% of vehicles having X issue, do you need to recall 100% of them and replace all the components or just address the 5% as they happen. You can stretch the definition of safety quite a bit one way or the other.

  • avatar

    I think the NHSTA’s reporting rules, and the media’s willingness to breathlessly report all manner of possible problems puts OEMs in a bad position.

    A few years ago Honda had a recall for the driver’s airbag inflator on a number of models. The danger was real and had no positive owner-based mitigation. Honda has to tell NHSTA that their cars can (and have) killed people, but doesn’t have the replacement parts in hand to fix cars. What do they do? They announce that these cars are dangerous and a line starts to form at the dealers to fix defective cars. Parts aren’t available for the masses, and it quickly spirals out of control.

    The initial injury occurred in May of 2009. The recall has been expanded several times since. Almost 5 years later, dealers are still swapping inflators on the affected cars. Some cars are on their third or fourth inflator. Why? Because the initial response moved so fast, Honda seemingly lost track of which cars got which inflators. Honda wants to keep track of what is where, and dealers didn’t always put the correct serial number in the correct car (part numbers were right, however). Honda loses track, and out goes another round of recall notices for replacement or verification.

    I believe the record keeping problem is a direct result of playing by NHTSA’s timeline, and not being able to put the proper process into effect before the population wigs out.

    I don’t know that there is a solution to that, short of demanding that drivers do with their cars what the dealers are required to do with theirs, namely, park them. Dealers will quickly run out of loaners on the wide ranging jobs and any job that requires inspections and controlled orders (VIN specific serial numbers) which add at least one overnight to the repair process to get parts in.

  • avatar

    I had only one recall notice, and that was for a passenger airbag issue in a ’95 Altima. I had other out of warranty problems with the Altima that cost me out of pocket, though the angle sensor problem in the distributor was baked in and should have been covered.

    I also had the famous GM engine mount problem that was once the biggest recall in history. That was permanently fixed by a knowledgeable mechanic for less than half the cost of GM’s recall-GM dealers charged for the fix! All my other cars were multi- pre-owned out of warranty or already fixed.

    The ’65-’71 engine mount GM recall might be typical of their response, but it’s my only experience with them. Maybe a quick recap of that recall and comparison to what they’re doing now would be instructive?

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve always been under the impression that if you buy a used car, finding out about recalls was up to you. And before the Internet that was a lot harder to do – other than going to the dealership and asking. Even then, who knows if the person you are talking to is giving you accurate info?
    One day in 2001 I was filling up my hand-me-down 1990 Nissan Maxima SE (4DSC!!!) at the local gas station. Everything was going according to plan until I started to notice that all the gas I was pumping was flowing onto the ground at my feet. My car came from New Hampshire and in those days a lot of Japanese cars had what could be politely called “rust issues” and mine was more the rule than an exception. I had taken it to a local shop and one of the guys who worked there just happened to know about the fuel filler neck recall. Along with that, I found out that the rear seatbelt tensioner mounts were also under recall because of rust. I confirmed that when I pulled on one of them and the entire thing broke off the car.
    My point here is that people need to have better access to recalls and TSBs. I suggest that manufacturers should provide States with documentation to the local DMVs. The DMVs then hand out outstanding recall and TSB notices to people as they register their cars. That way, the 3rd or 4th owners will be made aware of outstanding issues up front and they can decide to act or not. You’ve got the VIN right there, it shouldn’t be that hard to link up databases.

    • 0 avatar

      Knowing about TSBs and recalls is easy, if you know where to look. NHTSA posts all of these online.

      Knowing whether your used vehicle was repaired under the recall may be another matter. That’s up to the automaker to track, and I would guess that the recordkeeping could be a bit hit-or-miss.

      • 0 avatar

        I can’t say about other OEMs, but Honda dealers can print out a VIN INQUIRY for any VIN you bring them. It’ll list all available TSBs and recalls, as well as any warranty work that’s associated with the VIN.

        I think the service dept even runs it on every car that comes through, that way they can’t be blamed for missing a recall or tsb on some car that just comes in for an oil change. A well structured dealer isn’t scared of warranty work.

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience at Ford, every vehicle that comes into the service department has an OASIS (online automotive service information system) report attached to the repair order. The report was VIN specific. This was happening even in the days of dial-up connections. Any open recalls would be would be listed.

    • 0 avatar

      My Ford was well used and I received letters.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Our previous two cars (2003 Kia Sorento EX, 2005 Nissan Murano SL) were both pre-owned purchases, and both companies managed to find us and send us recall/TSB letters before we ever took the cars in for service or had the dealerships register them to us.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought my 1995 Altima from a new car (Ford) dealer’s used car lot in 1997, and got the air bag recall notice directly from Nissan, which probably got my address from the California DMV. But that was a safety recall, not a TSB.

    • 0 avatar

      “I suggest that manufacturers should provide States with documentation to the local DMVs. The DMVs then hand out outstanding recall and TSB notices to people as they register their cars. That way, the 3rd or 4th owners will be made aware of outstanding issues up front and they can decide to act or not. You’ve got the VIN right there, it shouldn’t be that hard to link up databases.”

      In Texas, when you get your car emissions tested, the paperwork that you get back with the test results also lists all outstanding TSB notices on your car. I don’t think it is VIN specific; so if you are the second or greater owner; you don’t know if it has been done or not.

  • avatar

    I have been impressed by Chrysler. Through no other means than having bought a couple very minor parts from the parts department, my Jeep was registered with them and I was notified of two recalls. Airbag sensor and the fuel tank crash issue. Got the notices, called the local dealer, made an appointment and no bother. I live two miles from the dealership and have multiple cars, so I just had them give me a ride both times.

    I’ve had one recall with the BMW, for the battery cable replacement. As the battery is in the trunk, this was a fairly serious issue. Also painless, they had the car for two days, I had a shiny new one as a loaner. Not so much as a grease smudge anywhere after the work, and they valeted the car very nicely.

    I always have the dealer check for outstanding recalls on any car I buy used that still has dealerships. Never been a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Was your Jeep registered with the state? I assume it was. That is how the letter got to you, not because you bought a part from a Jeep dealership.

      • 0 avatar

        @sunridge place

        Not a chance. My registration goes to a different address. My ONLY contact with Chrysler with that vehicle was the parts department, prior to the recalls. I gave them my street address due to having to have a couple parts ordered.

        • 0 avatar
          sunridge place

          Fair enough. Typically, that is a terrible way to track down owners for a recall as the owner rarely will notify the dealer or OEM when they dispose of the vehicle.

          Registration is a much better way.

  • avatar

    Alldata allows access to TSB Titles by make, model, and year without having a subscription. If you want to see the details, though, you would need to subscribe.

  • avatar

    My Hyundai XG350 needed the subframe replaced for rust issues. It was a recall and done for free. The dealer managed to get it done in a reasonable amount of time but failed to align the front end after the repair. I thought they should have aligned my car since it was straight when I brought it in and I shouldn’t have to waste another afternoon and 80 dollars finishing the job for them. Of course I was met with a Policy that they claimed freed them from the responsibility. I told them that may be true and my Policy of voting with my wallet also applies.

    I’m still happy with the car after 10 years of ownership, the Hyundai dealers not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Yeah, the only Hyundai dealership that’s near my house sucks as well. So I travel the thirty miles to the next-nearest one for service, which offers superb service and which is the one we’ll probably be buying from when we get our next Hyundai product.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m surprised that alignment isn’t part of the job when replacing a subframe. I’d be willing to bet if you were to look at the actual recall instructions from the manufacturer that it part of the required labor.

  • avatar

    How many people get recall notices but ignore them? Shouldn’t they be charge with a crime? Driving around in a lethal death trap of a car. I guess it’s ok to pick on the big evil corporations but never worry about the nut behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    When my son bought a CPO Sonata last year (from a Hyundai dealer), I was surprised to find that this dealer hadn’t performed ANY of the 4 recall campaigns on the vehicle. They were nice people, but this seemed pretty negligent, and the issue only came up because I asked.

    Instead, I took it to a dealer closer to me, and was very well treated, with the work done in just a day.

    It’s worth asking the question when you buy a used car.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess CPO doesn’t mean all that much at that particular Hyundai dealership.

      • 0 avatar

        When I was car shopping a couple of months ago, I visited a very large BMW dealer that had at least 100 CPO BMWs. I don’t know that they did any reconditioning at all. Some of the cars had body damage. If I’d bought one of those cars, other than having the CPO warranty, I’d figure it was like buying a used car from an individual, and that I’d budget $500 – $1000 for bringing the car up to spec.

  • avatar

    Being new to the Ford brand, I’m not impressed. My Escape suffered a sudden complete loss of power steering boost from the electric steering. I found this is a well-known, but not “common” problem. Obviously it is a serious matter with safety consequences. It is most common with ’08 and ’09 Escapes.

    Ford has known about this for years. Only recently has there been a TSB issued, and for the more minor of the two failures. The TSB covers replacement of a control module, while some instances of this, like mine, require costly replacement of the whole steering column assembly.

    I’m told Ford has had information about this failure that is on some level less public than TSB’s. What bothers me is that Ford continues to be comfortable charging full rates for repairing a design defect that endangers their customers, while being unwilling to repair under extended warranty those that have failed, let alone come to the plate with a full recall. The longer Ford delays dealing with this problem, the worse they’re going to look.

    Expanded recall programs mean manufacturers will be responsible for supporting their products longer and deeper. Inevitably that will require new car price increases, but it means better ownership experiences and greater customer safety. Makers that can design cars that don’t fail will enjoy better reputations and lower costs. Maybe development funds will shift from gee-wiz headlight and taillight “art” and toward safety and durability improvements.

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