By on July 4, 2014

GM RenCen Downtown Detroit

It may have taken nearly 14 years for one ignition switch issue to finally find attention, but General Motors’ ignition woes go as far back as 1997, when Chevrolet Malibu owners had their own switch problems.

Reuters reports one of the earliest complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was in April of that year, when a New Jersey woman said she had been stuck on the road seven times with her new Malibu due to the switch’s inability to turn and the key stuck in place. The defective part was replaced twice, but to no avail. Other complaints include the key being easily removable while the power was still on, and power suddenly cutting out.

By 2001, when the 2000 Chevrolet Impala experienced its own ignition issues similar to those in the Malibu and, further on, the Cobalt and Saturn Ion, GM sent a pair of service bulletins to its dealership network, offering potential solutions to remedy the problems in both vehicles. However, no recall would be issued until Monday’s order of 8.4 million vehicles.

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29 Comments on “Reuters: GM Ignition Woes Came As Early As 1997...”

  • avatar

    I had a 1990 Pontiac Bonneville hand-me-down from my grandmother that the power would cut off for no reason driving down the road. So, I traded it on a 1998 GMC Jimmy that did the same thing. They replaced the ignition switch under warranty and it still would cut off going down the interstate, very dangerous! Sometimes the engine wouldn’t cut off but power would be lost to everything else such as radio and gauges as you were flying down the road. I traded it for a 4Runner in 2000 and swore I would never buy another GM product and I never have. So, I think these ignition problems go WAY back, 25 years at least, in my personal experience. We are just seeing the tip of the coverup and recalls if you ask me.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As I have posted before I had a ’76 Corvette with tilt/telescope. At one point it was stolen and quickly recovered.

    After being recovered, at anytime you could take your hand and with a firm grip, turn the ignition switch to the ‘on’ position and start the car, without inserting the key.

    When I took it to the dealer, the mechanic explained to me that it was a not uncommon problem for GM cars with tilt/telescope.

    Car thieves knew that they need only take a pair of pliers or vice grips to these GM switches, clamp them on and turn the switch and not only would it start, but from thereon, just like mine it could be started at anytime without the key.

    So do GM ignition switch design issues date back to the 70’s?

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently it’s an area that GM never considered important enough to lavish a lot of time and money on. Maybe they secretly resented the way the whole idea of security was forced on them by the gov’t; if your car was stolen you, a loyal, uncritical, unthinking GM customer/sheep would be back to buy another, so why mess with a revenue stream? Back in the early 60’s the use of the key was optional.

  • avatar

    Are the switches on the dash giving all the problems as opposed to the old type on the column itself. That’s never been discussed.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re much harder to hit with your knee so that failure mode is eliminated.

      • 0 avatar

        jpolicke wrote, “They’re much harder to hit with your knee so that failure mode is eliminated.”

        That was one of the reasons why old Saab used to put them down on the center console next to the shifter. The other reason, of course, was it was Saab being Saab.

  • avatar

    I guess I dodged several bullets. I have owned an 87 S-15, 98 Grand Am, 00 Sunfire GT, 02 Alero, and 03 Sonoma, and have never had any of the symptoms discussed regarding the ignition recall.

    The Verano has a push button.

    As well in the family, 96 Grand Am, 97 Grand Am, 92 LeSabre, 92 98, 97 LSS, 88 Delta 88, 88 Regal.

    Only ignition issues were related to Pass-Lock.

  • avatar

    I think they aren’t going back far enough. I had a 78 Camaro that you could easily remove the key with the car running. It was kind of a feature. I could remove the square key from the ignition and open the glove compartment sized trunk with the round key, then put the square one back in the ignition with the car still running. I guess that was so I knew where the keys were because you didn’t need the keys in the ignition to drive.

    You could shut the car off and start it again without the key so long as you didn’t go all the way back to the LOCK position.

    My dad owned three gas stations for 25 years and it was pretty well known that older GM cars with worn ignition switches you could pull the key out with the car running. Some of GM’s 60s cars with in dash keys would do it too.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      My dad’s ’64 Impala also let you remove the key while the car was running (a feature that he used to let the car warm up in the driveway without leaving the keys in it), but it would shut off if you tried to shift it into gear without putting the key back in.

      • 0 avatar

        I wonder if it was working right. My dad’s 1963 Nova was apparently designed to operate with the key out. He inserted the key to turn from “Lock” to “Off”, removed the key, then would start/drive the car. Locking the car up was a reverse operation: Turn the switch to “Off”, insert the key, turn to “Lock”, then remove the key. My mother’s 1969 Ford had a half-circle rubbed in the paint under the key while dad’s Nova didn’t.

    • 0 avatar

      It wasn’t just GM. My mother’s 1970 Maverick was so equipped – turn on the car to warm up in the winter and pull out the keys to lock the door. I had a 78 Plymouth Fury Sport that I never needed the key to start, and I bought it at less than a year old.

    • 0 avatar

      Come to think of it, somewhere around 100,000 miles my 1978 Buick Century started doing the same thing. I’d forgotten about that completely — I simply considered it one of the aeroback’s charming quirks that came with aging.

      Since it was stolen and trashed for parts some 20 years ago, I don’t think even my mouthpiece Lionel Hutz Esq. would think there’s much of a case there.

    • 0 avatar

      Not just older GMs- my little brother’s ’88 Taurus was the same way once it got to be about ten years old… and he delighted in introducing his passengers to this quirk once he was at speed on the freeway.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I just rented another Cruze for a weekend trip. Thankfully it’s an LTZ and it has push-button start.

  • avatar

    My mom’s Malibu Classic has had plenty of problems with the theft system believing she was trying to steal her own car, but that’s the only ignition issue my family has had.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I had a buddy with a ninth gen F-150 that he got used from a government fleet.

    While it came with a key, none was necessary to turn the lock cylinder and start the engine.

  • avatar

    My grandmother in law has an 00 Malibu with this problem. Key will be stuck or ignition will leave power on after the keys taken out. U fix it by turning the car back on and shifting to drive then back in park. Mother in laws alero had the same problem. Low bottom of the barrel component quality thanks to GMs bean counters ruling the roost. It was sad cuz the alero especially was a fun car to was even more fun than the (prepare for flame war) 2014 mazda6 I test drove recently (loud, weak motor, oversized tires, way too light steering)

    • 0 avatar

      We purchased a brand new 2002 Alero GX coupe in Tropic Teal in October 2002. It was the first new car for my wife. My first car was a Sherwood Green 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, for $725.
      Never had any problems with the Alero. You just have to keep them indoors at night or the dashes would peel. Wish we still had it!
      The ignition problems with the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu would also cross over to the 1997 – 1999 Oldsmobile Cutlass (new N-body built in Oklahoma City). They shared the PK2 antitheft system. I sold Oldsmobiles for fourteen years. People would wait six months to get a Cutlass rather than a Malibu!

  • avatar

    Why buy another GM car ever? and sales are up.

    • 0 avatar

      Prediction: what you’re seeing now is all about the deal. Roll in your clunker for the fix, roll out with new wheels. After all, who else will pay more for an Ion on trade-in?

      GM has resolved itself that 2014 will be a financial disaster. The dealers are doing everything they can to move the metal, and GM’s OK with that.

      The problem: once they get past that and everyone’s hailing Barra as a genius, I really don’t know how they’re gonna sell cars. There may be plenty of suckers with borderline credit, but there’s also at least three generations of consumers who will never consider GM. I do think that GM’s on borrowed time right now.

  • avatar

    I picked up a used ’96 Pontiac Grand Am GT back in 2000. A few months later I drove to a mall a couple of towns over and parked in an underground garage. When I returned to the car to go home, I turned the key and nothing happened…

    That is, until I started smelling and then seeing a small amount of smoke coming from the ignition cylinder. It wouldn’t start so I had to have the vehicle towed out of there. Due to a recent winter storm, there were no tow trucks available nearby to help me out (of course, AAA didn’t make that clear until after I waited several hours trying to deal with the problem).

    I was finally able to arrange for a tow truck driver to meet me there the next day (and even that was a major hassle since nobody wanted to drive their truck into an underground garage) and have it towed to a mechanic. The repair bill set me back about $300. That’s not including the extra fee I was charged for overnight parking and the extra surcharge for the towing service/additional mileage.

    About a month or so later, I received a recall notice in the mail for the same exact issue (I realize it’s unrelated to the current batch of ignition recalls, but you’ve read up to this point, so bear with me). Long story short, GM refused to reimburse me for even a portion of my repair costs, let alone any of the other fees I was forced to pay because they couldn’t design an ignition switch worth a damn (and apparently still can’t).

    Bottom line, I decided to cut my losses and traded the car just a few weeks later on a 2000 Escort ZX2 and never looked back. In fact, all of the other cars I’ve ever owned (now seven in total) have been Ford products and have been pretty reliable. Never had any serious issues (recall or otherwise) with any of them.

    Moral of the story: Screw you, GM.

    Never again

  • avatar

    Our farm’ s 53 Chev 3/4 ton could be started with medium sized screwdriver.

  • avatar

    I had a 2001 Olds Alero, a car I loved dearly. Last winter I had hit a rough patch of pavement and the car stalled out. My first thought was “What the heck!?!?” Thankfully I had enough sense to know to put the car in neutral and restart it and keep on going. I just figured it was a really rough patch of road. A couple of months later I hit another bump and the car did the same thing. Looking back, I am beginning to think there was more to it than rough roads.

    Currently I am doing a recon on my cousins 2001 Grand Prix. I have been driving it some for the past couple of days, and I have noticed that when I put the key in I have to fight with the switch to get it to turn, and once it does, it’s not that hard to remove the key once the car is running.

    I wish GM would sweat the details, because I have generally enjoyed driving their cars, but I am very hesitant to consider another one, unless it’s a mid-80’s Cutlass Supreme :)

    • 0 avatar

      Older GM stuff seems better than the new stuff.

      I have a 2000 Chevrolet Impala as my long-term project car. The key has fallen out by itself while driving. And, it’s a new key.

      Quality control is non-existant.

  • avatar

    Google any car name or manufacturer and ignition key problems and you’ll find plenty of reading.

  • avatar

    So what did the bulletin read? I’m curious how the techs handled this issue back then. I’m also curious about the feedback GM dealers are getting when they offer existing customers to trade in for a newer GM model? I think GM has lost too much to win complete trust from American consumers. Like I said before, GM should focus on truck and Corvette production only. No more “cars”…

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