By on May 3, 2017


Following a raft of complaints, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has once again turned its attention to the headlights of pre-bankruptcy era General Motors vehicles. Apparently, the first two recalls for the exact same problem might not have culled all of the automaker’s wonky low beams.

The 312,000 vehicles involved in the NHTSA investigation span a fateful period for the automaker. While GM’s future at the time wasn’t bright, neither were its low beams. Owners have complained the lights can shut off unexpectedly, sending one driver on a date with a creek.

The vehicles involved in the investigation cover those not involved in the first recall, which included the 2005 and 2009 Buick Lacrosse, 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Buick Rainier, 2006-2008 Isuzu Ascender and Saab 9-7X, and the 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Owners have filed 128 complaints since the previous recall. After a 2014 recall was expanded in 2015, roughly 497,000 U.S. vehicles were returned to replace a headlight driver module that could overheat, leading to instant darkness in front of the vehicle. While the running lights and low beams seemed to be the only thing affected, new complaints broaden that picture.

One owner of a 2008 Pontiac G6 complained of the vehicle’s low and high beams both failing after functioning erratically for months. A 2004 TrailBlazer allegedly drove off the road and into a creek after its headlights failed at a very inopportune time, while a 2008 Grand Prix owner reported problems similar to the 2007 model.

NHTSA investigations don’t necessarily lead to a recall, but in this case it seems likely GM will be forced to address the issue.

[Image: General Motors]

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23 Comments on “NHTSA Takes a Dim View of Old GM Headlights… Again...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had no problems whatsoever with the lights on the 2005 Buick. Recently brought it in for the ignition recall (yeah I know about 2 years late) and the dealer performed the recall work on the lighting problem (replaced a module).

    About a week later we started experiencing problems with the lights intermittently not working/shutting off. Called the dealer, they deny any responsibility/correlation.

    • 0 avatar

      Why you still buy GM vehicle 2005?

      I remember when my friend’s 1978 Impala wagon’s headlights used to shut off at random times when it was about eight years old. I don’t know of any non-GM vehicles that have ever had intermittent headlights.

  • avatar

    “while a 2008 Grand Prix owner reported problems similar to the 2007 model.”

    This 2008 owner is reporting his May 2007 assembled GP was affected by this issue. After dealing with a certain BPG in Robinson on the issue, who will never again have my business, I was more or less told to f*** off. Then after calling GM myself to alert them to the fact MY08 was accidentally left off the TSB I believe due to human error (look at the NHSTA bulletin, everything goes to MY08 or 09 inc the Lacrosse *except* the GP) and to warn them of the danger those owners face, I was pretty much ignored. The fix is a simple relay in the fuse box under the hood for under $30. I hope GM is crucified by NHSTA, and if their were deaths associated, I hope they get yuuuuge settlements (unlike the ignition victims).

    Oh and f*** you GM.

  • avatar

    What ever happened to going out and buying better bulbs?

  • avatar

    I wish they would do something about the brake lights of GM vehicles from the mid-1990s on up. I see so many TrailBlazer/Envoy/etc with only the CHMSL working. Same with the Venture/etc, Express/Savanna, and my own 1998 Lumina. I told a woman the other day when we were stopped at an intersection together that her brake lamps were not working on her Envoy.

    I believe its a turn signal switch, I know a friends Venture’s tail lamps would go crazy when he tried to use both it and the brakes at the same time. It was like watching a little Christmas tree flashing on his van as I was following him home one day.

    To fix it in my Lumina, it was a switch inside the steering coulmn, which by design could not be disassembled to reach the failed module. You had to reach your hand up in there and feel for it. This was after it was completely removed from the car. Major PITA for what should’ve been an easy and quick repair.

    I have replaced ignition switches, turn signal switches, etc on various Ford products, never having to remove the entire steering column from the vehicle, nor having been unable to disassemble it enough to access the failed part.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      It was a running joke with myself (how sad) when I would see a late 80s 2nd gen Camry I would try to guess how many of its brake lights would actually be working. It was never all of them. For whatever reason it seemed like a real issue with those.

      I’ve never understood why tail light warning lights on the dash never caught on.

      • 0 avatar

        Pontiac Grand Am. I think they left the factory with 1/2-1/4 of the brake lights working.

        Late 1990s/2000s Silverado/Sierra DTRL, always one out and its always the same one.

        “I’ve never understood why tail light warning lights on the dash never caught on.”

        Me either, seems like a no-brainer.

        • 0 avatar

          and lets not forget the 2nd-gen U body minivans. I don’t think I see one of those on the road nowadays which has properly functioning tail lights. when the driver steps on the brake, it’s a crapshoot on whether the brake lights will come on, or one/both turn signals, or the reverse lights. Nor is it predictable how dim they’ll be.

          • 0 avatar

            “and lets not forget the 2nd-gen U body minivans.”

            Jim, I did not, as in my first comment on this thread. LOL :) your observations are spot on as per usual.

      • 0 avatar

        2005-2009 Mustang. one of the consequences of using so many tail light bulbs is the increased likelihood one of them will be burned out.

      • 0 avatar

        If a tail light is out, the cruise control won’t work and the turn signal indicator goes fast. But yes needs to be a light on the dash

        • 0 avatar

          Only if the turn signal integrated with the brake lamps. It only flashes fast if one or more turn signal bulbs are out.

          I’ve never experienced a vehicle who’s speed control wouldn’t function due to a brake lamp failure.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      IMO it’s all caused by the atrocious garbage voltage regulators that GM used in the ’90s and ’00s. Relentless voltage spikes and dips that cause all kinds of problems with bulbs and electronic modules. Not as much of an issue now, since the survivors probably have replacement alternators.

      • 0 avatar

        Is that what it is? My suburban, If the turn signal is on my gas gauge will tick up and down in time with it

        • 0 avatar

          So does my brother’s 1997 GMC (gas gauge moves with the turn signal.

          Your explanation makes sense, bumpy ii.

          I know the U vans (2nd gen) and the related Aztec/Rendezvous were some of the worst electrical gremlin-plauged vehicle of their time.

          My 1996 Isuzu Hombre was so frustrating, I traded it for a car that was worth less on paper. I was so sick of trying to keep the turn signals and brake lamps working.

          I’d still drive a 1990s C/K (and their related SUVs), I prefer the GMC and of course the K designation ideally, but I probably won’t bother with another GM vehicle from the era. Its a shame because I like the Bonnies, Achieva/Alero and the smaller SUVs, but in the latter especially, the fact that its a mechanical POS over rules my fondness of it. Or, it should and hopefully I will be able to remember that if the opportunity arrives.

          My low mileage, not-that-old-at-the-time 1995 Blazer showed me that, and the 1995 Achieva and 1996 Hombre proved it. All low mileage and not “beaters”, all drove me nuts fixing one thing after another (often the SAME thing over and over) until I gave up and dumped them.

          With a Ford, I generally solve the problem the first time, it doesn’t break again for no reason a week later. Then again, I avoid 3.8L engines and aside from one 1997 3.0L for a very short time, Ford’s FWD minivans.

  • avatar

    Speaking of which (sort of) I’ve noticed two brands of automobiles that seem to suffer from having headlights flashing like strobes (usually one on side); Mercedes (a LOT) and Audi.

    Anyone else notice this?

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