Them's the Brakes: GM Recalling 3.46 Million Vehicles in U.S.

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

General Motors is recalling 3.46 million examples of its largest models over brake degradation. The culprit is a wheezing vacuum pump that gradually loses its ability to function over time, resulting in underperforming brakes. Affected vehicles include all of GM’s big boys, including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Sierra, and GMC Yukon from the 2014-18 model years.

The recall was preceded by a preliminary investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which launched in 2018 after reports of crashes and a couple of injuries surfaced. In December, GM followed up by extending warranty coverage for vacuum pump replacements for the suspect vehicles. The NHTSA sent its findings off to General Motors last July, but not before the automaker had recalled 310,000 vehicles in Canada over the same issue. A safety bulletin was issued in the United States this month.

The good news is that the worst most drivers will have to endure is a super firm brake pedal, something easily managed if you’ve any experience driving high-milage trash. However, GM has said stopping distances could be impacted — making this a safety issue. Either way, it’s not something you’d want to live with for any length of time and will only get worse. Be on the look out for a “Service Brake Assist” warning and rippling leg muscles.

GM indicated that the pump filters were occasionally getting clogged by engine debris, specifically burnt-up oil that was original intended to lubricate the component. As the filter gets increasingly gummed up by sludge, the pump loses its ability to create an effective vacuum. Models built after the 2018 model year do not use the same system and are therefore in the clear.

Documents stated that GM will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the brake control module to fix how the system uses the hydraulic brake boost assist function when there’s no more “vacuum pressure.” Gratis, of course. It does not appear the pump itself will be replaced, however.

The manufacturer does not yet have a timeline settled for those notifications yet, but you can keep tabs on the situation by following NHSTA’s or GM’s recall campaign (No. 19V-645 and N192268490, respectively).

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Crtfour Crtfour on Sep 12, 2019

    "Premature degradation". I believe that's the term that was used in a recall involving my 2002 Silverado at the time when the Chinese made tailgate cables were corroding from the inside to the point of breaking. Both of mine broke while I was standing on the tailgate causing me to slip down and crack my elbow. Luckily I wasn't loading my ATV or something. Way to go on the quality, GM. Perhaps I shouldn't have been standing on it but I have done that on other trucks without issue.

    • See 2 previous
    • SPPPP SPPPP on Sep 12, 2019

      Peter Gazis: A broken elbow could easily bankrupt an average family. Safety is not something to joke around with.

  • SPPPP SPPPP on Sep 12, 2019

    So, after reading a little more about the recall, it appears that this recall is pretty much the exact counterpart of the infamous Ford "sticker recall." GM is not actually being forced to fix the vacuum pump problem at all. (They don't actually seem to have a solution to the mechanical problem.) GM is apparently re-programming the truck's computer to flash the warning message sooner, before the vacuum pump degrades so far that it can't stop the vehicle. This basically makes it a minor stopgap at best, and a recall with very little in the way of teeth. It seems that many vehicles will now be out of warranty, so GM will be able to charge their customers for new vacuum pumps. Those pumps will probably fail again soon because they are the same or a similar design, so then GM gets to charge them again down the road. (Side note - fighting and dragging your feet on doing the right thing is tempting for these companies because it lets them avoid lots of warranty expenditures. A moral hazard, for sure.) (Second side note - Is a hard brake pedal easily handled? In a passenger car, if you're a strong young man, yes, probably. In a loaded full-size truck on a downhill grade, pulling a trailer at highway speeds, and you're a 100-pound granny, uh ... no.) (Third side note - The hard brake pedal would be bad if paired with Ford's seatback strength recall. Push - PUSH - SNAP!!!) Perhaps this weak recall will open the door to a real recall later on. I guess we'll see.

  • Vatchy And how is the government going to recoup the losses from gas taxes and EV incentives? They are going to find another way to tax us. Maybe by attaching a GPS device to every car and charging by the mile.
  • Kwik_Shift And the so-called GND / TGR experts were so sure of themselves.
  • Verbal It seems there is an increasing number of cases where the factories send out software updates to fix their products in the customer fleet. Either their software engineers don't know what they're doing, or the factories are using their customers as beta testers, or both.
  • Kwik_Shift "But wait...there's more!"
  • Buickman Corruption vs Ineptitude.