GM's Software Recall Just Causing More Brake Problems

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gms software recall just causing more brake problems

General Motors is recalling around 128,500 vehicles in the United States over a previous fix that didn’t work as intended. The cars stem from a larger December callback that aimed, via a software flash, to mitigate braking problems on about 550,000 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Cadillac CT6, and GMC Sierra 1500 models from 2019. GM says the solution created issues on about a third of them.

The problems are much the same as before. Affected vehicles may have serious braking issues and have their anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) fail. At least this time the computer will know enough to indicate a problem via the vehicle’s warning lights. In the previous recall, GM said the vehicles’ diagnostic system would not illuminate the instrument cluster to hint that something was amiss.

Originally shared by the Detroit Free Press, it’s presumed as many as 162,000 vehicles could be impacted by the follow-up, split the U.S. and Canada.

The number was confirmed by GM spokesman Dan Flores, who noted that figure was roughly the number of cars the company was able to get through on the initial fix that didn’t work. Vehicles that have not yet undergone the fix will simply be issued the new software solution.

“If any customer has a concern with their vehicle, they should contact their dealer immediately,” Flores said. “I’m sure dealers are frustrated, too, because their initial fix caused more problems. But we have a fix to the fix that we’re sure will take care of the problem.”

The Free Press article went to great lengths to showcase just how frustrated people were, offering several first-hand accounts of customers enduring close calls and a general sense of panic. But it was portfolio manager Shawn O’Leary, who said his 2019 GMC Sierra Denali suffered brake failure after taking it in for the first recall, who summed it up best. He claims he contacted the dealer after the incident to have his truck re-fixed. Then, two days after the second round of repairs, he noted his dashboard giving off a bevy of warning lights as the car went into slug mode — sensing a problem. Two days later, the dealership advised him to stop using the OnStar application to pre-warm the vehicle, saying there was some relation to the brake issue.

“To me, that means GM knew there was a problem then and was putting people at risk,” O’Leary said, saying the automaker should have simply recalled the vehicles sooner and offered loaners. “There’s been no owner-wide notification about this, why? This is a safety issue. We’re not that far removed from the ignition switch crisis, so what is GM’s culture?”

The General has seen numerous problems with its brake systems of late. In September, the company recalled 3.46 million of its largest vehicles to address hydraulic issues. Some have attempted to draw comparisons to the company’s 2014 ignition switch fiasco, but it’s too soon to presume a coverup. While the manufacturer definitely acted prematurely, and seemingly without a complete understanding of the software issue, that doesn’t automatically warrant an ethics complaint.

The Center for Auto Safety’s Executive Director Jason Levine says GM should have warned the public to stop driving these vehicles once it knew about the braking issue.

“Once you discover that it is the brakes, you do everything you can to notify everyone and that shouldn’t take [GM CEO] Mary Barra to weigh in,” he said, adding that it was ridiculous that the company couldn’t have used OnStar to notify customers that OnStar was what was causing the problem.

Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, publicly stated that GM should have notified customers the second it realized the original fix wasn’t working.

“GM has notified dealers it has updated the software calibration being used to complete a non-compliance field action GM filed this past December with NHTSA on certain 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups and the Cadillac CT6. Under the revised repair, dealers will re-flash the vehicles’ electronic brake control module with a new calibration that resolves the initial issue and the recent complaints,” Flores said.

On Tuesday, as more complaints streamed in, the automaker urged owners not to drive their vehicles if the ESC and/or ABS warning lights come on. It’s estimated that around 1,700 customers filed complaints relating to the brakes after GM conducted the initial recall fix. About half of them have received the latest software.

The NHTSA confirmed it is aware of the problems, saying it’s currently working with the manufacturer on a solution.

“NHTSA is aware of consumer complaints regarding the GMC Sierra and is in contact with the manufacturer. The agency is evaluating all available information using its risk-based procedures, and encourages any affected vehicle owner to file a Vehicle Owner’s Questionnaire,” the agency said.

[Image: General Motors]

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3 of 10 comments
  • Kendahl Kendahl on Feb 07, 2020

    How does a vehicle behave during failure? Do the ABS and ESC systems go nuts and activate randomly for no good reason? Or do they simply revert to the way vehicles worked before the invention of ABS or ESC? People drove successfully without them for decades. Not warning that they have failed is a serious mistake. I'd be really upset if the failures were intermittent on a second by second time scale. GM seems to believe the problem is software rather than hardware. (I hope they're not trying a software workaround to fix a hardware problem.) Most likely, it's a program design issue rather than a simple coding error. Fixing bugs in large, complex programs is difficult. All too often, fixing one bug creates another one elsewhere. That OnStar can affect ABS and ESC points to this.

    • JimZ JimZ on Feb 07, 2020

      according to the linked Freep article, the failure mode is apparently loss of power brake assist, so I'm guessing these trucks have an electric brake booster which doesn't work when the fault is present. So the brakes technically still work, but w/o assist you really have to stand on the pedal.

  • RHD RHD on Feb 08, 2020

    Faulty brakes and a half-assed recall and repair... why would anyone buy a GM product? Good working brakes are the most important part of any vehicle. When GM produces self-driving cars, they are likely to have software with this level of initial quality and follow-up maintenance. There is no reason why humans can't drive, nor why power-assisted brakes have to be operated by software. Reliable simplicity is greatly superior to unreliable complexity.

  • Analoggrotto The real question, how many years or months after the end of production will this vehicle be completely eliminated from the street? Neon lights, yellow spoiler covers, idiotic stripes, brazzers license plate frames, obnoxious exhausts and all.
  • Mike1041 Why buy a German car in the first place? You will get to know the service manager real well and you will be denied claims because “we make no mistakes in the Fatherland”.
  • Art Vandelay This thing has had a longer send off than The Rolling Stones
  • Kwik_Shift I wonder how friendly it would be as a daily driver in commuter traffic. At least Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is more docile and even comes in manual.
  • Carsofchaos I like it. But then again, I think the Aztek and Vehicross are cool, too.