By on March 18, 2021

GM

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A person dies in a vehicle crash. Faulty components appear to be to blame. General Motors is eventually accused of knowing about the safety issues and doing nothing to correct them.

Yeah, it’s like the ignition-cylinder issue all over again.

This time, ongoing litigation claims that GM covered up problems with a steering sensor. The problems include a high rate of warranty claims and reports of a manufacturing flaw, yet GM never recalled the affected vehicles.

At least one death is alleged to have resulted from the failures. The problems appear to have began in 2007. Reuters has surfaced the results of an internal GM probe and documents that were submitted as part of litigation.

According to Reuters, the number of warranty claims involving the steering sensor is roughly equal to 10 percent of the SUVs that were manufactured while equipped with sensor in question. Those units were sold from 2006 to 2009. The industry standard for a rate for defects is generally considered to be around 1 percent.

About a half-million of the SUVs manufactured with the component in question remained on the road as of 2019. Court records show that the GM models that have the steering sensor are the 2006-2009 Trailblazer and GMC Envoy; 2006-2007 Buick Rainier; 2006-2009 Saab 9-7x; and 2006-2007 Isuzu Ascender.

Reuters reports that GM chose not to recall the vehicles after an internal investigation found that it wasn’t clear if the electronic stability control wasn’t working at the time of the fatal crash. The lawsuit alleges that the failure of the steering sensor led to the failure of the vehicle’s electronic stability control.

Furthermore, the investigation didn’t determine if the sensor itself was defective in the case of the crash.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration reviewed claims made by the attorney representing the widower of Glenda Marie Buchanan, the victim in the crash, but so far NHTSA has not opened an investigation. NHTSA has said it will take further action if required.

That attorney, Lance Cooper, was instrumental in digging up evidence in the ignition-switch debacle.

GM denies that the sensor failed in Buchanan’s case, and pins some blame on her for ignoring a warning light that indicated needed service for some time before the crash. The company also alleges Buchanan was texting shortly before she crashed, while driving on a winding road, and was also speeding 5-10 mph over the limit.

Furthermore, GM asserts that even if electronic stability control fails, a driver still has control over the vehicle and can steer and brake.

Cooper denies the allegation of texting, citing phone records. He notes the vehicle’s black box didn’t record her speed and says the road isn’t dangerous.

Under U.S. law automakers are required to notify regulators within five days of finding a vehicle defect that creates what’s called an unreasonable safety risk. That includes conditions that increase the chance of a crash, as well as a component that could harm drivers and passengers if it malfunctions. Makers are then required to recall the affected vehicles.

When it comes to failing to disclose a defect, criminal liability is limited, so prosecutors may pursue other avenues, such as an illegal coverup or other fraud.

The whole Reuters deep dive is worth a read, so give it a go.

[Image: GM]

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33 Comments on “Has Another Decade-Old GM Coverup Come to Light?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Old GM (Motors Liquidation Corp) takes the fall, New GM skates at this point. I don’t think Lance is going to score a double here.

  • avatar
    Snooder

    GM’s gotta GM, baby.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      My 2008 Saturn Sky still the old style, low resistance ignition. But I only keep a house on it.

      Maybe the GMT330 owners dropped some special sauce on their steering wheels.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Low-resistance? Ha. Call it what it is–defective. It doesn’t meet the torque or vibration requirements that are federally mandated. For your own sake, I would get that replaced ASAP.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          But every mfg struggles with torque or vibration requirements on key cylinders… wait no they don’t. Why are ignitions the Millennium Prize to [old] GM?

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          The torque and vibration requirement is/was a GM design requirement, not federally mandated.

          The original GM spec contained vague information in regards for torque targets. The spec was clearly designed without using a FEMA and the engineers of that particular part didn’t understand the difference between an engine stall which allows the airbags enough power for 60 seconds compared to milliseconds for a key off situation.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    1. GM chose not to recall the vehicles after an internal investigation found that it wasn’t clear if the electronic stability control wasn’t working at the time of the fatal crash.

    2. The investigation didn’t determine if the sensor itself was defective in the case of the crash.

    3. GM asserts that even if electronic stability control fails, a driver still has control over the vehicle and can steer and brake.

    4. GM denies that the sensor failed in Buchanan’s case, and pins some blame on her for ignoring a warning light that indicated needed service for some time before the crash

    5. The company also alleges Buchanan was texting shortly before she crashed, while driving on a winding road, and was also speeding 5-10 mph over the limit.

    All good reasons to *not* have a recall.

    There is no coverup here, and companies don’t recall millions of cars for a ‘maybe’ with no proof of an unreasonable safety risk.

    And, there was no coverup in the ignition debacle. Incompetence is not the same thing as a coverup, and intent means everything in a criminal investigation.

    A repair rate 10x higher than normal doesn’t mean something is unsafe; it may just mean it’s poor quality.

    Besides, with probably 20-50 people dying in GM cars every day, it’s not as though GM is investigating every one of those deaths – or any of them. That’s not how it works.

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      You must be a lawyer, you sir are hired! ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      SCE

      1. Is smart. Great logic.
      2. Is not smart. He starts a numbered list WITH 1. Smart people start a list with ‘0’.

      • 0 avatar
        wiseweasel

        Redapple:

        0. I love a good list
        O. I admire your list for excluding 0
        -b. maybe SCE is anti-zero
        IIIVIV. Not really numbers.

        In all seriousness… I have owned no less than 5 (no more than that either) of the GMT36X models. Including the 9-7x(s) that I gave to my ex-wife and the other one that I gave to my daughter a couple of years ago, which she still drives daily. These vehicles are now well over 10 years old. I have had an issue with stability control and steering sensors on the last 2 9-7xs. Including the one my daughter drives now. Once it was a wheel sensor, and once it was the steering sensor. When the issue arose, I fixed it.

        Driving with a stability control failure warning, and then getting into an accident where it appears (from this article and no real research on my part) stability control could’ve helped to prevent an accident… seems like exactly why they put those annoying little lights on the instrument cluster in the first place.

        Seems like a money grab to me.

    • 0 avatar
      wolfwagen

      It may not be a coverup, but if you have a part that has 10% Warranty issue that’s a Big Deal. If we were talking about 10% of the engines blowing up, you probably couldn’t give these cars away.

      If GM is wrong on #5 which is easily proved, It makes me suspicious of their other claims, especially #2 when considering all the warranty claims.

      #3 While true, probably also alters the way the vehicle handles with out those systems engaged.

      I think Cooper is on to something here.

      P.S. IF VW can create code to cheat emissions, why couldn’t GM create code to limit the vehicle’s performance if StabiliTrak was not functioning properly? That would cause the driver to seek immediate attention to the problem

      • 0 avatar

        oh god, one of my Cadillac POS problems was “Service stabilitrak”. This light was set off by a lot of things, among them…the intake flap, which I’m pretty sure isn’t part of the suspension. No more GM ever.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      1. The same company who needed to “investigate” the ignition switch claims.

      2. Do you honestly believe with millions of dollars on the line that a company is going to “self police” themselves?

      3. GM blamed the driver. Just like they blamed drivers in the crashes with Cobalts and everything else.

      4. 10X the normal failure rate tells you there’s an issue. GM knows who supplied that sensor. You do a root cause analysis on it and if it’s not performing to design intent then you drive that back to the supplier of the defective component and get payment. Hyundai is doing the same thing with LG Chem who supplied defective batteries—LG will be paying for the recall.

    • 0 avatar

      on the people dying in their product…I seem to recall that in Germany, the car makers do an accident reconstruction whenever one of their cars has a fatal-is this true ?

  • avatar
    Fred

    My 99 Silverado had rear disc brakes. The emergency brake wouldn’t release fully and burn up the rotors. Happened to me twice. the 2000 went back to drum brakes. Why would they do that if it wasn’t a defect?

    The AC failed and when they replaced it they gave me a lifetime guarantee. Which I claimed twice more. This too had to be design defect, but GM never admitted it.

    On my Audi the AC went out, but they admitted it and replaced it with a completely different design. Even paid for it after the warranty.

    GM lost me forever after that truck.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    A little hard to blame stability control from not saving you from yourself. I always wondered if people would drive stupid with their eyes closed if they thought their car would pull their bacon out of the fire.
    I vividly remember slamming on my brakes to avoid a T-bone from a car that blatantly ran a red light right in front of me. I spun 360 and when I looked up I was staring at a cop. One second later he turned on his lights and pulled over the other vehicle. It was like instant karma and instant satisfaction for me. But, I was watching and avoided a collision even if the other car never even saw me. Gotta keep your eyes open all the time!

    • 0 avatar
      TheEndlessEnigma

      Except when stability control fails it changes the behavior of the vehicle resulting in actions the driver takes, with stability control not operating, resulting in very different vehicle responses than those same driver actions with stability control working. Think about this, stability control modulates and varies power to drive wheels and breaking inputs to all 4 wheels as well to maintain wheel to road contact and traction. If this systems does not, suddenly, provide these input your vehicle is suddenly operating without the benefit of these driver control aids.

      Stated another way, a 1985 (to pick a year) GM pick up didn’t anti-lock brakes (part of any stability control system) torque vectoring, etc. Compare it’s road behavior to a 2005 GM pick that did have these systems. When those systems fail you are suddenly faced with driving and controlling a vehicle you are not accustomed to driving. What does this matter? Driver inputs that would cause the 1985 to skid, spin or even roll will not cause those actions in the 2005 – you loose those driver aid features…..you’re suddenly driving the 1985.

      So year, this is an issue. Additionally, the records are showing GM was aware of an issue PRIOR to the road accident.

      Seems like the old Ford Pinto math, cheaper to kill folks and pay the lawsuit than it is to fix the problem.

      • 0 avatar
        cammark

        All stability control systems are not created equal. These systems are also on standby most of the time and only activate when the driver does something dumb or has to avoid something dumb another driver has done. They aren’t magic.

        To be clear, tires and the suspension system maintain wheel to road contact and traction. Again, stability control is just trying its best to mitigate the consequences of dumb driving. Stability control can do little to help if the tires are in bad shape, or the brakes are shot or the suspension is flopping around.

      • 0 avatar
        Imagefont

        To my knowledge, stability control modulates the breaks only. It’s possible because the car already has ABS brakes so adding stability is low hanging fruit. But in ordinary driving it won’t kick in unless the motion of the vehicle “disagrees” with what the wheels are doing. Then it can brake an inside wheel, for example, to curb the cars tendency to spin out in a turn. In an emergency situation, yes, you lose this enhanced safety feature. What you’re left with is a car that acts like every other car without stability control, which is not a dangerous situation. Take care of your car, buy good tires, keep them properly inflated, don’t speed, drive to conditions, put down your cell phone and be careful. All these things are more important. Don’t blame the nanny feature because you failed to do some of those things first.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        “Driver inputs that would cause the 1985 to skid, spin or even roll will not cause those actions in the 2005 – you loose those driver aid features…..you’re suddenly driving the 1985.”

        As cammark alluded to, you can drive for a long time without stability control even activating. It’s not supposed to be operating in normal driving. In the case of the crash in this lawsuit, the warning light had been on for a long time, and the owner didn’t get it fixed. So if there was any handling difference, she would have had a long time to get used to it. It was an unfortunate and tragic accident. We will never know 100% for certain if the stability control would have been able to prevent the rollover if it had been working. Driving off the road at speed rarely ends well.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Had a Malibu with electric steering, it was spooky. Equally bad was the ABS that would activate when hitting any bump while braking, even on dry pavement.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Interesting writeup Tim, thanks.

  • avatar

    At least 10% of users of vehicles w/this feature noticed something serious enough to take in to the dealership. And the dealerships replaced the system based on what GM was telling them.(As I somehow doubt a dealership would do a warrant replacement w/out GM’s okay.)
    Whether it was at fault in fatal accident I have no clue,but it’s obvious there was a problem serious enough for owners to notice and GM deciding to replace them.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Just wait and see what has been cut and saved and penny pinched on the latest GM vehicles to carry Barra’s triple zero and all electric agenda down the road. This won’t be the end of yet more coverups. My 2019 Impala is my last GM vehicle. Not because it has been bad or unreliable far from it in fact with zero issues to date. Its the piss poor leadership, woke agendas, elimination of anything in their lineup that I would want to buy, poor decision after poor decision and a total lack of confidence in what is coming down the line that is making the switch to another company.

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