General Motors knew of ignition-switch problems with 6.7 million midsize and large cars for 11 years, yet it failed to warn customers with a recall until last month, according to documents posted by federal safety regulators.
The documents, released Friday, show yet again that the Detroit auto giant was slow to correct safety problems on its older models. And it exposes an all-too-familiar pattern of ignition- switch troubles in millions of vehicles, some dating to 1997. So far this year, GM has issued 54 recalls covering 29 million vehicles, 17 million for ignition problems.
In most cases, the ignition switches can slip out of the “run” position, shutting down the engine and knocking out power steering and brakes. Drivers can lose control of their cars, and if they crash, the air bags won’t work. The list of recalls includes 2.6 million older small cars with faulty switches that GM has blamed for at least 13 deaths.
GM recalled the midsize and large cars June 26 as part of a top-to-bottom corporate review of safety issues. It includes the 2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo, the 1997-2005 Chevy Malibu, the 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero, the 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue, the 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am and the 2004-2008 Pontiac Grand Prix. All have the same ignition switches.
The switches can unexpectedly shut off the car’s engine if a driver has a lot of weight on the key ring and goes over a bump, the company says. GM says two fatal crashes that killed three people could be linked to the problem.