GM Ignition Recall Expanded Again, Previous Settlements Questioned

General Motors is recalling another 824,000 vehicles in the United States, bringing the total number of vehicles impacted the ignition switch problems to nearly 2.6 million. The recall expansion comes just days before CEO Mary Barra is set to go before Congress to explain why the company took more than a decade to address the problem.  

The recall expansion was announced on March 28, indicating that GM will replace the ignition switch in all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, HHR, Pontiac G5, Solstice and Saturn Ion and Sky vehicles.

GM indicates that it has expanded the recall because dealers may have unknowingly replaced ignition switches with just another faulty switch before information about the problems was released.

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In February, General Motors first announced that problems with ignition switches in certain vehicles may cause the cars to shut off unexpectedly when heavy keys are used or the ignition is jarred, such as in an auto accident.

If the ignition switch shuts off then the air bags are disabled and will not deploy in an accident. The auto maker has acknowledged that at least 13 deaths may be linked to the problem, but outside analysts say that number could be in the hundreds.

The expansion adds 824,000 vehicles to the recall in the U.S., and 971,000 worldwide, raising the total number of vehicles affected to 2.59 million.

GM called the step to expand the recall to additional vehicles “extraordinary” and said the move is meant to ensure that all of the defective switches are taken off the market. The company estimates that about 95,000 faulty switches were sold to dealers and aftermarket wholesalers, who used about 90,000 of them to repair older vehicles before the recall was announced.

“We are taking no chances with safety,” Barra said in the press release. “Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn’t practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years.”

Barra said the goal is to make sure that new switches are installed in all vehicles and to provide peace of mind to GM customers.

The company says the switches may have been used in repairs on 2008-2010 model year Chevrolet Cobalts, 2008-2011 Chevrolet HHRs, 2008-2010 Pontiac Solstice vehicles, 2008-2010 Pontiac G5 vehicles, and 2008-2010 Saturn Sky vehicles.

The company says owners they suspect may have gotten one of the replacement switches will receive a letter the week of April 21. The ignition switches will be replaced free of charge as parts become available, and those who have already gotten their ignition switch replaced will be eligible for reimbursement.

GM Controversy

The decision to expand the recall comes as the company continues to take heat over the problem with the ignition switches. GM has admitted that it knew about the problem since at least 2001, and failed to take actions to remove the vehicles from the road.

The company now faces a growing number of ignition switch recall lawsuits, including wrongful death claims and class action lawsuits by owners. In addition, given the new information, two families who reached wrongful death settlements with the company over fatalities related to the ignition switch problem before the recall was announced are now looking for a way to get those settlements overturned.

The families say they were unaware that GM knew of the problems before the accidents occurred and that the settlements were reached under false pretenses. Both families are investigating their options on overturning the settlements, which may be legally difficult.

GM also faces two congressional investigations, and the Department of Justice is looking into the possibility of criminal charges. Barra is scheduled to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on April 1 and April 2, respectively.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a briefing and timeline of events (PDF) on March 30 ahead of the hearing. The briefing highlights the results of its investigation into the recall, revealing that in February 2002, GM parts supplier Delphi warned GM that the sample testing of the ignition switch torque was below the original specifications.

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