Road Worrier: While they wait for repairs, some owners of recalled GM cars are uneasy

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comJuly 7, 2014 

  • If your GM car is recalled

    In the first six months of 2014, General Motors recalled more than 17 million cars in North America with faulty ignitions – and more than 11 million with other problems.

    To learn whether your Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Hummer or Saturn is affected by any GM recalls, go to recalls.gm.com and type in the vehicle identification number from your insurance or registration card.

    GM will fix the recalled cars – in most cases with a new ignition cylinder and ignition switch and new keys. You can order the repair parts from GM online at gmignitionupdate.com or by calling any local GM dealer, regardless of your GM brand. The dealer is supposed to notify you when the parts arrive, so you can schedule the repair.

    The latest ignition recalls were issued June 30 for 8.2 million mostly midsize Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Chevrolets dating as far back as the 1997 model year. These car owners should receive notices within 60 days, GM spokesman Alan Adler said.

    For most of the cars on the June 30 list, GM plans only to replace or modify the ignition key – without repairing the ignition system.

    These cars have keys with a slotted opening, allowing the key ring to slide back and forth.

    GM says that with a key fob, house keys and other items dangling from the same key ring, the swinging weight can rotate the ignition key out of the ON position – cutting the engine off. That disables the airbags, steering and brakes while the car is still moving. In some recalled Cadillac models, a bump from the driver’s knee can turn the engine off.

    GM will provide a new key or a key insert to replace the slotted opening with a narrow hole, Adler said.

    Until your recalled car is repaired, GM says, take the ignition key off your key ring so there won’t be any extra weight dangling from your key when it’s in the ignition. If you have questions, call GM toll-free at 800-222-1020.

    Source: GM.com

After waiting five weeks for General Motors to put a new, safe ignition system in her 2010 Chevy Cobalt, Gwendolyn Swain was starting to worry.

“I haven’t driven that car in three days because I don’t have a good feeling about it,” Swain, 63, of Rocky Mount said Monday. “I thought it would be treated as an emergency and I would be taken care of right away. The longer it takes, the more anxious I become.”

She drives one of 17 million cars GM has recalled this year to fix faulty ignition switches that have been implicated in 16 crash deaths since 2001. The cars are at risk of being jolted out of the “on” position – a dangerous shift that can disable airbags, power steering and brakes while the car is moving down the road.

Triangle and Eastern North Carolina dealers for Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and other GM cars have ordered repair parts for thousands of local car owners. In most cases, the fix involves a new ignition cylinder, ignition switch and keys. When the parts arrive, the customer is asked to bring in the recalled car to make the repair.

“We’re working through a list of about 300, and about 60 percent of them are completed,” said George Anderson, owner of Sir Walter Chevrolet in Raleigh. “We don’t have too many people who are terribly upset, but it is frustrating to have your car recalled and not be able to get it (fixed) right away.”

Betty-Ann Landman has been waiting at least four months for Performance Chevrolet of Chapel Hill to get the repair parts for her 2003 Saturn Ion.

“They’ve got a long waiting list,” said Landman, 79, who lives in Chapel Hill.

When the first batch of 2.6 million recalls was announced in February, GM admitted that its engineers had discovered the faulty ignition switch in the Cobalt and similar models a decade ago.

Swain said her Cobalt has not given her any trouble lately. But she complained to her dealer about the ignition last year – before GM issued the recall.

“Sometimes when I turned it on, the key would jump,” Swain said. “It seemed like the key wanted to go a little further.”

GM tells drivers their cars are safe, for now, if they make a simple change while they wait for the repair: Remove everything from the key ring except the ignition key. Drivers say they are following this advice.

“My mailbox key was on it, my house key was on it, but not anymore,” Landman said. “That key is all by itself.”

But some GM customers still feel uneasy driving their cars – and if they don’t want to drive them, they don’t have to. Across the country, General Motors is paying the rental car bills for 26,000 car owners who decided to park their recalled cars on their dealers’ lots while they wait for the repair.

“We have an abundance of these cars on our lot; however, the numbers are getting smaller,” said John Reeves, operations manager for Thompson Buick GMC Cadillac in Raleigh. “They belong to a number of people who were actually having a problem with the (ignition) mechanism, and people who expressed a concern about safety.”

All the car owner has to do is ask.

“There’s no litmus test for this,” said Alan Adler, a GM spokesman. “If you say, ‘I want a loaner vehicle because I don’t want to drive this car,’ we’ll do this.”

Swain said she got a different story when she requested a car from her dealer, Don Bulluck Chevrolet of Rocky Mount.

“They told me they didn’t have anything they could loan me,” Swain said. “They said most likely, larger facilities in Raleigh would provide that kind of service.”

Trey Bulluck, the dealer’s fixed operations manager, called back later to say there had been a misunderstanding.

“I just talked to Enterprise rental, and we’ll be glad to put her in one,” Bulluck told the Road Worrier. “We’ve got beaucoups of rentals out there – it’s about to drive Enterprise crazy. And we’ll tow Ms. Swain’s car in here if she wants us to.”

Swain was driving a Ford Focus, rent-free, by the end of the day Monday.

GM says it has replaced the ignitions in 388,000 cars so far. The company has three production lines churning out the ignition repair kits.

Still, some car owners will be waiting a long time for their repairs.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” Adler said. “By October we’ll have enough parts to fix every one of the Cobalts and other cars we recalled in February.”

The latest round of recalls, announced June 30, covers midsize cars dating to the 1997 model year. Georgie Brizendine of Raleigh thinks GM engineers eventually will find that the ignition problem is even older than that.

Her 1996 Oldsmobile Ciera sometimes would shut off while she was driving, and she struggled to stop the car without power brakes or steering. The dealer could not fix the problem, but GM offered her a $1,000 discount on a new Olds.

“I thought, look, I’m not going to do it twice,” said Brizendine, 83. “It was very, very scary.”

Brizendine had always liked General Motors cars. She was sorry to have to get rid of her Oldsmobile.

“I was so disgusted when I couldn’t get a resolution that I finally traded it in on a 2001 Honda Accord, which I still have,” Brizendine said.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or newsobserver.com/roadworrierblog Twitter: @Road_Worrier

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