GM resists recalling trucks over brake lines

New York TimesJuly 7, 2014 

Under pressure from federal regulators and legislators, General Motors this year has been reviewing past safety problems. That has resulted in 54 recalls affecting about 25.7 million vehicles in the United States. But the automaker has yet to recall almost 1.8 million full-size pickups and sport utility vehicles from the 1999 to 2003 model years for corrosion-related brake failures.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating the issue since 2010, and the agency has received about 1,000 complaints from owners, some of whom report narrowly avoiding crashes.

“Hit brakes and a line blew. Almost hit car in front of me,” the owner of a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado wrote in a complaint filed in June. “Like all GM trucks in snow country my brake lines rusted through along with my rear backing plates. I don’t know how many people have to be killed from blown brake lines for them to do anything. I guess a lot since they held off 10 years on their current problem.”

GM has resisted recalling the pickups and SUVs, telling federal regulators that rusted brake lines are a routine maintenance issue. In addition, the automaker says, the vehicles have dual brake lines, so “the affected vehicle would be capable of stopping.”

In a statement this year about the issue, the company said rusted brake lines were an industrywide problem.

“Brake line wear on vehicles is a maintenance issue that affects the auto industry, not just General Motors,” the company said. “The trucks in question are long out of factory warranty, and owners’ manuals urge customers to have their brake lines inspected the same way brake pads need replacement for wear.”

General Motors’ assertion that rusting brake lines are an industry issue is not supported by complaints filed with Carcomplaints.com, Mike Wickenden, its owner, wrote in an email. He said the website had received 56 complaints about the 1999-2003 Silverado, compared with five for the Dodge Ram, two for the Ford F-Series and none for the Toyota Tundra.

The models originally under investigation include the 2002-03 Cadillac Escalade, the 1999-2003 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, the 1999-2003 Chevrolet Suburban, the 2000-03 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the 2000 GMC Yukon XL and the 2002-03 Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 and 2500. However, in a 2012 letter to GM, a federal regulator asked for additional information covering the 2004-06 model years.

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