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10 Things You Need to Know About the Massive GM Recall

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General Motors’ massive recall is the latest in the auto-making giant’s string of headaches. The company is now offering a $500 discount on new or leased cars for the owners of the 1.6 million vehicles the company recalled last month. The announcement comes as federal investigators begin looking into the ignition-related recall linked to 12 deaths. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The defective ignition switches were installed on Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Sky models built between 2003 and 2007. If a driver puts several extra keys or heavy items on a key chain, or jars it inadvertently, the ignition key could slip out of “run” to “accessory” or “off,” shutting off the engine and safety equipment such as the airbag.
  • The ignition defect covering approximately 1.6 million General Motors Co. cars is relatively inexpensive and easy to fix. It will be carried out free of charge to customers who bring the recalled vehicles to GM dealers. Delphi Automotive Systems LLC, an auto parts maker whose history aligns closely with GM’s, said a replacement for the defective parts will cost $2 to $5 to produce and will take a service technician a few minutes to install.
  • GM last month released a detailed chronology of the events leading to the recall, stretching back to 2004, when the automaker first learned of the problem and determined not to take immediate action. On Wednesday of this week, the automaker acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that it began to learn of ignition problems as early as 2001, during testing of the Saturn Ion.
  • GM says that it believes 12 people have died in accidents that can be linked to the ignition problem. An earlier report of 13 deaths involved one case of double-counting.
  • The Southern District of New York office of the U.S. Justice Department has begun a probe into GM’s handling of the defective ignitions, news agencies reported, without citing a named source. A criminal investigation by federal authorities could relate to the so-called Tread Act, passed into law in 2000 after the Ford Explorer/Firestone inquiry into rollover accidents.
  • Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer since January, is handling the crisis as the first major test of her tenure. She has pledged to take personal responsibility for GM management’s response to the safety defect. In a March 4 email to employees, Barra outlined the steps GM has taken, including cooperation with regulators, an apology to customers, an internal review of events, creation of a working team of senior executives and coordination with suppliers to create replacement parts for dealers as quickly as possible.
  • GM said this week that any owner of an affected vehicle, prior to bringing the vehicle to a dealer for service, should endeavor to remove extraneous keys and ornaments and use only the key and its fob during operation.
  • The dozen deaths that can be attributed to the GM ignition problem can be seen in the context of roughly 30,000 deaths annually in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The World Health Organization says about 1 million people are killed annually in automobile-related accidents.
  • U.S. newspaper stories published in 2005 told of automotive reviewers discovering a problem with ignitions in the Cobalt. The stories include responses from GM spokespersons explaining why it happened and how to restart the engine if it stopped while driving.
  • At least two Congressional hearings are planned for coming weeks; one by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton; and by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on product safety, chaired Sen. Claire McCaskill.
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