GM Ignition-Switch Recall: What Owners Need To Know

By Kelsey Mays  on March 14, 2014

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GM's ignition-switch recall may have reached new heights Thursday, with one auto-safety group declaring that 303 people have died as a result of airbags failing to deploy in two of the six cars recalled for faulty ignition switches. GM disputed the results on grounds that the safety group's crash data correlates fatalities to failed airbag deployments but doesn't necessarily connect those failed deployments to faulty ignition switches.

More on the GM's Ignition-Switch Recall

The recall includes the 2003-2007 Saturn Ion and 2007 Sky, the 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and 2005-2007 G5, and the 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR and 2005-2007 Cobalt. Questions abound. When will repairs be made? Could the issue affect non-GM cars, too? Where do Pontiac and Saturn owners take their cars? We researched the answers to these questions and reached out to GM spokesman Alan Adler for more information.

Here are some facts, which we'll update if new information becomes available:

If the ignition switches out of the On position, are the airbags the only thing affected? Could other systems like antilock brakes, electronic stability control or power steering turn off, too?
Yes, airbag deployment failure isn't the only issue. "If the ignition switch moves out of the 'Run' position, the result would be a partial loss of electrical power and turning off the engine, which could affect items like power steering and power-assisted brakes," Adler said.

When will repairs be made?
GM expects replacement ignition switches to be available starting this April, and in the meantime, it strongly advises affected owners to drive with only the key in the ignition; no keychain or anything else that might add weight should be attached to the key. When the parts come in, GM will ask customers to bring in their cars; the automaker said on a webpage dedicated to the recall that it sent out a letter the week of March 10. GM says it's working "as quickly as possible to obtain parts." Swapping the ignition switch can be done in 30 minutes, but the volume of scheduling means dealers may need to keep cars longer.

What if I never get that letter? Can I still get the recall work done?
GM says letters have been mailed to owner addresses from state vehicle registrations, but if you've moved without updating your registration, you may not receive the letter. Call GM's customer assistance center at 800-222-1020 (Chevrolet), 800-762-2737 (Pontiac) or 800-553-6000 (Saturn) for specific instructions. Finally, check with your state for requirements on updating that registration.

Are all versions of those cars involved in the recall, or only some?
All versions, Adler said. If your dealer says your car's vehicle identification number isn't associated with the recall, that's incorrect. GM has not released recall-specific VINs for this incident to dealers.

I have a recalled Pontiac or Saturn; those dealerships no longer exist. Where should I bring my car?
GM says any Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC dealer should be able to service your vehicle.

What if my car has already been serviced for a faulty ignition switch? Should I still bring it in?
Yes, Adler said. All recalled cars must get the new part, regardless of whether earlier ignition repairs were made.

Can I get reimbursed for the money I spent on those earlier ignition repairs?
Yes. GM's website says it will notify owners when parts are available (reportedly April) and provide instructions at that point for you to request a reimbursement. Owners are eligible for reimbursement after the recall repair is complete, Adler said.

I don't think my car is safe to drive until the repairs are made. Will GM provide a loaner vehicle in the meantime?
Yes; that's what the automaker told the Detroit News. Adler didn't refute the report but said it's not something dealers will push on owners. "We will work with customers individually to minimize their inconvenience and concerns," he said. "We are urging dealers to avoid making the recall into a marketing opportunity."

My car isn't worth much, so I carry minimal insurance. Aren't I at higher risk in that loaner car?
Potentially. CarInsurance.com notes that most auto insurance extends to rental cars and dealership loaner cars, too. It's understandable that owners of these recalled cars might have minimal insurance; after all, a typical 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt is worth less than $8,000. But a liability-only policy could expose you to a lot of financial risk if something happened to that brand-new Malibu or Impala. "Generally a loan agreement includes a waiver stipulating that the borrower's insurance will pay first in the event of an accident," Des Toups, managing editor at CarInsurance.com, told us. "Most dealers have 'garage policies' that would step in if you were unable to pay for damage. Their insurance company might choose to sue you to recoup its losses, though." 

Adler said he didn't know if dealers would cover additional insurance in such cases, so a good rule of thumb is that no matter your personal car insurance policy, you should ask the dealer about coverage specifics on the loaner. "Even if the owners of recalled GM cars have collision insurance, coverage is typically limited to the value of their own cars," Toups warned. "That is, if you drive a Cobalt worth $7,000 and the dealer lends you a new Cruze worth $18,000, your collision coverage would only pay the value of the Cobalt."

Could this recall affect any other non-GM cars?
In an age where supplier contracts crisscross like cooked spaghetti, you might think this recall could spread. (Think Takata Corp.'s faulty airbag inflators, which affected four Japanese automakers in 2013.) This time, however, it's unlikely. Reuters reports that Delphi Automotive, the supplier of the ignition switch, did not disburse the part to any other automaker.

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey


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