GM said Wednesday it has shipped "thousands" of new ignition sets to dealers for some 2.6 million recalled small cars (2.2 million in the U.S.) from the 2003-2011 model years. Dealerships are conducting the repairs right now, the automaker said.
GM mailed letters last week telling owners of 1.4 million 2003-2007 models to contact a GM dealer — that's Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC — and schedule an appointment for the recall work. Owners of more than 800,000 recalled 2008-2011 models will receive letters in early May that confirm their inclusion in the recall, with subsequent letters when those replacement parts become available.
The new ignition set, which includes ignition switches and cylinders plus new keys, can be installed in about 90 minutes at any of the automaker's 4,300 dealer service departments, though wait times could be longer depending on workload. GM spokesman Jim Cain told us customers will receive new "universal" keys that work the trunk, doors and ignition. Of course, one issue is just how many owners will comply.
USA Today reported in March that drivers adhere to around 77 percent of all recalls. Still, that came weeks after a January report by The New York Times that just 6 percent of nearly 750,000 recalled Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee SUVs had received repairs in the 14 months since Jeep issued a recall regarding airbags that could inadvertently deploy. Three weeks later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated red labels to better distinguish recall notices from junk mail.
Part of the problem is awareness. CNW Marketing Research notes that in the 1970s, more than half of all consumers were aware of specific major auto recalls, from detaching wipers at VW to faulty seatbelts at Ford. By the late 2000s, public awareness of notable recalls had slipped to well less than 20 percent — even for Toyota's conspicuous unintended-acceleration crisis.
Even if 80 percent of GM owners involved in the ignition-switch recall eventually comply, that amounts to 440,000 unrepaired cars on U.S. roads. What if you're shopping these vehicles? It will be virtually impossible to tell the replaced ignition from the old one, given they look "substantially similar," GM spokesman Jim Cain told us.
"The best way for a future used car buyer to determine if the recall work has been completed is to contact GM Customer Care or a dealer, who can search the service history by VIN [vehicle identification number]," Cain said. "It's always a good practice to ask for service records. There are also third-party providers of service history."
One of them will soon be the NHTSA, which said in 2013 it would add a VIN-searchable database for shoppers to check if their prospective car needs recall work. Automakers have until mid-August to supply recall-tracking data by VIN and update it at least weekly thereafter. VINs are etched beneath the glass at the base of the windshield. NHTSA's database isn't up yet, but spokeswoman Karen Aldana said to expect it "later this year."
Still, nothing forces owners to comply with a recall. And AutoPacific product analyst Dave Sullivan warned that as unrepaired cars age, it becomes more inconvenient to schedule the work because dealerships have to back-order parts.
Still, Sullivan said lawmakers could eventually step up enforcement.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of legislation that requires recalls to be taken care of before a sale takes place," he said, adding that it could be "on the horizon in the next two years."
Editor's note: This post was updated April 28 with more details on the replacement keys.