Watchdog looking into GM recall

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DETROIT, Mich. (WKBN) — The recall of over 1 million vehicles is certainly cause for concern for auto giant General Motors, but now a government watchdog group is looking into the automaker and how it handled the problem.

The group is looking into whether GM was slow to report problems that led to 13 deaths and a massive recall of small cars.

GM expanded its recall of small cars to 1.6 million. In addition to the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and the 2007 Pontiac G5, the five new recalled models are: 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky.

Clarence Ditlow runs the Center for Auto Safety. He said General Motors is cutting its losses with the massive recall, but is wondering why 13 lives were lost before something was done.

One of those lives was Margie Beskau’s daughter Amy. Amy was killed in a 2006 Wisconsin accident inside a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.

“I just don’t understand how they knowingly put cars out and still let people drive them,” said Beskau.

All the vehicles can potentially lose engine power when the ignition is bumped or heavy key rings cause it to move to the accessory or off position. When that happens, the airbags do not work.

GM released a statement addressing how they handled reports of the malfunction:

“The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. We are deeply sorry, and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.”

In the meantime, dealers such as Cole Valley Chevrolet in Newton Falls will fix the problem for free.

“They haven’t built the car since 2007, so a lot of those cars are off the road by now or high mileage, so we are not seeing a lot,” said Chuck Paden, general manager, Cole Valley Chevrolet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement that it is reviewing GM documents and has questions about when GM found the ignition defect and when it notified regulators. Documents filed by GM show it knew of the problem as early as 2004.

The safety agency has the authority to fine GM at least $35 million for not being forthcoming with information.

According to a chronology of events that GM filed Monday with NHTSA, the company knew of the problem as early as 2004, and was told of at least one fatal crash in March of 2007. GM issued service bulletins in 2005 and 2006 telling dealers how to fix the problem with a key insert, and advising them to warn customers about overloading their key chains. The company’s records showed that only 474 vehicle owners got the key inserts.

GM thought the service bulletin was sufficient because the car’s steering and brakes were operable even after the engines lost power, according to the chronology.

By the end of 2007, GM knew of 10 cases in which Cobalts were in front-end crashes where the air bags didn’t inflate, the chronology said.

GM’s chronology also shows that NHTSA knew about the problem and a fatal accident in March of 2007. NHTSA’s statement did not address why GM was allowed to wait so long to start a recall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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