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Owners of recalled GM cars feel angry, vindicated

General Motors Co. To Recall 1.3 Million Vehicles to Repair Steering

(Reuters) - As details emerge about how General Motors Co dealt with faulty ignition switches in some of its models, car owners are increasingly angry after learning that the automaker knowingly allowed them to drive defective vehicles.

Saturn Ion owner Nancy Bowman of Washington, Michigan, said she is outraged that GM allowed her to drive a "death trap." She said her car had so many ignition problems she was afraid to resell it to an innocent buyer.

She bought the 2004 model car new and still drives it after extensive repairs and multiple run-ins with a Saturn dealer she called dismissive.

"Five times the car died right out from under me after hitting a bump in the road," she wrote in a 2013 posting on a complaint website, arfc.org, that says it sends information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"Every time I brought it in they said it was an isolated incident. Couldn't find the problem, so they acted like I was an idiot."

GM recalled 1.6 million cars last month because a faulty ignition switch could turn off a car's engine, disable its airbags and make steering difficult. The recall involves six models from years ranging from 2003 to 2007. The problem has been linked to 12 deaths, the company says.

Documents released by GM this week revealed that the automaker knew about the ignition problem as early as 2001. Auto safety advocates say GM should have ordered a recall years ago, and GM has apologized as investigations by government agencies, Congress and the company itself have multiplied.

Angry customers are taking to social media to vent their frustrations. GM's companyFacebook "fan page" is scattered with complaints amid enthusiasts' comments and the company's updates on its activities. Comments on one post this week featuring a photo of a proud owner and his "Chevy Family" of three cars included sarcastic references about the recall.

The financial costs of the recall and GM's legal liability are still being calculated.

Under terms of its 2009 bankruptcy, the "new" GM is not responsible for any legal claims relating to incidents that took place before July 2009. But GM is facing pressure from some consumer groups that say the arrangement would be unfair to victims and want the automaker to establish a trust fund to pay compensation.

Since the recall, GM has said its customers' safety and satisfaction are top priorities.

"We are deeply sorry to our customers and for the circumstances surrounding this recall. We are doing all we can today to take care of our customers and to ensure their peace of mind," GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

GM North America President Alan Batey acknowledged last month that the length of time between the first reports of a possible defect and the recall announcement "shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been."

LONG SILENCE

The company's long silence has outraged those who endured poor service or worse.

Megan Phillips, who was the driver of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt that crashed in Wisconsin, said that until last month's recall she blamed herself for a 2006 accident in which two teenaged friends were killed when her car left the road and hit a clump of trees.

Accident investigators hired by the NHTSA found that the key had moved to the "accessory" rather than the "run" position, turning off the engine and disabling the airbags before impact. None of the girls wore seatbelts.

Phillips, 24, said that the families of her deceased friends blamed her for the crash and would not talk to her. Since the recall, Phillips said, they have begun communicating.

"I don't have the answer for them. GM has the answer for them," she said.

Phillips said she does not understand why GM did not order a recall earlier.

"I don't understand why they would wait 10 years to say something. And I want to understand it but I never will."

"REALLY RIDICULOUS"

As part of the recall, the automaker has offered $500 to owners toward buying or leasing another GM car. The recall involves 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion compact cars, 2006-2007 Chevy HHR midsized cars, and 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars.

Mike Andrews, an attorney with the Alabama firm Beasley Allen, which is weighing possible recall-related lawsuits, called GM's response "really ridiculous."

"They've known about this for years, and their response is $500," Andrews said.

Even after repairs, GM warns customers to use only the key and fob on the key ring. The weight on the key is believed to be one of the causes of the ignition jarring out of the "run" position.

The NHTSA has opened a probe into the timing of the recall, and two congressional committees plan to hold hearings. The FBI and the U.S. attorney in Manhattan are also investigating.

GM has said it is fully cooperating.

GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, an engineer who took the job in January, has apologized publicly and started an internal investigation.

Fitch Ratings said in a note on Friday that the recall and federal probe may pose a risk to GM's reputation but are not likely to be a financial burden. Fitch said lawsuits could pose more of a problem for GM.

Attorney Robert Hilliard of the Texas firm Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, who is representing Phillips and other families of victims in the Wisconsin crash, said GM owners now contacting him are angered by "the insidiousness of hiding the defect."

"We're developing coalitions and associations to help in this battle," he said.

A proposed class action lawsuit was filed against GM in federal court in Texas on Friday. It claims GM knew about the problem since 2004 but failed to fix it, creating "unreasonably dangerous" conditions for drivers of the affected models.

Dennis Hillstead, a former St. Croix County sheriff who investigated the Phillips accident, said it appears "someone dropped the ball" on alerting the public.

"It's a sad commentary, perhaps, on large corporations that fail to take the public's well-being into consideration when making their decisions," he said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Marilyn W. Thompson in Washington and Jessica Dye in New York, editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Scott Young March 17 2014 at 8:13 AM

2006 Equinox here. Had an issue with turning the car on and not having any steering capabilities. Thought it had to do with the power steering fluid. was able to get it into a Firestone dealer and they hooked it up to the on-board computer and found nothing wrong, no issues appeared on the screen. they explained that the steering is computer assisted and no old fashioned power steering fluid. Then we started the SUV again and miraculously the problem disappeared. Happened again 8 months later. so I shut the car off and started it again and it worked. Just wondering when the same issue will happen again.

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1 reply
Tommy Scott Young March 17 2014 at 8:25 AM

I hope it's not at 75 mph on the Interstate.

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Mark March 16 2014 at 4:23 PM

What was the part number of the ignition switches involved in the recall? My 2003 Chevrolet Impala ignition switch, at times, has a do not start problem. Just turn the car off and wait 15 minutes before it will restart. For $500 they'll replace it with another. Sounds similar to the other ignition switch problem, where cars shut off while driving. I think they call that job security. Send out bulletins but don't pay for recalls.

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1 reply
mjb14052 Mark March 16 2014 at 4:47 PM

Hey, don't talk about my cat that way.

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visitus March 17 2014 at 8:36 AM

All auto companies are the same these days. I do not trust any of them when it comes to repairs or admitting fault. I have a 2012 vehicle that's had a strange vibration since new. I have 60k miles now and the vibration is still there. After multiple trips to the dealer, their "frame expert" told me this is just how they are built. I confirmed by driving 3 other cars the same year and model. I do not think there is one company more honest than another. All the Jap and Korean companies design vehicles for women or girly men, the American companies more for truck guys. Other than that, none of them give a crap unless it effects the bottom line... SALES

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kindheart4you1 March 16 2014 at 4:19 PM

GM is also aware of a systemic issue with its Hummer H3 climate control system and REFUSES to address it and just ignores it. Guess what position the new CEO if GM held before her promotion?....she was the Executive in charge of GM International QUALITY...you got it...she was aware from the get-go and said nothing...probably why she was promoted to the top slot! Thanks GM for screwing the public who bailed you out from bankruptcy.

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JIM March 17 2014 at 8:40 AM

Steering post ignition switches have always been bad on all makes of cars. I have replaced hundreds of them myself over the years but people don't usually get killed when their engine stops.

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1 reply
smiles41 JIM March 17 2014 at 8:45 AM

While that may be true, Jim, it doesnt explain the obvious and devious attempt to IGNORE the fatalities their blunder has caused over the last decade..

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1 reply
bridgetdopler smiles41 March 17 2014 at 10:46 AM

well if you do your homework instead of just reading a headline and attacking it, you will see that almost all companies have done this at one time or another. And the death toll... if far more reaching than GM.....

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kines32 March 17 2014 at 8:44 AM

What do you expect? Aren't most GM cars made in China? Didin't Obama bail out GM? Why would you expexct anything different from GM? I have been driving Cheverolets since I bought my first second hand Chevy back in high school in 1958. I still dtive a 2006 model bu this is the last GM car I will own.

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1 reply
bridgetdopler kines32 March 17 2014 at 10:41 AM

really ???? LMAO..... No Most of GM cars are made in the US around the Detroit area. ONE GM model that is in china is the Buick, it is very ELITE over there for them, spark and the encore are from Korea. So no smart guy Most GM cars are made here in the United States and the second most would be from Canada. And NO Again, Obama did not bail GM out. Obama's dumb ass did CASH FOR CLUNKERS, and screwed EVERYTHING ELSE UP

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anna March 17 2014 at 8:52 AM

I have two keys and my remote on my key chain and I STILL have a locked ignition. so their theory of having a heavy key chain is ridiculous! I have a 2010 Malibu and my friend has a 99 saturn vue and it does the same thing. the recall should be expanded! oh and to the people who think it is a union problem, get real. management had to okay parts when we brought problems to their attention. quit blaming things on the laborers!

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1 reply
scollegeville3 anna March 17 2014 at 10:01 AM

again you idiot you do not have the problem that has been recalled stop it please!!!

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teresathecleaner March 16 2014 at 3:57 PM

This isn't the only problem , I've had 3 car's since 2006 and all are lemon's , did lemon law twice and went from a cobalt ss I loved to an HHR that hjas the same problem , in all three car's I've had at least 20 steering column's and steering rack's , also this car the sunroof broke twice , I'm so disgusted with GM , cannot make them any better than this , they need to quit making car's ...

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John March 16 2014 at 3:45 PM

Somebody ( maybe even a few somebodies) needs to be PUT IN JAIL for this atrocity. Why can't these criminals be charged with murder or manslaughter in the cases of the many people that have died because of GM's criminal and deliberate negligence?

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1 reply
lawrenceofparker John March 16 2014 at 3:59 PM

You are right on there John. And while they are at it, throw Obama in jail too - after all he bailed the profit mongers out!

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yakmann2 March 16 2014 at 3:43 PM

GM should be held responsiable for all claims. They put profit in front of saftey. All the past CEOs should have their pay garished they were the ones in charge. Bunch of ********.

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