Kevin Hunt: GM Recalls Monte Carlo, But Not Hers Despite Ignition Failure


General Motors has recalled more than 15 million vehicles worldwide this year for ignition-related defects, but Shelley Hansen still doesn't understand why it hasn't recalled her (VIN) number yet.

GM's massive recalls began in February with 2.6 million older vehicles for faulty switches the company has now linked to 54 crashes and 13 deaths. The latest recalls sound like those that preceded them: Weight on a key ring could push the ignition switch out of the run position, turning off the engine and disabling the airbags.

Hansen knows the feeling. Before the massive recall, she says, the ignition in her 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo shut down while her daughter was driving.

"We were stopped on a hill at a stop sign," Hansen says. "Luckily, no one was behind us. We were able to restart the car, but that was that."

After the February recalls, Hansen contacted GM to tell the automaker what had happened and how similar it sounded to other complaints. GM directed Hansen, who lives in West Simsbury, to Davidson Chevrolet in Canton for a safety check. Technicians at the dealership could not duplicate the ignition failure.

"We have to confirm it," says Emile Poirier, a service consultant at the family business. "If it was one of those intermittent things, it would be very, very difficult to duplicate."

Then, in early July, GM recalled more than 6.7 million vehicles, including the 2000-05 model Monte Carlo, for the same electrical system defect. Again, Hansen contacted GM, which said her car — the specific vehicle identification number — had not yet been identified as part of the recall. Davidson Chevrolet called, offering another safety check. Again, the dealer said it could fix it only if technicians could duplicate the problem — which remained unlikely.

Hansen, frustrated, contacted The Bottom Line.

"So here I am knowing that the ignition switch is a problem," she says. "I've told GM about the problem and yet I can't have them repair it. It's quite frustrating. So do we just wait until they list our VIN number and hope that nothing happens in the meantime? That doesn't sound like a very rational decision."

The cost of a replacement switch is cheap, 57 cents, but GM's own investigation found that its engineers knew, since 2004, of its risks. The company now faces more than 30 wrongful death and injury lawsuits and is being investigated by nearly every state attorney general in the United States.

GM spent $3.48 billion in the first six months of 2014 on recalls, loaner cars and warranty payments in North America. It can expect to pay more than $500 million in compensation to victims of the faulty switches — even more if GM were responsible for accidents before its 2009 bankruptcy.

If your vehicle is recalled, expect a written notice from the manufacturer. To find out current recalls, or a recall history, on a vehicle, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's site  and click on "search for recalls." (Owners of GM vehicles can also visit the company's recalls site.)

 GM offered to pay the diagnostic fee for Hansen's visit to Davidson Chevrolet and prescribed a simple precaution.

"Suggest that the customer drive only with the ignition key," says Michael Albano, a GM spokesman. "No weight on the key ring, including the fob, until [Hansen] has a chance to have a dealer look at the ignition."

Hansen, indeed, now uses only an unadorned key. The actual remedy for the recalled Monte Carlos doesn't promise much more: two replacement key rings and a key cover on all ignition keys.

GM again called Hansen last week to say her VIN number hadn't been called.

"The only information they kept repeating was that they can't fix it if it's not [showing the same symptoms] when they check it out, which makes no sense," she says. "They said to call if it happens again. My response is that, hopefully, it won't be a disaster the next time it happens. It's crazy."

Editor's note: This column has been updated to include the correct spelling of Emile Poirier's last name.

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