General Motors insiders call this ignition switch the “switch from hell”. The ignition switch on the steering column of the Chevrolet Cobalt along with several other compact Chevrolet cars was so poorly designed that they easily slip out of the run position causing the engine to stall leaving the driver to muscle the car off the road. Once the engine stalls the airbags wont deploy, so in the event of an accident while getting the vehicle off the road the passengers are not protected. Vehicles involved include Chevy Cobalt from 2005-2007, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion. 2006-2007 HHR, 2006-2007 Pontiac Pursuit, 2007 Pontiac Solstice and 2007 Saturn Sky. The faulty ignition switches were to blame for 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths according to GM. Engineers at GM knew of the problem as early as 2004 when a test vehicle stalled on the test track as the drivers knee grazed the key FOB hanging in the ignition. Insiders at GM did not see the problem as a safety issue and ignored it for 11 years.
From 2004-2006, GM considered the fix too costly and sent out letters to dealerships explaining the problem and advising them to warn customers not to dangle too many objects from their key chains. GM elected not to use the word “stall” in the letter saying that was a “hot” word that could indicate there was a more serious safety issue.
In 2007, a GM engineer working with GM’s liability defense team began keeping track of Cobalt air bag problems and quickly noticed a pattern between the ignition switch and the air bags. He also noticed that the problem stopped after model year 2007 and wondered if the switch had been changed. He discovered that in 2006 one of GM’s top engineers had not only secretly signed off on a change in the switch that would increase the force it took to turn the key in the switch, but also used the same part number on the secretly changed switch as the faulty switch. Keeping the part number the same kept GM investigators from learning about what happened for years.
Then in 2011, a law firm hired to sue GM decided to X-ray two switches from 2 different model years and found they were different. This was the first time GM had learned about the secret changes to the switch by their top engineer. Even in light of all this new information, the GM recall committee was not immediately told about the fatal accidents that had occurred and so they waited for several more months to start recalling the cars in February of 2012.
On Thursday June 5th, 2014, a sweeping internal investigation of General Motors was released condemning the company for its decade-long failure to fix a deadly safety defect that led to “devastating consequences.”
The report, written by the former United States attorney Anton R. Valukas, set off the dismissal of 15 G.M. employees, including a vice president for regulatory affairs and a senior lawyer responsible for product liability cases, and forced broad changes in how the company handles vehicle safety.
There are still many of these vehicles on the road today. A lot of them handed down to teenagers and inexperienced young drivers to travel back and forth to school or college. If you own or are considering buying one of these vehicles, we highly recommend that you have the ignition switch checked out before driving the vehicle.
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Stay safe Citrus County!