GM’s Ignition Tests: It’s All Good, Just Take Everything Off the Keychain



As lawsuits begin piling up, General Motors is setting out to alert the drivers affected by the massive 2.59 million unit ignition switch recall that its vehicles are still safe to drive, albeit with only the key itself in the ignition cylinder, and minus whatever else they may have dangling off their key rings, according to the results of 16 additional tests run by the company to ensure that the vehicles were safe under the right circumstances. GM will likely have a long way to go convincing the drivers that their cars are still road worthy — 13 people have died as a result of the issue — but it likely means that GM won’t have to order a stop driving order, which would be a big issue for all involved.

GM said that it actually removed parts from the faulty switch that would make it easier for a single key to slip out of the “run” position, but the switch did not malfunction in the additional tests, Reuters reported. The recent tests followed up a similar battery conducted by the automaker in March.

The “test results showed no incidents of unintended key rotation when only an empty key ring was attached to the ignition key,” the company said in its detailed report, which was made available on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. 

The problem, which was reportedly known of going back as far as 2001, involved the ignition switch moving from Run into Accessory mode while the car was in motion. Once the car is shut down, the power steering, power brakes, and airbags go with it, greatly increasing the risk of collisions, injury, and death.

Despite GM’s efforts, safety advocates and plaintiffs involved in lawsuits against the company are pushing GM to tell drivers to stop operating their cars until they could be repaired. “We stress tested our conclusions from the initial 80 tests,” GM spokesperson Jim Cain told Reuters. “We did this at our own discretion to present the strongest possible case that our advice is good.”

During the tests, GM said that it removed the switch detent plunger and spring, which would make it easier for the switch to change positions. Cain added that none of the new tests included scenarios where the driver’s knee intentionally bumped the ignition switch, and that during all of the 100-plus tests, the drivers’ knees never hit the switch by accident, Reuters reported.

GM’s testing appears to have been quite comprehensive, as the company took its test vehicles over a variety of different road surfaces designed to shake, vibrate, and jostle the car to the point where the ignition could conceivably slid out of position. The safest thing, of course, would be to not drive the vehicles unless absolutely necessary, but for some that’s just not an option.

The big ignition recall is only a scratch on the surface of GM’s recall activity this year, though. We recently showcased the company’s five largest since January; here are a couple of them.

Chevy Silverado Red Pickup

March 31: 489,936 Vehicles

March 31 was a rough day for GM, as a big recall was announced. The announcement, affecting SUVs and pickups, was the recall of nearly 490,000 vehicles. Models included were Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe SUVs, as well as the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL.

The main issue plaguing the trucks and SUVs was a fire hazard because of leaking oil contacting hot surfaces due to an oil cooler line not secured to the fitting. People can bring their vehicle to dealers for a free repair. According to Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, the repair shouldn’t take much time. “If needed, a small pressure ring can be attached to a metal seat that goes into a fitting. The fix is simple, and the ring is easy enough to see that once it is on, technicians will be able to tell without any difficulty that the line is seated,” it said.


February 13: 780,000 Vehicles

On February 13, a recall of 780,000 older compact cars was announced, as it had been found that the engine can shut down without warning, leading to disastrous results. There have been a reported 6 deaths as a result of the defect, and another 17 crashes. Vehicles affected in the callback includes 2005-2007 Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact sedans.

The problem stems from faulty ignition switches that tend to loosen if there is added weight on the driver’s key chain. The added weight puts extra stress on the ignition switch, causing it to become loose. Driving over bumpy roads can also add extra stress on the switch. With a loosened switch, the key has an easier time slipping into the off position, turning the car off while in motion, and turning off all safety features with it.


March 17: 1,176,407 Vehicles

GM recalled 1,176,407 SUVs on March 17, affecting models including the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, and Saturn Outlook. The problem stems from increased resistance on the mounted side impact air bags in the two front seats. Due to the increased resistance, the airbags may not deploy during a collision as they should.

The problem actually lies within the seat belt pretensioners, which are supposed to deploy in the event of a crash. Due to faulty wiring harnesses, a failure to deploy can occur. As with other recalls, dealers will take care of the issue free of charge in their service departments.

You can read our full report here.