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Why Are Safety Experts Mad at GM and Its Recall Fix?

Buyers hope to trust the auto manufacturer that sells them a vehicle. Recalls and fraud undermine this faith. With two recalls right in a row for General Motors’ light-duty trucks, owners should check to make sure their 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks are safe. Since both issues involve the braking systems, these are potentially serious concerns. Here’s what to know about the two recalls and what GM knew.

The first GM problem and recall

On December 12, 2019, General Motors issued the first recall for a software error that could disable the vehicle’s electronic stability control and anti-lock brake systems. If this happened, it would increase the likelihood of a crash. This problem meant the vehicle didn’t illuminate warning lights, so drivers were unaware of the problem

This issue affected almost 550,000 2019 Cadillac CT6 sedans, 2019 Chevrolet Silverado trucks, and GMC Sierra vehicles in North America. The repair involved reprogramming the software for the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM). However, this fix appears to have introduced an even bigger problem.

The second problem and recall

Mark Reuss, President of General Motors, announces that GMs Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant will build the all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle
Mark Reuss, the President of GM | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The recall repairs for the first problem then caused the power brakes to fail for some owners. If drivers ever see the “Service Brake Assist” or “Service ECS” warnings lit up on the instrument panel, then the truck shouldn’t be driven. If the brakes do fail, then the driver would need to use hard manual braking or the emergency brake.

Between December 12 and January 9, about 1,700 owners who had the recall repair completed alerted GM to brake problems. These owners had the repair done and also used the OnStar app or My Brand app to start their trucks.

On January 9, GM and its software developer located the new problem. Information was shared with dealers about how to fix that problem on January 16. The NHTSA posted the recall on January 30, notifying owners of 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500s and GMC Sierra 1500s of the problem. The recall, which began on February 10, is to reprogram the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM) a second time.

GM is also alerting 160,000 owners of GMC and Chevrolet light-duty pickup trucks about the potential for the power brakes to fail. These are the owners who had the update from the first recall completed. The second problem has not affected the Cadillac CT6 sedans so far. General Motors has said that GM dealers will tow trucks for owners who aren’t comfortable driving or who have illuminated warning lights. GM dealers will also provide loaner vehicles as well.

Why safety experts are mad at GM

While GM isn’t aware of any injuries caused by brake failures, owners and safety experts are upset they weren’t notified more quickly. Some safety experts told the Detroit Free Press that GM could have used OnStar to alert owners when the problem was discovered in mid-December.

“What a terrifying defect,” Rosemary Shahan, president of the nonprofit organization Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, told the Detroit Free Press. “GM should have warned its customers right away about the hazards.” General Motors spokesman Dan Flores said GM must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before letting owners know about issues.

GM did not warn owners immediately either to stop driving their trucks or to stop using OnStar’s remote start feature. GM also could have disabled the OnStar app since that could trigger the problem with the brakes. OnStar is a subsidiary of GM.

With two serious safety recalls for General Motors in recent months, the company’s lack of immediate transparency only added to their issues. Now aware, owners should be sure to have both recall fixes implemented on their vehicles.