By Chris Jensen
Three years ago, General Motors chief executive Mary Barra admitted that for years the automaker had concealed an ignition-switch defect, which has now been linked to at least 124 deaths. And she assured federal regulators that there would be a new pro-safety and pro-consumer attitude at the company.
But federal safety regulators are now investigating whether GM has been adequately handling a recall of about 429,000 vehicles in the United States for the sudden failure of both low-beam headlights.
The investigation comes after 128 GM owners complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to a report posted on the agency’s website.
Some complained that their headlights failed but that their vehicles weren’t included in the recall. Other owners said that their vehicles were recalled and fixed, but then the repair failed.
The agency does not verify each complaint and, while it had no reports of crashes, it was concerned enough that it began a “recall query” to determine if more vehicles needed to be fixed.
Recall queries are launched if the safety agency suspects an automaker hasn’t completely addressed a safety problem– and they are unusual. Last year the agency opened only one.
This is the first recall query that GM has faced since the ignition-switch scandal in 2014. That resulted in the automaker paying a $900 million penalty for concealing the deadly defect from safety regulators.
If General Motors intends “to make good on Ms. Barra’s commitment” the company should recall all the vehicles that have the defective part, said Michael Brooks, the acting director of the Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit, consumer advocacy group.
GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson declined to comment, other than to note that the automaker is cooperating with NHTSA. An agency spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Among those who complained to NHTSA was the unnamed Arkansas owner of a 2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer. He wrote last September that “while driving down a steep, curvy highway on a rainy night I was facing an oncoming big truck in a sharp curve. Dimmed my lights and everything when totally black. All I hear is the horn of a big truck as the driver is trying to avoid my vehicle.”
‘No recall. Your problem.’
The owner said the automaker told him “ ‘No recall. Your problem.’ I have been a GM customer for 30 years. Not anymore.”
Other 2007 Trailblazers were recalled in 2014.
General Motors has had two recalls for the headlight failures, which it blames on a component that can malfunction “in the thermal environment of the underhood electrical center.” That problem does not affect the high beam headlights, which continue to function.
The first recall was in 2014, when G.M. said about 270,000 vehicles needed to be fixed.
That action covered some 2006-2009 Buick LaCrosse sedans; 2006-2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer and 2006 TrailBlazer EXTs; 2006-2007 GMC Envoy and 2006 Envoy XLs; 2006-2007 Buick Rainiers; 2006-2008 Saab 9-7X and 2006-2008 Isuzu Ascender midsize SUVs.
In 2015, NHTSA investigators told the automaker that it was still receiving complaints of failures from owners whose vehicles were not recalled.
That notice from NHTSA prompted the second recall, which covered “certain” 160,000 2005 Buick Lacrosse and 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix models.
This story was reported by FairWarning (www.fairwarning.org), a nonprofit news organization based in Pasadena, Calif., that focuses on public health, consumer and environmental issues.