Other GM cars have recalled Cobalt steering – USA TODAY
Hundreds of thousands of General Motors cars with the same steering system that prompted a big Chevrolet Cobalt recall four years ago haven’t been recalled – even though federal safety officials say they have duplicated the Cobalt defect in the non-recalled Saturn Ion.
The flaw, which causes sudden loss of the steering’s power assist, isn’t related to the recent ignition switch recall, but some of the same models in the switch recall, including the Ion, also share the Cobalt’s electric power steering system.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration — which has had an investigation of the 2004 to 2007 Ion power steering underway since 2010 — said in a statement Friday that it “is actively investigating the potential safety defect and will take appropriate action based on the agency’s findings.”
It gave no timetable.
GM has adopted a more-aggressive safety review policy, but wouldn’t say if an Ion recall is imminent.
“GM is redoubling efforts on pending product reviews to bring them forward and to resolve them quickly. We will not sacrifice accuracy for speed, however,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said. He said GM isn’t “in a position to discuss specific products or issues prior to any outcome of those reviews.”
In March 2010 GM recalled 1.05 million 2005-10 Cobalts and 2007-10 Pontiac G5s for power steering assist failure that made the cars difficult to control. The electric motor that provides the assist can fail when debris builds up on the motor’s brushes. GM notified NHTSA that the Cobalt motor “was the same as that used” in 2004-2007 Saturn Ions.
An analysis for USA TODAY by TrueCar.com found 335,204 of those Saturns still are on the road.
NHTSA opened a preliminary evaluation in late 2010, to see if the Ion also should be recalled. At the time, it had 846 owner complaints and said GM reported 3,489, though some could be duplicates. GM also reported 13,235 warranty claims involving Ions and power steering motors. NHTSA also showed 16 accidents and two injuries linked to the issue.
In 2011, the probe was upgraded to an engineering analysis and NHTSA documents say it “has duplicated this failure” in the Ion. While NHTSA’s investigation remains open, the most recent document in the file is dated January 2012.
NHTSA documents say that, based on information from GM, sudden failure of steering’s power assist “could occur at any time while driving.” It said the vehicle would “revert to manual steering mode and would require increased steering effort from the driver,” which “could result in some loss of control and a crash.”
NHTSA documents show that the agency has studied how hard the Saturns are to control when the power assist fails. That suggests the agency could decide that the Saturns behave differently from the Cobalts despite the same fault-prone motor.
NHTSA noted Friday, “With any steering issue there are additional external factors to consider even when evaluating the same component in different vehicles, such as wheelbase, size of the tires, weight of the vehicle – all of which can affect the steering. The agency is analyzing all of the potential factors, as part of its open investigation. The agency routinely, as part of any investigation, reviews peer vehicles as well.”
USA TODAY research shows that the same power-assist motor was used in some Chevrolet Malibus and HHRs and Pontiac G6s. The NHTSA documents mention the Malibu and G6, but don’t give model years for those, or cite a specific investigation of them, despite widespread complaints of sudden power-assist steering failures.