GM defect discovered by engineer searching for answers

GM defect discovered by engineer searching for answers

The day before Brooke Melton turned 29 in 2010, her 2005 Chevy Cobalt stalled while driving. She was able to maneuver the powerless vehicle off the road and later had it “fixed” by the dealership.

The next day, her car unexpectedly shut off again, this time causing a collision that ended her short life.

After learning the joyous occasion that marked their daughter’s life now represented something much darker, the Melton’s vowed to vindicate her death. Her father suspected the accident related to the issues she experienced a day prior.

Seeking justice, the Melton’s hired a lawyer to discover the truth behind their daughter’s accident. Mark Hood, an engineer from Florida, joined the case in an attempt to discern the truth. Initial thoughts led them to believe the problems stemmed from a recent power steering recall from General Motors (GM), but a matter of millimeters proved otherwise.

After examining the black box from Brooke’s Cobalt, Hood learned the key slipped out of the on position, causing the engine to shut down right before the accident and disabling power steering, brakes and airbags. Several tests yielded no plausible conclusions, leaving Hood bewildered.

Things changed after he purchased the same piece, a detent plunger, from the ignition he’d been examining. While the part number was the same, the detent plungers were two different sizes with the one bought from the dealership proving to be more secure.

Soon after he made this discovery, Hood thoroughly examined junkyards looking for similar Cobalt models to compare detent plunger sizes from the ignition. The evidence was overwhelming- at some point GM and Delphi, the company that manufactures the piece, silently enlarged their product without changing the identification number or creating any official records.

In April 2013, the Meltons attorney began gathering depositions from GM engineers, armed with Hood’s detailed and unquestionable evidence.  Soon the truth came to light- this had been a known issue for more than a decade.

Now the Melton’s, along with other grieving families, have the answers they longed for after senselessly losing their children, spouses, siblings and friends.

A year later, Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer, has to testify about what went wrong and why the recall wasn’t conducted earlier. Even though they can answer how the accidents happened, the world wants to know why it took 13 deaths for GM to respond.

In less than four months, GM recalled more than six million vehicles worldwide. After the initial recall of 1.6 million for the faulty ignition switches, others quickly followed including additional model years for the switch, power steering issues and transmission lines that can start fires.

In an effort to re-examine quality and safety issues, GM decided to stop selling Chevy Cruzes, model years 2013 and 2014. While driving, the right front axle can break and separate without any notice. These models, as well as the Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, were manufactured in Lordstown, Ohio, just past the Pennsylvania border.

Details surrounding the ignition switch controversy continue to surface, creating more questions about the safety of GM vehicles and causing many to wonder what else we don’t know. While Barra insists all of their actions now involve an effort to put safety first, prior decisions leave room for doubt.

Below is a list of the vehicles recalled due to the faulty ignition switch. If you or someone you love was involved in an accident in one of the recalled vehicles after the engine shut off, contact us immediately. We may be able to help.

Vehicles included in the recall:

  • Chevrolet Cobalt, 2005 to 2010
  • Chevrolet HHR, 2006 to 2011
  • Saturn Ion, 2003 to 2007
  • Saturn Sky, 2007-2010
  • Pontiac Solstice, 2006 to 2010
  • Pontiac G5, 2007 to 2010
  • Pontiac Pursuit
Footnotes
Durbin, D. A. (2014). GM to recall another 1.5 million vehicles for power steering problems. NBC Washington. [Link]
Gardella, R., Gutierrez, G., Monahan, K. & Reynolds, T. (2014). Parents ‘boiling with anger’ after daughter’s death in GM car. NBC News. [Link]
Vlasic, B. (2014). An engineer’s eureka moment with a GM flaw. The New York Times. [Link]
Vlasic, B. & Wald, M. (2014). GM expands ignition switch recall to later models. The New York Times. [Link]
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