NLPC is requesting that General Motors recall vehicles with a dangerous rusted brake line defect. The request is based on a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation of GM trucks for model years 1999 to 2003 that included Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras. We are also asking NHTSA to order a recall without further delay.
Further investigation finds that NHTSA has received many additional complaints for newer model GM trucks that appear to be afflicted with the same defect.
A search of NHTSA’s website found 112 complaints of corroded brake lines for model year 2006 Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras. It stands to reason that there are many more complaints for model years 2004 and 2005. In fact, I counted 240 complaints for corroded brake lines for the 2004 Chevy Silverado before calling it quits and realizing that there are more than enough documented cases to warrant an expansion of the NHTSA investigation. I estimate that the total amount of NHTSA complaints of corroded brake lines for GM trucks which currently are not even under investigation, model years 2004 – 2006, approaches 1,000.
The issue seems to fade with the 2007 model years (“only” 16 complaints), but that might be because most of the damage appears to start at about the 7th year of the vehicles being in service. More disturbingly, NHTSA’s ongoing investigation of the problem (which was started in 2010) was never expanded to include later model vehicles. We must again ask what is going on at NHTSA that such obvious and dangerous safety defects are going unaddressed.
Owners of GM trucks have been seeking help for a dangerous defect that has been ignored by both GM and NHTSA. While thousands of documented cases circulate on the internet and complaints made to congressmen, safety agencies and GM, no one seems to want to step up to address the obvious problem.
GM has claimed that rusting brake lines in its trucks are a result of normal wear and tear. As they initially did with their deadly ignition switch recall delay, they are deceptively downplaying a serious problem. This unethical response was also demonstrated when GM refused to recall vehicles with a power steering defect until after NLPC pressured the company with a request for the recall earlier this year.
Drivers of GM vehicles with corroded brake lines repeatedly tell stories of the harrowing experience of suddenly losing their brakes. From NHTSA’s complaint search:
I WAS DRIVING MY 2007 GMC SIERRA CLASSIC 2500HD WT AND MY BRAKE LINE FAILED. I WENT THREW [sic] THE STOP SIGN OUT ONTO A MAIN ROAD AND JUST MISSED GETTING T-BONED BY A TRACTOR TRAILER. I HAD NO BRAKES AT ALL. MY BRAKES ARE ALL UP TO DATE. BRAND NEW BRAKE PADS AND ROTORS. I READ TONS OF COMPLAINTS ONLINE OF PEOPLE WITH THE SAME PROBLEM WITH GM VEHICLES BRAKE LINES RUSTING OUT PREMATURELY. MY TRUCK ONLY HAS 32,164 MILES ON IT AND IS WELL TAKEN CARE OF. …PLEASE MAKE GM DO A SAFETY RECALL ON THESE FAILING RUSTING BRAKE LINES BEFORE SOMEONE GETS KILLED. I WAS ALMOST NOT HERE TO TELL MY STORY.
And from a driver of a 2006 Chevy Silverado who crashed as a result of the brake failure:
AT THE WORST POSSIBLE TIME WITH ICY ROADS AND SNOW. I WAS ON MY DRIVEWAY TRYING TO GET TO THE TOP OFF IT WHEN I LOST TRACTION. I STOPPED AND APPLIED THE BRAKES. I STARTED TO BACK DOWN THE DRIVE WHEN THE PEDDLE FELL TO THE FLOOR CAUSING THE TRUCK TO GO VIOLENTLY OUT OF CONTROL AND CRASH DOWN OVER AN EMBANKMENT. THERE WAS NO WARNING, JUST TOTAL LOSS OF BRAKES BOTH FRONT AND REAR. MECHANIC SAYS THE LINES BLEW APART FROM RUST.
Another frustrated GM owner laments:
I WAS LEAVING THE DOWNTOWN AREA OF CLEVELAND, OHIO, AND I WAS IN THE LANE TO GET ONTO 77 SOUTH. THE LIGHT TURNED GREEN, THE 4-5 VEHICLES IN FRONT OF ME STARTED GOING THROUGH THE INTERSECTION, THE FIRST ACCELERATED INTO THE ADJACENT LANE TO REVEAL CONSTRUCTION CONES IN OUR LANE. THE REMAINING VEHICLES IN FRONT OF ME SLAMMED ON THEIR BRAKES AND I SLAMMED ON MINE. AT THAT INSTANT, MY BRAKE PEDAL SUNK TO THE FLOOR. I REACTED QUICKLY (THANK GOD) AND SWERVED LEFT TO AVOID THE COLLISION. MY TRUCK CAME TO REST ABOUT 10 FEET PAST THE SMALL SEDAN IN FRONT OF ME. I WOULD HAVE WRECKED THE BACK OF THAT CAR AND CAUSED A CHAIN REACTION IN FRONT AND BACK OF ME HAD I NOT BEEN ABLE TO REACT AS QUICKLY AS I HAD. THE REPLACEMENT OF ALL THE BRAKE LINES (THE ONE LEAKING IS AS CORRODED AS THE OTHERS) PLUS FRONT BRAKE WORK IS GOING TO COST ME AROUND $3800. NOT SOMETHING I WAS EXPECTING FROM A 6 YEAR OLD TRUCK, NOR ANYTHING I CAN AFFORD RIGHT NOW. IT IS MY WORK TRUCK, I DON’T HAVE A CHOICE, AND IT’S MORE OF A REPAIR THAN I FEEL COMFORTABLE TACKLING ON MY OWN. CHEVY NEEDS TO STEP UP AND SHOULDER SOME RESPONSIBILITY. I HAVE HAD TWO OTHER TRUCKS IN THIS CLIMATE AND NEVER SAW THE LINES CORRODE LIKE THIS.
I really do not know if the ongoing recall debacle at GM and NHTSA is a result of politics and corruption or of outright ineptness at both the safety agency and GM itself. Maybe NHTSA is underfunded. Maybe GM really isn’t aware of the problems with its vehicles. The last scenario is hard to believe, considering that GM was made aware of the rusted brake line problem and chose to go with the denial approach rather than to solve the problem.
GM has pointed to brake line corrosion being a problem with other manufacturers. They are partially correct. While no other manufacturer has the amount of complaints that GM does on the issue, Subaru admitted they had a similar problem with rusted brake lines last year. Their resolution was a recall.
While Subaru’s recall was the closest example to GM’s unaddressed problem, Toyota and Hyundai have also recalled vehicles in the past for corrosion issues. GM should follow the lead of Subaru and recall vehicles that put their customers at risk.
It is unfortunate that GM and NHTSA repeatedly come up short when it comes to regulating safety. Politicians do not seem to care until the safety issues reach a point where deaths occur and they become a platform to make political points. Media sources and investigative journalists seem to be falling short as well when it comes to exposing the problems at GM.
NLPC will continue to press GM to do the right thing in an effort to prevent the inevitable casualties that will result if dangerous defects are ignored. GM should recall its vehicles that are prone to brake line corrosion and NHTSA needs to expand their investigation of GM trucks to include later model years.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.