Must Someone Die Before GM Recalls Trucks with Rusting Brake Lines?

Mary BarraIt has now been more than two weeks since we sent a letter to General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, requesting a recall for vehicles (primarily Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras) that have thousands of complaints regarding brake line corrosion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had an ongoing investigation for GM truck model years 1999 through 2003. Considering that new research has discovered newer model trucks with the same problem, just what are GM and NHTSA waiting for to recall these dangerous vehicles?

There have not been any reported deaths attributed to brake failure resulting from corroded brake lines; not yet. But serious injury or death will certainly be the result (if it has not already happened) if these defective vehicles are not taken off the roads.

GM’s initial response to complaints of rusted brake lines that cause drivers to lose braking ability has been that this is a normal wear and tear problem and owners should take responsibility for the costs of repairs, which some estimates put at over $2,000. While GM claims this is “normal,” no other auto manufacturer has the number of complaints for brake failure from rusted brake lines which burst that GM does. And if this is normal for GM, potential buyers of trucks like the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra should consider whether they want to purchase a truck that will have rusted brake lines in about six years.

Owners of GM products with the brake problem do not consider the issue as acceptable as GM does. Many have contacted their congressmen (as have I) and NHTSA (as has NLPC) to get help. Here are some excerpts from NHTSA’s website from 2007 Chevy Silverado (not even included in their investigation) owners:

WHILE BACKING INTO MY DRIVEWAY I LOST ALL OF MY BRAKES.THE PEDAL WENT TO THE FLOOR.I USED THE EMERGENCY BRAKE AND PUT THE TRUCK INTO DRIVE.I MANAGED TO STOP THE TRUCK BEFORE ANY DAMAGE OCCURED,MY DRIVE WAY IS STEEP AND I WAS LUCKY I WAS GOING SLOW IN 4 WHEEL DRIVE.I FOUND THE BRAKE LINES HAD BEEN CORRODED AND BURST.THE LINES RUPTURED UNDER THE DRIVERS SIDE.I READ THAT GM SAID IT WAS NOT A SAFETY ISSUE AND YOU STILL WOULD HAVE SOME BRAKES.HOW ON EARTH WOULD YOU HAVE BRAKES WHEN THE LINES RUSTED THROUGH.A 2007 TRUCK .I READ THIS HAS BEEN AN ISSUE FOR OVER 12 YEARS WITH GM PICK UPS.CHECK YOUR BRAKE LINES-ITS LIFE OR DEATH.

The owner makes some good points in response to GM’s claims that these vehicles are safe. All evidence points to GM, once again, being less than honest by saying these trucks are safe. Here’s another, same 2007 model year:

I APPLIED THE BRAKES OF MY 07″ CHEVY SILVERADO CLASSIC IN A PARKING LOT, THE TRUCK STOPPED AND THEN THE BRAKES WENT ALL THE WAY TO THE FLOOR. GOT THE TRUCK HOME, AND SOON FOUND A POOL OF BRAKE FLUID ON THE GROUND UNDER THE LEFT REAR WHEEL. I WAS ABLE TO GET THE TRUCK TO THE DEALERSHIP WITH ALMOST NO STOPPING POWER. DIAGNOSIS – BRAKE LINE FAILURE. THE BRAKE LINES HAD DETERIORATED AND HAVE BEGUN FALLING APART. THE SOLUTION – A $2,400 BRAKE LINE REPLACEMENT JOB (ACTUAL PART COST $100). THE JOB IS APPARENTLY EXTREMELY LABOR INTENSIVE. IS GM DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THIS? MY TRUCK IS 7 YEARS OLD AND SHOULD NOT HAVE THE MAJOR BRAKING SYSTEM FAILURE PROBLEM THAT I AM EXPERIENCING.

I agree with this owner, a seven year old truck should not be expected to have brake system failure. That would seem obvious to most of us, but apparently GM has a lower quality standard.

Maybe it is the high cost of the repair that has GM hesitating to make the recall. GM has recently recalled over 2 million vehicles which it says will cost them about $200 million. That is less than $100 per vehicle. The corroded brake line problem will likely be at least ten times that amount. Is GM prioritizing its recalls based on cost rather than on safety?

Whatever the case might be, GM should recall these vehicles immediately. There is no excuse to do otherwise. It may be, as the above referenced Silverado owner states, a matter of life or death.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.   

 

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