General Motors has yet another unresolved safety concern with its vehicles. This one involves trucks with anti-lock braking system (ABS) problems. The ABS in some GM trucks engages at slow speeds in dry conditions, leading to a loss of braking and increased stopping distances. Once again, this is a known problem at GM, as they have recalled vehicles previously from earlier model years with the same problem.
A search on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website finds hundreds of complaints from owners of GM trucks, model years 2003 to 2008, who experienced loss of braking from inadvertent ABS activation. The root of this problem is not hard to discover; GM recalled earlier model years of the same vehicles that experienced the same problems back in 2005. The plot thickens when considering the known cause, which was brake line corrosion; a problem we at NLPC have been trying to get addressed for months now.
Consumer Affairs reported on the original GM recall for ABS brake problems back in August of 2005. Consumers had long sought to have the issue addressed, only to get stonewalled by GM for three years before finally seeing the recall made months after a NHTSA investigation was opened. From that article:
General Motors Corp. is recalling 804,000 full-size pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles because of potential problems with the anti-lock braking system.
Problems with the antilock brake system are behind the GM decision to recall vehicles in 14 northern states. Corrosion in the braking system is blamed for more than 200 low-speed crashes.
A GM spokesman says the problem occurs when salt and other road grime gets into the area covering the antilock braking system sensor near the wheel hub. The problem activates the ABS at speeds much lower than normal, requiring a longer stopping distance.
Vehicles involved in the recall include the Chevrolet Avalanche and Silverado pickups and the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe SUVs. The GMC Sierra pickup and Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs are also affected. All 804,000 vehicles trucks are from the 1999-2002 model years, NHTSA said.
GM says there have been 228 crashes reported through the end of May, including 10 minor injuries.
ConsumerAffairs.com has received complaints about the problems with GM antilock brakes since 2002.
The NHTSA recall notice confirms that the braking failure is a result of corrosion and affects vehicles in “Salt Belt” states. From the recall notice:
CERTAIN PICKUP TRUCKS AND SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES MAY EXPERIENCE UNWANTED ANTILOCK BRAKE SYSTEM (ABS) ACTIVATION. THIS CONDITION IS MORE LIKELY TO OCCUR IN ENVIRONMENTALLY CORROSIVE AREAS. THIS RECALL WILL BE LAUNCHED IN THE “SALT BELT” STATES OF CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, ILLINOIS, INDIANA, IOWA, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS, MAINE, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, MISSOURI, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA, RHODE ISLAND, VERMONT, WEST VIRGINIA, WISCONSIN AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ONLY.
So let’s summarize; back in 2005 GM was aware of corrosion issues with its braking system in Salt Belt states and addressed part of the problem with a recall. Years later, the same problems occur in newer model years of the same vehicles in the same Salt Belt states. GM now does nothing about the ABS problem and claims brake line corrosion is the responsibility of owners.
GM brake line corrosion and ABS problems are widely reported on both NHTSA’s website and on the internet. It is obvious that GM has a problem regarding brake line rust beyond what other manufacturers are experiencing, presumably because of inferior brake line materials. A Google search on either subject unveils the extent of the problem along with the frustrations of GM truck owners who, for years, have been trying to get GM to do the right thing and take care of the problems. I urge consumer advocacy groups, safety organizations (including NHTSA) and journalists to investigate the serious safety concern of failing brakes due to corrosion on GM trucks and SUVs for model years 1999 through 2008.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.