General Motors continues to deny that it has a safety problem with brake lines that are prone to corrosion in as few as five or six years. Thousands of owners of GM trucks and SUVs have complained of failing brakes due to brake lines bursting from the rust problem. One of these owners, Joe Palumbo from Pennsylvania, has made it a quest (see his website here) to expose the safety defect, thus far to little avail. GM’s latest response to Mr. Palumbo includes an implied admission that the company has been using inferior quality brake lines in its vehicles.
The response to Mr. Palumbo’s complaint of prematurely corroding brake lines came in the form of an email on August 6th of this year from [email protected]. Drew, a “Chevrolet Executive Assistant,” responded to the complaint regarding Mr. Palumbo’s 2004 Chevy Avalanche, which had brake failure after just seven years and 46,600 miles back in 2011. Here’s what Drew had to say:
I am contacting you from the General Motors Executive office on behalf of Alyssa in regards to your 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche.
I wanted to let you know that I have received an update from our Technical Assistance team; I requested additional information to know if this is a known concern to GM. The information I received clearly explains it is not; however, there are pre-formed replacement brake lines that can be installed on your vehicle that meet higher quality standards than the originals.
After a thorough review of the information and conversations with the dealer and Executive panel, we would be unable to provide any financial assistance towards the repairs. This is due to the age of the vehicle, lack of dealership service records, and being outside of all factory warranties. We appreciate the opportunity to review this matter and hope you understand our position as it relates to the manufacturer’s obligation.
So, the “Technical Assistance team” at GM did not know about the brake line corrosion problem, despite media coverage and statements from GM spokespeople that the problem was a maintenance issue and the responsibility of owners? No wonder there are so many quality problems at GM with this type of intracompany communication failure.
The most damning part of GM’s email response to brake line corrosion complaints was this: “there are pre-formed replacement brake lines that can be installed on your vehicle that meet higher quality standards than the originals.” There can only be one inference made from that statement; clearly GM has not had high quality standards for original equipment brake lines.
Joe Palumbo has been frustrated in his attempts to have GM address an obvious safety problem with models such as his Chevy Avalanche and the even more widely-selling Chevy Silverado. It is important to note that he never asked for money, only recognition of the problem. The defense by GM that this is a problem for the entire industry does not hold water, as there are hundreds of more complaints on GM vehicles for brake line failure due to brake line corrosion than any other manufacturer. Now GM itself admits that the original brake lines used do not have as high a safety standard as the replacement parts!
Subaru had a similar brake line corrosion problem with its vehicles and they did the right thing by recalling the vehicles. GM continues to show that it is lacking when it comes to quality standards and now seems to focus its recall efforts where there are low-cost fixes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) appears to be either inept or colluding in its failure to address the known safety concern.
NHTSA has had an ongoing investigation on GM vehicles (for which there have been thousands of brake line corrosion complaints) for model years 1999-2003 since 2010, yet has done nothing. The investigation was never expanded to include newer models, despite numerous complaints.
Brake lines should not fail due to rust in just six or seven years. GM now admits they do not use the highest quality materials in its original equipment brake lines. I urge NHTSA to act on the matter and concerned motorists should write GM at [email protected] to request a recall for the vehicles with the dangerous brake line corrosion safety defect. Owners of GM vehicles that have experienced brake failure should report the problem to NHTSA and request a recall, before someone dies as a result of more inevitable accidents caused by brake line failure due to corrosion.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.
photo courtesy of Joe Palumbo