A Consumer Watchdog is trying to expose another unaddressed safety issue with some General Motors’ vehicles. The problem, once again, involves loss of steering and occurs on later model year Chevy Malibus, Chevy Cruzes and Buick Veranos. Also, once again, GM and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) are aware of the dangerous defect and choose to issue a “service bulletin” instead of recalling the vehicles with safety problems.
Christine Young is the Consumer Watchdog that has written about the newest GM safety concern on timesleader.com. Ms. Young tells the story of a frustrated Chevy Cruze owner who is afraid to drive his vehicle because of problems with power steering. GM’s response to the problem belies the perception that the company is properly addressing safety issues on its vehicles.
You see, GM has sent letters and issued a service bulletin that admits a dangerous defect exists. However, owners are not allowed to bring in their vehicles for free repairs; until they suffer a malfunction! Ms. Young quotes the letter from GM as follows:
“This could cause the steering wheel to stick in the straight-ahead position after driving long distances on a straight highway,” the letter said. “The steering wheel can turn, but it may require increased effort…DO NOT TAKE YOUR VEHICLE TO YOUR CHEVROLET DEALER AS A RESULT OF THIS LETTER UNLESS YOU BELIEVE THAT YOUR VEHICLE HAS THE CONDITION DESCRIBED ABOVE.”
So, let’s get this straight, GM will not fix a problem that they know about unless owners of defective vehicles partially loose steering control while traveling on a highway!? If this were not GM, I would say that this was unbelievable.
NHTSA is aware of the problem, as well. As usual, they are not enforcing a recall. Here’s what their service bulletin, as listed on their website, says: “SUMMARY: BUICK/CHEVROLET: WHILE STEERING, STEERING WHEEL HAS STICK SLIP OR NOTCHY FEEL DUE TO INCREASED EFFORTS TO OVERCOME FORCE TO TURN GEARS INSIDE STEERING GEAR. MODEL 201-2014 VERANO, CRUZE, MALIBU.” I’m not sure what the missing digit for the first listed model year is, but complaints exist for model years 2011 to 2014; service bulletin only addresses 2013 and 2014 model years.
There are numerous complaints on the web for the newest steering issue. ChevyMalibuForum.com has 38 pages under the topic “Serious Steering Problem.” The NHTSA website also has many documented complaints. Here are some excerpts from a few 2014 Malibu owners who complained to NHTSA:
WHILE DRIVING AT HIGHWAY SPEEDS (65-70 MPH) ON STRAIGHT AND LEVEL HIGHWAY, STEERING WOULD DEVELOP A "STICKY, OR DEAD SPOT" ON CENTER. WHEN ATTEMPTING TO MAKE A SLIGHT CORRECTION, IT REQUIRED INCREASED EFFORT TO OVERCOME THE "STICKY" SPOT; I COULD FEEL THE INCREASED RESISTANCE, AND THEN SUDDENLY THE STEERING WHEEL WOULD MOVE. IT TOOK EFFORT TO KEEP THE CAR FROM JERKING. INITIALLY THIS WOULD OCCUR ONLY WHEN TEMPERATURES WERE BELOW APPROXIMATELY 50 DEGREES (WE WERE ON CHRISTMAS BREAK IN UTAH). HOWEVER, UPON RETURNING TO TEXAS AND WARMER WEATHER, THE CONDITION HAS PERSISTED, ALBEIT INTERMITTENTLY. I TOOK IT TO THE DEALER ON 15 JAN; HOWEVER THEY WERE "UNABLE TO DUPLICATE". THIS AFTERNOON I OBSERVED THE SAME "STICKINESS" WHILE WAITING AT A STOPLIGHT. I HAVE ATTEMPTED TO WORK THROUGH CHEVROLET CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES ON-LINE, BUT HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET ANYONE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT A ""PROBLEM" EXISTS.
THE STEERING JERKS TO THE LEFT AND WHEN CORRECTING IT BACK THE STEERING HITS A STICKY SPOT. THERE IS NO VIBRATING OR ADVANCE WARNING, IT IS JUST A QUICK PULL AND THEN A STICKY SPOT
WHILE DRIVING AT 65 MPH ON A TWO LANE INTERSTATE THE VEHICLE STEERING DOES NOT TRACK STRAIGHT IN THE LANE TO A SMALL DEGREE SO WHEN CORRECTING TO STAY STRAIGHT WOULD FEEL A STICKING POINT AND YOU WOULD HAVE TO OVERCOME IT CAUSING THE VEHICLE TO VEER. IN MY INSTANCE ALMOST CAUSING ME TO TURN INTO A SEMI TRUCK. THE TEMPERATURE WAS AROUND 35 DEGREES WITH DRY STRAIGHT ROAD.
This one from an owner of a 2013 Malibu regarding GM’s absurd position that steering must fail before being fixed:
2013 CHEVROLET MALIBU. CONSUMER WRITES IN REGARDS TO VEHICLE STEERING SYSTEM ISSUES. *SMD THE CONSUMER WAS INFORMED BY THREE DIFFERENT DEALERS, THE STEERING MUST FAIL, BEFORE IT CAN BE FIXED.
There are lots more on the site. Enough so that pressure should be brought upon GM and NHTSA to step up and fix the problem. My research uncovered the likely cause of the steering problems, which should help GM get a jump on things.
Some service technicians weighed in on the Malibu forum and seemed to agree that updates needed to be done on what is known as the “Power Steering Control Module” or “Body Module.” That does not sound like a costly fix. It is now up to GM to decide if they want to continue to allow the unsafe vehicles to remain on the roads until they fail or issue the overdue recall. Even if GM issues the recall, the question remains as to why it takes pressure from Watchdog groups for the company to address safety issues that should be done without question.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.