General Motors Recalled Older Cars. General Motors has recalled 1.4 million older cars for a repair to prevent engine fires. This is the second recall for some of the cars.
At least 1,345 cars have caught fire even after the first repair. GM has acknowledged that the repair did not work, the Associated Press (AP) reports. In some of the car fires, flames have damaged nearby structures, and the company has advised owners of affected vehicles to park their cars outside until the repairs are done.
Cars at risk for engine fires include 1997 to 2004 Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Lumina and Impala, Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Intrigue. A fire can occur when engine oils seeps through valve cover gaskets designed to keep the oil inside the engine. The gaskets deteriorate over time, and hard braking can cause oil to drip onto the hot exhaust manifold on the 3.8-liter V6 engines, where it can ignite. In 2008 and 2009, GM recalled two versions of the V6 engine, in 1.7 million cars. The gasket was replaced in some of the cars, but in the majority, only flammable plastic parts near the manifold were replaced, according to the AP.
The post-recall fires have raised questions about the speed of GM’s response. Should the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) have intervened earlier? And should the agency have approved the inadequate first repair? Clarence Ditlow, head of the watchdog group the Center for Auto Safety, says, “Over 1,000 fires is a huge number that should have generated a safety recall by GM before now.” Ditlow says NHTSA missed the defect in its complaint database.
Fire Caused By Dripping Oil
A GM spokesman said company tests showed that a small fire caused by dripping oil would burn out on its own. “We were trying to remove anything that would allow the flame to spread,” he said. Jake Fisher, a former GM engineer who now direct auto testing for Consumer Reports, says GM should have replaced the gasket in every recalled car. He expressed surprise that GM would allow an open flame under the hood. “I can’t imagine a scenario where that would be acceptable.”
In the last decade, the auto industry has been plagued by mishandled safety recalls, deaths and injuries linked to safety defects, criminal investigations, and class-action lawsuits. Automakers have paid billions of dollars in penalties and recall costs, according to the AP. Despite improvements in industry response and more aggressive enforcement by NHTSA, problems still go undetected.
Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor, criticizes GM for seeking the cheapest, easiest repair. Valve cover gaskets are not expensive, but it takes nearly an hour’s labor to make the repair. At a labor rate of about $100 per hour, fixing 1.4 million cars would cost GM roughly $112 million, according to the AP.
In reviewing NHTSA’s complaint date for just one car, the 2001 Grand Prix, the AP found 466 complaints of engine fires, including 33 for fires in car that had undergone the first recall repair. Complaints of fires on already repaired cars started more than six years ago, and it is not clear why NHTSA took so long to act. GM could be fined for not reporting the post-recall fires earlier. Automakers are required by law to report safety defects within five days of discovering them, the AP reports.