GM Giving $500 "Allowance" to Recall Customers

General Motors’ woes continue in the ignition switch recall saga, and the automaker is offering affected customers a $500 incentive toward the purchase or lease of a new GM vehicle. The so-called allowance might provide some help to customers looking to ditch their faulty vehicles, but GM confirmed that it will not repurchase any of the 1.37 million vehicles involved in the recall. The cash incentive will be available through April 30.

“In keeping with our commitment to help customers involved in this recall, a special $500 cash allowance is available to purchase or lease a new GM vehicle,” GM spokesperson Alan Adler said in a statement. “We have been very clear in our message to U.S. dealers that this allowance is not a sales tool and it is only to be used to help customers in need of assistance. Neither GM, nor its dealers will market or solicit owners using this allowance.”

The Detroit News reports that GM will also provide affected customers with a loaner car and offer to tow recalled vehicles to the dealership if owners do not feel safe driving them.

The first recall took place on February 13, specifying that in 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models, a heavy keychain or sudden “jarring” event could cause the ignition switch to suddenly turn to the Off position. The engine would stop, but in the event of an accident, the air bags might not deploy. Twelve deaths (revised from earlier reports of thirteen fatalities) and 31 front crashes have been linked to this issue. Two weeks later, on February 25, GM expanded the recall to include Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion, and Saturn Sky models.

Bigger fish to fry

While GM seeks to save face with its customers and prevent further injury, the automaker also feels the pressure of prying eyes which suspect the automaker may have violated federal car recall laws. In the midst of investigations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the U.S. Justice Department, Automotive News reports that GM first saw evidence of ignition switch design flaws in 2001—three years earlier than the automaker initially suggested.

Although “new GM” can’t be held legally liable for accidents or injuries before July 2009, any such event after that date is fair game.

Until replacement parts are available next month, drivers of the faulty vehicles are instructed to remove everything from the key ring except the ignition key. Owners who have already replaced the malfunctioning part will be reimbursed under the recall conditions. The ignition switch issue results from a “low detent plunger force”—essentially, the spring in the ignition design is too small and weak to keep the ignition switch in place, and a larger spring with more torque is needed.

The weaker switches that render the ignition design faulty were first discovered in 2001 during pre-production phases of the Saturn Ion. GM discovered that a design alteration would fix the issue. Later, in 2003, a service technician determined that weight from a heavy key ring had worn out an ignition switch and caused a car to stall while driving.

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