Recent recalls raise questions about auto ignition switches
Q. There have been a lot of recalls lately for ignition switch problems. What’s wrong?
A. In all of the recalled vehicles, the ignition switch can slip out of the “run” position and into the “accessory” or “off” position. It happens for different reasons. In some GM cars, the switch didn’t meet specifications and was too loose. In others, the switch meets specifications but jarring — from the road or even the driver’s knee — or weight on the key chain can tug the ignition switch out of position. In any case, the outcome is the same. If the car is in “accessory” or “off,” the engine will stall, power steering and power brakes won’t work and the air bags won’t deploy in the event of a crash.
Q. What should I do if the key slips out of the “run” position while I’m driving?
A. Look for the safest way off the road. That usually means heading for the right shoulder. Don’t press the brakes too quickly; let the car’s momentum help you navigate through high-speed traffic. Flick on the turn signal or emergency flashers to alert other vehicles. The steering will still work, but it will be harder to use. You will also need to push harder on the brakes.
Q. I drive one of the recalled cars, but the dealer doesn’t have enough parts to repair it right away. What should I do?
A. GM says its cars are safe to drive as long as customers remove all items from their key rings, including the key fob. For the 2.6 million vehicles involved in the original February recall, GM is providing rental cars to customers until repairs are made. But it’s not providing rentals for vehicles in its other recalls. Meanwhile, Chrysler says it’s unaware of any injuries related to its recall, but suggests that people remove everything from their key chains.
Q. Is there something wrong with GM’s ignition switches?
A. Definitely in the case of the 2.6 million small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt that started the recalls. They went into production even though their switches were too easy to turn and didn’t meet GM specifications. On the other switch recalls, GM says the problem is with the keys or fobs dangling from the key ring. But experts say the switches are to blame. They should be designed so they can’t be inadvertently knocked out of the “run” position.
Q. If I don’t drive a GM or Chrysler vehicle, am I OK? Or is this a wider problem?
A. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating ignition switch performance across the industry since the GM recalls were announced. That broader investigation is what led to the Chrysler recall.