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A Closer Look at the Redesigned Part Involved in the GM Recall

Tina Robinson3 years ago

At the center of the General Motors ignition switch recall is a tiny part that measures approximately half an inch. The “switch detent plunger,” a part that costs less than a dollar, is designed to provide enough torque on the ignition key so that vehicles aren’t shut off unexpectedly, according to a CNN article.

Problems with the Ignition Switch from the Start

Documents provided to investigators by GM show that engineers were aware of a problem with the ignition switches as far back as 2001 when the Saturn Ion was in pre-production testing. In 2002, Delphi Automotive, the maker of the part, informed GM the switches tested below minimum torque specifications, but the part was accepted by GM anyway.

Even though GM was aware of problems with the switches, solutions to correct the issue were rejected in 2005, citing high cost as a factor. A memo from a GM executive said none of the solutions represented “an acceptable business case.”

Finally in 2006 the part was designed but without changing the part number. By all accounts, a part number change would have been a standard procedure. Without changing the part number or informing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the change, engineers at both GM and NHTSA were unable to identify why accidents in newer models had decreased.

Delphi also testified this week that even though the part was redesigned, it still did not meet GM’s torque specifications.

GM Engineer Lied to Lawyers

As GM chief officer Mary Barra testified before a Senate committee this week, much of the questions focused on the redesigned part. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said the lack of a new part number “goes beyond unacceptable. I think this is … criminal deception.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill wanted to know more about the GM engineer, Ray DeGiorgio, who told lawyers he had no knowledge of a part redesign. McCaskill held a document with DeGiorgio’s signature on it authorizing the redesign.

A Georgia lawsuit settled last year is credited for uncovering the part redesign. Lance Cooper, an attorney hired by the family of Brooke Melton who died in a crash involving a recalled vehicle, along with engineer Mark Hood, investigated the ignition switches and found different parts with the same part number. When the lawyers asked DeGiorgio about the part, DeGiorgio denied knowledge of the change.

McCaskill wanted to know why DeGiorgio hadn’t been fired.

A Part That Could Have Saved Lives

In February and March, GM announced the recall of approximately 2.6 million vehicles with the defective ignition switches. At least 13 deaths linked to the switches have been confirmed. Some estimate that number could be much higher.

The ignition switch in the recalled vehicles can easily be bumped out of the “on” position from either impact-related events or if extra weight is placed on the key. The resulting loss of power and standard safety features can have deadly consequences.

A study released last week showed that many of the deaths acknowledged by GM involved cars manufactured before the part redesign. Those results suggest that if a recall had been conducted simultaneously when the switch was redesigned in 2006, lives might have been saved.


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