General Motors issued a recall last week covering 619,122 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars in the U.S. for a problem with their ignition switch. Engines in these cars can unexpectedly shut off if the key ring is too heavy, which could pull down on the key in the ignition and take it out of the run position. The engine can also shut off due to “road conditions or some other jarring event,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. Additionally, if the key is moved out of the run position, it’s possible that the air bags might not deploy if there is an accident.
Pontiac G5 cars from the 2007 model year included in the recall were manufactured from April 20, 2006 to Aug. 6, 2007. Chevrolet Cobalt cars from the 2005 to 2007 model years being recalled were built from Aug. 3, 2004 to Aug. 16, 2007. GM said in a statement, “We are aware of five frontal impact crashes and six front-seat fatalities in crashes where the front air bags did not deploy. All of these crashes occurred off road and at high speeds, where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high regardless of airbag deployment. In addition, failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use were factors in some of these cases. GM is also aware of 17 other crashes involving some type of frontal impact and non-fatal injuries where air bags did not deploy.”
USA Today reports that according to civil lawsuit depositions made last June, the automaker was aware of the Cobalt ignition issue back in 2004. “At least one GM engineer had the problem while testing the new car, which went on sale in 2004 as a 2005 model, say documents obtained by USA TODAY from the lawsuit over a crash that killed pediatric nurse Brooke Melton.”
The automaker issued a technical service bulletin in 2005 “that instructed dealers to install a snap-on key cover if owners complained,” Jalopnik reports.
However, USA Today reports that the GM engineer, Gary Altman, said during the depositions that the key cover was an “improvement” and “not a fix to the issue.” The newspaper adds that the attorney in the Melton lawsuit against GM has asked NHTSA to make GM clarify the timing surrounding the recall.
GM dealers will replace the ignition switch at no cost for owners of affected Cobalt and G5 vehicles. If you own one of the recalled cars, GM says you should take all unnecessary items off your keychain until your car is fixed.