GM recalls about 60,000 Saturns to fix gear shifts

DETROIT — General Motors is recalling nearly 60,000 Saturn Aura midsize cars because the automatic transmission shift levers can show the wrong gear, and says it has known about the problem for more than two years.

The problem, caused by failure of the transmission shift cable, has led to 28 crashes and four injuries but no deaths during the past seven years, GM said in a statement issued Tuesday. The Auras can roll away unexpectedly because the driver may think the car is in “Park” when it’s in another gear.

In November of 2011, GM covered the cars with an extended 10-year, 120,000-mile warranty because of the problem. But drivers had to experience trouble with their shifters for the coverage to kick in. At that time, GM thought the extended warranty was sufficient to handle the problem, spokesman Alan Adler said.

GM is already dealing with the delayed recall of 2.6 million small cars due to a deadly ignition switch problem. Two congressional committees, the Justice Department and NHTSA are investigating how GM handled that problem, which it knew about for at least a decade before deciding to recall the cars in February.

GM says at least 13 people have died in crashes linked to the switch problem, but trial lawyers have at least 53 wrongful death lawsuits pending against the company.

GM and Toyota both have acknowledged concealing safety defects and are fixing troubles from the past, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety. “GM is now cleaning out its delayed and hidden defects through safety recalls,” he said in an e-mail.

All told, GM has recalled about 7 million cars and trucks since February.

This latest recall affects certain Auras from the 2007 and 2008 model years, mostly made in the U.S., with four-speed automatic transmissions.

The shift cable can fracture, according to GM. If the problem happens while the car is moving, the gear shift could show the wrong gear, and the driver won’t be able to shift into “Park” or remove the ignition key.

GM says it will notify owners and replace the cable and mounting bracket at no cost to owners. GM hasn’t determined yet when repair parts will be available.

The affected Auras were made between April 24, 2006 and Oct. 31, 2007, GM says. GM stopped making Saturn vehicles in 2009 as it headed into bankruptcy protection.

GM midsize cars, including some Auras and the nearly identical Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6, were part of a recall of 426,000 cars for a similar problem in 2012. That problem, though, involved the end of the shift cable and not the cable itself.

NHTSA, the U.S. government’s auto safety watchdog, began investigating GM’s shifter cables in May of 2011, and the investigation remains open, according to agency documents.

“We’re continuing to look at these populations,” Adler said of the Malibu and G6. He would not say why GM is recalling only the Aura for shift cable failures and not the other models.

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