By Nathan Bomey Detroit Free Press
General Motors dealers were to start replacing defective ignition switches at the start of the week, but many dealers said they did not have parts yet and that car owners were not beating down their doors demanding the fix.
GM said dealers would start getting the switches Monday for 2.5 million recalled small cars, mostly from 2003-2007, but production won’t be finished for all the parts until late fall and some will be trickling in at first.
The defect is blamed for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths and has spawned lawsuits and government investigations, including a Justice Department probe that could lead to criminal penalties.
Matt Gilbertson, manager of Ed Koehn Chevrolet in Rockford, Mich., said his dealership has received “quite a few calls,” but many customers are waiting patiently for parts.
He said GM’s decision to pay for rental cars for customers who aren’t comfortable driving their recalled vehicles has alleviated some of the pressure on dealerships. GM has insisted that the cars are safe to drive if drivers use the naked ignition key unattached from a key chain or other keys. But safety advocates and lawyers have pressured GM to order drivers to refrain from driving the cars until they’re fixed.
“The biggest thing, of course, is making sure we got people into transportation, which we were able to do, and make sure they didn’t have any down time,” Gilbertson said.
Many customers decided not to get their cars fixed after hearing about the issue. The defective switches can suddenly drop into “accessory” position, cutting off power steering, air bags and other electrical features, even as the car is still in motion.
“A lot of people looked at it and said, ‘That’s fine.’ They weren’t worried about it,” he said.
Dealers said the repair should take about half an hour.
General Motors dealers are gearing up to replace ignition switches in 2.5 million small cars recalled for a defect the company didn’t disclose for more than a decade after engineers discovered the problem.
With new CEO Mary Barra pledging to fix 100 percent of the recalled ignition switches in the small cars, the automaker’s dealers are awaiting a full shipment of replacement parts.
Last month Barra pledged to ramp up ignition-switch production at a Delphi Automotive factory in Mexico, which makes the ignition switches.
“We’re going to use every means we can and every piece of information available,” Barra said. “And then once we . contact a customer in an appropriate way, we’re going to remind them and work with them to make sure the vehicle gets the part fixed.”
Burt Pacheco, service manager for Manfredi Chevrolet in Staten Island, N.Y., said he expects to start receiving parts next week. Until then he is offering rental cars to those who ask.
“If they don’t want to drive their cars or something, I bring them in, open a repair order and they will get the rental immediately,” Pacheco said.
K.J. Jezowski, assistant service manager of Martin Chevrolet in Saginaw, Mich., said service representatives are explaining the situation to customers.
“If you remove all your keys except for the ignition key, you can drive it,” he said, “And for those that don’t feel safe, we’ve had an ample supply of loaners.”
Jezowski said he expects to start receiving replacement parts later this week.