Exclusive: GM's new recall risk - the spare parts market

Wed Mar 26, 2014 4:20pm EDT
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By Ben Klayman, Marilyn Thompson and Julia Edwards

DETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As General Motors Co recalls 1.6 million vehicles that have defective ignition switches linked to at least 12 deaths, it faces another potential risk - this time in the spare parts market.

Repair shop owners say it is still possible to purchase GM brand ignition switches manufactured by Delphi Automotive carrying the same parts number as the product at the center of the recall.

These switches may not be defective, but it is nearly impossible to tell unless they are taken apart or the manufacturing history is checked.

A spokesman for GM, which buys the switches from Delphi and sells them under GM-owned brands, said the automaker was not clear whether it had sold switches to parts dealers and was getting answers for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA), which is now carrying out an investigation into accidents linked to the defective part.

"We are in the process of responding to the very questions you are asking, per our pledge to be fully cooperative with NHTSA," GM spokesman Jim Cain said.

GM says ignition switches failed, turning off motors and disabling airbags, when they were jostled or a key was weighed down, such as by a heavy ring of keys. The parts were used in six older-model vehicles, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

A search online by Reuters showed that the ignition switches are available from distributors, listed for around $30 each. And mechanics say it is difficult to tell whether these parts are the defective ones or not.

That is because in 2007, a GM engineer agreed that Delphi could change the ignition switch by making the internal spring tighter, according to documents GM filed with NHTSA.   Continued...

General Motors Co's new chief executive Mary Barra addresses the media during a roundtable meeting with journalists in Detroit, Michigan January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/Pool