Earlier today, General Motors was hit with a $35 million penalty for its decade-plus delay in recalling millions of vehicles with defective ignition switches that could be inadvertently turned off, leaving the car without power steering and braking and deactivating the air bags. GM has repeatedly stated that these cars are safe to drive because an accidentally turned-off vehicle could still be steered to safety. But is that true?
For an upcoming story on the GM recall, CNBC reporter Phil LeBeau ventured up to not-exactly-top-secret test track run by our colleagues at Consumer Reports to get the hands-on experience of what it would be like to try to control one of these defective cars.
For the above video, LeBeau drove while CR’s Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher hangs out in the passenger seat of a 2007 Chevy Cobalt, one of the more than 2 million recalled GM cars.
With just a light yank on the keychain, the Cobalt’s engine shuts off but the car continues to move. LeBeau, after some intentional swerving to see how the car handles without its power steering, then attempts to navigate some traffic cones; it doesn’t end well for the little orange guys.
Keep in mind that LeBeau knew his car was going to turn off and was (we hope) mentally prepared for the change in drivability. Most people on the road are working under the assumption that their car won’t crap out unexpectedly because of a tug on the keychain. And most people don’t have the luxury of only having to worry about a few traffic cones on a private test track.
Back in March, Consumer Reports made the following video explaining how to restart a car that has shut off because of the defective ignition switch. It’s important information for anyone still driving one of these vehicles:
The entire report, Failure to Recall: Investigating GM, will air Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.