GM Hasn’t Recalled Millions Of Trucks And SUVs Despite Four-Year Investigation Into Brake Line Failures

Although General Motors appears to a be on a safety recall-announcing spree, it has resisted recalling 1.8 million trucks and SUVs despite a four-year long investigation by federal regulators into an issue that can cause the brake lines to fail. While brake failures could lead to crashes –which one would assume is a safety issue – the manufacturer maintains the problem is a simply matter of routine maintenace

Since the beginning of 2014, GM has taken a closer look at numerous lingering safety concerns, recalling nearly 25.7 million vehicles, but the long-standing brake line corrosion problem affecting millions of automobiles continues to go without a wide-reaching remedy, the New York Times reports.

Nearly 1.8 million full-size pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles – including the 2002-3 Cadillac Escalade, the 1999-2006 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, the 1999-2006 Chevrolet Suburban, the 2000-2006 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the 2000 GMC Yukon XL and the 2002-2006 Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 and 2500 – are thought to be affected by an issue that causes corrosion of a vehicle’s brake lines that could lead to brake failure and subsequent crashes.

NHTSA began investigating the problem back in March 2010 after receiving a formal defect petition [PDF] asking regulators to look into the issue.

“In particular, our 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4WD pickup truck…experienced hydraulic brake failure at 51,848 miles due to corroded brake lines bursting. The lines burst in an area that was weakened by corrosion and field under normal usage and brake line pressure. There was no indication to the driver that failure was eminent and only fate precluded any injury, as the vehicle was traveling slowly with a load of hay in the bed.”

At the time the investigation was first opened, NHTSA reported [PDF] receiving at least 110 owner complaints alleging loss of braking effectiveness due to brake line rupture because of corrosion. Three of those reports involved crashes. A preliminary evaluation was opened to determine the frequency, scope and safety consequences of the alleged defect. However, no recall was issued.

During the preliminary investigation, NHTSA reported that officials with GM said the vehicles were equipped with dual brake lines, meaning that “should a brake pipe suddenly fail for any reason, the affected vehicle would be capable of stopping with the pressure supplied by the remaining circuit.”

Additionally, the manufacturer said if any type of brake fluid leak were to occur the system malfunction indicator would illuminate.

However, consumer complaints continued to cast doubt on GM’s statements.

Nearly a year later, in January 2011, NHTSA opened an engineering analysis of the issue [PDF]. By that time the agency had received 890 complaints, 761 of which were located in the so-called “Salt Belt states” – areas in which salt is routinely used on roads during the winter months.

Again a majority of the complaints alleged the failure occurred suddenly with no warning to the driver and resulted in extend stopping instances. Twenty-six of the reports resulted in crashes, while in 10 other cases the vehicle was intentionally steered off the road or into another lane to avoid a crash.

The engineering analysis was expected to be finished within 12 months, but continues today.

Still, General Motors has maintained that the issue is strictly one of routine maintenance. Earlier this year the company said the corrosion of brake lines was an industrywide problem.

“Brake line wear on vehicles is a maintenance issue that affects the auto industry, not just General Motors. The trucks in question are long out of factory warranty, and owners’ manuals urge customers to have their brake lines inspected the same way brake pads need replacement for wear.”

While GM continues to wait to issue any kind of recall other car manufacturers aren’t taking chances. Last week, Subaru recalled nearly 660,000 vehicles for a similar issue.

The car maker reported that brake lines in the vehicles can rust and leak fluid, which could cause the car to take longer to stop

Subaru will notify owners of the issue and dealers will perform tests on the brake system. If no brake fluid leak is found, dealers will rustproof the area with anti-corrosive wax. If there is a leak, the brake line will be replaced followed by rustproofing.

Currently, owners of the possibly affected GM cars must pay out-of-pocket for any repairs. The Times reports that GM developed a parts kit last year for the brake lines.

“These are available through dealers and the aftermarket,” a spokesperson for the company tells the Times. “Based on time studies, the repair including labor should cost about $500. We can only suggest how much labor time the repair should take.”

However, some consumers reported to NHTSA that repair costs can exceed $2,000 in some cases.

General Motors has faced a number of inquests and investigations this year from Congress and federal regulators. The company’s CEO Mary Barra has been a regular fixture at hearings on Capitol Hill.

Barra has agreed to be the first top exec to take part in “Ask the CEO,” a new column from our colleagues at Consumer Reports magazine. Consumers can submit questions to her about the 29 million recalled vehicles, how GM got into this mess, and what it could do to get out of it.

G.M. Resists Recalling Trucks Over Brake Lines [The New York Times]