Video: Here’s How Easy It Is To Turn Off (And How Hard It Is To Steer) A Recalled Chevy Cobalt

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.

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  1. Unholy79 says:

    I’m glad they relied on Consumer Reports. NBC doesn’t have a great history when it comes to accurately reporting on vehicle defects.

  2. mongo says:

    “and you can’t start the car.”

    I may be wrong but I think you could start the car if you shifted to Neutral.

    If the car had a manual transmission you could start it just by turning the key back on and releasing the clutch.

  3. Raekwon says:

    I think the key (no pun intended) here is that it triggers a panic situation. A lot of people who don’t know about cars and how they work will not understand what’s going on or how to get the car back on again. I grew up without power steering and it usually wasn’t all that bad but again, in a panic situation things are much worse.

    • furiousd says:

      I imagine panic was a big factor in the GM cases. In my 13-year-old Honda, the ignition switch wore out and I had a similar situation where I was traveling on a curve on the interstate at about 70mph when the car suddenly shut off. Luckily I was alone in the car and had nothing distracting me to delay my reaction and I’m strong enough that I could handle the stress on the wheel in that situation and only made a few tailgaters mad at me for slowing down while I figured out what to do. $40 part and I replaced the switch myself. Drove it the week I waited for delivery by weighting the key into the ‘on’ position, all this in 2011 and I’ve since gotten a different car. I miss that Honda.