Brake defects prompt recall

GM to replace parts of anti-lock systems on 3.5 million trucks

Auto industry

July 22, 1999|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. said yesterday that it will recall 3.5 million light trucks because of brake problems after two of the longest and most intensive defect investigations ever conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

GM, the world's largest automaker, said it is initiating a safety recall of 1.1 million Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma four-wheel-drive trucks from the 1991 through 1996 model years. Owners of those vehicles will be asked to take them to mechanics so that an anti-lock brake sensor switch can be replaced.

Detroit-based GM also announced a service recall to address another potential problem with the brakes of 2.4 million models, including 1992-1995 Chevrolet Astro Vans and GMC Safaris, vehicles manufactured at GM's Broening Highway plant in Baltimore.

The recalls follow two investigations of "alleged defects" in anti-lock brake systems of nine GM sports utility and pickup models from 1991 to 1997, the NHTSA said. The agency said it has received 10,861 reports of brake problems on such GM "S" and "T" trucks, including 2,111 crashes and 293 injuries.

The agency has also received, but not confirmed, 2,400 reports of brake problems -- 782 crashes and 68 injuries -- involving Chevrolet Suburbans.

GM shares were unchanged yesterday at $66.50. "I never remember a recall having an effect on a stock price," said James N. Kelleher, an analyst for Argus Research. "It's a big recall, but overall quality has improved. And the company has a lower level of warranty expense."

NHTSA and GM officials attributed the problems to the EBCR anti-lock braking system. GM plans to remedy a defect in the system relating to a signal that is supposed to indicate whether a vehicle is operating in two-wheel or four-wheel drive.

"If the vehicle is operating in two-wheel drive, the ABS system erroneously believes that it is operating in four-wheel drive, a condition that could extend stopping distances" in the vehicles subject to the safety recall, NHTSA said.

Robert Lange, GM's engineering director for product safety, said the stopping distance could be as much as 10 percent to 30 percent longer. He said 30 percent "could be too long" for a stop.

The anti-lock brake units were built by Kelsey-Hayes, a unit of TRW Inc. GM and TRW are in negotiations to share the recall cost.

The separate service recall applies to EBC4 "three-sensor" systems that could cause 1.4 million vehicles to take a long time to stop on changing terrain. Those models include the 1993-1996 Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy sport and the 1994-1996 Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma pickup trucks.

When the vehicles move from a surface with good traction to a surface with poor traction, such as ice or packed snow, then back to a surface with good traction, there might not be enough brake pressure to the wheels, Lange said.

GM said it plans to modify the computer program that operates the system. "Although this condition very rarely occurs in the field, GM has developed a field change that is designed to virtually prevent this condition," Lange said.

GM also said it plans a similar change in more than 1 million other models, including 1992-1995 Chevrolet Astro Vans, GMC Safaris and 1993-1996 G-vans.

GM called the software repair for those vehicles a "special policy" campaign rather than a recall because, it said, there is no safety defect in the vehicles.

Wire services contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/22/99

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