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The Boston Globe

Business

1.6m car recall put GM on a rough road

Finding owners, parts sure to be time-consuming

NEW YORK — Less than a month after General Motors said it would recall 1.6 million cars because of a defective ignition switch, the automaker faces an arduous task: fixing the cars.

The process, particularly for older vehicles like the ones GM is recalling, is time-consuming and requires many steps, from designing the new parts, testing them to make sure they solve the problem, finding and informing owners, and completing the repairs. It will not be until early April, GM said, that the repairs will begin.

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On Friday, GM started sending out the first recall letters to registered owners, telling them a fix is coming.

Under the heading “Important Safety Recall,” the letter contains a stern, if unusual, warning: “Remove all items from your key ring, leaving only the vehicle key.”

That’s because if the defective ignition switch is jostled or even if the key chain is too heavy, it can turn off the engine and the car’s electrical system, disabling the air bags.

GM said it had linked the defect to 31 crashes and 13 deaths since it was first alerted to the problem in 2004.

The letter, which does not advise drivers to stop using the car, also tells owners the replacement parts “are not currently available.”

For the older cars being recalled by GM, simply getting the part made is a challenge for the automaker.

The recall covers six models: 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts; the 2007 Pontiac G5; 2003-07 Saturn Ions; 2006-07 Chevrolet HHRs; 2006-07 Pontiac Solstices; and the 2007 Saturn Sky.

Alan Adler, a GM spokesman, said that the supplier, Delphi, needed to prepare the machines that would make the part before it could be mass-produced.

Once the part is made, a second letter will be sent to registered owners telling them to schedule an appointment at a dealership. That letter, GM said, will go out later this month. The parts are not expected to arrive at dealerships any sooner than early April.

The recall of the 1.6 million vehicles, including nearly 1.4 million in the United States, is large, but it is one of many. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that over the past seven years, its investigations have resulted in more than 900 recalls, covering more than 50 million vehicles.

For models like the Cobalt, GM will use an automotive consulting firm, R.L. Polk, which performs computer searches of state motor vehicle registrations to find current owners through vehicle identification numbers. But they are harder to find.

“These are second- and third-owner cars now, because of their age,” Adler said. And some of those who are reached may not respond, he predicted.

Adler said that General Motors would soon establish a website where owners could get more information, and that it has monitored Facebook discussions of the Cobalt as well.

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