Questions raised about General Motors, government action in recall over thousands of car fires

By Tom Krisher And Dee-Ann Durbin

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT – Shortly after Elizabeth Berry parked her bright yellow 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS on the street in front of her family’s home in May 2014, flames engulfed the engine, destroying the car and scorching her mailbox.

“I was hysterical. That was like my third baby,” she says of the car.

Compounding the shock was the fact that five years earlier, Berry had answered a recall notice from General Motors for a repair that was supposed to prevent engine fires.

Two weeks ago, Berry learned that she is one of 1,345 car owners in towns across the U.S. whose cars caught fire even after getting the repair called for in the recall. GM acknowledged the fix didn’t work and issued a new recall involving 1.4 million older cars, some for a second time.

GM advised drivers to park the cars outside until the repairs are done, for fear of flames spreading to nearby structures.

The post-recall fires raise questions about whether GM should have acted sooner, whether the government should have taken notice and stepped in, and whether the ineffective fix should have been approved in the first place.

After a series of mishandled recalls that involved deaths and injuries, criminal investigations, class-action lawsuits and costs running into the billions of dollars, the auto industry has improved its spotting and reporting of safety troubles. Over the past two years, automakers have recalled about 100 million cars and trucks in an effort to clean up lingering safety issues and catch new ones before they escalate to millions of vehicles. Of GM’s 41 recalls this year, the company says about half cover fewer than 10,000 cars or trucks.

But cases such as the GM fires, and the government’s recent punishment of Fiat Chrysler for numerous delayed recalls show that an old culture of resistance and procrastination can still haunt the industry and car owners. It also shows that despite reforms that have made the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more aggressive, problems can still go undetected.

“Over 1,000 fires is a huge number that should have generated a safety recall by GM before now,” says Clarence Ditlow, head of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group. “To make matters worse, NHTSA missed the defect in its complaint database.”

Problems with the cars, including the Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Lumina and Impala, Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Intrigue from the 1997 to 2004 model years, surfaced as early as 2006. In one North Carolina case, flames spread from a Pontiac and damaged two houses. Overall, GM has reported 19 minor injuries and at least 17 structure fires.

The problem: oil seeping through valve cover gaskets designed to keep it inside the engine. The gaskets can deteriorate over time, and inertia from hard braking can cause oil to drip onto the hot exhaust manifold on the 3.8-litre V6 engines, where it could ignite.

In 2008 and 2009, GM issued separate recalls for two versions of the V6, covering 1.7 million cars. In some cars the gasket was replaced, but in the majority, only flammable plastic parts near the manifold were replaced.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said two weeks ago that if any oil dripped and caught fire, it would cause a small “pilot flame,” that company tests showed would burn out on its own. “We were trying to remove anything that would allow the flame to spread,” he said.

But Jake Fisher, a former GM engineer who now is Consumer Reports’ director of auto testing, says the recall should have addressed the oil leak on all the cars. He was surprised GM would allow an open flame under the hood. “I can’t imagine a scenario where that would be acceptable,” he says.

Erik Gordon, a lawyer and University of Michigan business professor, says the decision not to fix the leak shows that GM’s culture was to find the cheapest, easiest repair. “This is a ‘we’ll get out the duct tape’ kind of approach,” he says. “We’re not going to replace the gaskets because that’s too expensive.”

Valve cover gaskets are relatively cheap, but the labour to do the repairs is where the cost lies. It takes about 48 minutes to replace the gasket and do the other recall repairs, according to documents. At a labour rate of around $100 per hour, fixing 1.4 million cars would cost GM roughly $112 million.

It’s unclear why NHTSA didn’t act sooner or whether GM could be fined for not reporting the post-recall fires faster. NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge wouldn’t comment on either issue. Automakers are required by law to report safety defects within five days of discovery.

A review by The Associated Press of NHTSA’s complaint data on just one model, the 2001 Grand Prix, shows 466 complaints of engine fires, including 33 concerning fires after recall repairs were made. Complaints of fires on recall-repaired cars started in June of 2009, more than six years ago.

Elizabeth Berry says that after her Monte Carlo burned last year she called GM and a representative told her that recall repairs hadn’t fixed the problem. She says GM offered her $2,000 and asked her not to have the car towed or to contact insurance. But her insurance company offered her four times more, so she took that offer and bought a Mazda6.

The fires are still occurring. On Sept. 9, freshman Joe Jarmoluk’s white 2004 Grand Prix caught fire after he left it in a parking lot at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. By the time the fire was out, the car was totalled. It damaged four nearby vehicles, melting tires, a bumper and a tail light.

Other drivers, Jarmoluk says, were mad at him, with one complaining he’d been left stranded by the fire. Jarmoluk had to buy a new car, and GM has turned down his claim for compensation.

canada-press

Uber Keeps on Rolling Across Ontario

TORONTO, Nov. 12, 2015 /CNW/ – Uber Canada is excited to introduce its highly popular ridesharing product, uberX, to several communities in Ontario today with rides available starting at 3:00 PM.

CAR

Kingston, Windsor and Niagara Region join the ever-growing list of over 350 communities worldwide – and over 40 in Ontario – where Uber is available. As part of the arrival of uberX the first two rides on uberX will be offered free-of-charge for new riders in these cities until Sunday, November 15th. More information on Uber in Ontario cities can be found here: http://t.uber.com/Ontario

“Uber’s launch today brings ridesharing to over half a million more Ontarians, who now have access to a safe, reliable, affordable way to get around. Thousands of people in these communities have already downloaded the Uber app and hundreds have signed up to earn on our platform as driver-partners,” said Ian Black, General Manager of Uber Canada. “By launching our service now, we help boost local economies – with the opening of these markets, Uber stands to create more than 500 driver partner jobs in these communities over the next year.”

Today’s launch will be kicked off by with Member of Provincial Parliament Tim Hudak taking the first ride in Niagara Falls this morning.  Today also marks the launch of Uber operations in two Quebec cities – Laval and Longueuil – bringing the total number of municipalities that Uber serves in Canada to over 40.

By connecting local riders and drivers through the use of a smartphone application, Uber offers a new way for people to access their cities around the world. uberX is Uber’s low-cost ridesharing option, offering reliable on-demand transportation choices at the touch of a button. uberX driver partners are provincially licensed drivers who use their own personal vehicles to give their neighbours a ride.

All Canadian rideshare drivers who partner with Uber must pass background checks that include both a National Criminal Record Check of Federal RCMP databases and a drivers’ motor vehicle records screen. In the event of an accident during an uberX trip, ridesharing partners are covered by commercial auto insurance in addition to any insurance coverage maintained by the driver-partner.

About Uber
Co-founded by Canadian entrepreneur Garrett Camp in 2009, Uber has changed the way people connect to get around town. Present in over 40 communities in Canada, Uber offers more than 20,000 Canadian driver-partners a new way to earn a living in their spare time by offering a more affordable transportation alternative to hundreds of thousands of riders across the country. For more, visit:uber.com.

SOURCE Uber Canada Inc. (Québec)

For further information: Susie Heath, Senior Communications Association, Uber Canada, E: Susie@uber.com

Winter tires help you drive safer and save on insurance

Winter tires help you drive safer and save on insurance

Good news, Ontario drivers: you’ll soon get a discount on your car insurance in Ontario.

By Danielle Boudreau | Insight

Starting January 1, 2016, Ontario has mandated insurers to give discounts to drivers who install winter tires on their vehicles when they start or renew a policy.

The catch? They don’t say how much the discount should be.

“The regulation does not specify the amount of the discount to be offered to encourage competition among insurers,”says Malon Edwards, Senior Communications Officer at Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) in an email.

He adds that customers who renew their policy before the new year should shop around for the best possible rates and coverage, and if your policy is renewed after January 1, call to ask about mid-term discounts on their premiums.

“Rates for the same coverage vary based on each insurers claims experience and the insurers rating system,”he says.

Do some companies already offer discounts?

Yes. “About 45 per cent of insurers already offer a winter tire discount,”says Edwards. “The benefits of using winter tires are well documented. Winter tires help drivers avoid collisions by reducing braking distances on snow and ice. The required winter tire discount will provide a further incentive for drivers to equip their vehicles with winter tires.”

There may be other ways you can lower your insurance bill, too. “FSCO has several resources to help consumers better understand auto insurance, including an understanding rates tool and tips on shopping around and saving on auto insurance,” says Edwards.

Do I really need winter tires?

If you drive in Canada you probably do, unless you’re a snowbird or planning to stay indoors until April (actually, that doesn’t sound so bad). Yes, even you, SUV drivers —your all-wheel drive system helps you accelerate better but it doesn’t improve braking ability.

Winter tires are for all cold weather, not just snow. Their rubber compound is designed to stay softer and have more traction than “all-seasons”in temperatures below 7 C. Modern winter tires offer up to 50 per cent or more traction than all-seasons, says Transport Canada.

If you’re still not convinced, check out the videos from the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, which demonstrate the improved safety found with using appropriate equipment on your car.

What should I look for?

“Tires marked with the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake meet specific snow traction performance requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions,”according to Transport Canada. You should always buy tires in sets of four.

What if I can’t afford an extra set of tires?

Having dedicated winter tires will cost you more up front, but since each set will only be used for part of the year, both sets of tires will last longer. Having the winter tires mounted on their own steel wheels makes it easy to change them yourself each season, saving you money and avoiding a long wait at your local shop. It also means less wear and tear on the tires compared with having them re-mounted and balanced each time. Store the other tires in a cool and dry location.

Can I drive on winter tires all year?

No. Winter tires are the safer option in the cold months, but once the temperature is regularly above 7 C, you’ll be much safer with all seasons. Since winter tires are made with a more pliable rubber, they will wear out faster in the summer.

Are there other ways to promote winter tire use?

Yes. For the second year in a row, individual Manitoba Public Insurance customers can get low-interest loans to purchase winter tires. The loans, at prime plus two per cent, are for up to $2,000 per vehicle and can be paid back over terms of up to four years. For example, a $1,000 loan would have a payment of $22.93 per month over 48 months.

Or, provinces could follow Quebec’s example and make winter tires mandatory from December 15 to March 15 for all cars, taxis, rental cars, motorcycles and scooters. Drivers there face a fine of $200 to $300 if caught without winter tires, says the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec.

Stating the Obvious: Canadians Hate Winter Driving

Source: State Farm Canada Press Release: Alerting you to our latest news release outlining results from a national survey about Canadians and their driving habits. In perhaps the biggest understatement in news history, the majority of Canadians hate driving in the winter.

The weather last winter was terrible in most provinces across the country, so it’s no surprise that 82 per cent of Canadians dislike driving in the winter. Blizzards, freezing rain and ice make driving difficult, and winter driving requires people to be focused, eliminate all forms of distraction and concentrate on the road. According to findings from a national State Farm survey, 86 per cent of Canadian drivers believe they are good drivers, but come the first snow fall, 66 per cent say people drive horribly, like they’ve never seen snow before.

By the numbers:

  • 2 out of 3 Canadians say people drive terribly once the snow flies
  • 82% dislike driving in the winter
  • 45% say they find it hardest to drive when there’s black ice, followed by freezing rain (23%)
  • 73% dislike driving during the evening

 

Click info graphic below for more information.

A recent national State Farm Canada Survey asked Canadians to rate their driving strengths and weaknesses. Full infographic in link below. (CNW Group/State Farm)

Don’t wait for snow to arrive to change your tires — do it now and avoid the rush

Read more

Driving.ca: Here are the top 5 ways your car could let you down this winter

By Brian Turner | driving.ca

No question, winter is hard – it’s hard on our bodies, our minds and pretty much anything exposed to the elements, including our vehicles. But just as the change in seasons is predictable, so are the top breakdown reasons for our cars. Prepping for them doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it can save a wealth of trouble and inconvenience.

Dead battery: Nothing ruins a day, evening or planned holiday trip quicker than a dead battery. That ominous click-click-click sound when you turn on the ignition can raise ire and lower hopes, and it’s pretty much avoidable.

First, no matter how advanced, expensive or “hot” your ride is, it still has a lead acid battery under the hood, and in Canada its lifespan is between four and five years on average. If your vehicle’s battery has made it through three winters, getting it tested is a smart idea, and it’s cheap to do. Most shops will complete a load test on your battery at no extra charge (forgive the pun) when completing a seasonal service or oil change.

Nothing ruins a day, evening or planned holiday trip quicker than a dead battery. That ominous click-click-click sound when you turn the ignition can raise ire and lower hopes, and it’s pretty much avoidable.

It’s also easy to discharge a good battery in normal winter driving; if you’re stuck in slow traffic during a short run on a cold day, you can run a battery down with excessive use of electrical accessories combined with lower engine speeds. The battery’s charging system is the belt-driven alternator, and the lower the engine speed, the lower the alternator’s output will be. To avoid this, reduce the system’s electrical load by lowering the fan speed on the HVAC system and turn off glass grid defrosters as soon as their job is done. You can also select a lower transmission gear in slow traffic to boost the engine speed and the charging output. If your daily commute doesn’t see any highway speed, you can also give your battery a better fighting chance by turning off all accessories for the last few kilometres of your drive before parking for the day.

Flooded engine: While newer engines with independent ignition coils on each spark plug aren’t as prone to cold weather failures, there are still a lot of vehicles on the road that experience this problem every winter. When spark plugs are worn and their electrical supply cables become deteriorated, it’s easy to flood an injected engine on a cold start. You should have this system inspected every 50,000 km and maintained as required. Partially opening the engine throttle with a slight depression of the pedal while cranking the engine can ensure enough air gets in to offset the fuel spray from the injectors.

If you’ve turned an engine over with the starter for more than 30 seconds without getting it running (on a wet, cold winter day), you may have flooded it. Pop the hood and check for a gasoline odour. Pull the engine oil dipstick and give its tip a whiff for the smell of gas.

If you’ve turned an engine over with the starter for more than 30 seconds without getting it running (on a wet, cold winter day), you may have flooded it. Pop the hood and check for a gasoline odour. Pull the engine oil dipstick and give its tip a whiff. Gasoline can accumulate in the engine’s oil during a no-start flood event and it can dilute the oil to the point of risking engine damage. If the dipstick has a strong gas odour and the oil level is higher than normal, don’t attempt to run the engine until the oil has been replaced.

To assist with starting, you can often limp a worn set of spark plug cables/wires into action with a spray coating of silicone lubricating compound (sold in aerosol cans in all auto parts stores). A treatment of the plug wires (about the same amount you’d use to coat a frying pan with) can help keep moisture from interrupting the electrical supply. But you have to apply it before the wires get damp and on a warm but not hot engine (turned off).

Frozen doors/locks/windows: If you bought a can of silicone spray for your tired ignition system, don’t put away that miracle product just yet. This time of the year is a perfect opportunity to treat all the door weather-seals, windows and locks before they freeze you out.

This time of the year is a perfect opportunity to treat all the door weather-seals, windows and locks before they freeze you out.

On a dry day, spray the weather-seals with silicone lube and, as most cans come with a directed-spray cap straw, use it to get to the interior of door lock cylinders and the felt-like channels that the door windows travel up and down in. If you think your remote entry power locks preclude the use of a key to get in, consider how that system doesn’t work when the car battery is dead. Don’t forget lift-gate or trunk lid seals, the hood and gas-cap door releases. Don’t try to substitute just any lubricating spray for these jobs. If there are any oil compounds in the spray they will deteriorate rubber weather-seals and certain plastics faster than you can say “Jack Frost.”

Flat tires: If your ride is older than five or six years of age, it can be riding on leaky wheel rims. Alloys and steel rims alike can develop slow leaks due to corrosion at the area where the tire’s rubber bead seals. Minor slow leaks in warmer weather can turn into much faster losses during cold weather. An easy way to test your wheels is to wipe a sudsy wet wash-mitt on the rim’s edge (where the rubber meets the metal) and look for bubbles caused by escaping air. Rectifying a corroded bead area of a rim isn’t a DIY job because the tire has to be deflated and broken away from the rim in order to sand down the corrosion; applying a good coating of bead-sealer keeps the leaks away.

 If your ride is older than five or six years of age, it can be riding on leaky wheel rims.

No-wipe wipers: It’s amazing the number of drivers who think that those two black moving arms at the bottom of their windshields are snow plows. Mangled or loose wiper arms or broken wiper drive linkages can quickly sideline any winter travel plans.

Many wiper arms can become loose due to a protective design. The type that uses threaded nuts to hold the wiper arm to the pivot will see the nuts loosen off if someone turns on the wipers when they’re frozen to the glass. This prevents the motor from burning out or the linkages from snapping. If your ride has this type, try to sweep both wiper arms with the wipers turned off by grabbing the arm and trying to move it. If it moves with little effort, place it back in its “park” position and access the nut by prying off the cap at the end of the arm (opposite to the blade tip). Snug it up with a wrench and you’re good to go.

Mangled or loose wiper arms or broken wiper drive linkages can quickly sideline any winter travel plans.

If your vehicle is left outside and exposed to a good bout of freezing rain, make sure the wiper linkage hasn’t been encased in ice. A few litres of cool room-temp water poured through the wiper linkage grille at the bottom of the windshield can take care of this and ensures the drains that take rain water out of this area are clear. Also, during winter, make certain when you park your vehicle at night, you turn off the wipers before the ignition switch.

For more great auto tips and news visit: driving.ca

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