— General Motors is just about running on empty after the negative publicity over its failure to recalls millions of cars with a known safety defect. GM has been playing defense since customers realized they were driving cars with an ignition switch that could turn off from a minor bump in the road.
While facing questions from congressional leaders about GM's lack of leadership, GM announced a recall of 1.3 million cars for power steering problems. That brought the number of recalled GM vehicles to six million in three months.
During this ordeal the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has taken its own lumps in the GM beat-down. Safety advocates are furious NHTSA didn't notice the ongoing complaints and fatalities related to the ignition switch.
Now the public and safety advocates have more reason to be concerned as word comes that GM waited years to recall about 335,000 Saturn Ions for a power steering defect. Apparently, NHTSA was asleep at the wheel for this one, too.
The latest documents show over 30,000 warranty claims and thousands of customer complaints about model year 2004-2007 Saturn Ions, yet no recall was ordered.
Complaints about power steering failures started in June, 2004, followed a few years later by the first reports of injuries from accidents caused by the defect.
Many Ion owners have complained to CarComplaints.com about serious power steering problems.
A Utah woman said her 2006 Saturn Ion kept having problems with the power steering until finally a dealer replaced the electric motor. However, issues remained and each trip to an authorized Saturn service center meant a 350 mile drive.
"I called a Saturn Service center and they said that I would need to bring it in and have them look at it, I am really upset at this issue because like others this is a very real problem with the 2006 Ions and theres nothing we can do about it but pump more money into the problem and hope they can fix it, where is the recall on this issue. The Chev. Cobalt was recalled for the same problem why is it that Saturn won't do the same. I feel that the manhandling of the steering wheel is uncalled for, no one should have to go to this much trouble to steer a car." - Marianne B., Moab, Utah
GM is already releasing the obligatory apologies by saying they should have done a better job. NHTSA, for its part, says they think they've done a good job of monitoring automakers for safety defects.
However, this mess is causing many to question if a government that bailed GM out of bankruptcy should also be the same government watchdog to monitor GM.