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Residents want answers on GM recall


Tim and Julie Gipson are mourning their 28-year-son, killed while riding in a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt a few weeks ago. But they aren’t just angry at the other driver involved in the crash.

They believe there’s another culprit in his death: the company that made his car, General Motors.

GM has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks as inquiries have been made into ignition and airbag issues tied to compact cars it made in the mid-2000s. The matter has now officially become a federal case. But for the Gipsons the questions are intensely personal. And they are not alone.

Readers who spoke with the newspaper are wondering if their recently recalled cars are safe.

“I am very nervous while I wait on info because my husband is driving the car back and forth from Springfield to Columbus every day for work” said Elaine Steinberger, a South Vienna resident who owns a 2007 Cobalt.

GM recently doubled the number of deaths possibly tied to a faulty ignition switch on certain compact models and expanded its recall on the issue.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said the automaker increased the number of deaths it links to the problem to 12 from six; and the number of crashes to 31 from 22 as it expanded the recall by nearly 750,000 vehicles to more than 1.37 million in the United States, plus more than 250,000 in Canada and Mexico.

In all, seven models sold in three countries from 2003 to 2007 are affected.

The Cobalt, for example, has had a number of problems.

An Associated Press review of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database found dozens of driver complaints about the Cobalt linked to 173 instances of engine stalling or airbags failing to deploy. Some of the driver complaints were made as early as 2005. GM has admitted in documents filed with NHTSA that it knew of the problem in 2004.

Congress passed legislation in 2000 requiring automakers to report safety problems quickly to NHTSA. The laws came after an investigation into a series of Ford-Firestone tire problems.

The New York Times reported that lawyers across the country have been preparing to sue GM, ever since the automaker announced the recall. A congressional committee is investigating the way GM and the NHTSA handled the deadly ignition switch problem in compact cars.

‘Killed our son’

Thomas Lee Brooks was killed on Feb. 22 in an accident in Hamilton County’s Green Twp. in a 2007 Cobalt. A pick-up truck ran a red light, hit the Cobalt in which Brooks was a passenger, and “killed our son,” said Tim Gipson, Brooks’ father.

The front of the Cobalt was hit, and the Gipson say the Cobalt’s passenger-side airbag did not deploy.

“He lost his life due to the no-side-airbag or anything in the car,” Julie Gipson said. “Nothing was there to protect him.”

The Cobalt in which Brooks was riding was turning left to the Western Commons Shopping Center on Harrison Avenue near Rybolt Road.

An approaching Ford F-150, coming down a hill, crashed into the Cobalt. Media reports after the accident say the Cobalt lost control and came to rest up an embankment and against a utility pole.

“It snapped his neck; there was not a scratch on him,” Tim Gipson said of Brooks.

The driver of the Cobalt received minor injuries and was briefly treated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. A family of three, including an infant, was in the truck and none of them were seriously injured, according to Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies.

Everyone wore seatbelts in the incident, and alcohol was not believed to be a factor in the crash.

Tim Gipson said the sheriff’s office still has possession of the Cobalt, and that he and his wife haven’t received a full explanation of the accident.

The newspaper requested the sheriff office’s report on the accident. An employee said traffic safety investigators had not completed their investigation.

But a spokesman for Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil said he doubted that his office’s report would pinpoint why an airbag failed to deploy, if that was found to be the case.

Stalled while driving

Centerville resident Pamela Brennan said at times she has smelled gas fumes from her 2006 Cobalt. “Then I experienced the car going out on me after just starting it,” she said. “After about a half hour it would start again.”

The battery and the fuel line were checked, Brennan said.

“Then one morning on my way to work on (Ohio) 725 in Centerville, my car just suddenly lost power and quit before it stopped completely,” she said. “I was able to steer it off the road.”

A technician changed a sensor on the vehicle, but Brennan said she remains concerned.

“I feel lucky that I wasn’t on the interstate when the car lost its power,” she said. “I have grandchildren and would not feel like I would want them in the car.”

South Vienna’s Steinberger is nervous, too.

The owner of a 2007 Cobalt, Steinberger said she is waiting for a local dealership to get information. She said the dealership told her they would not be able to respond until April.

So far, Steinberger said she and her husband have had no problems with their Cobalt. But she fears the sudden appearance of a problem.

Last week, GM launched a website, gm.com/ignition-switch-recall, to provide information to affected car owners.

A GM spokesman told Reuters news service last month the automaker was aware of five frontal-impact crashes and six front-seat fatalities in crashes where the front airbags did not deploy. The crashes happened off road and at high speeds, where fatal injuries were more likely regardless of airbag deployment, according to Reuters.

If an ignition switch is pulled out of the “run” position, engine and electric power can be cut off. When that happens, airbags may not deploy.

Remove extra keyring items

The advice of Bill Mervar, a senior auto technician at Sinclair Community College: Don’t hang too many keys, or too much weight, on your automobile key ring.

Mervar drives a 2009 Chevrolet HHR. He has had no problems. But he believes some drivers hang too much weight from their key rings.

“I’m in the constant process of telling people: ‘Don’t do that,’” Mervar said.

He acknowledges that it’s not an issue many drivers consider, and he said he has found “no real warning” in auto manuals cautioning drivers against over-weighted key rings.

“You never think of stuff like this until somebody gets hurt,” he said.

But Mervar said airbag failure is not new in the industry. A number of factors could cause airbags to fail to deploy. Airbags rely on impact sensors positioned all around the vehicle. If one sensor does not agree with other sensors, airbags may not burst out.

Usually, more than one data parameter — wheel-speed and bumper sensors, for example — must agree that there has been an impact for an airbag to operate. And that’s altogether necessary, Mervar added. You don’t want bags to expand “for nothing,” he said.

Airbag deployment

Said Mervar: “You need more than one (data) input to blow the bag.”

GM spokesman Adler agreed with much of Mervar’s assessment.

“The recall we’re doing is actually for a lack of airbags,” Adler said.

If the vehicle ignition is inadvertently turned off, airbag sensors will have no electrical power and will not respond, Adler said. Airbags may not deploy in that situation, he said.

Use only the ignition key, Adler advised. Do you join or connect your ignition key to a key ring, a key fob or a collection of other keys that will increase weight and pull on the ignition key.

Asked if he believes the problem is a result of faulty design, Mervar said: “I call it human error. Don’t do what is going to cause your own problem.”

Mark Dinkelaker, sales manager for Rose Chevrolet in Hamilton, said he doesn’t expect any information or parts from GM because Rose is an independent used vehicles dealership.

“I would expect that if we were a new car franchise, this would sting a little bit,” Dinkelaker said.

And the automaker started late last week to send owners recall letters, some telling owners that parts will be available in April for repairs that should take about 40 minutes. Lisa Webb, owner of a 2006 Cobalt, said she received a letter from GM, but it gave her frustratingly little information.

“It stated the recall and that the parts are not currently available,” Webb said. “They stated it is very important to use only the key in the ignition. They expect to have the parts in April this year and will contact me when available.

“This seems unacceptable when it can affect someone’s life,” she said.



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