Subaru Recall Weakens GM Defense that Brake Line Rust is Maintenance Issue

Subaru last week announced a second recall for vehicles which are prone to brake line corrosion in “salt belt” states. This latest recall follows a 2013 recall for the same issue, which can cause brake failure from burst brake lines due to rust. As Subaru does the right thing by consumers and motorists regarding the safety concern, General Motors continues to claim that brake line rust is a normal maintenance issue and refuses to recall its vehicles with the same problem.

The Subaru recall weakens GM’s defense that rusting brake lines do not need to be addressed by manufacturers and owners should bear the costs and responsibility to replace rusted brake lines. As with GM’s models, the Subaru models affected are prone to rust after six or seven winters. In the case of GM models, the company has far more complaints of brake line rust than any other manufacturer, as reported here last week.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had an ongoing investigation on GM’s rusting brake lines problem for four years. Despite evidence that the problem plagues newer model as well, the investigation has not been expanded to include later model GM vehicles. The current investigation focuses on 1999 through 2003 model year trucks, leading to GM’s defense that rusting brake lines are only a problem on older vehicles. A search of NHTSA’s website (as well as on the internet), however, finds hundreds of complaints for model years 2004 through 2007.

GM has been giving an outward appearance of safety concern of late as millions of vehicles were recently recalled. However, a closer inspection of the types of recalls that are issued may give evidence of a nefarious strategy by GM to recall vehicles with low costs of repairs while ignoring serious safety concerns that have more costly fixes.

One of GM’s latest recalls was for over 7 million vehicles with ignition switch problems similar to that found in the infamous Chevy Cobalt recall debacle. What is less widely known is that GM’s fix this time around is to insert a plastic insert into owners’ keys and warn them not to use extra keys on their key rings. This ludicrous fix was tried on the recalled Chevy Cobalts before the problem was properly addressed by replacing the ignition switches. It will literally cost GM just pennies per vehicle to “fix” the millions of recently recalled vehicles.

There may be an even more sleazy reason for GM’s willingness to recall vehicles with low costs of repairs. It appears that the extra showroom traffic that is driven by the recalls can lead to increased sales for GM. GM initially realized this when they first called in Chevy Cobalts after delaying the ignition switch recall for years. To compensate owners of the recalled cars, GM offered $500 towards a brand spanking new GM vehicle.

GM’s new Vice President of Global Safety, Jeffrey Boyer, continues to follow the lead of previous positions set forth by GM spokesman Alan Adler when he denied the National Legal and Policy Center’s request to recall GM vehicles prone to brake line rust. It is hard to believe that Mr. Boyer independently came to the conclusion that millions of GM vehicles with rusting brake lines are not a risk to the public. Let’s hope that increased media attention spurred by the Subaru recall and continued calls for GM to recall its dangerous vehicles will finally get trucks with corroding brake lines off the highways.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.