It has now been over two months since we requested that General Motors recall vehicles that are prone to brake line corrosion. The vehicles in question, GM truck model years 1999 through 2003, have been under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since 2010. The government agency has done nothing noteworthy regarding the existing GM safety concern over the four year span of the investigation.
NHTSA has also proven its ineffectiveness when it comes to safeguarding American motorists by ignoring multiple complaints for newer model GM vehicles. Why hasn’t NHTSA expanded the GM brake line investigation to include model years 2004 through 2007, which also have hundreds of complaints involving failed braking as a result of brake line rust?
Owners of GM vehicles with corroded brake lines have been frustratingly trying to bring to light an issue which plagues GM vehicles more so than any other manufacturer. While GM falsely implies that all auto manufacturers have the same issues with brake line corrosion, the evidence is clear that GM vehicles have multiple times the amount of complaints on the problem than other makes. GM has a history of being deceptive when it comes to addressing safety issues, but NHTSA must be held accountable for its failings, as well.
It is time to ask if cronyism or ineptness is behind NHTSA’s lack of action on the GM brake line rust problem. NHTSA need only review the harrowing stories on its own website to conclude that this is a safety issue that is now affecting GM vehicles that are only six or seven years old. Following are excerpts from just a few of the many complaints on the NHTSA website:
For a 2007 Chevy Silverado, incident date 9/12/2012:
WHEN OPERATING VEHICLE IN DRIVEWAY, BRAKE PEDAL SUDDENLY WENT TO THE FLOOR. UPON INSPECTION IT WAS FOUND THAT A STEEL BRAKE LINE TOWARD THE REAR OF VEHICLE HAD BURST DUE TO CORROSION. IN THIS CASE A COMPLETE LOSS OF BRAKING WAS NOTED RESULTING IN A MINOR COLLISION WITH A TREE…SINCE THIS TRUCK IS ONLY APPROX. 5-6 YEARS OF AGE, IT SEEMS AS THOUGH THIS IS QUITE AN EARLY FAILURE…
2007 Chevy Silverado, incident date 4/8/2013:
BRAKE PEDAL WENT TO FLOOR. FOUND BRAKE LINES HEAVILY RUSTED AFTER ONLY 6 YEARS OLD. LEFT REAR BRAKE LINE BLEW, CAUSING DANGEROUSLY SLOW BRAKING IN RUSH HOUR. NARROWLY AVOIDED SEVERAL CRASHES UNTIL I GOT HOME, CRAWLED UNDER IT TO FIND THE PUDDLE OF BRAKE FLUID. I’VE HAVE 20YEAR OLD CARS WITH BETTER BRAKE LINES.
2007 Chevy Silverado, incident date 12/12/2013:
WHEN APPLYING THE BRAKES THE PEDAL WENT VERY CLOSE TO THE FLOOR WITH VERY LITTLE STOPPING POWER, WHEN I TOOK THE TRUCK TO THE CHEVROLET DEALER THEY INFORMED ME A BRAKE LINE HAD BUSTED AND THE BRAKE LINES ARE RUSTED AND ALL THE BRAKE LINES HAVE TO BE REPLACED AT THE SUM OF $1,400, THIS TRUCK IS USED FOR A FAMILY VEHICLE AND IS NOT A WORK TRUCK, I MAY BE WRONG BUT I FEEL 6 YEARS IS NO WAY NEAR THE LIFE EXPECTANCY OF A SAFETY SYSTEM SUCH AS A BRAKES IN THIS GEOGRAPHICAL AREA, I WAS TOLD BY THE DEALER THAT THIS WAS NOT UNCOMMON.
2007 Chevy Silverado, incident date 1/25/2014:
…I WAS ABLE TO GET THE TRUCK TO THE DEALERSHIP WITH ALMOST NO STOPPING POWER. DIAGNOSIS – BRAKE LINE FAILURE. THE BRAKE LINES HAD DETERIORATED AND HAVE BEGUN FALLING APART. THE SOLUTION – A $2,400 BRAKE LINE REPLACEMENT JOB…IS GM DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THIS? MY TRUCK IS 7 YEARS OLD AND SHOULD NOT HAVE THE MAJOR BRAKING SYSTEM FAILURE PROBLEM THAT I AM EXPERIENCING.
The above accounts all rightfully suggest that brake lines should last longer than six or seven years; a point which seems to be obvious for most other than GM and NHTSA. Here’s a couple more that give evidence to the danger of the failing GM brake lines:
2007 Chevy Silverado, incident date 6/22/2014:
LIKE MANY OTHER GM TRUCKS, THE STEEL BRAKE LINE RUSTED AND FAILED. I WAS BACKING BY BOAT ON TO THE RAMP WHEN THE BRAKES FAILED. THE WEIGHT OF THE BOAT AND THE STEEPNESS OF THE RAMP PULLED BY TRUCK IN TO THE BAY. THANK GOD MY FAMILY WAS OUT OF THE VEHICLE. THE NHTSA MUST MANDATE THAT GM FIX ALL SEVERELY CORRODED BRAKE LINES AT EITHER A REDUCED OR NO-CHARGE FEE TO OWNERS…IF THE GOVERNMENT (WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO REPRESENT THE CITIZENS) REALLY CARES ABOUT SAFE VEHICLES…WHY ON EARTH ISN’T GM BEING HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR RECALLING GM TRUCKS WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY EXAMPLES OF BRAKE LINE FAILURES!
2007 GMC Sierra, incident date 4/12/2014:
I WAS DRIVING MY 2007 GMC SIERRA CLASSIC 2500HD WT AND MY BRAKE LINE FAILED. I WENT THREW THE STOP SIGN OUT ONTO A MAIN ROAD AND JUST MISSED GETTING T-BONED BY A TRACTOR TRAILER. I HAD NO BRAKES AT ALL. MY BRAKES ARE ALL UP TO DATE. BRAND NEW BRAKE PADS AND ROTORS. I READ TONS OF COMPLAINTS ONLINE OF PEOPLE WITH THE SAME PROBLEM WITH GM VEHICLES BRAKE LINES RUSTING OUT PREMATURELY. MY TRUCK ONLY HAS 32,164 MILES ON IT…PLEASE MAKE GM DO A SAFETY RECALL ON THESE FAILING RUSTING BRAKE LINES BEFORE SOMEONE GETS KILLED. I WAS ALMOST NOT HERE TO TELL MY STORY.
It is hard to disagree with the position of GM truck owners that the GM brake line corrosion problem is not a “maintenance” issue and the responsibility of owners, as GM claims. While GM seems to be willing to recall millions of vehicles that have cheap fixes, the more costly brake line issue continues to go unaddressed. Since GM will not step up to recall vehicles with the dangerous problem (something Subaru did to address a similar defect), it is the responsibility of NHTSA to act on the matter.
There is also a growing list of Congressmen and Senators who have been made aware of the GM brake line safety concern, some of whom were copied on our letter to NHTSA requesting they recall GM vehicles with the problem. Most recently we requested that Senate Subcommittee members Claire McCaskill and Richard Blumenthal question GM on the matter. When an inevitable (and avoidable) death eventually comes as a result of failed brakes on a GM truck due to corroded brake lines, there will be many who have to answer for ignoring the obvious safety concern, starting with those working at GM and NHTSA.
NHTSA has been under fire for ignoring safety issues in the past (most recently the GM ignition switch defect) that led to the loss of lives. The agency’s poor defense for failing to protect American motorists has been that they are underfunded and need more taxpayer money.
It is hard to believe that a clear case of failing brakes on GM vehicles is going unnoticed by NHTSA because of a lack of funding. The time may have come to take a critical look at how inept NHTSA really is and whether taxpayer money is being totally wasted funding an agency that is failing in its duty to protect American motorists. In the meantime, pressure needs to be put on both GM and NHTSA to act on the brake line corrosion problem on GM trucks, starting with a request to NHTSA to expand its investigation to include later model vehicles.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.