Motorists Get Big Brake Line Repair Bills as GM Resists Recall

GM brake lineEvery so often a General Motors’ truck owner forwards me their story regarding problems with brake line rust, a problem that executives at GM refuse to acknowledge. One recent such correspondence tells of one of the highest repair bills that I have heard of relating to corrosion and failed brake lines. Repairs were made to the vehicle after the owner narrowly avoided an accident as a result of failed brakes due to the corroded brake lines.

Marsha Joiner from Virginia sent me a copy of the invoice from her Manassas GMC dealership for repairs to her 2005 GMC Yukon. The whopping total for repairs directly related to corrosion from brake lines was a staggering $3,600. Her ordeal (along with other examples) has also been recently reported on by Consumer Affairs as they continue to be one of the few media outlets and consumer advocacy organizations that question the safety of GM vehicles with corroding brake lines.

I spoke to the service advisor who served Ms. Joiner, a cooperative fellow named Tyson. I confirmed that GM Corporate offered no assistance with the unusually high repair bill as the vehicle was out of the warranty period. Unfortunately for Ms. Joiner, the dealership was not willing to offer additional help with the repair bill, which originally totaled $4,051 and was lowered to a discounted amount of $3,884. An AC recharge and oil change accounted for about $280 of the billed amount, with the remainder being attributed to brake corrosion centering around the lines.

Potential buyers of a GM product should be aware of the service history and costs for the 2005 Yukon if, as GM maintains, these type of maintenance issues are typical and the sole responsibility of owners. In the nine plus years that Ms. Joiner had her GM truck serviced at the dealership, she amassed a total of over $12,500 in repair bills. A part of that was covered under warranty according to Tyson. Ms. Joiner has contacted GM regarding the latest brake line corrosion repair and has received no sympathy for her hardship. In fact, GM continues to ignore the problem and even told her that they were not aware of issues with rusting brake lines on their vehicles.

For roughly half a year now, we at the National Legal and Policy Center have been trying to get GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to address the problems with corroding brake lines on GM vehicles. Letters have been written to GM CEO, Mary Barra and to NHTSA requesting that action be taken to recall dangerous GM trucks and SUVs (including Chevy Silverados and GMC Yukons) that are prone to brake line corrosion. Despite clear evidence that GM vehicles have a brake line failure rate far exceeding the overall industry, GM and NHTSA continue to ignore the problem.

Let’s recap some of the data that has been exposed regarding the high rate of failure for GM truck and SUV brake lines. Back in July of this year there were 1,895 complaints on NHTSA’s website referencing GM brake lines. That was about ten times the amount of complaints for brake lines than Ford, Toyota and Honda combined! This is proof that GM has an issue with failing brake lines from corrosion that is far above industry norms.

Subaru had a similar issue with brake line corrosion. They did the right thing by recalling the vehicles that were prone to brake line corrosion while GM made statements that brake line rust was a normal wear and tear issue and the sole responsibility of GM vehicle owners. Subaru’s recall weakens GM’s argument that owners should bear the high cost of brake line repairs, particularly for vehicles that are only six or seven years old.

The brake line rust problem also plagues newer GM models. NHTSA has had an open investigation since 2010 on GM vehicles for model years 1999 to 2003. I estimated that there are nearly 1,000 complaints to NHTSA for model years 2004 to 2006. Despite thousands of documented complaints to NHTSA and on various websites (Google “GM brake lines” to view), NHTSA has failed to expand its investigation to include later model years.

GM continues to ignore the safety issue of failing brake lines while it makes a great public display of recalling millions of other vehicles for low-cost repairs like loose bolts needing to be checked or plastic key inserts needing to be added to ignition keys. GM than boasts to Wall Street analysts that the many recalls are helping to drive showroom traffic.

I recently uncovered documentation with admissions by GM that original equipment brake lines installed in GM vehicles were inferior in quality to replacement lines now being installed. This, in addition to the high amount of complaints for corroded brake lines by GM truck owners, should be enough to require a recall by GM for vehicles with the inferior brake lines.

GM is proving that the New GM continues to put profits ahead of safety by continuing to ignore its rusting brake line problems. At the same time, NHTSA is proving that taxpayers are wasting their money in funding an agency that, time and again, exhibits behavior that indicates a crony relationship with automakers. NHTSA has either been complicit in its refusal to act upon the GM brake line rust complaints or is just utterly inept at monitoring safety concerns on our highways.

If GM continues to deny obvious problems with brake line corrosion on its vehicles, NHTSA should force action. That must start with NHTSA immediately expanding its investigation of GM vehicles to include later model years. Any such investigation should be acted upon; waiting years for an investigation to be concluded is just ridiculous and more evidence that NHTSA needs to be overhauled.

Motorists should be assured that brake lines will last more than six or seven years before rusting out and failing, as has been the case with GM vehicles. And GM owners, like Ms. Joiner, should be compensated for the high costs of repairs that result from GM’s use of low quality brake lines.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.