NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — General Motors is about to start repairs on the 2.6 million vehicles at the center of the controversial recall tied to at least 13 deaths.
Starting Monday, owners of six GM models can bring their vehicles to a dealer to have the ignition switch replaced.
The automaker said customers should make appointments at dealerships and that more replacement parts in the massive recall would be available “as time goes on.”
The faulty ignition switches can be bumped — say, by a knee or the jostling from a pothole — and the vehicle can switch off while on the road, disabling power steering, power braking and the airbags. General Motors, which announced the recall two months ago, said it learned of problems with the ignition switch early as 2004.
Federal investigators, Congress and attorneys representing GM owners are asking why the company didn’t issue a recall years ago. GM CEO Mary Barra apologized and told congressional panels she didn’t know why there was a delay. But lawmakers appeared skeptical, and a federal regulator said GM did not provide pertinent information.
The fix is available for model years 2003 through 2007 of the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR; Pontiac G5 and Solstice; and the Saturn Ion and Sky. Later models of those vehicles have also been recalled, and GM has said parts for those cars will be available later.
What the mechanic will do: The dealer will replace the ignition switch.
Documents General Motors submitted to Congress showed a slight modification to that part provided additional torque, or pressure, to keep the vehicle from accidentally turning off. Engineers made the switch indent plunger slightly longer — by about the width of a quarter.
How long it takes: General Motors said the repair takes about a half hour. But it warned customers they may have to leave their cars at the dealer for longer due to “scheduling requirements.”
What the repair costs: Since the fix is part of a safety recall, it is free to vehicle owners.
If your dealer closed down: Looking for a Pontiac or Saturn dealer? You won’t find one, as those brands were discontinued several years ago.
But owners of those cars — and the recalled Chevrolets — can bring those cars to any Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac dealer.
While waiting for the fix: General Motors says your car is safe to drive. But it also says drivers shouldn’t operate the cars with keys attached to heavy key rings.
It recommends drivers have nothing attached to the key while driving prior to the fix, and after, only attach the key to the electronic key fob.
However, not everyone is convinced the cars should be on the road. One car owner in Texas asked a federal judge to order all affected vehicles parked until fixed. The judge is expected to rule soon.
And while waiting for the fix, General Motors is providing drivers who are concerned about the vehicle’s safety a free rental car.