GM and NHTSA “Missed” Red Flags on Rental Car Crashes

GM and NHTSA “Missed” Red Flags on Rental Car Crashes

July, 2014

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

An excellent Bloomberg News article using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) uncovers more evidence of failures to protect Americans by GM and NHTSA.“More than seven years before General Motors began the biggest wave of auto recalls in history, an investigator for Vanguard Car Rental USA contacted the carmaker about a fatal rollover crash in California.

A driver in a new Chevrolet Cobalt rented from Vanguard’s Alamo unit lost control on a warm, dry and clear day in September 2006. Traffic had been light, according to the police report. The sedan drifted across lanes, got caught in a gravel median and rolled over. The seat belt was buckled. The air bag didn’t deploy. The driver was killed.

A Vanguard claims adjuster wrote to GM and said even though the cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, “due to the serious nature of this accident we feel that it is imperative that you open a claim and inspect this vehicle for possible defects,” according to a review of documents obtained by Bloomberg News after a Freedom of Information Act request….”

“The files obtained are among scores exchanged between GM and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over an eight-year period beginning in 2005 related to cars stalling and air bags not deploying in crashes. In the files GM submitted, there were 30 crashes involving 37 fatalities in the Cobalt and the Saturn Ion. The victims’ names were redacted.

The documents add to the evidence that GM for at least a decade failed to promptly resolve a wave of complaints from rental-car companies, consumers, automotive reviewers and even its own dealers and mechanics about abnormal crashes that have since been linked to a faulty ignition switch.

The files show many missed opportunities to ask questions and connect disparate events — the very type of evidence that is supposed to be routed to and vetted by the government’s Early Warning Reporting system for potential automotive defects….”

GM ordered recalls early this year for the Cobalt, Ion and four other U.S. models. The automaker has since said that those cars — about 2.6 million of them — may have had faulty ignition switches that when bumped could shut off engines while driving and disable air bags.

By the end of June, the number of cars in North America that GM had called back for repairs related to the ignitions had passed 16 million, more than the 9.71 million vehicles the Detroit-based company sold worldwide in 2013.

The role of rental cars in the GM ignition-switch controversy hasn’t been fully examined. Rental cars tend to be driven a lot of miles. They’re used by different drivers all the time, many of whom are unfamiliar with the vehicle. That can be the difference in surviving and perishing in an emergency situation, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based research group Center for Auto Safety.

“The Cobalt was a popular, cheap model for rental-car companies,” Ditlow said. “This highlights why they should be vigilant about handling recalls….”

“NHTSA also has been under scrutiny for missing signs of the broader ignition-switch failures and passing on opening a formal defect investigation in 2007 and again in 2010. The U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general, Calvin Scovel, is reviewing the agency’s actions. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he asked for the review after questions raised by members of Congress, the public and the media.”


Missing from the picture, so far, are the GM and industry related people in positions of power in and over NHTSA since 2001.  Imagine criminal investigators ignoring people who had the means, motives, and opportunities to contribute to the failures of NHTSA and GM to protect American lives for a decade.  A partial list of people in positions of influence is at

With more excellent digging and reporting, hopefully the nation will get closer to the underlying reasons NHTSA has been “driving under the influence” for so long.



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