GM, Toyota Face Scrutiny for Auto Safety Issues


Most of us take the safety of our vehicles for granted. We trust that the airbags, safety belts and brakes will work when we need them, potentially saving us from serious injury. But taking these features for granted may not be wise, particularly in the wake of several high-profile recalls and legal settlements.

Two automakers, General Motors and Toyota, are in recent headlines for safety issues that put their passengers at undue risk. For Toyota, a settlement with the Justice Department will end up costing $1 billion. For GM, the true cost is unknown.

Toyota settles with Justice Department

Japanese car maker Toyota came under fire in 2009 when it was discovered safety concerns were not addressed properly. The Department of Justice alleged the company merely swapped out car mats on millions of cars in response to acceleration problems that could kill vehicle occupants.

According to CNN.com, the investigation by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara focused on allegations that Toyota misled officials throughout the safety complaint and recall process.

At issue was a problem with vehicles accelerating without warning. Millions of cars were recalled in 2009 and 2010, though federal officials said the company didn’t do enough to fix the matter.

Four years later, the company agreed to a $1 billion fine with the Justice Department.

GM recalls more than 3 million after delayed response

GM is also accused of not acting swiftly enough in the face of safety concerns. An initial recall earlier this year said around 1.6 million cars could be at risk of shutting down unexpectedly, leaving occupants with no power and thus no airbags, brakes or power steering.

The accidents involving a faulty ignition switch began in 2003, according to GM. But it took more than a decade and an estimated 13 deaths before the auto giant issued the recall.

Further, GM followed the Saturn Ion and Chevy Cobalt recall with another — calling back an additional 1.5 million cars, vans, and SUVs for brake problems, airbag issues and restraint concerns.

The CEO of General Motors has taken to the company’s official website, apologizing for the delayed initial recall and vowing swift and thorough action on all of their safety concerns.

So far, it’s estimated GM will spend $300 million in this first quarter on repair expenses alone. This doesn’t account for the lawsuits they may face related to accidents caused by these deficiencies.

When the recall system fails

Recalls are the industry’s version of a do-over. But they are costly and many automakers only begrudgingly issue recalls when prodded by authorities at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

These massive recalls all begin with a single complaint — a single auto accident or near-miss. But ultimately, the problems cause dozens if not hundreds more. Even when a vehicle is recalled, not all automobile owners are made aware. This means vehicles could be on the roads right now that should have been repaired and safety concerns addressed.

While automakers have a duty to provide safe vehicles, they also have a duty to admit when they make a mistake and take responsibility for the harm it caused.

To see if your vehicle has been listed in a recall, you can use www.Recalls.gov, a service of the NHTSA.