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An Engineer's Eureka Moment With a GM Flaw357

theodp (442580) writes "Hired by the family of Brooke Melton in their wrongful-death lawsuit against GM, engineer Mark Hood was at a loss to explain why the engine in Melton's 2005 Chevy Cobalt had suddenly shut off, causing her fatal accident in 2010. Hood had photographed, X-rayed and disassembled the two-inch ignition switch, focusing on the tiny plastic and metal switch that controlled the ignition, but it wasn't until he bought a replacement for \$30 from a local GM dealership that the mystery quickly unraveled. Eyeing the old and new parts, Hood quickly figured out a problem now linked to 13 deaths that GM had known about for a decade. Even though the new switch had the same identification number — 10392423 — Hood found big differences — a tiny metal plunger in the switch was longer in the replacement part, the switch's spring was more compressed, and most importantly, the force needed to turn the ignition on and off was greater. 'It's satisfying to me because I'm working on behalf of the Meltons,' Hood said. 'It won't bring their daughter back, but if it goes toward a better understanding of the problem, it might save someone else.' Next week, GM CEO Mary Barra will testify before Congress about events leading up to the wide-ranging recall of 2.6 million vehicles."
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An Engineer's Eureka Moment With a GM Flaw

• Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Informative)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:04PM (#46618233) Homepage Journal
A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Pretty much par for the course for these companies....
• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:23PM (#46618303)

IN a lot of ways, I do not have a problem with a company making a financial decision... it is what companies do. It is up to society to make sure that the cost is so high that companies doing the math come up with the right conclusion.

-- MyLongNickName

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Insightful)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:46PM (#46618391)

The problem is that there's no way to do that with the current short term management techniques and high CxO salaries. If they get away with it for 1 year and make 10-20 million, which the lawsuits can't touch, they don't care. We need to change the corporate veil so it protects small investors but not those who run the company day to day.

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Interesting)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:39PM (#46618541)
Why can't lawsuits touch CxOs? Is it because no one is willing to sue them?

If a dock worker can be criminally prosecuted to serve almost two decades in prison because he set what he intended to be a small fire in a submarine compartment to get off work early, ultimately for that fire to get out of control and to destroy the craft with no loss of life, then why can't individuals at the top be held civilly liable for decisions that they make that kill people, especially when they kill in multiple discrete instances?

It looks like it should be a fairly simple matter. Find out who the corporate officers were when the part changed, assuming that it was changed after the first documented incident. Sue them for knowingly making a change to future vehicles to remove the possibility of future models having incidents that led to more deaths due to a consumer products safety issue. Sue them for the entire quantity of bonus that they made working for the company as a punitive action.
• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Informative)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:46PM (#46618557) Homepage
Part of the reason for a corporation is that you dissociate financial liability between the corporation itself and its employees. It's what makes incorporating attractive to smaller companies, since if the company sinks into heavy debt it doesn't take you down with it.
• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:17AM (#46618645)

It is, incidentally, always good to keep this in mind when watching business owners whine about unfair it is that they have to provide birth control as part of their insurance plan or that they have to treat all races equally or etc. Virtually none of those complaining are willing to step up and say "it's my company!" when the company is bankrupt and they still have considerable personal assets. Virtually none of them are willing to step up and say "it's my company!" and face prison time when the company has caused injuries or deaths because of gross negligence.

They want the benefits afforded by incorporating, but the idea that they owe *anything* in return is anathema to them.

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:40AM (#46618705)

This should only apply to the business finances, i.e. protect the employees from being held liable if the company files for bancruptcy. I don't know if it does in the USA though. Generally, incorporation should protect from financial and business incompetence and bad luck to encourage people to take risks and create an active marketplace, driving the economy and innovation. It should never protect from actions breaking criminal or civil laws, because you don't want to build an incentive for that.

• Re: (Score:3, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward

Fuso trucks Japan. they knew about a problem but did not recall, this resulted in a death. The people who did not do the recall got suspended prison terms

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2007/12/14/national/mmc-defect-aware-execs-guilty-of-negligence-but-avoid-prison/#.UzkWYE2_nI8

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:4, Insightful)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:09AM (#46618773)

Part of the reason for a corporation is that you dissociate financial liability between the corporation itself and its employees.

No, it's dissociate financial liability between the corporation and its shareholders. Employees don't have less liability than employees in non-corporation businesses.

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:4, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:11AM (#46618935)

Part of the reason for a corporation is that you dissociate financial liability between the corporation itself and its employees.

No, it's dissociate financial liability between the corporation and its shareholders. Employees don't have less liability than employees in non-corporation businesses.

Officers are legally liable for anything the company does. The "corporate veil" separates the corporation from the owners, as the parent says. It does NOT protect C-level officers (nor, often, their direct reports) from actions taken by the company, even if those officers themselves did not commit the act. At that level of office, they are expected to know about the actions of the company and to stop anything unlawful from occurring.

• Re: (Score:2)

Part of the reason for a corporation is that you dissociate financial liability between the corporation itself and its employees.

No, a corporation doesn't do that at all. A corporation dissociates liability between the corporation itself and its *owners* (aka shareholders). A bankrupt corporation does not cost its shareholders more than their shares becoming worthless.

• Re: (Score:2)

Devil's advocate: an individual sets a fire in a sub. A company designs a defective product that kills consumers. If it's company policy that causes the harm, the company is at fault, and the C_O is not held responsible.

Is that the way it should be?

Maybe. I think a bigger problem is tort reform. Punative damages were never designed to be a get-rich-quick scheme; they were a tool designed to punish companies that knowingly cause harm in such a way that they will be reluctant to do so in the first place. When

• Scapegoating and Duty of Care (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @06:58AM (#46619807)

Why can't lawsuits touch CxOs?

They can but you have to first establish that the CxO was specifically at fault for something. Explain to me exactly what criminal action Mary Barra, the current CEO of GM, or one of her predecessors engaged in that failed in their duty of care [wikipedia.org]. Exactly what action did they knowingly take given the information available to them at the time of the decision that resulted in people's deaths. Remember that just because they were in charge at the time isn't adequate proof of anything. A CEO relies on the technical expertise and advice of the people that work for him/her. Remember that the NTSB [wikipedia.org] also had access to this information years ago and did not think it sufficiently serious to force a recall either.

I assure you that the CEO isn't pouring over technical data so if the problem was never presented to the CEO as a serious problem then how can we reasonably blame the CEO personally? Do you really think the CEO of McDonalds should be personally liable for every instance of food poisoning that occurs even if they have instructed their organization to take every reasonable precaution available to them consistent with accepted safety standards? Would you think it appropriate for you to be held liable for the actions of your coworkers even if you had nothing to do with them?

then why can't individuals at the top be held civilly liable for decisions that they make that kill people, especially when they kill in multiple discrete instances?

They can be but the standard of proof is necessarily high. The general reason is that perfect safety is impossible and just because someone is in charge does not automatically mean they were negligent. We don't sue the CEO of Boeing personally because of an engineering failure in a Boeing jet that he had nothing to do with because that is not reasonable or fair. The question is whether they met their duty of care [wikipedia.org]. 30,000 people each year die in car accidents in the US alone. If we held the officers of the companies that made those products liable for each of those deaths then there would be no cars because no one would be willing to run the company. We have the corporate veil for a very good reason and the standard of proof is high for good reason. You have to establish that there was clear evidence of a serious safety issue, that the information was known to the person (or should have been known) you were suing, that they made a knowing decision to disregard that information and that it was specifically their actions that were a proximal cause [wikipedia.org] of the injuries that occurred.

If a dock worker can be criminally prosecuted to serve almost two decades in prison because he set what he intended to be a small fire in a submarine compartment to get off work early

That is a criminal and negligent action that can clearly be tied to the actions of that person. I assure you that no CEO of any major car company is poring over engineering data from faulty switches. They are actually quite removed from the process until such time as it is brought to their attention.

It looks like it should be a fairly simple matter.

I assure you it is not at all simple. Not At All.

Sue them for the entire quantity of bonus that they made working for the company as a punitive action.

Ok, so then companies don't award bonuses and they compensate in other ways. What's your next move?

BTW there are going to be PLENTY of lawsuits over this and there is a very good change Delphi (the Tier 1 supplier that sold the switches to GM) may go bankrupt again over the matter. There is going to be plenty of fallout without us pointlessly making a scapegoat out of a CEO and probably the wrong CEO at that since GM doesn't actually make the switches.

• Re: (Score:3)

In short, they usually ensure there's enough plausible deniability built up around the top officers to avoid prosecution.

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Insightful)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:30AM (#46618829)
If a person commits a crime they go to jail. A corporation is a person, therefore it is subject to jail time. I think having the board of directors criminally liable for actual jail time (unless they could show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the crime) would solve a lot of these problems. If you want to make corporations people, stop cherry picking. Give them the whole legal liability to go with the rights.
• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:51AM (#46619035)

Agreed. I might just go along with the corporations-as-people idea just as soon as the first corporation is executed for having policies tantamount to murder, or gross negligence with lethal consequences, such as seems to be the case here.

I thought this documentary [wikipedia.org] made some interesting points. It is reasonably balanced too, e.g. it includes some staunch free market fundamentalists (Milton Friedman trying to explain what externalities are, for instance).

• Re: (Score:2)

I just want to note, that a free market isn't the same as corporate protectionism or IP maximalism.. or even the legal concept of corporate person-hood. A free market only works when the operators within said market aren't given preferential treatment over others, and information is allowed to flow freely.
• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @07:15AM (#46619895) Homepage Journal

staunch free market fundamentalists (Milton Friedman trying to explain what externalities are, for instance).

FWIW, Friedman was a monetarist [wikipedia.org] and believed in a partially-controlled economy. Not really a free marketeer, but not a fascist either.

Oh, and every time you talk about shutting down a corporation for a "jail" period as a punishment, you'll hear the whiny refrain, "but all the jobs!". These people view every corporation as "too big to fail", rather than seeing it as an incentive opportunity to enlist every worker as a guardian of fair behavior.

The only conclusion I can reach from this morass is that corporations are fundamentally unworkable in a free society. But most people don't care about a free society.

• Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward

Don't jail the directors, jail the corporation. I.e., force it to stop trading for a term. Shareholders will then sort out the directors.

• Re: (Score:2)

IN a lot of ways, I do not have a problem with a company making a financial decision... it is what companies do. It is up to society to make sure that the cost is so high that companies doing the math come up with the right conclusion.

-- MyLongNickName

...and when they wave their arms and cry "bankrupt" we can bail them out again, right? What's a trillion dollars between taxpayers?

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Funny)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:24PM (#46618309) Homepage

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Pretty much par for the course for these companies....

First rule of Corporate Club: If you teach a man to fish, you've lost a customer.

• Re:Obligatory Fight Club (Score:5, Informative)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @10:33PM (#46618353)

But if he violates your fishing patent, you can sue him to oblivion.

• Re: (Score:2)

No, you get 3/4 of all the fish he catches for the rest of his life [as you require him to sign a contract that long, even though your patent ends before then].

• Re:Obligatory s Club (Score:2)

There's several companies that manufacture all sorts of fishing tackle and accessories. They'll be deliriously happy if you go watch their youtube videos. :)

• Re: (Score:2)

Companies are run by humans. Most humans don't think that way. We have been conditioned by pop-culture and the media to believe that all corporations are evil. I think our perceptions are probably wrong.
• Re: (Score:2)

Companies are run by humans. Most humans don't think that way. We have been conditioned by pop-culture and the media to believe that all corporations are evil. I think our perceptions are probably wrong.

Unfortunately, thet aren't. [politicalloudmouth.com]

• Re: (Score:2)

Most humans don't think that way individually. But humans make surprisingly good cogs in the machine, remaining useful even as the machine is geared to do pure evil - and the only thing it takes is a few sociopaths on top. Worse, sociopaths are the ones that end up on top disproportionately often, because their "skills" are precisely the kind of thing that propels them fast up the management chain.

• Re: (Score:2)

Unsafe at any speed?
• Re: (Score:2)

I'd nearly agree with this approach if you would also immediately inform all your existing and prospective customers of B, C and your policy. OTOH, hiding such important safety information is probably a criminal act.
• Re: (Score:3)

maybe we need give the CEO's some FPMIA prison time to fix BS like that.

• Re: (Score:2)

you forgot to calculate the revenue loss because of bad publicity.

• Only "discovered" someone's discover, nothing more (Score:2)

All he did was notice a change in parts, ie, the outcome of an Delphi engineer's actual discovery. Not at all news or noteworthy. It would have been if Delphi hadn't already fixed it and he did the initial discovery.

• Re: (Score:3)

Well, the point isn't priority of discovery, as it would be with a patent application. It is a question of whether Delphi engineers knew of a potentially fatal design flaw in the switch and failed to notify users whose life was endangered (including his clients' daughter, who was killed by a failure in that part, apparently).

A redesign is not necessarily a smoking gun, in my opinion. An engineer who worked on that kind of stuff could say whether a reasonable engineer would regard the original design as faul

• Re: (Score:2)

It also depends on the timing of the redesign. Did they redesign the part before his daughter was killed and fail to issue a recall notice, or was it done as a result of investigation into her accident?
• Re: (Score:2)

Or done for another reason, like having fewer parts/easier to assemble/cheaper/etc; unrelated to safety.

• Re: (Score:2)

None of that matters. If you redesign a part, the part number changes, an errata is filed, the BOM is updated with the new part, and life goes on.

The fact that they didn't change the part number screams to me cover up

• Re: (Score:2)

None of that matters. If you redesign a part, the part number changes, an errata is filed, the BOM is updated with the new part, and life goes on. The fact that they didn't change the part number screams to me cover up

If part number changes, how will the customer know there is now a new part? They will look at manuals that say get part x but then they can't find part x and they will go and pull it out of a junker.

• Re: (Score:2)

Manual? What is that? Paper service manuals have gone the way of buggy whips in the auto service industry. Nobody publishes them anymore except maybe General Motors. It's all regularly-updated computer-based manuals for everybody else. Independents use Alldata, which gets updates on a regular basis from manufacturers, and dealerships use their manufacturer's computer system that does the same thing (such as Chrysler TechAuthority). For most newer cars if you are an end user who wants factory service info yo

• Re: (Score:2)

With regard to the switch, how far should the engineer take the weight of a possible key chain into account ie I have a pocket knife attached to mine. Now of course the real issue, why the fuck should important safety features built into the car be switched off when a change occurs in the switching of the ignition key when the car is in motion, seriously WTF. Airbags should always activate even when the vehicle is parked because driver and passengers might be present and if the impact is sufficient to warr

• Re: (Score:2)

They can't do that with the airbags because the same kids that swat cars with a newspaper to set the alarms off will hit bumpers with a rubber mallet.

• Re: (Score:2)

With regard to the switch, how far should the engineer take the weight of a possible key chain into account ie I have a pocket knife attached to mine.

eg, not ie. Anyway, you shouldn't do that. It's not good for the ignition switch regardless. Just get a little snap ring clip for your keychain.

• From TFA (Score:2)

It's a 2005 Cobalt. The switch was redesigned in 2006 (without changing the part number or doing a recall) and she was killed in 2010. In a 2013 deposition the GM engineer in charge of the switches on the Cobalt said he didn't know why the switch was changed and that they never approved such a change. But oops, a GM engineer signed off on the change in 2006.
• Parts differences (Score:2)

It might not even have been a safety update. The part might have been 'cheapened' at a chinese factory. It might of been produced by a different factory. It could have been a 'non-safety' change for whatever reason, IE the company didn't see it as affecting safety.

• 13 deaths in how long of a time span? (Score:2)

And they want to recall 2.6M cars??? No wonder American made stuff is so expensive...

• Re: (Score:2)

A recall does not mean that you take the car back. It means that you notify the registered owners of those cars that they need to take the car into a dealership where the part will be replaced.
• Re: (Score:2)

2.6M registered owners. Even if only 30% of the owners return them for the warranty fix, that's still 780,000 cars worth of expense. For 13 deaths over a 10+ year time span.

• Re: (Score:3)

How much is a death worth according to you, even in pure monetary terms? Conservative estimates are that a life is worth about 7 million dollars [theglobalist.com]. 91 million dollars vs 800000 recalls. If the part is worth less than 100 dollars, which it sounds like it is, it is worth it.

• Criminal Charges (Score:2)

Selling an improved version of the same part is an admission that the original design was incorrect. A failure to recall may yield manslaughter charges as well as a rather crushing pile of law suits. One day a class action suit will take root due to cars being all too easy to steal. At the price of modern cars a buyer has some right to expect some really serious anti-theft features as well as the usual safety features. Why is it we still see ignitions that can be torn out by a simple dent puller tool
• Re: (Score:3)

The improved version could instead of being better be cheaper.

• Re: (Score:2)

The problem is that if the improvement were above board - i.e, merely being cheaper - they would have changed the model number and discontinued the old version.

The fact that they kept the original model number and made it very very difficult to tell that there had been any change except for the switch's physical characteristics indicates that something shady was going on.

• Re: (Score:2)

If there is no functional change - meaning the parts are perfectly interchangeable, backwards and forwards compatible - then there's no reason to change the part number, because someone looking for part X is going to get a correctly working part (whether it's the older style or the newer, cheaper design is irrelevant). That doesn't mean they weren't hiding a safety issue in this case, of course.
• Re: (Score:2)

What is "incorrect"? Companies will change parts due to customer satisfaction, too. That's not an admission of wrongdoing. It's an admission that they didn't meet customer satisfaction the first time (and yes, you could jump in and say that not dying is satisfying, but that's not my point).

In the case of the ignition switch, there's very easy plausible deniability. The newer, customer-satisfying version has higher torque. Customers have come to expect resistance when they turn a key, and they identify a too

• Don't attribute to malice (Score:2)

Don't attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity. Just because a design was improved does not mean that anyone involved in the redesign would be aware that a safety risk was present. Maybe other people in other parts of the chain were aware, but it could very well be that they have never been aware that an improved part was being made. The part number wasn't changed, so how would they have been made aware?

It takes more than a (too) easy to operate switch for people to crash into th
• Re: (Score:2)

In most cases tearing the ignition switch out (on cars that still have them, many now have just a button) won't help you in a car made in the last 15-20 years, since the key also has an RFID tag. If the RFID tag is not present when the engine is turned over, the engine won't start. Even my 18 year old Audi has this.

• Different part, same number? (Score:3, Insightful)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:22PM (#46618495) Homepage

Smells like a cover-up.

• Re:Different part, same number? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:58PM (#46618603)
From what I understand, it's an extremely common practice. For example, in my Scion FR-S, there's the original fuel pump, and another newer model under the same number that doesn't make a chirping noise under certain conditions (not a serious problem at all, just a bit annoying during the summer, it's triggered by heat and a long engine run time without cooling down). The difference is that the newer pumps have a green dot on the box. I imagine they do it for inventory/systems reasons - instead of having a system to handle 4-5 different part numbers for what is effectively the same part (i.e. 2013 FR-S fuel pump) as they are upgraded or redesigned, they just use the single number, so they don't have to update their entire maintenance system constantly. Don't forget, a lot of these maintenance systems don't get updated often, so there could be a mechanic ordering part X when the upgraded part is X+1 if they were switching part numbers, and a company would have to ensure the entire supply chain gets those updates.
• Re:Different part, same number? (Score:4, Informative)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:33AM (#46618691)

The rest of the industry uses things called Revision numbers.

There's no reason to change the part number wholesale if the component is compatible with the old one, but not keeping track of inventory or keeping track of the change, as from TFA it appears GM have done, really does smell of a coverup. In fact if what the article is saying is true GM may get royally screwed out of this. I haven't heard their side of the story but so far it sounds like underhanded tactics to conceal and silently fix a fault that they know is going to be a problem. Not good.

• Re: (Score:2)

They don't even make the pump, the upstream manufacturer revises the part because they're getting complaints of failures from automakers who are having to replace them under warranty and then the new pumps trickle into the channel and are distributed as the old stock is replaced.

• Re: (Score:2)

A product or part revision often shares the same number. They shouldn't IMHO, but they do. The computer industry does it all the time. For example, RAM modules may undergo a revision but share the same part number. But because they are different, the memory timing is off and causing all sorts of problems. So you're forced to upgrade with the same revision. PSUs, Bluetooth modules, WiFi modules, HDDs, in laptops find this kind of crap going on all the time.

• Unintended Side Effects: (Score:2)

Companies will be more reluctant to improve their products in any way, because doing so will be seen as an admission of guilt in future unknown problems.

• Public service announcement (Score:5, Insightful)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:33AM (#46618837)

Ok, yes, sue evil GM. But you're still dead. Everyone reading about this: You should know how to control your car if the engine dies at speed. It should be a fundamental skill like "driving in snow" or "parallel parking"

1. If you have time, turn on your hazards
2. Put the car in neutral
3. Try the breaks, you likely have vacuum failure and they will be VERY hard. You may need to use both feet and literally stand on the peddle. But you need to at least know how they are going to react before you start your breaking procedure.
4. You have lost power steering. If you are moving at a high rate of speed this wont be noticeable yet but will become a real problem as you slow down. So get your car lined up with the shoulder, of, if you can't simply stop in your lane. If you try to make radical changes in direction that will slow you down very quickly and as I said steering will become dramatically more difficult, so try not to do that because the direction you swerve might not be a direction you particularly want to go and it may then be very difficult to alter your course any further.
5. You can use your horn continuously during this operation. In many states this is the only situation where continuous horn operation is permitted. i.e. you can lay into your horn until the car comes to a rest.

I've found myself in this situation twice in my life. I drive old cars so... anyways, if you're used to it, it's not so bad. When my father taught me how to drive one of the ways he tested me was to turn off the engine on me. Then, surprisingly, they did the same thing during my drivers test. Later in my life when those two engine stalls happened to me I was well prepared. One happened on an off-ramp in a large Buick, and that was a bit scary. But I was still able to control the car.

btw. if anyone is wondering why this is such a problem now, when not too long ago there was no power steering (and the power steering bit is most assuredly killed this woman) it's because of Rack and Pinion. It has no leverage/mechanical advantage. The ratio to the steering wheel is basically 1 to 1. They actually invented rack and pinion long before it was ever used and it had many advantages over recirculating ball steering, but they didn't think it was useful because of lack of leverage. It was later adopted after the invention of power steering... but now, of course, if you lose power steering, you have trouble turning the wheel. There's a full history of it on Wikipedia I believe.

• Re: (Score:2)

and make sure you don't turn the switch to the off position as the steering lock can then engage on you...
• Re: (Score:2)

Not unless you take the key out of the ignition lock.

• Re: (Score:2)

You should know how to control your car if the engine dies at speed.

This is what I don't get - yes there are rare situations where if your engine dies at the wrong moment you're going to be put in danger, but that isn't the norm. If your engine dies while you're doing 70mph down the motorway, the car doesn't suddenly burst into flames or spin off the road, it just starts slowing down (in fact, exactly like taking your foot off the accellerator does). In 6th gear, my car will go a *looong* way if I turn the engine off at 70mph and don't touch the brakes - certainly plenty

• Re: (Score:2)

3. Try the breaks, you likely have vacuum failure and they will be VERY hard.

False. Your brakes will not be very hard after losing power. They will be very hard after a few pumps at the break after engine failure. You'll typically get 2 or 3 good stomps out of it before they go very hard.

You can try this yourself at any time. Stop the car, step on the bake to see how hard they are. They won't be. Give it a few good pumps, and yes they'll be very hard.

• Re: (Score:3)

3. Try the breaks, you likely have vacuum failure and they will be VERY hard.

False. Your brakes will not be very hard after losing power. They will be very hard after a few pumps at the break after engine failure. You'll typically get 2 or 3 good stomps out of it before they go very hard.

You can try this yourself at any time. Stop the car, step on the bake to see how hard they are. They won't be. Give it a few good pumps, and yes they'll be very hard.

That would depend entirely on the car, the break-booster, the condition of the vacuum system, etc... I drive older cars and I guarantee none of them would hold vacuum after the engine was off. Tracking down a vacuum leak is nearly impossible in a car that age and even if you find it vacuum fittings are not something you can find at Autozone (or anywhere else for that matter) Even the dealers stop selling these kind of parts after a certain age. You should assume your breaks are going to be hard. If they are

• Re: (Score:2)

I don't think that's right about the history of rack and pinion steering, I've owned cars with rack and pinion steering but with no power steering (it was actually pretty common here, cars have used rack and pinion since probably the 1940s or 1950s, but power steering only really started to come as standard in the late 1990s). Even pretty large cars used to have rack and pinion with no power assist.

• Diff (Score:2)

So he identified the vulnerability by diffing the patch against the original? Seems like a pretty obvious investigative step, as in it's one of the first things you'd want to look at if GM isn't telling you what they changed in the ignition switch. Diffing software security patches to identify vulnerable code is standard practice. I guess the GM thing is maybe interesting since it's mechanical hardware, though investigators in things like fraudulent aircraft parts have been diffing hardware for years.

• Airbags not enabled unless engine is running. (Score:2)

If you have to kill the engine for some emergency, that shouldn't disable the air bag system. Perhaps the air bag system should be powered whenever either the ignition is on or the vehicle is out of Park.

on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:11AM (#46618933) Homepage

Here's the story as I understand it:

- There's an ignition switch. If you have a really heavy key-ring, it is possible that the weight of your keys can turn the switch "off".

- Over the course of a decade 13 People have died in car accidents that might have had something to do with this.

- GM apparently, at some point over all those years, altered the ignition switch to require more force to turn it.

So somehow the car manufacturer is evil?

This sounds a lot more like ambulance-chasing lawyers hoping to use publicity as a lever to pry out a big settlement...

• Right... (Score:3)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:26AM (#46618981)
Personally I think this is a bogus lawsuit and even a bogus issue. Had the steering jammed or the brakes completely malfunctioned then, yes, it would be manufacturing errors that could directly cause deaths.

But here the steering still worked, the brakes still worked so it was 100% the driver that was responsible. A driver should be able to drive and that includes handling some kinds of malfunctions.

• Even in automotive, tests don't catch everything (Score:2)

So, who signed off on the roadworthiness test?

• Re: (Score:3)

IHS, DOT, NHTSA.... GM

Definitely a regression they'll need to account for in the future. "Let's see do we have the 20lb keyring test results?"

• My life in the auto industry (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday March 31, 2014 @10:50AM (#46621931)

I worked for a major automotive component supplier who designs and builds parts for most of the major automakers. I wanted to make a few of relevant observations from my experience.

First, all parts were extensively tested for function and safety. Designing a good test that is representative of years of field use is very difficult, but none of the automakers seemed lax in their testing requirements. Some were pretty quick to dump performance for a cost savings, but I don't know any who were, these days, willing to sacrifice on reliability. There weren't many arguments with customers about the cost of testing, and it was generally thought that some tests demanded by OEMs were needless, but we'd gladly take their money anyway.

Second, parts were regularly improved based on analysis of returned parts. The best source of these were fleet vehicles, which provided lots of high mileage parts back to the OEM--each and every one of these returns was examined, graded (often by some poor intern), then archived for future reference should a problem develop. I remember one incident where some tiny steel spring clip broke--this had never been seen before, so the entire engineering department was re-directed to determine the cause. Thousands of old parts were pulled out of storage and re-examined. I don't think we found another broken clip, but it was a big deal.

Lastly, parts were frequently revised for better performance, lower cost, or better reliability. Little bits and bobs, like switches, valves, fasteners, connectors, etc., were often used on numerous vehicles by a number of manufacturers. Each part had at least two sets of drawings and part numbers. One set was for our use, as the supplier, and had every detail labeled. Another drawing was prepared for the automaker, with only the details relevant to them called out explicitly. It was, in a sense, an engineering contract--we'd agreed to provide everything as described on that drawing as the same part number, but were free to change things not called out. Once I pulled up about thirty drawings produced for the same part, a tiny thing used in many of our products, to see whether we could change the part to an improved steel that was cheaper and tougher for this application. In all of the automaker drawings, the material spec was loose enough for us to change without asking for a change in the drawing. Our internal part number did change, but as far as they automakers were concerned, they were still using the same part.

Anyway, it's quite possible that someone might make a fix to the ignition switch without GM even knowing, and certainly without requiring a change in part number. In my experience, all of the majors are actually pretty good about testing everything and they all really do want to sell people reliable cars, as even the US big three have come to realize that each lemon they put out there can sour a family of customers on their cars for life. Management can be boneheaded about a lot of things, but I really don't think this is one of them. 100% safety isn't possible, no matter how much is spent--but they all get pretty close. Just look at how the fatality rate has plummeted over the last few decades, despite more traffic and more collisions.

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