The agency will be attempting to determine “whether GM properly followed the legal process and requirements for reporting recalls.”
Automakers are required to notify the NHTSA within five days of discovering an automobile safety defect. A lawsuit aimed at the company suggests that it was aware of the defective ignition switches as early as 2004, but handled it with a technical service bulletin rather than a formal recall with safety implications.
The ignition switches in affected vehicles occasionally shift to the ‘accessory’ or ‘off’ position while driving, particularly when a heavy keyring is attached to the key. In such instances, the engine turns off and the airbags, power steering, anti-lock brakes and brake assist are disabled.
In its recall notice, GM acknowledges at least 31 accidents and 13 fatalities associated with the problem. The lawsuit was filed by the estate of one driver who visited a GM dealer over the problem in 2010, received no fix or temporary remedy, and then died in a car accident the very next day after her car lost power at 60 mph.
GM faces potential fines of up to $35 million if the NHTSA determines that the company violated federal regulations.