GM recalls 780,000 older model compact cars

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Heavy key rings have been implicated in a General Motors recall of almost 780,000 older-model compact cars in North America because a faulty ignition switch can shut off the engines without warning and cause crashes, according to media reports today.

A heavy key ring or jarring from rough roads can move the ignition switch out of the run position, cutting off the engine and electrical power, GM said in statements and documents released Thursday by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If that happens, the air bags also may not work in a crash.

The company says six people have died in 22 crashes linked to the problem in Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2005 through 2007 model years, and Pontiac G5s from 2007, The Associated Press reported.

GM said each of those crashes occurred under unusual circumstances in which the cars were being driven across dirt and rough terrain, The Los Angeles Times reported today. Neither model was designed to be an off-road vehicle.

“All of these crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds, where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high regardless of airbag deployment. In addition, failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use were factors in some of these cases,” GM said in a statement.

Alcohol was involved in two of the five crashes, resulting in three of the deaths, Alan Adler, a GM spokesman told the New York Times in a telephone interview.

GM says the six people were killed in five front-end crashes, all of which happened off-road and at high speeds. In each case, the ignition switch moved out of the run position, shutting off the engine and electrical power, Adler said. That condition would cause the loss of equipment such as power steering assist and power-assisted brakes, he added.

Dealers will replace the ignition switch for free, but the timing of the recall hasn’t been finalized, the AP reported. Until the problem is fixed, GM is urging owners to remove nonessential items from key rings.

More than 619,000 of the cars in the recall were sold in the U.S., with another 153,000 in Canada and more than 6,000 in Mexico, according to the company. All but 33,000 of the cars to be recalled are Cobalts. The Pontiac G5 is nearly identical to the Cobalt.

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