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GM recalls 1.3 million cars for power steering defect already fixed once

Motoramic

File photo of General Motors logo outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in DetroitFile photo of General Motors logo outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit

A day before General Motors executives testify to Congress about the botched recall of 2.6 million cars that left at least 13 people dead, the automaker revealed yet another recall, this time for 1.3 million cars with faulty power steering units.

While the problem as described by GM has not been linked to any deaths, it has been the target of a previous recall — along with a three-year federal investigation into why GM recalled only some of the cars built with the defective part.

This step comes on the same day that GM chief executive Mary Barra told lawmakers that the automaker didn't know why it left bad ignition switches in its vehicles for more than a decade. And GM now says its rash of recent recalls will cost at least $750 million this quarter.

"I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out," Barra says in her prepared testimony for Tuesday's hearing with a U.S. House subcommittee. "When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators, and with our customers."

The new recall covers the following models:

• Chevrolet Malibu: All model year 2004 and 2005, and some model year 2006 and model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles
• Chevrolet Malibu Maxx: All model year 2004 and 2005, and some 2006 model year
• Chevrolet HHR (Non-Turbo): Some model year 2009 and 2010 vehicles
• Chevrolet Cobalt: Some model year 2010 vehicles
• Saturn Aura: Some model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles
• Saturn Ion: All model year 2004 to 2007 vehicles
• Pontiac G6: All model year 2005, and some model year 2006 and model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles.

All of those cars use an electrically boosted power steering system that can fail with little or no warning; the steering still works but requires far more effort. In March 2010, GM recalled 1 million Cobalts and Pontiac G5s to replace a motor — but did not call back Saturn Ions built with the same part.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later said it had 846 complaints of power-steering loss in 2004-07 Saturn Ions, and opened a defect probe in 2011; although it demonstrated the same problem in a test Ion, the probe was never resolved. GM now says it will replace the motor and perhaps several other parts under the recall, and reimburse customers who had the defects repaired on their own dime. For an additional 405,000 Chevy HHRs and Saturn Ions, GM will offer a lifetime warranty on the steering parts.

The new recall will surely come up at Tuesday's hearing, where the interim NHTSA chief will say the agency was misled by GM during the years before last month's ignition recall. In both 2007 and 2010, NHTSA examined reports of Chevy Cobalt air bags failing to deploy in crashes and noted that the keys were in the "accessory" position — but believed that the air bags would still work if the car had just been shut off.

The agency now says GM didn't reveal that the air bags would be shut off when the switches accidentally moved to accessory until the February recall.

"Had the information newly provided to NHTSA by GM been available before now, it would have better informed the agency’s prior reviews of airbag non-deployment in GM vehicles and likely would have changed NHTSA’s approach to this issue," said interim chief David Friedman.

The House hearing on Tuesday will be followed by a Senate committee probe on Wednesday.