Buyers complained about GM’s switches 17 years ago image

General Motors ignition switch debacle seems to go further down in history than anyone previously anticipated, with the first customer complaints dating back to 1997.

In February, the No.1 US automaker started its well-known and deadly ignition switch recall for 2.6 million cars – mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions – which triggered ongoing public panning, a series of federal probes and numerous lawsuits.

The company then started to change its internal approach to safety, which has led to the automaker posting – unwanted – recall records, with nearly 29 million cars recalled globally so far.

After the latest switch issue recall, which encompassed more than 8 million cars that started with model year 1997, Reuters took the time to review the US safety regulators consumer complaints database. The data showed that buyers started complaining about the switch malfunctions – including keys stuck in the ignition, keys that couldn’t be pulled from the ignition, engine start failure and even engine stall while driving – ever since the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu and the 2000 Chevrolet Impala were introduced.

One of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s earliest complaints received came from a New Jersey woman in April 1997, which had been “stranded seven times” by her new 1997 Malibu’s failure to start – the key remained in the ignition and refused to turn – she even had the defective part changed twice, but the problem persisted.

The automaker only recalled this week the 1997 Malibu and 2000 Impala for its switch problems, the models being included in the latest 8.23 million batch of cars called by GM for “unintended ignition key rotation.”

Via Reuters