SwitchGate: Feds Open Criminal Probe of GM’s Ignition Switch Recall

General Motors’ massive recall action involving more than 1.6 million vehicles has attracted the attention of federal prosecutors, who are examining whether the carmaker is criminally liable for failing to properly disclose problems with some of its vehicles that were linked to 13 deaths.

An unnamed source familiar with the investigation told Reuters that the New York-based probe is in its early stages, but did not provide details about the legal theory behind the potential criminal liability. According to the report, federal investigators are reviewing information about how GM handled reports of problems with ignition switches that first surfaced 10 years ago. GM didn’t comment on the issue.

U.S. attorney Preet Bharara’s federal probe adds to a growing list of authorities examining the recall, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a U.S. Senate committee and the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In some cases, the faulty ignition switches caused the engine and other components, including front airbags, to turn off while the vehicles were traveling at high speed. The failure is believed to be caused when weight on the ignition key, road conditions or some other jarring event causes the ignition switch to move out of the “run” position. This in turn, switches off the engine and most of the car’s electrical components mid-drive, with sometimes catastrophic results.

GM has recommended owners to only use the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring. The supplier of the ignition switch, Delphi Automotive, said that the part had not been provided to any other automaker.

By Dan Mihalascu

PHOTO GALLERY

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