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Chevy Recalled — In the event of an ignition switch failure?

I am the (once) proud owner of a 2008 Chevrolet Impala. I have owned the car for one year, putting only 12,000 miles on it (was 109,000 when I bought it.) The car has run quite well—I have not had any problems out of it (unlike the 1999-2005 generation Impalas). But, as many of you may have heard, GM had some massive recalls as of late. Many of the cars have had fatal ignition switch failures. Basically every single Impala in the last (my) generation has been recalled.

The quick fix? Take any other keys/paraphernalia off of the chain—basically, just insert the key into the ignition, unattached to anything. This is the fix for the time being, apparently—until they can get ignition switches for however many hundred thousand Impalas they have to fix.

I am about to make a 3 hour drive. Now, that wouldn’t be the longest drive that I have made in this car (and I cringe at the idea that, driving 17 hours with a bunch of crap hanging off of my chain, that my car easily could have been one of the unfortunate ones.)

Now that I know that I cannot be sure of the safety of my vehicle, I need to know what to do in the case of an emergency. I want to know what exactly the situation of an ignition switch failure entails…basically, what happens to my car and my ability to control the car. Lastly, I need to know what to do if this happens.

Thanks for your help!

The switch failure leads to a loss of power due to the engine shutting off and in a case like this one needs to carefully ease the car to the shoulder of the road and stop. Steering and brakes would be sluggish of course.

It might be noted that with those fatalities all or most of them were actually not due to the switch failing. The poster child teenage girl for this issue that was shown on TV was 16 years old, had a fight with her BF at a party while drunk, took off in a hissy-fit rage with no shoulder harness on, and plowed into a tree at high speed in a cul-de-sac. So what was the cause of death? Switch or a combination of stupid and alcohol?
If her shoulder harness had been fastened she could well have survived because the first S in SRS means Supplemental; not only.

It might also be noted that many other car makes have suffered switch failures over the years; Ford, Mitsubishi, and even Honda which has a recall on them for the same symptom if not cause.

What would I do in your case? Remove the keychain dead weight and drive without fretting over it.
Just my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

Thanks for the reply. So (not to be simplistic), but you’re saying an ignition switch failure is effectively almost like just running out of gas?

If it does shut off.
The power steering will be stiff, it will still steer however.
Power brakes will not be power, but a good strong push will get brakes.
But you should be able to…should be able to,
Shift in to neutral and restart the car.
DON’T PANIC… THAT is what causes crashes.

If you’re not in a roadway position to shift to neutral and restart…just coast , over to the berm or side area. As much of a straight line as possible , the steering will be stiff…it will still steer !

The main issue with the switches turning off unexpectedly is the surprise and panic .
When that occurs they end up not even trying to control the coasting car and run into something.
With the ingition off…the airbags are off too, and that is what has caused injuries and deaths.

On a straight stretch of road…practice
try a side street at slow speed…twist the switch to off…NOT TO THE LOCK POSITION ! just off.
See how the brakes and steering feel.
Put it in neutral and restart.

Get a quick release key clip like I have so all my keys stay in my pocket and only the ingnition key snaps off.
And I don’t have a Chevy…just can’t stand the big ol’ wad of house keys ( 2 houses, three trucks and work ) jangling around while I’m driving.

And yes, it’s like running out of gas.
no power assists, just coasting.

To clarify: you will (or at least should) have 1 or 2 power-assisted applications of the brakes as a result of the vacuum reservior. After that, you’re on leg power alone.

Agree that you should practice this somewhere safe ahead of time…what generally kills in emergemergency situations is panic and lack of preparation. “Prior practice prevents pee-poor performance!”

Most adults in tolerable physical condition have the physical strength needed to control a vehicle without power assist. (Of course, I have no way of knowing if you are infirm, elderly, or very petite…)

The failure is that there is insufficient resistance to turning the key cylinder from run to accessory, and the extra weight of stuff swinging on the key chain torques the cylinder out of the run position. If there’s no off-center weight dangling from the key, there is no force to turn the key. The take away is that if there is no extra weight on the key, the problem can’t happen.

This could happen to any car with a rotary ignition switch if there was enough weight hanging off-center from the key body. That’s just the way rotary switches work.

Thanks for all of the replies! I’m definitely not as worried about this as I once was now that I know its not necessarily life threatening AND since you guys are offering tips. Physical strength is not a problem for me in any way. How does physical strength factor into this?

The added force needed for steering could be significant, for somebody not expecting it, it could feel like ‘the steering locked up’ because a LOT more force is needed. That’s how physical strength could be an issue. Most folks have never driven a car with manual steering.

And while removing all extra keys/etc. should GREATLY decrease the chance of this happening, there are report(s) that it has happened with just the key. Don’t know how valid those reports are, though.

Physical strength.
On my 08 Expediton last year, it threw the serp belt and made spaghetti out of it.
To turn off of the roadway and into the Albertson’s parking lot required me to …
grasp…clentch the wheel with both hands…and arms…to wrestle the wheel enough to turn even a gradual arc into the lot.
I made it , stopped to investigate, and even made it home before replacing the belt. But it was a massive chore to wrestle the beast.
it is NOT equal to manual steering…it’s harder.

While a huge load of keys and trinkets swinging on the lock cylinder clearly isn’t a good idea, my understanding of the GM problem is that extra keys and trinkets are not the problem. GM has, as I understand it, determined that the cylinder was a bad design, prone to the publicized failure. The more serious problem is that they allowed cars to continue rolling out the door knowing they had this problem for some 14 years.

As regards the question of how to react, the first reaction should be to NOT PANIC. You will lose the power assist on your steering and on your brakes, but they will be usable with extra force.

IF perchance you have a manual transmission, downshift and use your engine’s compression to slow. Doing this will provide the vacuum necessary to enable you to keep your brake assist (power assisted brakes work on engine vacuum, not on an engine-driven pump).

Then find the nearest safe spot to pull over and call a towtruck.

If the thought of making the 3-hour drive knowing of this failure possibility scares you, you should probably rent a car for this trip. A good nights sleep and a feeling of security during the trip is as important to having a safe drive as a working engine is.

It seems to me that all car manufacturers know about some failures related to design. GM decided to change their response to them, and I believe that this change was due to the criminal trial started against Toyota for ignoring design flaws in their cars. The charges against Toyota were settled out of court with a huge fine, and I think GM wanted to avoid the bad publicity associated with criminal prosecution and having to pay an astonishing amount of money anyway. Throw in that GM was bankrupt and trying just about anything to stay afloat, and you get the poor choices they made with respect to the small car ignition switch issue. I’m not excusing it, just explaining how it may well have happened. We have 2 Cobalts and one of these days real soon now the switches will be available to us. But our cars were assembled after the design change to the ignition switch. That GM will replace those switches, even though they were nevertheless replaced, is something I don’t think any other manufacturer has done.

Toyota’s fine was for failures in how they reported data, not for design. GM’s design failure/cover up is MUCH worse, we’ll see if they pay a proportionate fine.

I think Toyota was busted for getting in the way of the NHTSA investigation. And there was a design flaw, otherwise there wold not have been an investigation to stonewall. GM reported the issue rather than face the same or worse fate. Criminal negligence is no small matter. Toyota bought their way out of the investigation by agreeing to pay the largest fine of this nature ever.

GM covered up the issue for years, causing a number of deaths. Feds found no design flaw in Toyotas, other that floor mat problems.

There was also a wear problem on the back of some of the accelerator pedals. Most, if not all, of the US assembled Toyotals had this accelerator pedal. It only showed up on those that had been driven a great many miles in a short time period.