GM's Safe, New Switches Have Same Part Number As Old, Dangerous Ones

Oh, General Motors. Your decisions a decade ago just keep biting you in the ass today, don't they? As The General recalls 1.4 million U.S. cars for a faulty ignition switch tied to 12 deaths, complications may arise because the correct part has the same number as the defective one.

As you may recall, GM didn't issue a recall for the Cobalt, G5, Ion and other cars in the mid-2000s when they knew of the airbag-deactivating ignition switch problem. Instead, they issued a "technical service bulletin" that advised mechanics to install an insert for the key ring that prevents the key from moving up and down if customers complained about the issue.

Problem was, the part for the fix had the same number as the faulty part, so fewer than 500 customers got the repair done.

Now Reuters this afternoon reports repair shops may still inadvertently purchase GM ignition switches manufactured by Delphi Automotive with the same part number as the defective ones at the center of the recall.

In other words, it's possible the recalled Cobalts could get "fixed" with the same faulty part they had in the first place because there's no way of telling which is which without taking them apart or checking their manufacturing history. Ouch.

A search online by Reuters showed that the ignition switches are available from distributors, listed for around $30 each. And mechanics say it is difficult to tell whether these parts are the defective ones or not.

But neither GM nor Delphi changed their numbers for the part, GM 10392423 and Delphi D14611, an omission which industry insiders say flies in the face of standard practice.

"When you make a change, you change the part number so everybody understands what happened," said a former GM executive with experience in service matters who asked not to be identified discussing the recall.

While there are no reports of the defective part being installed in a recalled Cobalt yet — and let's hope it stays that way — it is certainly possible, and not many cars have actually been fixed yet.

One engineer interviewed by Reuters said sifting the faulty part from the correct one would be "near impossible," as "there is nothing to distinguish them."

GM's response? They're working on it. I certainly hope so.