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GM: 50% of cars with bad ignition switches still not fixed


General Motors is redoubling its efforts to contact people who own cars with defective ignition switches and urge them to get the problem fixed.

The recall has given GM a black eye, after the automaker revealed in February that it knew about the defective switches for more than ten years.

A special GM compensation program has approved 29 claims, so far, for people killed or injured in accidents when the airbags did not deploy, presumably because the ignition switch moved into the "accessory" mode and shut down safety systems.

The ignition switch recall affects Cobalts, HHRs, Saturn Ions, and a few other small car models that GM no longer makes. 

Only about 50% of people with the cars have taken them to a dealer for a replacement of the ignition switches.  GM wants to get as close to 100% as possible.

Many of the older cars are on their second, third or fourth owner, so tracking people down to notify them about the recall has been difficult. 

James Bell is GM's head of consumer affairs.  He says initially, there was a shortage of replacement parts slowing down the repairs.  That's no longer the case. 

Bell thinks most owners know about the recall by now, they just haven't made an appointment at a local dealer yet.

So, Bell says GM is redoubling its efforts, using social media, bilingual communication centers, in addition to follow-up letters, "short of knocking on people's doors directly, obviously we can't do that -- but just about everything else."

Bell says so many automakers have recalled so many cars this year (in addition to GM's recall of more than 26 million in the U.S. for various problems, including other ignition switch problems) that there could be some "recall fatigue," to break through.

"These things are worth your time," says Bell.  "Your safety is paramount to General Motors.  That's why we're going through this process, and so we're looking for that partnership with the owner of the vehicle."

For many owners, this may be the first time they've used a franchised GM dealer to fix a car.  Bell says dealers have been asked not to "hard sell" other services to the ignition switch recall customers.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.