At least 13 people have been killed because of defective ignition switches in General Motors cars that are the subject of a massive recall. The automaker initially recalled 780,000 compact cars in February and has expanded the recall twice since then.

The recall now stands at 2.6 million vehicles and includes all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Solstice from 2003 through 2011.

The episode has triggered investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and congressional committees. At issue is GM’s handling of the problem from the time it was discovered more than a decade ago and the company’s lengthy delay in notifying consumers.

The mechanical flaw in the ignition can lead to a car crash if the part is accidentally bumped, which puts the vehicle into “accessory” mode. That may mean automatic shutdown of the engine, power steering, brakes and airbags, even at highway speeds.

While GM has made an effort to recall all vehicles that contain the faulty switch, there is concern that some newer models could have been repaired with this inadequate ignition. That’s because GM reworked the ignition switch for vehicles produced after 2007 without changing the part number. So chances are that these problematic ignitions could be in vehicles that weren’t originally recalled.

GM has said it will eliminate any future confusion with the faulty ignition by creating a different part number. Therefore, the flawed switch won’t be accidentally used in repairs anymore.

Defective ignition switches, however, could still be on the shelves of parts stores. According to Reuters, it’s almost impossible to know for sure unless they are dismantled or the manufacturing history is checked.

GM said it was searching for all replacement ignition switches that have been sent to aftermarket distributors around the United States. Approximately 95,000 defective switch parts were sold to dealers and wholesalers. It is estimated that about 5,000 are still available to consumers.

Second Committee Hearing

In mid April, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra made several announcements concerning its investigation of the company’s faulty ignition switches. Barra revealed the car manufacturer’s decision to put two GM engineers on paid leave as it looks into the history of this defective part.

In addition, GM is in the process of creating a new global product integrity organization that will concentrate on quality and product safety.

Simultaneously, GM plans to finish an internal investigation of the ignition switch recall by the end of May.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently said the panel will hold a second hearing on the recall. Rep. Fred Upton said he expects GM to turn over a report of its internal investigation. He said the committee was determined to get to the bottom of what went wrong at GM.

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