Police Chevrolet Impala Steering can lockup while driving at any speed

This is part 2, if you have not read Part 1; GM Vehicles Steering locks while driving, please click here.

5 makes and more than 27 General Motors models from 1997-2000+ may be affected, GM denies knowledge of safety problem with apparent defective rack and pinion.

By Guy Cramer

After posting Part 1 BCTV Global ran a feature story on this problem. When the reporter asked me if the problem also occurred on 1998 models, I checked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) steering complaints for 1998 GM vehicles with power rack and pinion that appeared to match the same problem and discovered a further 74 complaints.

Make: BUICK

Model: CENTURY

3

Make: BUICK

Model: LESABRE

2

Make: BUICK

Model: PARK AVENUE

1

Make: BUICK

Model: REGAL

3

Make: BUICK

Model: RIVIERA

1

Make: CADILLAC

Model: CATERA

2

Make: CADILLAC

Model: DEVILLE

3

Make: CADILLAC

Model: ELDORADO

1

Make: CADILLAC

Model: SEVILLE

3

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: BERETTA

1

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: CAMARO

2

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: CAVALIER

6

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: MALIBU

10

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: MONTE CARLO

1

Make: CHEVROLET TRUCK

Model: VENTURE

3

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: 88

1

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: CUTLASS

2

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: INTRIGUE

17

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: OLDSMOBILE

1

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND AM

1

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND PRIX

8

Make: PONTIAC TRUCK

Model: TRANS SPORT

2

Total=74

When comparing the 1997 to the 1998 complaints three new models; Chevrolet Beretta, Cherolet Camaro and Oldsmobile Intrigue showed up in 1998 bringing the total of 26 different GM models affected.

I found a further 56 complaints in 1999 GM models and 44 complaints from 2000.

The reporter then contacted Transport Canada to find out about GM Rack and Pinion complaints and they informed him they were also investigating 16 similar complaints from GM vehicles 1996-Present with power Rack and Pinion. Considering the U.S. has 10 times the population of Canada and it is much more difficult to find the complaint instructions on the Transport Canada website this number is consistent with U.S. complaints. However, Transport Canada stated the problem only seemed to occur at slow speed while making turns. I went through all 250 U.S. complaints I had collected at the time and tabulated all those that indicated the speed involved. 35 MPH, 75MPH, 30MPH, 50 MPH, 10-15 MPH, 55 MPH, 55 TO 60 MPH, 10 MPH, 5 MPH, 60 MPH, 20 TO 25 MPH, 35MPH +, 20- 30 MPH, 5 MPH, 15 MPH, 40MPH, 35 MPH, 20 MPH, 60MPH, 25 MPH, 10-15 MPH, 40 MPH, 15 MPH, 25MPH, 40-45 MPH, 20 MPH, 10 TO 15 MPH

It was obvious that the greater data from the U.S. indicated the steering locking could occur at any speed. Why does Transport Canada not include the NHTSA complaints and the NHTSA not include Transport Canada complaints, the vehicles and parts within Canada and the U.S. tend to all be produced in the same plants? By not including Canadian complaints up to 10% of the problems occurring are not being reviewed by the NHTSA.

Police Impala

Knowing the problem may be even more wide spread than expected I looked at reports for the Chevrolet Impala which is a newer model and widely used by the police. As the numbers of complaints decreased with more recent years I thought the Impala may show this problem earlier as the police place many more miles on these vehicles in a shorter period of time than the general public. Sure enough 13 complaints for the 2000 Impala which accounts for 29.55% or 1 out of 3.3 complaints for the entire year 2000 complaints against all GM makes and models even though complaints were made on 17 different GM makes for that year.

As you can see below the Impala has an much higher number of complaints. This is probably due to the excessive mileage and more wear on the parts by the Impalas used by the police.

Year 2000 GM vehicles with steering complaints possibly related to the rack and pinion

Make Model Number of complaints

Percentage  of total (44) complaints

Make: BUICK

Model: BUICK

1

2.27%

Make: BUICK

Model: LESABRE

5

11.36%

Make: BUICK

Model: PARK AVENUE

1

2.27%

Make: CADILLAC

Model: DEVILLE

2

4.55%

Make: CADILLAC

Model: ELDORADO

2

4.55%

Make: CADILLAC

Model: SEVILLE

1

2.27%

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: IMPALA

13

29.55%

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: MONTE CARLO

1

2.27%

Make: CHEVROLET TRUCK

Model: VENTURE

1

2.27%

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: ALERO

1

2.27%

Make: OLDSMOBILE TRUCK

Model: SILHOUETTE

2

4.55%

Make: PONTIAC

Model: BONNEVILLE

5

11.36%

Make: PONTIAC

Model: FIREBIRD

2

4.55%

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND AM

3

6.82%

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND PRIX

1

2.27%

Make: PONTIAC

Model: SUNFIRE

1

2.27%

Make: PONTIAC TRUCK

Model: MONTANA

2

4.55%

Total 44

One Impala complaint involved loss of control of the Impala in a police pursuit where the Impala police car went into a ditch at 40 MPH and the car rolled front to back three times ejecting the passenger who was belted in the vehicle, The passenger sustained serious but non life threatening injuries and the driver sustained cuts and superficial bruises. The Impala has had 3 Accidents, 4 injuries and 1 fire related to steering problems.

Currently the Police Market in the U.S. is about 75,000 - 80,000 Vehicles. GM sold about 10,000 Impalas to police agencies in the year 2000 within the U.S.

Subjective estimates could mean that more than 1 out of 1000 Impala police cars will at some point have the steering lock up at any speed and without warning. Considering that possibly only 10% of the steering problems are ever reported to the NHTSA, this figure could closer to 1 out of 100, by the time the vehicles have 60,000 - 70,000 miles on them the figure might even be 1-50. However this is speculation based on extrapolation of some of the data and should not be used as fact.

I have discussed this with a few police agencies in Canada and with the pictures provided below that pinpoint the problem area, mechanics can begin to check the Impalas rack and pinion within the police fleet to obtain an failure rate that will give us an objective calculation. This failure rate can then be extrapolated to all other GM vehicles for a more definite figure on expected failure rates.       

Below are some photos of the Rack and Pinion showing the missing dust cap. We found our grease covered dust cap on our driveway. Within the grease were bits of metal from the rack and pinion. The failure of this ring may have allowed the bearings to disintegrate or fall out of the pinion allowing for movement of the pinion so it was binding against the rack. Note the scaring on the inside of the dust cap.

 

 

 

 

I straightened, as best I could with my fingers, the three bent metal pieces back to their original shape and it appears to be a flat circular ring or washer from the rack and pinion assembly. The failure of this part may be the reason behind the entire problem with the rack and pinion and should be the focus of GM, NHTSA investigation and Transport Canada investigation.

Ironically GM recalled 1/2 million 2000/01 Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Jimmy, and Olsmobile Bravada sport utility vehicles as the brake lights could fail due to an open circuit in the steering column causing two accidents and no injuries!

Obviously fixing a circuit is cheaper than a rack and Pinion which is probably why no recall has been issued from GM. It is also obvious that this Rack and Pinion problem is still occurring in newer models, means that a solution has not been found, possibly because this washer or ring has not been discovered as the problem as of yet.  

Of the 268 complaints for 1997, 1998 and 15 Impalas of 2000-2001 years, 16 resulted in accidents, 15 Injuries, and 1 fire,  10 cases resulted in the Airbag not deploying or the Air Bag coil breaking causing the Air Bag light to come on when the steering problem occurred. This airbag failure also occurred while BCTV was filming the problem inside the 1997 Chevrolet Venture as the airbag light came on and did not go off.

If you know a police officer, I would urge you to send a link of this paper to them, so they might have their mechanics check any Impalas and allow the officer to warn other officers of this potential problem.

Year 1999 GM Steering locking potential Defective Rack and Pinion

Make: BUICK

Model: CENTURY

1

Make: BUICK

Model: PARK AVENUE

2

Make: BUICK

Model: REGAL

1

Make: CADILLAC

Model: DEVILLE

1

Make: CADILLAC

Model: ELDORADO

1

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: CAVALIER

9

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: MALIBU

6

Make: CHEVROLET

Model: MONTE CARLO

1

Make: CHEVROLET TRUCK

Model: VENTURE

1

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: 88

1

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: ALERO

6

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: CUTLASS

1

Make: OLDSMOBILE

Model: INTRIGUE

4

Make: PONTIAC

Model: FIREBIRD

1

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND AM

13

Make: PONTIAC

Model: GRAND PRIX

5

Make: PONTIAC

Model: SUNFIRE

1

Make: SAAB

Model: 9-3

1

Total 56

An interesting note is the one SAAB 9-3 complaint. Although only one complaint was made to the NHTSA about the SAAB steering locking up while driving: 

Summary: WHILE DRIVING 60 MPH STEERING WENT COMPLETELY OUT, AND CUSTOMER LOST CONTROL. BUT, WAS ABLE TO GET IT OFF ROAD. CONTACT DEALER, AND WAS TOLD THIS WAS A COMMON PROBLEM.

The dealer was aware that this was a common problem! How many people don't lodge a formal complaint to the NHTSA?

So far 353 complaints have been made to the NHTSA about steering locking up on GM models possibly associated with the GM rack and pinion from model years, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

What you need to do if you have a safety issue with your vehicle:

Make a complaint using the NHTSA complaint form in the U.S.

Canadians should go here to obtain information on making a vehicle safety related complaint Transport Canada

Without these complaints these regulating bodies may not have enough information to open an inquiry or investigation into potential safety problems. The more complaints the easier it is for these groups to determine if there is a high enough failure rate to indicate abnormally high rates of mechanical failure that may be due to a defect to consider imposing a recall for the problem. In some circumstances the auto manufacturer may issue a recall without being imposed to do so by these federal government associations.    

Police Fleet Impala checks:

If any mechanical checks are preformed on Impalas within Police Fleets, please Email me the results such as total number of Impalas checked, versus total number with defective rack and pinion or excessive wear of rack and pinion, rack and pinions missing the dust cap... This way we can tabulate different agencies for a more precise figure. I can be reached at gcramer@direct.ca 

I have collected and posted all 15 complaints from 2000-2001 Impala model to the NHTSA about vehicle steering related problems here  

The 179 complaints from 1997 models to the NHTSA about GM Vehicle steering related to Rack and Pinion problems can be found here  

The 74 complaints from 1998 models to the NHTSA about GM Vehicle steering related to Rack and Pinion problems can be found here  

The 56 complaints from 1999 models to the NHTSA about GM Vehicle steering related to Rack and Pinion problems can be found here  

The 44 complaints from 2000 models to the NHTSA about GM Vehicle steering related to Rack and Pinion problems can be found here  

For more papers on this and other related subjects;
Go back to the Main Page ( XWALK.CA )

The Truth is Stranger than Fiction

This material is Copyright 2002, by Guy Cramer, All Rights Reserved.
This material cannot be reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of the Author. Whole Copies may be printed for personal use; no changes are to be made to the content, names or references.

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