GM avoids 2 million vehicle recall

Lack of proper underbody washing a prime contributor to brake line corrosion problem

Published: April 10, 2015, 2:05 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 10:30 AM

2003 Chevrolet Suburban

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S. has wrapped up its investigation into brake line corrosion in General Motors’ large trucks and found no fault on the part of the manufacturer.

The issue concerned Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC pickups and large SUVs built between 1999 and 2003, about which NHTSA had received over 3,000 complaints (including 94 crashes and 26 injuries, none of them serious) about brake lines rusting out. The problem resulted in diminished braking ability and the potential for crashing the vehicle.

However, NHTSA found that about 90% of the problems were in snowbelt areas and attributed the problem to excessive use of corrosive compounds for winter road maintenance as well as the lack of proper care from the vehicles’ owners, citing irregular underbody washing as a prime contributor to the problem. The agency reportedly investigated comparable complaints concerning other manufacturers and found a similar pattern between corrosion and region, leading to the decision that the regions are the constant, rather than the manufacturer.

As such, responsibility for the problem was shifted to owners, and General Motors is not required to issue a safety recall that would have affected some two million vehicles.

The problem did not carry over to later model years because GM has moved away from steel brake lines to nylon, as have many manufacturers, primarily to offset the possibility of damage resulting from corrosive winter road maintenance compounds employed in northern North America. GM is offering a $500 repair kit for owners (at owners’ cost) to remedy the problem on Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and GMC Suburban and Yukon models.

General Motors had argued that the vehicles were out of warranty and that the corrosion constituted normal wear and tear, stating that owner’s manuals cited the need for proper maintenance and upkeep.

“General Motors supports the consumer advisory from NHTSA urging regular maintenance and care of brake lines on older vehicles,” said a company statement.