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An Engineer's Eureka Moment With a GM Flaw 357

Posted by samzenpus
from the track-it-down dept.
theodp (442580) writes "Hired by the family of Brooke Melton in their wrongful-death lawsuit against GM, engineer Mark Hood was at a loss to explain why the engine in Melton's 2005 Chevy Cobalt had suddenly shut off, causing her fatal accident in 2010. Hood had photographed, X-rayed and disassembled the two-inch ignition switch, focusing on the tiny plastic and metal switch that controlled the ignition, but it wasn't until he bought a replacement for $30 from a local GM dealership that the mystery quickly unraveled. Eyeing the old and new parts, Hood quickly figured out a problem now linked to 13 deaths that GM had known about for a decade. Even though the new switch had the same identification number — 10392423 — Hood found big differences — a tiny metal plunger in the switch was longer in the replacement part, the switch's spring was more compressed, and most importantly, the force needed to turn the ignition on and off was greater. 'It's satisfying to me because I'm working on behalf of the Meltons,' Hood said. 'It won't bring their daughter back, but if it goes toward a better understanding of the problem, it might save someone else.' Next week, GM CEO Mary Barra will testify before Congress about events leading up to the wide-ranging recall of 2.6 million vehicles."
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An Engineer's Eureka Moment With a GM Flaw

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:23PM (#46618303)

    IN a lot of ways, I do not have a problem with a company making a financial decision... it is what companies do. It is up to society to make sure that the cost is so high that companies doing the math come up with the right conclusion.

    -- MyLongNickName

  • by AuMatar (183847) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:46PM (#46618391)

    The problem is that there's no way to do that with the current short term management techniques and high CxO salaries. If they get away with it for 1 year and make 10-20 million, which the lawsuits can't touch, they don't care. We need to change the corporate veil so it protects small investors but not those who run the company day to day.

  • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @11:48PM (#46618405)

    Cheaper isn't bad, cheaper is typically good in fact. Cheaper means more people can afford it, and often without sacrificing quality. During the 80's, 55" TVs were something only the super rich had. Now you buy them at wal-mart for $800, and they make the ones from the 80's look like complete crap, are much smaller and lighter, and make your electricity bill lower.

    The poor become wealthier this way as a matter of fact. Remember that money isn't wealth. That said, nice things being cheaper makes it easier to acquire wealth.

    That aside, I somehow doubt the revised ignition switches that correct the problem are more expensive (perhaps pennies worth of metal at best,) rather the original ones had a design oversight that the engineers didn't catch early on, otherwise they would have gone with the design they now have. I don't think it's morally reprehensible to make these kinds of mistakes; the engineers are humans, not machines. The problem would come from knowing that it leads to a disaster and then doing nothing about it. I don't think it occurred to the engineers that it would lead to a disaster (they don't anticipate anybody taking any action that could cause them to cut the engine while driving.)

    Really your argument is as silly as saying "Phone manufacturers should stick with the multitude of 3" screens that came before our current 4" ones. Oh and get off my lawn."

  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:03AM (#46618445)

    they're required by law to be heartless bastards---if the CEO says "oh, well, we'll be good to humanity, even if it costs our shareholders $X a year"... that CEO would be instantly replaced by someone who puts profits ahead of morals---as the law requires him to.

    People like to trot this out, but it's complete bullshit. The law requires no such thing.

    The shareholders, on the other hand, very well might.

  • by JeffAtl (1737988) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:05AM (#46618449)

    I don't think that your grasp of fiduciary duty is as strong as you think it is.

    CEOs and corporations are not "required by law to be heartless bastards". If that were true, corporations would be barred from working with charities.

    Corporations are also allowed to consider reputation as acting in the interests of the company.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:08AM (#46618463)

    The first few times you posted that, people informed you of your mistake. By now, you know that isn't true. Yet you still say it about once a week.

    Here's a riddle:
    What do you call someone who goes around saying things that they know are untrue?

  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:22AM (#46618495) Homepage

    Smells like a cover-up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @12:52AM (#46618581)

    The first few times you posted that, people informed you of your mistake. By now, you know that isn't true. Yet you still say it about once a week.

    Here's a riddle:
    What do you call someone who goes around saying things that they know are untrue?

    President Obama

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:17AM (#46618645)

    It is, incidentally, always good to keep this in mind when watching business owners whine about unfair it is that they have to provide birth control as part of their insurance plan or that they have to treat all races equally or etc. Virtually none of those complaining are willing to step up and say "it's my company!" when the company is bankrupt and they still have considerable personal assets. Virtually none of them are willing to step up and say "it's my company!" and face prison time when the company has caused injuries or deaths because of gross negligence.

    They want the benefits afforded by incorporating, but the idea that they owe *anything* in return is anathema to them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:40AM (#46618705)

    This should only apply to the business finances, i.e. protect the employees from being held liable if the company files for bancruptcy. I don't know if it does in the USA though. Generally, incorporation should protect from financial and business incompetence and bad luck to encourage people to take risks and create an active marketplace, driving the economy and innovation. It should never protect from actions breaking criminal or civil laws, because you don't want to build an incentive for that.

  • by khallow (566160) on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:09AM (#46618773)

    Part of the reason for a corporation is that you dissociate financial liability between the corporation itself and its employees.

    No, it's dissociate financial liability between the corporation and its shareholders. Employees don't have less liability than employees in non-corporation businesses.

  • by currently_awake (1248758) on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:30AM (#46618829)
    If a person commits a crime they go to jail. A corporation is a person, therefore it is subject to jail time. I think having the board of directors criminally liable for actual jail time (unless they could show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the crime) would solve a lot of these problems. If you want to make corporations people, stop cherry picking. Give them the whole legal liability to go with the rights.
  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:33AM (#46618837)

    Ok, yes, sue evil GM. But you're still dead. Everyone reading about this: You should know how to control your car if the engine dies at speed. It should be a fundamental skill like "driving in snow" or "parallel parking"

    1. If you have time, turn on your hazards
    2. Put the car in neutral
    3. Try the breaks, you likely have vacuum failure and they will be VERY hard. You may need to use both feet and literally stand on the peddle. But you need to at least know how they are going to react before you start your breaking procedure.
    4. You have lost power steering. If you are moving at a high rate of speed this wont be noticeable yet but will become a real problem as you slow down. So get your car lined up with the shoulder, of, if you can't simply stop in your lane. If you try to make radical changes in direction that will slow you down very quickly and as I said steering will become dramatically more difficult, so try not to do that because the direction you swerve might not be a direction you particularly want to go and it may then be very difficult to alter your course any further.
    5. You can use your horn continuously during this operation. In many states this is the only situation where continuous horn operation is permitted. i.e. you can lay into your horn until the car comes to a rest.

    I've found myself in this situation twice in my life. I drive old cars so... anyways, if you're used to it, it's not so bad. When my father taught me how to drive one of the ways he tested me was to turn off the engine on me. Then, surprisingly, they did the same thing during my drivers test. Later in my life when those two engine stalls happened to me I was well prepared. One happened on an off-ramp in a large Buick, and that was a bit scary. But I was still able to control the car.

    btw. if anyone is wondering why this is such a problem now, when not too long ago there was no power steering (and the power steering bit is most assuredly killed this woman) it's because of Rack and Pinion. It has no leverage/mechanical advantage. The ratio to the steering wheel is basically 1 to 1. They actually invented rack and pinion long before it was ever used and it had many advantages over recirculating ball steering, but they didn't think it was useful because of lack of leverage. It was later adopted after the invention of power steering... but now, of course, if you lose power steering, you have trouble turning the wheel. There's a full history of it on Wikipedia I believe.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:44AM (#46618863) Journal

    CEOs and corporations are not "required by law to be heartless bastards". If that were true, corporations would be barred from working with charities.

    Corporations can do whatever they want, including "fuck the shareholders" if it's written in their corporate charter.
    Google is a prime example of this, with their three tiered stock structure that concentrates power in the hands of its founders.
    And their IPO which stated that Google is not a conventional company so don't expect it to focus on quarterly earnings estimates.

    The notion that corporations are supposed to put profits above all else is and has been incredibly corrosive to our society.
    Not just because corporations are acting that way, but because people believe corporations should/have to act that way,
    which in turn provides corporations the room to behave like complete and utter sociopaths with regards to the common good.

    As a result, the accumulation of wealth by individuals and corporations allows them to spend megabucks on PR/lobbying to maintain/expand the situation we're all in.

    Our society wasn't always like this and it doesn't have to remain this way.

  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday March 31, 2014 @03:11AM (#46618933) Homepage

    Here's the story as I understand it:

    - There's an ignition switch. If you have a really heavy key-ring, it is possible that the weight of your keys can turn the switch "off".

    - Over the course of a decade 13 People have died in car accidents that might have had something to do with this.

    - GM apparently, at some point over all those years, altered the ignition switch to require more force to turn it.

    So somehow the car manufacturer is evil?

    This sounds a lot more like ambulance-chasing lawyers hoping to use publicity as a lever to pry out a big settlement...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @03:48AM (#46619031)

    Let's make one thing clear: An engineer who was specifically looking for a flaw in the actual part which had caused an accident could not find a flaw until he compared the part to one which had modifications to prevent that exact failure mode. If you're faulting GM for using a part like that, you're doing it wrong. The problem is that apparently GM eventually learned that the part was unsafe, knew what caused it to fail and didn't bother to fix it in the cars that they had already sold and delivered.

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Monday March 31, 2014 @02:21PM (#46623671)
    Some people will never understand. The company is not telling anyone what they can or can not do. The company is deciding only what they will and will not pay for. Your freedom to choose does not trump nor does it even need to compete with my freedom to choose.

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