In the past few months, I’ve told you about a lot of auto recalls and reminded you that manufacturers say drivers will get notices in the mail and that those drivers should in turn follow instructions on the recall notice in terms of getting repairs or remedies. And all that is sound advice. But one Savannah woman says the notice came too late and she doesn’t give the automaker high marks for what’s transpired since then.
Sheila Burroughs says it all started October 21 when she and her daughter were traveling in her 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix. She noticed the car heating up and dangerously so to the point where she and her daughter decided to stop at a strip mall. “By the time I got close to there, the heating gauge had climbed to 260 degrees,” she says. Then she says a man immediately came up to the car and asked if they were all right. “And he said he was asking because when we pulled up, he saw fire under the car. We jumped out because we had just put gas in that car and as soon as we touched the concrete the car erupted in fire and it was a very scary moment,” she says.
About six weeks after the fire, in mid December, she received a recall notice from General Motors saying a defect might cause the car to start on fire. There was a warning on the recall notice that people might not want to park their vehicle inside their garage in case of a car fire. The notice also said there was no remedy for the problem, i.e. that GM had no parts but that when parts were available that drivers would be contacted.
Burroughs was shocked because the notice came weeks after her own car had burned and that GM was sending out the recall notices with no way to help car owners. “They have an obligation and a responsibility as a manufacturer to make sure they’re not selling a faulty product to the customer,” she said. “And certainly in this case it put us at risk and our lives in jeopardy.”
After receiving the notice she immediately contacted GM. “I called and made a report and they issued me a number. They also assigned a case person to work this matter and help me come to a resolve,” she told us.
By now it was getting close to the holidays. She says about the end of December she was told she needed to send pictures. “I felt like they should have had an adjuster or somebody who could come and take a look at it but GM let that burden rest on my shoulders,” she said.
She took pictures and emailed them. The first week in January she was asked for additional pictures including under the hood to show the engine. But Burroughs says that was hard to do. She says a man at the facility where the car was being stored tried helping her pry open the hood and she was able to take some side angle pictures which she then sent to GM.
On January 18, she received an email indicating those pictures were not adequate and she would “need to open the hood.” The email also told her GM would not pay for storage costs which are now mounting to over $1,000 which Sheila worries she cannot pay. But she’s also concerned that if the car is destroyed that any chance of a remedy will not be possible. “They know the car had a defect, we narrowly escaped with our lives and I thought it was absolutely ludicrous to put me through this,” she said.
For the third time, she returned to the storage facility. “We did finally after the third trip separate the hood from the frame and the man finally pried the hood open so I could take pictures of the engine (from the front), but there wasn’t much left,” she said.
Burroughs also complained to the Georgia Attorney General and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) But nothing as of yet has come from those complaints.
We reached out to General Motors and emailed a public relations representative with Burroughs’ complaints. He responded that he had passed on information about Burroughs’ case to try and get information. We have not heard back as yet. In terms of a timeline with General Motors, Burroughs has been waiting about two months (which may not be long realistically in terms of dealing with a large automaker on a complex issue such as a recall. And it’s likely an automaker would say it has to verify that the defect which prompted the recall is indeed the cause of a problem.)
Still Burroughs points out the recall notice warned of a car fire which is exactly what happened to her. She thinks the wait has been long enough considering the circumstances. “I just don’t think it’s fair. They could at the very least give me the book value of the vehicle or after all of this, give me another car,” she says.
Burroughs worries about what the next step may be and says every day the storage costs mount. “I think the people I’ve dealt with at GM have been uncaring at this point. And I know that this isn’t what GM would want for their reputation or their brand,” she said. “And I believe if the right people knew this is how I’ve been treated thus far, something different would happen.”
After our story aired at 5:30, Burroughs contacted me saying she had received an email at 5:01 p.m from a GM representative who said they had attempted to go to the salvage yard to take pictures of her vehicle but were not allowed in by the owners there. The email indicated Burroughs would need to sign paperwork giving GM permission to enter the lot and take photos.
Burroughs indicated surprise at the email reminding me that she had already sent three sets of pictures. It’s unclear if our contact with GM public relations prompted this new email to Burroughs.