GM recalling 1.4M cars in fourth recall for fire risks

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — General Motors Co. said Tuesday it is recalling 1.41 million cars worldwide for fire risks linked to drops of oil on the exhaust manifold — the fourth time since 2008 the automaker has recalled vehicles for the issue.

The Detroit automaker said it is recalling the 1997-2004 Pontiac Grand Prix, 2000-2004 Chevrolet Impala, 1998-1999 Chevrolet Lumina and 1998-2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 1998-1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue and 1997-2004 Buick Regal "because drops of oil may be deposited on the hot exhaust manifold through hard braking, which can cause engine compartment fires. GM is working on a remedy. The company is aware of post-repair fires in some vehicles but no crashes or fatalities. There have been 19 reported minor injuries over the last six years."

The recall covers cars with 3.8-liter V6 3800 engines.

GM spokesman Alan Adler said the Detroit automaker has had reports of 1,345 fires in vehicles repaired in earlier recalls.

GM said the prior recalls didn't work because "aging and wear to the valve cover and valve cover gasket can allow oil seepage."

Adler said he expected that owners would again be told not to park in garages until they were fixed, but he said he hasn't seen the dealer bulletin.

The recall could be expensive, but GM hasn't disclosed any costs.

In April, GM recalled 1,200 2004 Buick Regal, Chevrolet Impala, and Chevrolet Monte Carlo cars equipped with a 3.8L V6 because engine oil may be deposited on the exhaust manifold through hard braking. GM said then that aging and wear to the valve cover gasket can allow oil to seep past the valve and onto the exhaust manifold during hard braking. If the exhaust manifold’s hot surface serves as an ignition source, a flame can develop from the seeped oil, igniting the plastic spark plug wire retainer.

GM previously recalled vehicles in 2008 and 2009 to address potential engine compartment fires in vehicles built using certain valve cover gaskets.

"During the course of investigating those recalls, it was determined that production began using a sturdier gasket material in association with the model year change from 2003 to 2004," GM said in April.

GM launched an investigation in August 2014 to determine the cause of underhood fire complaints in 2004 cars.

"It was determined that a number of early model-year 2004 Buick Regals, Chevrolet Impalas, and Chevrolet Monte Carlos were built with the earlier generation gaskets," GM said.

Now, all of those vehicles are getting recalled again.

The first recall in March 2008 of 207,000 vehicles was prompted by a lengthy investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation. NHTSA said it reviewed reports of 138 fires — and said they typically were discovered five to 15 minutes after a vehicle was parked — and GM urged owners not to park their vehicles inside their garages until the recall repairs had been made.

In 2009, GM recalled 1.5 million 1997-2003 Buick Regal, 1998-2003 Chevrolet Lumina, Monte Carlo and Impala, 1998-1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue, 1997-2003 Pontiac Grand Prix vehicles equipped with a 3.8L V6 for the same engine oil drops issue. GM said then dealers would remove the spark plug wire retention channel at the front of engine and install two new spark plug wire retainers.