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Pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, 29, died in this 2005 Chevy Cobalt on March 10, 2010, when the ignition allegedly shut off as she drove down a highway on a rainy night in Georgia. Engineers at General Motors found a way to stop ignition switches from shutting off nine years ago, but made a “business decision” not to order the partial fix to a problem that has now been linked to a dozen deaths, NBC News has learned.
Certain GM cars are vulnerable to shutting off when their keys are bumped by drivers or stressed by heavy keychains, a problem the automaker cited in recalling 1.6 million vehicles last month.
In 2005, company engineers proposed that GM keys be altered to make the opening for the key ring smaller and reduce jostling of the key.
Brooke Melton died in a 2010 crash on her 29th birthday, when her 2005 Chevy Cobalt's ignition switched off and she lost control of the car.
NBC News has examined depositions and internal GM documents from the Meltons’ suit, which the Meltons settled with GM for an undisclosed sum. During testimony, GM engineer David Trush, who helped implement the insert fix, called the insert a “good solution” for a “very small population” affected by the problem.
Altman said that the company had not mandated the change for all vehicles because it was only a partial solution.
GM engineers proposed a partial fix for the ignition problem in 2005 a plastic part that could be inserted into the slot of the ignition key to lessen jangling and reduce the force that could cause the key to turn the ignition to the “off” position.


An engineer hired by the plaintiffs as an expert witness claimed in his testimony that internal GM documents showed that GM had estimated the cost per car of making the change would be less than $1.
Testimony during the case also revealed that GM made incremental changes to a part inside the ignition switch starting in 2005. GM has now disclosed to federal regulators that it knew of problems with its ignition switches as early as 2001, during preproduction for the Saturn Ion. In February, GM announced the recall of 1.6 million vehicles worldwide from the model years 2003 to 2007 because of an allegedly defective ignition switch. Although the Meltons have settled with GM, their suit against the dealership that sold their daughter the Cobalt remains active. She then lost control of the vehicle and was hit on the passenger side by an oncoming vehicle.
Two GM executives confirmed during a lawsuit filed by the parents of a Georgia woman killed in the crash of her Chevrolet Cobalt that the company had found a partial fix for the problem in 2005 -– a measure that a witness for the plaintiffs estimated would have cost as little as $1 per car.
Instead of changing the keys, however, GM designed an insert that could be added to the keys. Altman also agreed, however, that if GM had felt that changing the key was a 100 percent fix, it would have spent the money to do it.


The company made the part available and issued a technical service bulletin to dealers telling them the part could alleviate the problem, but dealerships were advised to install it only if an owner complained.
Outside his home in suburban Detroit, Altman said, “I can’t answer that question” when asked why GM had not issued a vehicle recall till 2014.
The automaker had earlier told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it had learned in 2004 that if a driver jostled the ignition switch in a 2005 Cobalt it might shut down the engine.
The models recalled include the Cobalt, the Pontiac G5, Saturn Ions, and Chevrolet HHRs, as well as the Solstice and Sky sports cars. It then sent a bulletin to dealership service managers that said the insert could be provided to car owners who came in and complained about ignition shut-offs. Under the program, according to GM warranty records, fewer than 500 drivers received the inserts.



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