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Many GM Cars Unlikely to Get Faults Fixed, Despite Major Recall

Hundreds of thousands of the 2.6 million GM cars recalled for faulty ignition switches will likely never be repaired, industry experts say.
Owners of recalled GM cars have been notified to contact their dealers to get the fault fixed. But many will not.
A man walks past a row of General Motors vehicles at a Chevrolet dealership on Woodward Avenue in Detroit this month. Owners of recalled GM cars have been notified to contact their dealers to get the fault fixed. But many will not.REBECCA COOK / Reuters
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After weeks of headlines and heartbreaking stories of those who died in accidents involving defective General Motors cars, it seems hard to believe an owner of one of the automaker's recalled models would not get the car fixed.

That is the fear.

Sadly, it is also the expectation.

Carfax, which tracks the history of repairs and recalls for millions of vehicles, estimates hundreds of thousands of GM cars that were recalled for faulty ignition switches will likely never be repaired.

"Many [owners] unfortunately won't ever have these recall notices taken care of," said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax.

That conclusion comes as GM dealers around the country begin repairs of faulty ignition switches, which affected 2.6 million vehicles. Dealers contacted by CNBC said they expect to receive new switches within the next day or two and start repairing recalled cars immediately.

Over the last two months, GM has worked with R.L Polk & Co. to locate and notify owners of the recalled models. Notices were sent in envelopes that clearly alerted owners that their vehicle had been recalled.

Still, many will ignore the message to take their car into a dealership, Gamache said.

"Despite hearing the news that their vehicle could be affected by a recall, or even receiving an actual recall notice, many consumers don't know what to do, do not have the time to get it taken care of, or may not feel like it is as important as it really is," he said.

One reason for inaction is the fact the recalled GM cars are older models—many were sold between 2003 and 2007—and are on their second or third owner.

Gamache said older models that have been recalled are often not repaired because the owner has less motivation to take the car in to get fixed.

As such, some dealers expect owners to trade in their car for a new one instead of getting it repaired.

In the words of one Chevy dealer outside Chicago, "A lot of these cars are on their last leg."

Last year, more than 3.5 million used vehicles sold online had open recalls, according to Carfax.

Even recent high-profile recalls, such as Toyota's sticky gas pedal issue that could lead to unintended acceleration, came and went with many owners not getting their vehicles fixed.

"Despite all the efforts of Toyota and others, the recall notices that they issued in late 2009, early 2010, there are still millions of those vehicles out on the roads today that still have open safety recalls," Gamache said.

For GM dealers, this week will begin a long process to fix scores of cars with faulty ignition switches.

The supply of new switches is limited for now, but will rapidly improve in the months to come.

Meanwhile, those who own the recalled models are being urged to drive their car with only the key in the ignition and nothing on the key ring.