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NHTSA 13-15
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Contact: Gordon Trowbridge, 202-366-9550, Public.Affairs@dot.gov


Agency issues safety advisory on preventing undercarriage corrosion


WASHINGTON – The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today issued a Safety Advisory and consumer video encouraging owners of model year 2007 and older trucks, SUVs and passenger cars to inspect brake lines and thoroughly wash the underside of their vehicles to remove corrosive salt after the long winter in order to prevent brake-line failures that increase the risk of a crash.

The advisory was issued in conjunction with the agency’s closing of an investigation into brake-line failures in General Motors trucks and SUVs built in model years 1999 to 2003. The agency spent more than four years investigating corrosion-related brake failures in the vehicles and similar trucks and SUVs made by other manufacturers, but has not identified a defect that would initiate a recall order.

NHTSA also issued a closing report that details the investigation’s analysis of state safety inspection data and a survey of about 2,000 vehicle owners. The data indicate that the brake line corrosion seen in the GM vehicles was not unique – similar vehicles using comparable brake-lines experienced similar corrosion issues, especially in states using salt to de-ice roads in winter. NHTSA issued a broad safety advisory urging owners of older SUVs and pickups to take steps to prevent brake failure resulting from corrosion.

“While NHTSA can’t order a recall in this case, there is a safety issue that vehicle owners should address,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. “Older-model vehicles, often driven in harsh conditions, are subject to corrosion over long periods of time, and we need owners to be vigilant about ensuring they, their passengers, and others on the roads are safe.”

NHTSA’s safety advisory urges owners of trucks, SUVs and passenger cars that are more than seven years old to:

  • Maintain their vehicle and prevent corrosion by washing the undercarriage regularly throughout the winter and giving it a thorough washing in the spring to remove road salt and other de-icing chemicals that can lead to corrosion.
  • Monitor the brake system for signs of corrosion by having regular professional inspections and watching for signs of problems, including loss of brake fluid, unusual leaks and a soft or spongy feel in the brake pedal.
  • Address severe corrosion, marked by flaking or scaling of the metal brake pipes, by having the full assembly replaced.

“If you own an older vehicle and live in a cold-weather state where salt and de-icing chemicals are common in winter, we strongly urge you to take these steps,” Rosekind said.

NHTSA’s investigation stemmed from a vehicle owner’s petition in 2010, and covered about 6 million model year 1999-2003 GM Sierra, Silverado, Avalanche, Escalade, Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon vehicles.

NHTSA examined consumer complaints for brake line failures for all types of light vehicles and analyzed safety inspection data collected in Pennsylvania from 2008 through mid-2014. The agency’s Vehicle Research and Test Center in Ohio conducted a survey that gathered data from approximately 2,000 owners of GM and peer vehicles from the period. Investigators also examined 71 randomly selected vehicles in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland and Ohio.

While NHTSA received substantially more vehicle owner complaints about all types of GM vehicles than similar vehicles from other manufacturers, the higher rate of complaints appeared to be at least in part related to public attention given to the investigation. The Pennsylvania inspection data, VRTC survey and random NHTSA vehicle inspections all showed that both passenger car and light truck peer vehicles are subject to similar corrosion-related failure rates. The coated steel brake pipes in GM’s vehicles under investigation were similar to materials used by other manufacturers at the time. Beginning in the late 1990s, manufacturers transitioned to plastic-coated pipes that are in use today.

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