Parts is parts?

April 3, 2014
By: Vicki Bell

So the part doesn’t meet the specifications. Well, let’s just install it anyway and hope for the best. What are the odds something will happen? Wrong, stupid decision.

Apologies to grammarians everywhere—especially my fellow editors and our beloved copy editor/proofreader, who probably hyperventilated when she saw that heading, but when I read an article this morning about the 57-cent part responsible for deaths and a massive recall of General Motors vehicles, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘80s Wendy’s commercial “Parts is Parts.”

The phrase not only is grammatically grating, it’s also ludicrous, both in terms of describing the food we ingest and in the products we buy. We count on the food to be safe, possibly nutritious, and real. We read labels and hope that they are correct. We worry about how food products are handled and processed, whether organic is really organic, and whether that’s really better and worth the extra cost. We’ve had to learn much more about what our grocers stock and our restaurants serve and whether we can rely on them to have our best interests at heart. Generally, we trust, until we are given reason not to.

Which brings me to the GM recall necessitated by the 57-cent part—a switch indent plunger roughly a half-inch long. According to an article on, the plunger is designed to provide enough torque, or pressure, to keep the ignition from accidentally turning off. If the ignition shuts off while the car is running, the airbags, power steering, and anti-lock brakes all are disabled.

Sure, most of us can understand how a design flaw might go unnoticed and create a problem, but it appears that’s not what happened here. Parts maker Delphi told Congressional investigators that the automaker knew the plunger didn’t have enough torque to meet its specifications when it first was delivered, but chose to accept the delivery anyway and installed these parts in vehicles. GM CEO Mary Bara acknowledged that fact in testimony April 1.

Adding more fuel to the negligence fire is the fact that the faulty part was redesigned in 2006, but the part number was never changed. As stated in the article, when a car part is redesigned, the manufacturer typically changes the part number. Failure to do so reportedly inhibited safety investigators from finding out the cause of accidents related to the failed plunger.

Why did GM accept and install parts known to be inadequate? And why were the redesigned parts not renumbered? Questions to be answered.

Other questions need to be answered, such as how can GM restore trust in its products’ safety given the aforementioned conscious negligence? And how much do we have to worry about the same thing happening with other automakers? How can we tell if automobiles truly are as safe as their touted safety claims?

For those of you who drive one of the recalled models—2005 - 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt; 2003 - 2007 Saturn Ion; 2006 - 2011 Chevrolet HHR; 2005 - 2006 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada); 2006 - 2010 Pontiac Solstice; 2005 - 2010 Pontiac G5; and 2007 - 2010 Saturn Sky—you can find the answer to some of your questions on GM’s website.

One piece of advice to follow right now is to remove everything from the ring that holds your keys except the ignition key.

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209