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GM's defective switch also caused no-start condition in some Saturns

The U.S. flag flies at the Burt GM auto dealer in Denver June 1, 2009. RTEUTERS/Rick Wilking
The U.S. flag flies at the Burt GM auto dealer in Denver June 1, 2009. RTEUTERS/Rick Wilking

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co's defective ignition switch that has been linked to at least 13 deaths also was the subject of an unrelated 2006 technical service bulletin to U.S. dealers related to the inability of some Saturn Ion owners to start their cars.

GM said in the August 2006 bulletin that Saturn dealers should replace the ignition switch, which is now the subject of a global recall, if owners of Ions from model years 2006 and 2007 complained about trouble starting their cars, according to documents posted online by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. GM described the problem in the bulletin as "no crank, no start with complete power."

The bulletin is another indication of the problems with the switch, which led to the recall this year not only of Saturn Ions but also Chevrolet Cobalts and other models. GM this year has recalled 2.6 million cars globally because the faulty part can make vehicle engines stall while operating, stop air bags from deploying, and prevent power steering and power brakes from operating.

GM is under investigation by NHTSA, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice and a group of states for why it failed to catch the defective part for over a decade.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said NHTSA had cast a broad net, asking for any documents related to the defective part and its history, and this bulletin was meant to help dealers handle an unrelated issue that could keep the vehicle from starting.

"The specific reason the switches were recalled was because of the torque force, basically the key was too easy to turn," he said. "This bulletin deals with a completely separate issue, which is an intermittent electrical connection. Yes, it involves the same part, but it's an unrelated issue."

In the 2006 bulletin, GM said owners might also complain that the vehicle may not start for at least 10 minutes or a clicking noise may be noticed when the key was first turned to the start position, according to the NHTSA documents.

GM said the no-start condition was caused by an "inconsistent contact inside the ignition switch between the printed circuit board and the contact finger." The automaker's listed fix was to "replace the ignition switch."

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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