Dealers have been receiving defective ignition switch complaints from owners of General Motors cars since 1997, according to a Reuters review of a consumer complaints database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
GM has recently expanded its recall of cars with faulty switch issues by over 8 million, but failed to tell when it first became aware of the issue.
The Reuters review showed that GM dealers were aware of switch-related glitches almost as soon as the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu was rolled out to the market, and that many of them could not fix the defects.
Early issues included keys that either stuck in the ignition or could be pulled out while the car was still. Early issues also included ignition switches failing to start the engine or seem to have caused the engine to stall.
Later on, some GM car owners said their units stalled while travelling the highway -- with one citing a dealer as saying that changing the switch could solve the issue.
One of the earliest complaints filed with the NHTSA (April 1997) involves a New Jersey woman who said she had been "stranded seven times" when her new 1997 Malibu could not be started, while its key was stuck in the ignition and could not be turned.
Her dealer has replaced the ignition twice, the problem persisted. She wrote that she comprehend how three different ignition cylinders “can all be defective."
GM advised dealers about ignition issues on both the 1997 Malibu and 2000 Impala in 2001, sending so-called service bulletins. It did not recall the vehicles for switch-related issues until recently, when 8.23 million GM vehicles were recalled for "unintended ignition key rotation."