After receiving 846 complaints of a sudden loss of power steering assist in 2004 through 2007 Saturn Ion vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation has opened a preliminary evaluation. General Motors identified 3,489 reports alleging the same problem for the Saturn Ion vehicles.
Two of the GM crash claims indicated that the driver was injured in the crash. Sixteen complaints alleged that the EPS warning lamp had illuminated before or during the loss of steering assist, and that the increased steering effort contributed to a crash.
According to ODI, depending on driving circumstances this increase in steering effort could result in some loss of control and a crash. An engineering analysis has been opened to further assess the frequency, scope and safety consequences of a sudden loss of steering assist.
In a previous preliminary evaluation, ODI investigated the sudden loss of power steering assist in 2005 through 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt vehicles. In May, GM gave ODI information about complaint, warranty and EPS system loss of assist for the Saturn ION, as well as the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu. In that response, GM indicated that the EPS system used in the vehicles was the same as what was used in 2005 to 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles.
In March 2010, GM recalled some 1.05 million Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles to correct a defect with the EPS assist motor. The defect was a buildup of brush debris mixed with oily material on the EPS electric motor armature which caused the motor to stop functioning, which is the same problem identified in the Saturn Ion vehicles.
ODI has duplicated this failure in both a Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn ION previously tested.
In the defect notification letter for the previously recalled Cobalt and G5, GM stated that the vehicles may experience a sudden loss of assist that could occur at any time while driving, and that if power steering was lost the vehicle would revert to manual steering mode and would require increased steering effort from the driver.