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GM's Latest Problem: 7 Crashes Linked to Faulty Wiring

Bankruptcy Falling profits An unpopular advertising campaign “Exploding battery” investigation

What with bankruptcy, falling profits, a wildly unpopular advertising campaign, and the “exploding battery” investigation, it seems like General Motors can’t catch a break. And it looks like they're going to add another “woe” to their list.

Federal safety regulators are investigating problems with the automatic shift levers on several GM cars. The probe was prompted by seven crashes thought to be connected to the faulty shift levers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on its website Monday that the probe began with complaints about the Saturn Aura midsize car from the 2007 and 2008 model years. This would mean that the problem would affect nearly 89,000 vehicles.

The agency also said it is checking to see if the problems extend to other GM vehicles. The Chevrolet Malibu from the 2004 to 2008 model years and the Pontiac G6 from the 2005 to 2008 model years have similar shifting systems, the agency said in documents filed on its website.

NHTSA said the protective jacket around cables connecting the floor shift lever to the transmission can deteriorate, exposing the cables to the elements. Cables can corrode and weaken, and the shift lever position may not match the car's gear. That means a driver could put the car in park but the transmission could be in drive or reverse. In some cases, the car may not shift at all.

However, it should be pointed out that the wires on these models are only 5-7 years old. Could they really fall apart that quickly?

NHTSA has received three reports of crashes because of the wiring problem, while GM received four, with one person hurt. In that crash, the driver put the gearshift in park, got out of the car, and was hit when the car unexpectedly rolled backward, reports the Associated Press.

In another case, a driver put the car in park, but the transmission stayed in reverse. "When the driver exited with the engine running, the vehicle continued (accelerated) in reverse and struck a building," NHTSA said.

GM told NHTSA that the problem affects mainly models with four-speed transmissions, but not six-speed transmissions.

NHTSA said it has upgraded the investigation to an analysis that will check how many times the cables have failed, the consequences "and the scope of vehicles that may be affected, including the models, model years and transmission types."

This seems like a continuation of a headache for GM. Recall that in March of 2009, the manufacturer had to recall about 277,000 Buick Enclaves, Chevrolet Cobalts, HHRs, Malibus, Traverses, GMC Acadias, Pontiac G5s, G6s, Saturn Aura, and Outlooks for a similar shift lever problem.

Those, too, were painful lessons to learn from.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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