2014 Chevrolet Traverse

The Chevrolet Traverse with front-wheel drive has been rated at 17/24 mpg. (General Motors/ Wieck Media photo / March 15, 2012)

WASHINGTON — General Motors is recalling 51,640 sport-utility vehicles to fix software that may not register correct fuel levels, the latest in a series of safety actions this year involving about 7 million vehicles.

A flawed engine-control module in some 2014 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia SUVs may result in empty tanks or stalled engines that could lead to crashes, according to a notice posted Saturday on the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website. The company will recalibrate the fuel system free of charge.

The planned fix follows other GM recalls including that of 2.59 million small cars for faulty ignition switches that allowed keys to slip out of their "on" positions, cutting engine power and disabling air bags. GM took a $1.3 billion charge in the quarter ended March 31 to cover recall costs.

Federal safety regulators, Congress and the Justice Department are investigating why it took the company more than a decade to recall some of the vehicles linked to 13 deaths in accidents. In contrast, it took GM eight days after being notified of the fuel-gauge software flaw on April 14 to decide on a recall, according to NHTSA documents.

Last July, NHTSA's head of defects investigations complained to GM that the company was "slow to communicate, slow to act" on recall investigations.

In 2005, GM shrugged off complaints about faulty ignition switches, saying the loss of power steering wasn't a genuine safety risk. In 2010, it recalled thousands of cars to address just that symptom.

In 2011, Mary Barra, who became the automaker's chief executive officer in January, was told that regulators were investigating steering problems with the Saturn Ion. GM didn't recall the Ions until March 2014, a day before Barra testified to the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the unrelated faulty ignition switches.

On Friday, GM adviser Kenneth Feinberg began preliminary talks with a lawyer for accident victims over claims stemming from the ignition switches. Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney, described the conversation as a "settlement meeting" to discuss compensation for about 300 victims.

GM lawyers also appeared in a Manhattan bankruptcy court to fight lawsuits seeking compensation for economic losses, saying the automaker's government-led bankruptcy in 2009 absolved it of such responsibility. GM has agreed to address death and injury claims and hired Feinberg, who ran compensation funds for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2010 BP oil spill, to advise it on a resolution.

Claims for economic loss can eclipse the cost of compensating dead or injured car owners. Hilliard, who has brought a lawsuit seeking economic damages, wants as much as $10 billion so his clients can buy new vehicles.

 

-recalll