Ignition Switches 101: How They Work
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Ignition Switches 101: How They Work

Thursday, April 27, 2017By Richard Alexander

In 2014, General Motors announced that it was recalling a large number of GM cars because of faulty ignition switches. Since that time, GM has officially accepted that 124 people have died from accidents caused by these faulty ignition switches. The family of each victim was paid at least $1 million as compensation. A further 275 people also received compensation for accidents caused by the faulty ignition switches.

Surprisingly, GM has already paid out $594.5 million in compensation, but that won't be the end of its problems. Hundreds of suits are still pending against GM in various US courts and you can expect the compensation payouts will only rise.

So what was the issue? The ignition switches would suddenly jar out of place, even as the car was running, causing the engine to stop. Image the panic and the helplessness of the drivers when they lost their power steering and power brakes. Understanding the function of an ignition switch will help you realize the gravity of the situation. Here are some details.

The Function of an Ignition Switch

The ignition switch is an electrical apparatus responsible for taking power to the spark plug. Early cars did not have an ignition switch. They had an open interface which meant anyone could operate it if the owner wasn't around. By providing a keyed ignition switch, car makers created a fool proof way to protect cars from unauthorized users.

Consequently, the ignition switch has evolved into a master switch that can control most if not all electrical devices in a car. In short, the ignition switch powers the car's ignition system. The typical ignition switch has the following four positions:

  • off
  • accessory
  • on
  • ignition

The “off” position is the default setting and, depending on what type of electrical system your car has, the interior lights, power locks, and head lights will function. When turned to the “accessory” position, the car's radio will be powered, plus some other components, again, depending on the model of the car. In the “on” position, all of the car’s electrical systems are functional, but the important thing here is that this position does not power hydraulic systems, like the power steering or brakes, unless the motor is running.

The last position—“ignition,”—turns on the engine. You may have noticed that the ignition switch returns back to the “on” position once it is released. It is because the “ignition” turn actually contains a spring that brings the switch back once the engine is powered by the turn. This prevents the ignition switch from burning out.

If you own a GM car, you should find out if it subject to recall. You can check here to find that out. If it is, you should contact a GM dealership to schedule the repair. Unfortunately, GM took almost ten years to finally admit the faulty ignition switches needed replaced. Now, the least GM can do is prevent further accidents by aggressively repairing the faulty ignition switches.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, especially one caused by a faulty GM ignition switch, contact the lawyers at the Alexander Law Group, LLP or call 888.777.1776. All calls are free and confidential.

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