GM, Mazda issue recalls over safety belts, steering

LOS ANGELES — Mazda Motor Corp. has recalled 215,000 Mazda3 and Mazda5 models because they can experience a sudden loss of power steering while the car is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash, federal safety regulators said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, General Motors Co. said it was recalling about 243,000 SUVs to inspect the safety belts in the second row of seats in the vehicles. In some instances, the buckles on the seatbelts can become damaged in such a way that passengers believe they are latched in when they are not.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it had received at least 33 complaints alleging steering problems in the 2007 to 2009 model-year Mazda vehicles. The cars use an electric boost to the hydraulic power steering system that makes it easier to turn the vehicles.

When the electric boost fails, it takes extra strength to maintain control, and according to the complaints, some drivers are unable to do so. Three of the complaints alleged that the loss of steering control caused a crash. Mazda has previously warned its dealers in what are called technical service bulletins — notices that are short of a full recall — to be on the lookout for power-steering-assist problems.

Because Mazda is short of parts to fix the problem, it is separating the recall into two phases. Some owners will get details about how to have their cars fixed in a mailing that will begin by Sept. 15, but others might not hear anything until February, according to regulators. Owners with concerns can contact Mazda customer assistance at 800-222-5500. Owners can also contact National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 888-327-4236.

“It is not unusual to do this as you get the parts into the system,” said Jay Amestoy, a Mazda spokesman. “Our customers remain our highest priority, and we want to get everyone in and take a look at their cars.”

The GM recall involves 2009-2010 models of the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. Almost all of the SUVs, also known as crossovers, were sold in the U.S., although several thousand were exported for sale in Canada, Mexico, China and Saudi Arabia.

GM said it discovered damaged belt buckles among cars that were taken to dealers for warranty work. The automaker said it did not know of any cases in which the safety belts had failed to perform properly in a crash.

Some of the damage may be occurring when drivers return the seats to an upright position after they have been folded down.

“Because of the potential for a false-latch condition, we want customers to return their vehicles to have the recall repair performed as soon as possible,” said Jeff Boyer, GM executive director of safety.

Owners will begin receiving letters this month to schedule appointments with dealership service departments for a no-charge inspection and repair of the second-row belts.

The Associated Press