GMPSS: an American car ailment?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1987 Oldsmobile. When I back out of my garage, I have to turn right and then left to avoid hitting the house. Since Christmas, these turns have been hard to do. Also, when I leave the car parked for any length of time during the day, the wheel is also hard to turn for the first few minutes. It seems to get better in warmer weather. I am a widow of 72, and I don't have a lot of money to spend on this car. What do you think?

RAY: Well, Dorothy, you can take some solace in knowing that you're not alone. You have the most famous car problem of the 1980s: GMPSS, otherwise known as General Motors Power Steering Syndrome. This problem has been plaguing GM since Plato wrote The Republic.

TOM: The problem is a poorly designed steering rack, which fails prematurely on General Motors cars. The symptoms are what you describe. The car is hard to steer first thing in the morning. After it warms up, the steering is fine. But as the rack gets worse, it takes longer and longer for the steering to free up, making for a potentially dangerous situation.

RAY: So many GM owners complained about this problem, that GM finally gave in and started fixing them for free on cars with fewer than 50,000 miles on them and less than five years of age. Unfortunately, they weren't very up-front about it. They didn't send letters to the owners of the cars warning them to watch for these symptoms. They simply instituted a policy that authorized dealers to replace these faulty rack and pin?ion assemblies for free.

TOM: This is a sorry situation for two reasons. First, GM made this embarrassing engineering mistake and never fully owned up to it. And second, it's been ten years since this problem was discovered, and we STILL don't have any indication that it's been corrected!

RAY: Here's what you do, Dorothy. March down (on second thought, drive down) to your Oldsmobile dealer, and tell him that you KNOW this is supposed to be fixed for free. If he gives you a hard time, write to us again, and we'll have the attorneys at our law firm of Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe go after him. Good luck, and use that 72 year-old widow story at the dealer, it worked great with us!

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