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Serious C5 Corvette Problem



Buyer beware, the cover up is on. GM has a serious defect with 1997-2001 manual transmission C5 Corvettes. After taking delivery on a brand new 2001 Corvette in mid-April, the steering column lock failed after driving the car for one day, and it had to be towed back to the dealer. Calls to the Chevrolet Customer Assistance Center to see if other customers had experienced this problem and if a fix had been found yielded a suspiciously evasive answer. Research online confirmed the worst, the NHTSA has investigated this problem and page after page of customer complaints for the same problem have been reported (NHTSA Action Number: PE99066, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/Central/Index.cfm). My advise? If GM refuses to take responsibility and fix this, dump your Vette before it strands you and buy a Viper or 911 instead.:mad
From the latest National Corvette Owners Association newsletter:

National Corvette Owners Association
By Les Jackson

As of the close of 2000, nearly 5,500 owners of ‘97-2000 Corvettes have presented warranty claims for failure of the steering column lock, specifically know as the Electronic Column Lock (ECL). This lock is an electron-mechanical servo that locks/unlocks the steering column when electrical energy is applied to the leads of its motor. The actual function of the mechanism is its extending/retraction lock bolt that engages a slot in the steering column shaft. Its direction is controlled by altering the polarity of the voltage applied to the motor terminals. The Corvette’s Body Control Module (BCM) supplies the voltage ton the ECL and also ground the ECL’s motor through the KEY OUT of the ignition switch, preventing the BCM from locking the steering column when the key is in the ignition switch. The ECL is manufactured by Fasco Controls Corporation of Shelby, NC and the steering column is manufactured by Delphi Saginaw Steering Systems.

Failures of the ECL have resulted, for the most part, in the cars being towed to dealerships for replacements of the ECL (and sometimes the whole column). Three modes of failure have been determined by GM and by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in an investigation that was closed in summer of 2000:

1. The ECL can fail to unlock when the key is inserted into the ignition.
2. The ECL can fail to lock when the key is removed from the ignition.
3. Inadvertent activation of the lock function while the vehicle is being operated at normal speeds and with the key in the ignition.

Engineering studies found that for the first two modes of failure, certain mechanisms were identified that could result in these types of malfunctions. In other words, it can happen in a variety of ways and GM has, so far, issued five design changes between Sept. ’97 and June ’98 that attempted to fix the ECL. Two of these reduced the likelihood of electrical shorts and the third reduced a possible dimensional interference between the motor worm gear and the ECL housing, while the other tow were changes to materials rather than functionality. No service bulletins or recalls were issued by GM, since any replacement parts would automatically have the design changes.

The third mode of failure is a bit more important because a few owners have reported steering column lockup while driving. GM and NHTSA engineers have studied as may of these reported incidents as have come to their attention and have found in each case that the driver may have perceived that the steering locked up while being operated, but it actually never unlocked at vehicle start-up. Since the ECL never unlocked, system logic shut off the flow of fuel to the engine if its speed reached a tow mph speed. So-called failures at highway speeds were found to be the result of engine shutoffs (for a variety of reasons including ignition failure, sensor failure, fuel pump failure, etc). The resultant lack of power steering assist – and considerable effort needed to turn the wheel – caused the owners to perceive steering column lockup.

NHTSA investigators determined that “a significant trend of failure exists for the ECL in Corvettes, however a significant trend of compromise to vehicle safety in actual service as a result of those failures was not demonstrated.” Therefore, this does not constitute a safety-related defect and recall.

So what does this mean to owners of ‘97-2000 Vettes? High-level managers at GM told me that the company will go out of its way to satisfy Corvette owners, since such persons tend to be enthusiasts and very loyal to Chevrolet. Although out-of—warranty problems will be handled on a case-by-case basis, GM management intends to be “very flexible” with such claims. Another course of action might be to contact C% Solutions at c5solutions@att.net to get information about a column lock bypass kit that you can buy to override the ECL system. Better yet, have your mechanic pull out the factory service manual to figure out how to remove the ECL’s lock bolt from the motor. That will certainly cure any potential problems without affecting the electronics.

Installing a bypass system or removing the ECL’s lock bolt does not violate federal safety laws, contrary to popular though. Although the Fede4ral Motor Vehicle Safety Standards system (the column lock is required under FMVSS #114) makes the manufacturer design a car in which the key lock system “must prevent either steering or forward self movement of the vehicle, or both”, no federal law requires owners to maintain or replace any safety device, including air bags.

The steering column lock problem will eventually go away as those affected cars get repaired. However, for those who’ve experienced the nuisance and inconvenience caused by the problem, all you can do is be philosophical about it. Think about the years when Corvettes had 12 month/12,000 mile warranties and the points-ignitions failed way to often. On the other hand, you might want to vent your frustration against Fasco. A few thousand phone calls and emails from inconvenienced Bette owners could easily make them as annoyed as the ECL failure did to you.
Column lock bypass kit is the only answer for this!:(
Tried to locate "c5solutions@att.net" my browser ound not locate the site> has the address changed? I'm interested in finding out more on the c-5 column lock bypass kit
It's actually not a web site, but an email address to write for more information about the bypass kit.
I own a 99 6 speed with only 5000 miles and recently began getting the SERVICE COLUMN LOCK message at startup. I have a service appointment for Tuesday the 29th for repair so this subject was very timely for me. I was happy to learn from reading the posts that the possibility of the column locking while driving doesn't seem very likely. The service writer said that GM reccomends that you don't drive the car when you get this message although he admits owners do it all the time with out incident, He has to give the company line. I'm also experiencing a dead battery every week or so. I'm assuming it's a bad alternator or battery . Both problems are very annoying for a car this expensive and with so little use in the 2 1/2 years that I've owned it. I'll let you know how I make out. Rich


Welcome to the forums. I see you have a '62 FI and a '67 bb. I would like to see and hear more about them. We are getting a stronger solid axle and mid year contingent here all the time.

Sure Tom,
As I get some free time I'll send in some pics of the others. It's a busy time for me right now as my youngest is graduating high school and my oldest gets married in July but I'll work it in.
The 62 I've owned for over 25 years and it's an original F.I. car. I redid it in 1980 with paint and interior but it's never been off the chassis . Like most owners of old Vettes I'm still looking for original parts for it but my list has narrowed down to the real rare and expensive items so I'm going slow. It's really a nice car though , I try to drive it every weekend and with the 4:11 s and F.I. motor it's a real blast. The 67 is a big block coupe that I've had for about 5 years. It's an original motor 390 HP car that's been through all the NCRS judging like Top Flight , PV and Duntov as well as Bloomington Gold. It was repainted in the early 80s so that's a littlle tired but a nice car overall with build sheet and other documentation. It's not a 435 HP car but it's a real big block.
I've been playing around with these great old cars since my first in 1964 (a 59 ) and have gone throuh quite a few since then (45)
but the 62 and 67 are keepers. My favorites ? Straight axles !
I looked at the pics of your 59 that's under construction and looks like it's coming right along , hopefully you'll be able to get her back on the road again soon. If there's anything that I can help you with let me know. I'm certainly not an expert but but have redone quite a few and have the busted knuckles and greasy nails to prove it. Oh yea , I'm also a long time NCRS member (1979) and SACC too . Well that's it for now as I said I'll try to get some pics up real soon. I hope it's an easy process as I'm technically challanged with computers if things get too involved. Later - Rich

Well I had the ECL replaced on my C-5 this week. It took about 6 hours forthe dealer to do that and some seat belt recall item. It seems fine and the service manager told me that they have never had to repair one twice. If that's true they may have the problem solved with the new part. Rich
62FI said:
I'm also experiencing a dead battery every week or so. I'm assuming it's a bad alternator or battery . Both problems are very annoying for a car this expensive and with so little use in the 2 1/2 years that I've owned it. I'll let you know how I make out. Rich

Hey Rich...with all those Vettes to choose from........could it be that U just dont drive the 99 ENOUGH and are draining the battery and straining the alternator??
Absolutely !
that's what I was told after they checked it out. The battery and charging system are fine and there are no unusual draws on the system. They told me to drive it once a week at least. I bought it for that exact reason. The others stay covered up so much I wanted something that I wouldn't be afraid to use. But guess what ? It stays covered in the garage with the others, I guess that's just the way I am. Rich

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