A GMC Sierra, one of the trucks and SUVs in the latest GM recall

General Motors is recalling almost 3.5 million SUVs and pickup trucks because their brakes may suddenly become difficult to use, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

The agency has been investigating the problem for 10 months. GM has been repairing affected vehicles since December 2018, and issued a recall in Canada in June.

The recall involves some of GM’s best-selling products: the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, and the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade SUVs.

NHTSA opened its investigation in November 2018 after it received 111 complaints. A GM spokesman, Dan Flores, told Consumer Reports in an email that the company is aware of 113 crashes and 13 injuries because of the problem; no deaths have been reported.

The recall addresses a flaw with the powered brake-assist system, which reduces the amount of effort a driver needs to exert to stop the vehicle. If the system fails, a driver may find that the brake pedal takes much more effort to push. Drivers may also find that it takes more distance for their vehicle to stop, which could lead to a crash, NHTSA says. 

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The problem is more likely to happen at low speeds, such as in parking lots or when approaching crosswalks, NHTSA says. Indeed, when CR reviewed some of the driver complaints submitted to the agency, many of them mentioned that the brakes suddenly felt different while they were maneuvering into a parking spot or slowing for a pedestrian.

GM said in a statement that drivers may notice some other irregularities immediately before the brakes malfunction. They include a vibrating brake pedal, a change in the amount of pressure needed to depress the brake pedal, a ticking noise coming from the engine compartment, or a “Service Brake Assist” message on the dashboard instrument cluster.

A fix is available, GM says. Dealers will reprogram the braking software at no charge to owners.

A Chevrolet Suburban, one of the vehicles included in the latest GM recall

Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in an email that the recall's timeline raises concerns, especially because a recall was issued in June for Canadian owners.

“The question isn’t whether 9 months was fast enough to get from opening the investigation to this recall; the question is why did GM’s Canadian consumers get the recall notice 3 months ago?” Levine asked. “How long did GM know about this problem before NHTSA opened the investigation last November?”

William Wallace, CR’s manager of safety policy, agrees. “It shouldn’t take 113 crashes and 13 injuries for a recall to happen. All auto companies—and especially GM, given its history with faulty ignition switches, should fix defects far earlier.”

GM says the affected vehicles are safe to drive, and the brakes remain functional even if stopping distances increase. The automaker said it would provide loaners for people whose vehicles remain under warranty.

In December 2018, GM started repairing some of the affected vehicles as part of a customer service campaign even before it issued a recall. Those vehicles don't need further repair.

The Details

Vehicles recalled: 3,456,111 SUVs and pickup trucks:

• 2014-2018 Chevrolet Silverado trucks
• 2014-2018 GMC Sierra trucks
• 2015-2017 Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs
• 2015-2018 GMC Yukon SUVs
• 2015-2018 Chevrolet Suburban SUVs
• 2015-2017 Cadillac Escalade SUVs

The problem: The power brake vacuum pump—a component within the braking system—may generate less pressure over time because of a buildup of debris. As a result, the output of the power braking system may decrease.

The fix: Dealers will update software in vehicles at no charge to owners.

How to contact the manufacturer: Owners of affected vehicles can contact Chevrolet at 800-630-2438, Cadillac at 800-458-8006, or GMC at 800-462-8782. GM's own number for this recall is N192268490.

NHTSA campaign number: 19V645

Check to see whether your vehicle has an open recall: NHTSA’s website will tell you whether your vehicle has any open recalls that need to be addressed.

If you plug your car’s 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) into NHTSA’s website and a recall doesn’t appear, it means your vehicle doesn’t currently have any. Because automakers issue recalls often, and for many older vehicles, we recommend checking back regularly.

Stay informed about recalls that might affect your vehicle by using our Car Recall Tracker. Create a free account now to become a CR member.