Ignition switches are commonly recalled either due to mechanical failures with the key and lock mechanism of the switch or electrical problems that prevent the switch from functioning correctly. Depending on the nature of the fault, these issues may prevent the ignition switch from operating properly under some conditions or cause a vehicle with an affected ignition switch to shut off during operation.
Mechanical defects in the key mechanism of ignition switches are the flaw at the heart of one of the largest recalls in automotive history as of 2015. The General Motors ignition switch recall was initiated in several smaller recalls that eventually lead to recalls of several million vehicles produced largely during the first decade of the 21st century. Defective switches in GM vehicles can allow the key to slip out of the ignition mechanism and shut the vehicle's engine and powered systems down, especially if the vehicle's key is attached to a heavy key ring or other object. Experts believe that as many as 124 deaths are directly related to this defect, since the ignition can shut off while the car is in motion and cause the driver to lose control of the car at high speed.
The potential for severe injury or death in an accident related to a defective ignition switch is often even higher than in other accidents due to the deactivation of the vehicle's power steering, power brakes and airbags.