An internal analysis of General Motors' records found reports of ignition switch problems in certain car models dating back to 2001, potentially raising deeper questions about why it took the automaker so long to initiate a recall. Reports from GM required by federal regulators were posted on a government website raising new questions about GM's delayed response.

Those reports showed that only additional analysis done early this year led the company to add several models to the recall, which now affects 1.6 million vehicles worldwide and 1.37 million in the U.S.

The reports were made public as auto safety experts urged GM to waive the legal immunity dating to its bankruptcy that protects it from lawsuits arising from crashes before July 2009. At least 12 people died in 31 crashes linked to the defect. At least five of those deaths occurred in accidents before GM exited bankruptcy, according to a Free Press review of documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Oddly, General Motors dealers this week said they are offering $500 through April 30 to owners of the 1.37 million small cars subject to a recall over a faulty ignition switch.

“In keeping with our commitment to help customers involved in this recall, a special $500 cash allowance is available to purchase or lease a new GM vehicle,” GM spokesman Alan Adler said in a statement.

According to the Detroit Free Press, federal regulators, congressional investigators and the U.S. Justice Department have initiated probes into why it took GM as long as it did to recall 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2003-7 Saturn Ions, 2006-7 Pontiac Solstices and several other vehicles. As early as 2007, regulators informed GM of a possible problem with the ignition switch being jostled into a position where power was cut off and airbags were disabled.

But evidence of a problem may have existed even earlier. A review of reports from as far back as 2001 mentioned issues related to ignition switches in affected vehicles.

One, from 2003, "documented an instance in which the service technician observed a stall while driving," and said the weight of key chains had worn out the ignition switch.

Dealers are being told to replace the ignition switch. New CEO Mary Barra has said she is personally leading efforts to address the recall that has mushroomed into GM's biggest crisis since it came out of bankruptcy in July 2009.

Notices went out to owners this week. Prior to Wednesday night's posting, it was believed the first notice to GM of an ignition switch being jostled from position was in 2004. At that time, a tracking inquiry and solutions were considered, but the inquiry was closed, the company said, "after consideration of the lead time required, cost and effectiveness of each of these solutions."

If you own a GM vehicle, how confident are you today that GM is interested in your safety?