Embarrassing setback as Chevy Silverado vies for Car of the Year

Just days before it learns whether its 2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickup wins honors as the North American Truck of the Year, General Motors has announced it is recalling 370,000 full-size trucks due to a potential fire hazard.

The safety action covers both the new Chevy Silverado and the near-twin GMC Sierra model, both receiving widespread kudos since being completely redesigned for the 2014 model-year. But the recall could be just one of the problems the new GM pickups will be facing in the coming days.

According to GM, the recall is required to reprogram engine control software to reduce the risk of overheating exhaust components and eliminate the risk of an engine compartment fire. The Detroit maker reports that there have been eight fires resulting from the problem, "three of which were on customer owned vehicles."

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It also noted that the incidents occurred in regions with very cold weather. There have been no injuries resulting from the fires, GM said.

Due to the size of the recall, many of the new models may not yet be in customer hands but still in transit or on dealer lots. GM is notifying dealers and owners to watch for a continuous yellow "check engine light" warning on the instrument panel, as well as an "engine power reduced" message on the vehicles' driver information center.

A 2014 Chevy Silverado at the 105th Annual Chicago Auto Show.
Raymond Boyd | Michael Ochs Archive| Getty Images

Customers are being urged to avoid leaving their pickups idling while unattended.

The recall covers 303,000 trucks sold in the U.S. and another 67,000 sold in Canada and Mexico. It affects only 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models equipped with 4.3-liter V-6 and 5.3-liter V-8 engines. Trucks with GM's 6.2-liter V-8 are not affected.

This is the first major automotive recall of the New Year and follows several years during which manufacturers came under pressure to respond more quickly and more inclusively to potential safety problems.

While industry analysts believe consumers have come to downplay recalls as a regular part of vehicle ownership, the large service action nonetheless comes as a setback for GM which has been hoping to gain ground on its cross-town rival Ford Motor. The Silverado was the nation's second best-selling vehicle last year, behind only Ford's F-Series pickup, which finished 2013 as America's top truck for the 27th consecutive year, and its best-selling vehicle overall for 32 years straight.

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GM is still hoping to gain some momentum on Monday when it learns whether the Silverado was chosen as North American Truck of the Year by a panel of 48 U.S. and Canadian journalists. The full-size pickup is up against two utes, the Acura MDX and the Jeep Cherokee.

But Ford hopes to steal any thunder, should the Silverado win, with the unveiling of an all-new version of its F-150, the light-duty version of its big pickup adopting a new "aluminum-intensive" design that is expected to trim somewhere between 500 and 700 pounds of weight—and, in the process, yield significant improvements in fuel economy.

GM recently showed a prototype version of the Silverado that uses aluminum and other weight-saving materials but it isn't expected to make any such switch for a number of years.

By CNBC Contributor Paul A. Eisenstein. Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau or at