General Motors Corp. yesterday announced a special five-year, 50,000-mile warranty to cover repair costs on 1980 and 1981 X-body cars that may have defective power steering systems.

The warranty will affect 1.8 million cars, including the Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix.

Under terms of the extended warranty, GM dealers will make free repairs to power steering systems that lose their power momentarily, usually at startup. Affected car owners who already have paid part or all of the cost of power steering repairs will be reimbursed, the company said.

GM officials say the full cost of the repairs is between $200 and $400.

The normal warranty on power steering and other major car systems is 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. But the X-body models have been plagued with 12 recalls so far, including one for faulty braking systems. GM officials concede that their company has suffered public relations damage because of publicity on the recalls. And the new problem doesn't help.

As a result, the company says it is offering the extended warranty "in the interest of customer satisfaction" and in what another GM official called "a gesture of good will."

The power-steering difficulty has generated 900 complaints--including reports of 16 minor accidents--to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No recall has been issued. GM says the defect is not a safety hazard, inasmuch as affected cars can be steered manually in the event of power loss. NHTSA says it's still studying the question.

"We opened an engineering analysis" of the problem on July 12, Hal Paris, a spokesman for the NHTSA, said yesterday. "We're continuing to study the problem to see if it warrants a safety recall."

James G. Vorhes, GM's vice president of customer relations and service, said yesterday the affected cars "may experience a brief . . . reduction of power steering assist right after a vehicle is started from cold condition." But full power steering "is restored promptly" as the cars' power steering mechanisms and fluids heat up, Vorhes said.

The problem is believed to be caused by seals in the steering system that contract in cold weather and interfere with the operation of the system's power-assist function. "It's not a matter of waiting for the engine to warm up," said GM spokesman Dave Hudgens. "The steering system has to warm" before power is restored.

The extended warranty coverage starts from the day of purchase of the affected cars. Customers who already have paid for repairs to steering systems "should present the appropriate receipts" to their dealers to be reimbursed, Hudgens said. Warranty on X-Car Steering Extended By Warren Brown Washington Post Staff Writer

General Motors Corp. yesterday announced a special five-year, 50,000-mile warranty to cover repair costs on 1980 and 1981 X-body cars that may have defective power steering systems.

The warranty will affect 1.8 million cars, including the Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix.

Under terms of the extended warranty, GM dealers will make free repairs to power steering systems that lose their power momentarily, usually at startup. Affected car owners who already have paid part or all of the cost of power steering repairs will be reimbursed, the company said.

GM officials say the full cost of the repairs is between $200 and $400.

The normal warranty on power steering and other major car systems is 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. But the X-body models have been plagued with 12 recalls so far, including one for faulty braking systems. GM officials concede that their company has suffered public relations damage because of publicity on the recalls. And the new problem doesn't help.

As a result, the company says it is offering the extended warranty "in the interest of customer satisfaction" and in what another GM official called "a gesture of good will."

The power-steering difficulty has generated 900 complaints--including reports of 16 minor accidents--to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No recall has been issued. GM says the defect is not a safety hazard, inasmuch as affected cars can be steered manually in the event of power loss. NHTSA says it's still studying the question.

"We opened an engineering analysis" of the problem on July 12, Hal Paris, a spokesman for the NHTSA, said yesterday. "We're continuing to study the problem to see if it warrants a safety recall."

James G. Vorhes, GM's vice president of customer relations and service, said yesterday the affected cars "may experience a brief . . . reduction of power steering assist right after a vehicle is started from cold condition." But full power steering "is restored promptly" as the cars' power steering mechanisms and fluids heat up, Vorhes said.

The problem is believed to be caused by seals in the steering system that contract in cold weather and interfere with the operation of the system's power-assist function. "It's not a matter of waiting for the engine to warm up," said GM spokesman Dave Hudgens. "The steering system has to warm" before power is restored.

The extended warranty coverage starts from the day of purchase of the affected cars. Customers who already have paid for repairs to steering systems "should present the appropriate receipts" to their dealers to be reimbursed, Hudgens said.