Impala owners sue GM over alleged defect causing tires to wear out

July 5, 2011

Impala owners sue GM over alleged defect causing tires to wear out

/ Detroit News Washington Bureau

A class-action suit has been filed against General Motors Co., complaining that GM fixed rear-end problems on police versions of 2007-08 Impalas, but not those owned by some 400,000 other drivers.

The problem, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit, causes owners to burn through rear tires.

The suit was brought on behalf of a Pennsylvania woman and wants GM to replace potentially faulty rear suspension rods. The Detroit-based automaker sold 423,000 Impalas over the two-year period.

The suit — if successful — could cost GM millions of dollars in replaced tires and parts. It’s the latest challenge by owners to automakers who limit the scope of auto recalls or service campaigns. It’s also sparked dozens of angry complaints from owners.

Americans spend about $20 billion annually on about 200 million replacement tires, according to a 2006 government report. Alignments and other related issues add billions in annual repair costs to the nation’s more than 250 million vehicles on the roads.

The only owner currently named in the suit, Donna Trusky, of Blakely, Pa., bought a new Chevrolet Impala in February 2008 and said the tires wore out within 6,000 miles. Her GM dealer replaced the tires and provided an alignment, but didn’t disclose the spindle rod issue, she said. According to the suit, GM issued a service bulletin in 2008 for police versions of the Impala.

Last November, Trusky couldn’t pass an annual inspection without getting another set of rear tires — even though the vehicle had fewer than 25,000 miles.

“Despite having knowledge of this premature wear problem, (GM) has not recalled the subject cars, which has required class members to pay the cost of fixing the defective spindle rods as well as for replacement tires and realignment,” alleges the lawsuit, filed last week.

In its July 2008 bulletin, GM told its dealers to replace the rods, align the rear wheels and, if necessary, replace the rear tires. Police agencies that had replaced rear tires themselves could seek reimbursement for a year.

GM spokesman Alan Adler declined to comment on the suit because the automaker hadn’t reviewed it. GM spokeswoman Carolyn Normandin declined to comment on the suit, but said the police version of the Impala was different from those sold to others. It has a special electrical system and special suspension system, she said, to accommodate law enforcement needs.

David Fink, a lawyer representing the owners, said police Impalas were not significantly different from those sold to the general public when it came to the rear tires and performance of rods. “We don’t think there’s a meaningful difference in terms of the defect,” Fink said Friday.

Lawyers for Trusky cite numerous complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and message boards such as, and The government has never opened a formal investigation into the 2007 or 2008 Impala.

A complaint filed with the NHTSA in March said the owner of a 2007 Impala replaced tires twice in less than two years. The owner also filed a complaint with GM.

“Was told by my dealership that GM knows about this problem and has come out with a … kit to fix problem, but I had to purchase it,” the owner wrote. “Excessive wear is a safety problem and I guess people have to die for action to be taken.”

Another complaint, also filed with the NHTSA in March, said the tires wore out in just 6,000 miles.

“The vehicle has 45,000 miles on it and this is the second set of tires in 6,000 miles,” the complaint said.

One complaint said the owner had replaced tires three times on a 2008 Impala LTZ with 41,000 miles. “This is the first Chevy Impala I have owned,” the complainant wrote in August 2010. “Was completely satisfied with my Pontiacs.”

The Georgia owner of a 2008 Impala LTZ who bought the car in October 2009 said he had a blowout in Bainbridge, Pa., in February 2010 — “nearly causing a crash” — after driving fewer than 11,000 miles on a new set of tires. “There is no way possible that I should have to be replacing two worn-out tires within 10,829 miles,” he wrote. “This is unheard of.”

Sean Kane, who heads the auto safety group Safety Research & Strategies, which often works with plaintiff’s attorneys, said automakers frequently look to reduce repair and recall costs.

“It’s not uncommon to see automakers try to limit the fix. They may look to take care of the biggest part of the problem if it will save money,” Kane said.

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