Edmonton·GO PUBLIC

Warn consumers about faulty transmissions, car owner tells GM

An Edmonton woman says she was forced to spend $3,000 to replace the transmission in her 2008 Saturn Vue even though the SUV had just 63,000 km on it.

Edmonton woman paid thousands to repair vehicle with only 63,000 km

Brenna MacQuarrie said documented problems with the transmissions on Saturns gave her hope GM would agree to repair her car even though the warranty had expired. (CBC)

An Edmonton woman says she was forced to spend $3,000 to replace the transmission in her 2008 Saturn Vue even though the SUV had just 63,000 km on it.

Brenna MacQuarrie said she loved the sporty SUV with the heated seats, but would never have bought it had she known its six-speed automatic transmission has failed in dozens of documented cases.

“I think they should take responsibility for something they’ve built and sold and [that] they know is defective,” MacQuarrie said.

“I just think they should either warn people or take the vehicles off the market and fix them.”

General Motors no longer makes or sells Saturns -- but when it did, it advertised them as having one of the best warranties on the market -- five years or 160,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.

The warranty on MacQuarrie’s Saturn expired in late 2013 after five years -- but with only a fraction of the 160,000 kilometres.

Six months later the SUV broke down.

“I suddenly couldn’t reverse and it felt like the gears weren’t engaging,” MacQuarrie said. “I couldn’t use third gear and over the course of about a day just everything wouldn’t work.”

She says her mechanic told her a wave plate in the transmission failed, and that the transmission would need to be completely overhauled or replaced.

A local GM dealer estimated it would cost $4,900 to repair the transmission and $5,675 to replace it.

GM transmission problems well-documented

MacQuarrie says her mechanic told her the problems with the Saturn’s transmission are well-known in the industry.

The US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration lists at least 40 similar transmission failures reported in 2008 Saturn Vues with comparably low mileage.

The NHTSA also published the service bulletin GM sent to its US dealers in 2011 alerting them to the potential for transmission failure due to broken wave plates.

MacQuarrie said the transmission’s documented problems gave her hope GM would agree to repair her car even though the warranty had expired.

“I hoped that they would help me out, that they would see this is a known issue,” she said.

However, despite repeated calls to GM’s customer service centre, MacQuarrie says she could not convince the automaker to admit the transmission was faulty or to pay for its repair.

“They just kept repeating over and over, ‘Your warranty is up. We can’t extend your warranty. That [service bulletin] doesn’t mean we can extend your warranty,” she recalled.

MacQuarrie said the local GM dealer offered her a 20 per cent discount for the repair costs, but she ultimately decided to have a used transmission installed at an independent garage.

‘There is no recall for this issue,’ GM says

“We take all of our customers’ concerns very seriously and strive to provide top quality cars, trucks and service to our customers,” Adria MacKenzie, the corporate communications manager for General Motors of Canada, wrote in an email to Go Public.

MacKenzie said GM Canada’s head office and local dealership had been working with MacQuarrie to resolve the issue, but that to properly assess it the transmission would have had to have been disassembled and evaluated.

She said MacQuarrie declined to authorize the evaluation and decided to have the repairs completed at an independent shop.

Mackenzie wrote "we may have been able to match the cost of the repair at the independent and may have been able provided a better warranty (sic).”

“Unfortunately, we are not able to provide a reimbursement to this customer at this time as there is no recall for this issue on this customer’s vehicle,” she said.

GM ‘evading’ responsibility, critic says

The same transmission problem reported by MacQuarrie goes beyond the 2008 GM Saturn, says George Iny with the Automobile Protection Association, a consumer advocacy organization.

Iny said that transmission was also installed in Buick, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles for several years.

“It is known for having a pattern of failures which we saw from roughly 2007 to 2009--2010,” Iny said.

Although repairs can be pricey, no recall has been issued for the transmission to date since it is not a direct safety concern, he said.

“Product problems unfortunately are not under the gun right now,” Iny said.

Iny said the service bulletin is the “smoking gun” that shows GM knows the transmission has a problem -- but refuses to pay for repairs beyond the normal power train warranty.

He said GM Canada should have either notified owners of the potential for transmission failure and fixed it for free, or extend the warranty to cover the transmission for a longer period of time -- something Nissan has done.

Instead, Iny said, GM Canada is denying they are responsible.

“Their argument is that GM Canada did not make the vehicle -- they are only a distributor. And it’s a US service bulletin so they are not involved,” Iny said.

“You’d be astonished. They know less about your car than somebody that you met in a bar.”

As for MacQuarrie, she said she will likely sell her Saturn now that it’s fixed.

“With the new part in it I’m sure it will be fine,” she said, “but I don’t want to keep it.”

“I just want other people to be aware of the issue, because if I had known … I wouldn’t have bought the car.”