Too tough on GM? Are they OK?


I have a '03 Malibu - nice, cheap car with no problems except the brakes always need replacement every 12-14k miles. I’ve never had this happen and I think brakes should last 20-30K. There are over a hundred similar complaints to the gov’t about these brakes and I consider this a design flaw (brakes not big enough?) When I complained to GM about this I was given the blow-off and horrible service from the dealer. I will never go back to the dealer (Bob Bell Chevy) as I was told they “pryed” off the rear drums and bent them - a problem I didn’t have until they did this and then they lied to me about the whole brake problem, but should I give GM the benefit of the doubt about the brakes and buy another one? My first reaction was never to buy another GM again, but then I worked on a friend’s Ford Contour and it was a piece of junk. I recently saw how GM was making quality improvements and really want to buy American - so was I expecting too much and give GM another try or should I stick to my first reaction and never buy from them again? What company will give me quality and at least respect?


Everybody likes to pick on GM. Well, maybe not everybody. Some folk save their rage only for Ford, others aim their spears at Chryco. Visit this forum often enough and you will find owners who rant at their Toyota dealers, Nissan, you name it!

We conclude that there are unpleasant dealerships for all products. Don’t be put off by finding your local Chevy jerks. Buy your next GM car from a competitor.

I have nothing against GM. They make fine cars, especially the Buick division. There are millions of satisfied customers on the road, well-pleased with their GM cars. If you think that a particular GM vehicle is just right for you, buy it with confidence. But not from Bob Bell.


This thread will get long and vile. I guarantee it.

First, I suggest you visit the thread that asks the question of what constitutes an “American” car.

Then, if you can find “Automotive News” magazine (a trade journal) you can read the recent article on the dramatic changes in eth industry over the last 5 years. Toyota has blown past GM as the largest manufacturer in teh world and is about to eclipse them in U.S. sales. Ford has “tanked” and continues to shrink.

Good customer support and service are more likely from dealerships selling successful brands, although much depends on the dealership itself.

Buy something designed and manufactured in America. Buy a Camry! You’ll never turn back.

Now, I’ll have to accept the “pounding” I get from the “buy American” guys who don’t yet realize that the landscape has changed dramatically.


Bad experiences with dealers abound; all sorts of dealers. A friend of mine has a late 80s BMW 7 series which has a difficult overheating problem. The dealer has had the engine apart for close to a year, and is “baffled” by the problem. In my town two separate GM dealers disappointed me; one installed a new windshield and left a space at the bottom so large that snow blew in. The other could not identify a fogging windshield and coolant smell inside the car as a leaking heater core. My own mechanic told me what it was over the phone and quoted the repair cost within $3. In spite of that, GM makes some good vehicles. If I had to buy “American” I would not hesitate to buy a Buick, Impala, GM pickup or Cadillac STS. GM, and other US firms, unfortunately do not make good small cars; Ford lost $1200 on every Escort they made, so they cut corners. Even Saturn could not get it right. The Geo Prizm made by NUMMI in the joint venture GM/Toyota plant is the only good small car GM ever sold. The others, Corvair, Vega, Cavalier, Cobalt, etc. have beeen mediocre at best.


Nice reply Steve. This thread will turn ugly as noted by mountainbike but at least it got off to a good start with your level-headed reply.


Before ripping on GM, Malibus, and Bob Bell Chevrolet, it seems to me there are a number of unanswered questions.

The brakes need replacement every 12-14k miles. A mail carrier here goes through brake pads every 3-4 weeks, rotors every few months, and this is entirely normal.
What type of driving is involved and as always, just how hard is the OP braking? (The latter is always a very subjective opinion.)

What is the reason the car was taken to Bob Bell Chevy in the first place?

Did the OP have a specific brake complaint, and if so, what were the symptoms?

The OP was told they attempted to pry the drums off. Told by whom? And why?

Was the Malibu taken to another shop after leaving the Chevy dealer?

If the Malibu was taken to a Chevy dealer for a brake complaint then why did the OP not have it repaired instead of taking it somewhere else?

The OP is working on a friend’s Contour but has to rely on someone else to service something as simple as rear brakes on their own car?
Why is this?

There are a few other questions I have, but those I listed will do for starters.


Can’t disagree completely, but in my experience a business doing well is more likely to be fair and honest than one not doing well. Ford dealers are mostly struggling, and any business struggling with poor sales just may use its service bay to compensate. But I agree that much is in the culture of the dealership itself.

I learned to drive on Corvairs, a '61 and a '65. Both were okay. The '65 was actually a pretty decent car for that era, but it suffered from Ralph Nader syndrome.

I bought a branny new '72 Vega. That was a mistake. I could tell horror stories all evening about that car.


My 2000 Impala still has its factory original front and back brakes, both pads and rotors at 94000. Perhaps you might try switching to ceramic pads, but if you do, its best to start fresh with new rotors.


I was a GM, BMW, Subrau service manager in the 1980’s. They all had good products and they all had problems. Don’t judge one brand by one car taken to one dealer. My '96 Pontiac TransAm went over 100,000 miles on factory brakes. My old '75 Saab ate brake linings like potato chips.

I’d give the dealer another chance to explain and/or take care of the problem. If not, take it to another reputable repair shop for another opinion. I’d be looking at your driving habits, left footed braking and riding the brake, sticking caliper or master cylinder pistons. That isn’t normal for any product from any manufacturer under normal driving conditions. In defense of GM, note that brakes are not warranty items, they are normal wear items, although they will correct an initial defect. When did the problems begin, what mileage, did you have them during the warranty period, did you buy the car used, do you know it’s history if used?


I have to wonder too what is wrong. Our 99 Malibu’s front pads lasted to about 70,000 miles; was driven to work by my wife in urban freeway and surface street traffic. We traded it for an 03 which had good brakes at 36,000 miles when it was traded for an 05 which has good brakes yet at 30,000 miles.


I think you just got one of the problem cars. Not all Malibu brakes wear out prematurely, as the others have said already. There is no harm done by switching favorite manufacturers.
I agree with the Contour = junk. It is true in enough ways in general. My only problem with the Malibu is the price, but I’ll bet that most people get them cheaper than the sticker price. On your Malibu, you could have cheap brake pads or maybe bad hardware on the calipers, which is mainly the bolts holding them on and the spacers.
I liked Ford’s customer service in Bedford Pa. but they didn’t have a planetary gearset on hand, so they put an old one back in with bad looking splines, they said. The thing broke a few years later. Not entirely their fault, as I put some transmission additive in a couple weaks before the thing let go. My front end alignment was way off for a long time and I forgot to have it done when I bought the car.
I liked the Saturn customer service but their cars seem to be mislabled Chevies to me now. I liked the 92 Camry when it came out, but they’re old now. Sometimes, the odds work against you, and it is just bad luck. Good luck in future car buying.


“Toyota has blown past GM as the largest manufacturer in teh world and is about to eclipse them in U.S. sales”

Wrong, 1st they never past GM by any large numbers… Plus GM took the lead back in Q3.

Want a good read try this

PS: I actually took a new job, with another company. This time an import company, but I still belive in GM and feel I have to defend them.

As for the OP’s post… Brakes should not go out that quickly, however many things can condribute to this. Driving styles, quality of parts, quality of instalation, etc. Can you give us some more details on where the work has been done, and what kind of parts they have been using?


Some answers - I took it to Bob Bell because that is where we bought it from and I thought something was wrong making the brakes go out that fast. I understand brakes will go out faster or slower depending on what type of driving you do, but I drive the Malibu the same way I drive every other car I have or had and NONE of them have ever had brakes go out this fast - usually it is twice as long as these Malibu brakes - I’ve had some cars take 5 years of normal driving before needing brakes - not 12 months. If the brakes had gone out normally, I would have replaced them - it is a simple job but I thought something else was wrong and it was under warrantee. After I got the car back and they refused to fix them, I did the brakes/rotors myself, but had a loud thumping noise from the brakes - and I couldn’t figure this out. So I paid the local shop to look at them and they said that the dealer had “pryed off” the rear drums and “bent” them when they had pulled them for inspection - they showed me the pry marks. I them replaced the rear drums and the noise went away - I did not have the noise before I had taken it to Bob Bell - I just had a noise from the front like metal-to-metal (wear indicator)


It’s good to have you back Mike. You don’t post nearly as often enough as you should. We all appreciate whatever you have to say to us.


I agree with the Contour = junk. It is true in enough ways in general.

I owned a 95 contour GL. Not too long after I bought it, it started to drink anti-freeze like a human drinks water. Took it to a local shade tree mechanic and he fixed it, couple weeks later it started overheating again and drank the A-F, 3 different times he fixed it and after the 3d time I said to hell with it and traded it in. I got what I owed for it on trade, plus 300 for an aftermarket CD player I put in it(factory radio was a cassette player). When I got rid of it, I got the civic I have now, and that was years ago.


Well… I have a new job. I’m teaching Automotive Technology in a local vocational tech school. I’ve monitored the new board but just haven’t had the time to post many replies. I’ll still be around but maybe not as often.


I stand corrected. Toyota outsold GM for the first 6 months and GM has creeped ahead this last quarter. But clearly Toyota is positioned to become the world’s largest permanently. Toyota’s global sales for the first 9 months were up 7%, GM’s 2%. We’ll see how it all shakes out this 4th quarter.

The first link was excellent. The second was interesting, and I thank you, but it was clearly biased…written as if GM didn’t also have problems. And, to the author’s credit, it was honest about that in its presentation. I still maintain that while Toyota is slipping in quality and needs to address the problem, the problems that have caused GM to lose their absolute dominance continue unchecked. They need to take some risks, and not just go for pieces of markets that are already exploited. They need to try new things. And based on everything I’ve read from industry insiders, that cannot happen with the current structure. They need bold, forward thinking design team managers who, once they come up with a new concept, are allowed to control that concept through to fruition. They desperately need a Lee Iacocoa.

Bill Ford, on the other hand, has apparently accepted their slippage in market share and is actively working to reduce the size of FoMoCo. The concept is that they’ll be “smaller but healthier”.


There could be any number of reasons for premature brake wear; habits, sticking caliper slides, park brake cable (rear), etc.

I don’t see the brakes a being a chronic problem because if they were really this bad there would have been a recall issued at the worst or a TSB issued at the least. ALLDATA shows neither.
Advance Auto Parts Reliability chart (based on pro techs feedback) does not show a problem either.

As to the other issues.
Warranty will not pay for brake wear except in a very few specific cases.

The OP did not get the brakes repaired under warranty and chose to do it themselves.
The OP replaced the front and rear brakes and THEN noticed this noise on the rear if I read this right.
The OP then takes it to a shop who told him the dealer “bent the drums”.

So my questions to the OP are.
At what point did this “bent drum” noise start? After you left the dealer or AFTER you repaired it yourself? Your words are that you noticed this problem after YOU did the repair.
Did you tell the shop that you were involved in this repair in any way?

Note. If a drum has to be “pried off” that means it has a large lip on the inner edge due to excessive wear. This also means the drum is more than likely junk anyway.
Did the drums have a lip on them?

I stated originally I thought there were a lot of unanswered questions about this and I’m sticking with it; and rear brakes can knock if the shoes are improperly installed and/or seriously out of adjustment. This can fall back on whoever done did the rear brakes (grammar not corrected.)


Answers - Since all I heard was the metal noise from the wear indicators, all I replaced was the front pads/rotors. Once this metal noise went away, that’s when I noticed the thumping noise. I checked the front again to see if I did something wrong and couldn’t figure it out - since I never touched the back, I didn’t look at them. When I couldn’t figure it out, I paid a local shop to look at them - they pulled all the tires and found the “bent” drums. I got the car back, replaced the drums and all was well. The only people who looked at the back brakes were the dealer - they do a 4 wheel brake inspection as routine procedure when working on brakes - so they said. When I pulled the drums later, I did not notice any lip at all on the drums, in fact they looked pretty new - like any 12k drums would. My guess was that they may have left the parking brake on and couldn’t get the drums off without prying - not something an experienced mechanic would do, but who knows? The front was only making noise for a day before we took it to the dealer - so unless it happened exactly at the same time as the front going bad, the problem wasn’t there before we took it to the dealer and since they were the only ones to look at the back brakes, I still think they did something. But I guess there is no way to know for certain unless I was there to see what they did. Thanks


my '04 Malibu with just 20,600 miles has, according to the dealer, “non-existent” rear brakes and bad front rotors. I have 3 Hondas and one other Chevy, none have gone thru brakes like this.