Thank you for contacting the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) regarding the
paint problem on your General Motors (GM) vehicle. At CAS' urging, in
January 1993 GM adopted the most comprehensive paint policy within the
industry. GM will repaint vehicles with defective paint for free for six
years and unlimited mileage, regardless of whether you bought the vehicle
new or used. GM will pay all the cost of repair except for dents, scrapes
and other similar damage. A copy of GM's announcement of its corporate-wide
paint policy is enclosed. In March 1995, GM secretly reneged on this policy
by cutting the limit to 5 years. However, many consumers have sued in
small claims court to force GM to honor the 6-year program and to get
free paint jobs beyond 6-years if they show the paint defect first surfaced
A national class action lawsuit against GM was filed in Louisiana by
Becnel, Landry & Becnel, P.O. Drawer H, Reserve LA 70084. one need
not contact this firm to be part of the class as the court will order
notification of all owners covered by the class if a settlement is reached.
"Dateline NBC" did a program on peeling paint on November 2, 1997, and
has an Internet website, www.dateline.msnbc.com, from
which further information can be obtained.
The most common paint defects seen in GM vehicles are paint peel and
severe flaking, conditions in which a vehicle's colorcoat (e.g., blue,
gray, silver) literally lifts away from the underlying anti-corrosion
primer coat which is generally a dull gray color. on vehicles suffering
paint peel, the colorcoat peels off on horizontal surfaces (hood, cowl
and roof) first. on severely affected vehicles, the vertical surfaces
(quarter panels) will also peel with the passage of time. The best analogy
for the paint peel condition is the after effects of a bad sunburn. Following
a sunburn, the skin often blisters and then peels away. Paint peel is
analogous to a sunburn in that the paint literally peels away in patches.
If your GM vehicle suffers from the condition described above, CAS suggests
you take the following action to obtain free repairs beyond the express
C Contact the service
manager at your local GM dealership.
C If the dealer service manager's
offer is unsatisfactory or you are denied a refund for a previous paint
job, call your GM Customer Assistance division at the following numbers:
Buick, 800-521-7300; Cadillac, 800-458-8006; Chevrolet, 800-222-1020;
GMC 313-253-7164; Oldsmobile, 800-442-6537 and Pontiac 800-762-2737. Use
the complaint box to alert us if GM does not honor its policy.
C If you find GM's response
unacceptable, sue GM in small claims
court. In most states, the GM agent for service of process is CT Corp.
More information on this simple procedure is found in the enclosed blue
pamphlet. (If the vehicle is less than 5 years old, you may also arbitrate
through the Better Business Bureau by calling 800-955-5100.) As a practical
matter, try to get your small claims case scheduled for a Friday
afternoon or early Monday morning. Most GM field
representatives have "travel zones," requiring them to drive or fly out
to their zones on Monday and return home on Friday. By scheduling your
case against GM on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon, the factory representative
has additional incentive to settle with you out-of-court. Furthermore,
most GM representatives hate spending half a day in small claims court.
Many will settle with you before court, upon receipt of the small claims
court documents. Be sure to list your phone number on the court papers
so the factory representative can contact you more readily.
If your case will not be settled without a court hearing, it is important
that you know a couple legal terms in case they come up in court. "Statute
of limitations (SoL)" means, in general, that a given number
of years, usually four, have elapsed since the purchase date of the vehicle
and the passage of time precludes one from suing in court. If you ever
hear SoL mentioned, respond by stating that the "discovery rule"
should apply in your case. The discovery rule is a legal concept that
"tolls" (suspends) the SoL given it was impossible to
discover the matter being sued over within the statute of limitations
time period. In this instance, you will be suing over a latent paint defect.
As a consumer, you could not have known of GM's latent paint defect until
the paint literally started peeling/flaking off of your vehicle. Arguably,
even if the paint started peeling/flaking years ago, you did not learn
of the paint defect until January 1993 when the media publicized CAS'
action regarding the GM paint peel defect. Some judges may decide that
the statute of limitations did not commence running until you actually
learned that the paint condition on your vehicle was the result of a concealed,
latent manufacturing defect.
If you must go to court, the attached news
release shows GM is well aware of the deficiencies in its paint process
and has taken responsibility for this defect back at least 6 years. Every
dealer also got a detailed Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) on paint delamination
which should prove useful in court as they show GM has been aware of the
paint problem on its for several years. Ask your dealer for a copy. If
the dealer does not provide a copy, ask the small claims court judge to
order GM to produce a copy. Some of the TSB numbers are: Buick 92-10-57,
Chevrolet/Geo 92-300-10, Oldsmobile 93-T-05, Pontiac 92-10-59, and GMC
Truck 92-10-134. (You can also get an order form and index to all service
bulletins issued within the past four years from GM by calling 800-551-4123.)
You can obtain a copy of CAS' correspondence with GM on paint defects
for $10. The correspondence includes several internal
GM documents acknowledging the defect and stating the 6-year, no mileage,
no-deductible paint policy. Ask the judge to order GM to reimburse the
$10 cost as part of the cost of filing suit. Also ask the court to order
GM to produce records on how many vehicles by model and year it repainted
for free. Be sure to take along to court photos of your vehicle and estimates
from local, reputable repair shops of the cost to repaint your vehicle.
If you are beyond the 6-year limit, GM should still reimburse
you if the paint defect first appeared during the 6-year period.
After all, GM should not benefit from its delay in implementing this policy
until after its arbitrary limit expired. If GM refuses to voluntarily
pay for repainting, take GM to small claims court. Similar to the statute
of limitations argument above, argue that this was a concealed, latent
defect. Use the complaint box to tell us about any problems with the 6-year
You should write letters to help make state and federal officials aware
of the widespread nature of the GM paint peel defect. Include information
regarding the make, model and year of your vehicle, color, and a brief
overview of your experiences to date in your attempt to get GM to pay
for the cost to repaint your vehicle. Send CAS copies of your letters.
The individuals to write are as follows:
C Your state attorney general.
His/her address can be found in a phone book under the listing of state
C Federal Trade Commission.
Address your letter to: Robert Pitofsky, Chairman; Federal Trade Commission;
6th & Pennsylvania Ave NW; Washington DC 20580.
Use the complaint box to provide information
on your efforts and sucess in dealing with GM paint problems so that we
can better help you. We need you to support the Center for Auto Safety
in our fight for consumer rights and against poorly designed and unsafe
cars. Your contribution is tax-deductible
and entitles your to our quarterly newsletter, Lemon Times.
Please submit the membership form along with
your contribution and complaint. If you contribute $35 or more, we will send you the current edition of The Ultimate Car Book, by Jack Gillis. Every home should
have this invaluable consumer guide.
Clarence M. Ditlow