Thank you for contacting the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) about problems with your General Motors N-car (Buick Skylark, Somerset; Chevrolet Malibu; Oldsmobile Calais, Achieva, Alero, Cutlass; Pontiac Grand Am). First introduced in 1985 as the Pontiac Grand AM, Oldsmobile Calais and Buick Somerset Regal, N-cars have undergone a bewildering array of changes over the years. In 1986 the Somerset Regal became the Somerset and was joined by the Skylark. In 1988, the Somerset was dropped and the Calais became the Cutlass Calais. In 1992, the Achieve replaced the Cutlass Calias but was cut after the 1997 model year when GM brought out the Oldsmobile Cutlass (just plain Cutlass) and Chevrolet Malibu. The Alero debuted as a 1999 model. CAS has received thousands of complaints on N-car defects such as power steering loss, stalling, sudden acceleration, paint peel, engine fire and failure, and automatic transmission failures.
In January 1992, GM announced a "service campaign" to correct stalling on 1986-87 N-cars with 3.0 V6's. The policy was in effect through December 31, 1992 or 100,000 miles, whichever came first but, consumers say that "service kits" GM used to cure stalling don't help. GM documents have linked two dangerous N-car defects, sudden acceleration and surge, to engine computer and cruise control malfunctions. GM has conducted four recalls on fuel line defects that can cause fires. All mid-1987 through 1994 N-cars have GM's door-mounted automatic belts that can't keep occupants inside the car if a door opens in a crash.
Among the N-cars' most expensive defects are engine problems: the 2.5-liter has had cracked heads and blocks (1985-86), valve guide wear (1987), and timing gear noise (1985-90). GM has had so many problems with the "Quad 4" engine that it extended the warranty to 6 years/60,000 miles, waived the $100 deductible on 1987-91's and notified owners about defective head gaskets. On 1992-93's, the "Quad 4 engine" had cracked heads and coolant loss for which GM extended the warranty to 7 years/100,000 miles. Other expensive defects include automatic transmission failure (1985-90), loss of power steering when cold (1985-88), and electronic dashboard failure (1985-88). Another expensive defect on 1985-92 N-Cars is peeling paint. At CAS' request, GM agreed to pay for complete repainting for paint peel and delamination through six years and unlimited mileage but, in March 1995, GM cut this back to 5 years.
You'll find more information on these and other N-car defects below and what you can do about them plus a complaint box. Your information will help us build a strong case against GM on the defects we know about and help us spot new ones.
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
Buick Skylark; Chevrolet Malibu; Oldsmobile Achieva, Alero, Calais, Cutlass; Pontiac Grand Am
Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) are listed in brackets below.
Automatic Transmission: TH-125 automatic can slip, leak, shift erratically, or completely fail. For more information on transmission defects, go to GM FWD Transmission.
Brakes: Front caliper bolt bore corrosion 1990-92 (Oldsmobile 92-T-18, Buick 92-5-4); Delco ABS-VI exchange program 1991-92 (Buick 92-5-2); ABS-VI/TSC exchange program 1991-94 (GM 31-50-13B).
Engine/Driveability: 2.5L-4: Cranks/won't run 1987-89 (Buick 89-6E-1); Lower radiator hose rubs through 1990-91 (Pont 91-6-44); Exhaust sulfur smell 1990-91 (Oldsmobile 91-T-223). 2.3/2.4L: Cold start stall, rough idle 1995-97 (77-61-09B). 2.3 Quad 4: Timing chain rattle on start 1987-90 (Pont 90-6-37); Replace crankshaft pulley 1988-92 (Buick 92-6-13); Head gasket 1988-91 (Buick 91-68-3); Coolant leak past head gasket, FREE REPAIR 6yr/60,000 1988-91 (Buick 91-Pol-2A); Coolant leak, cracked cylinder head, FREE REPAIR, 7yr/100,000 1992-93 (57-61-26A) . 3.0-V6: Stalling "service campaign" 1986-87 (Buick 87-POL-1, Oldsmobile 87-T-40, Pont 87-SM-13); Extended crank, won't run 1994-95 (51-63-01),1993-95 (51-65-70), 1995 & Prior (61-65-23). 3.1/3.4L-V6: Cold engine tick or rattle - replace piston/pin assembly 1994-97 Skylark, Achieva,1997-98 Malibu, Cutlass, 1994-98 Grand Am (57-61-24A); Poor driveability due to fuel injector deposits 1994-98 (77-63-04A); Oil odor - replace rear main bearing seal 1994-98 (87-60-02A);. All: Miss/hesitation, 1987-93 (Chevrolet 93-35-6D); Vibration at idle, noise on acceleration 1997-98 Malibu, Cutlass (73-60-17).
Paint: Bumps/rust spots 1994-99 (43-17-01B). For info on peeling paint, go to GM Paint.
Steering/Suspension: P/steering shudder 1989-91 (Oldsmobile 91-T-193); Lead/pull, torque/memory steer, steering wheel off-center 1985-92 (Pont 92-3-3); Steering pull 1992-94 (Chevrolet 92-50-3B, Pont 93-3-10); Steering column popping noise 1992-93 (33-32-10A); Squeak/squawk from steering column bottom 1995-97 Achieva, Grand Am (73-32-09); Front suspension squawk 1993-98 Skylark, Achieva, Grand Am (73-33-01A); Front suspension/underhood noise 1985-91 (Oldsmobile 91-T-220); Front suspension clunk/squawk 1985-91 (Buick 91-3-20); Rattle/clunk/squeak from front - replace lower control arm or rack & pinion steering gear 1997-98 Cutlass, Malibu (73-32-10); Transaxle mount chirps 1990-91 with 2.5-4 or 3.3 V6 (Buick 91-7-4). For info on 1985-88 P/S loss, go to GM P/S. .
Other: Low heater output 1989-91 (Pont 91-1-12); w/s washer fluid loss & washer pump inoperative 1992-93 (Chevrolet 93-67-8E); engine coolant loss 1992-94 (Chevrolet 336201); extensive intermittent electrical problems 1992-93 (Pont 93-8-2); fuel filler door won't open 1991-96 (63-15-08); Transaxle mount replacement due to excess engine pull 1992-96 (63-61-09); Weak battery/generator, slow starting 1997-98 (83-64-16).
MAJOR SAFETY RECALLS
Copies of recalls may be obtained from NHTSA's Technical Reference Division at 202-366-2768.
Airbags: 48,689 1996 Achieva, Skylark - Deploys improperly (96V-211); 16,099 1997 Malibu - Passenger module not secured (97V-107).
Fire: 22,300 1987 Skylark, Grand Am, Calais, 61,765 1988-89 Skylark, Grand Am, Calais, 3,202 1990 Skylark/Calais, 108,836 1988-89 Skylark, Grand Am, Calais - Fuel hose leak (88V-032, 90V-042 ,90V-119, 92V-150); 37,030 1991 Skylark, Grand Am, Calais - P/window ECM shorts & overheats inside door (92V-043); 20 1992 Skylark, Grand Am, 1,681 1994 Achieva, Skylark, Grand Am, 245 1997 Skylark - Fails fuel tank crash standard (92V-106, 94V-122, 96V-212); 3,464 1997 Achieva, Skylark, Grand Am - Fuse block short (97V-059); 43,204 2000 Malibu - Fuel tank leaks (99V-302).
Lights: 101 1988 Skylark - Taillights go out (87V-169); 179,390 1985-86 Somerset, Skylark - Headlights go out without warning (88V-014); 10,000+ 1996 Achieva, Grand Am - Emergency light failure (96V-250); 10,000+ 1996 Achieva, Grand Am, Skylark - Interior lights turn on unexpectedly (98V-027).
Steering: 1,573 1992 Skylark - Steering column locks (91V-184); 35 1991 Grand Am - Steering column replacement (91V-018); 424 1996 Skylark, Grand Am - Loose steering system (96V-249); 217 1997 Alero, Grand Am - Steering wheel comes loose (98V-320).
Other : 100,000+ 1985 Calais, Grand Am - Throttle sticks open (86V-030); 206,651 1985-86 Calais - Hood flies up (86V-121); 261,171 1985-86 Grand Am, Calais - Door latch pillar base cracks (87V-124); 1,851 1992 Skylark, Grand Am - Passenger seat slides (91V-182); 272 1992 G/Am - Wheel separates (91V-204); 1,103 1993 Achieva, Skylark, Grand Am - Ignition neutral start switch fractures (93V-153); 487,400 1999-00 Alero, Grand Am - Console cover latch (00V-140).