General Motors’ legal woes have come to encompass yet another crop of the Detroit automaker’s most popular vehicles. With the ink just about dry on a sizeable settlement finalized last month, a new proposed class action lawsuit alleges the Generation IV 5.3 Liter V8 Vortec 5300 engine found in certain 2010-2014 vehicle models is “engineered to fail.” The suit claims that a number of interconnected flaws cause the engine to consume an “abnormally and improperly” large amount of oil that far exceeds industry standards.
The plaintiff behind the 66-page complaint out of the Northern District of Ohio alleges General Motors has for some time possessed knowledge of the “well-established” oil consumption issue yet failed to provide any remedy for drivers.
Which GM cars are named in the lawsuit?
The following Chevrolet and GMC models are identified in the lawsuit as equipped with Generation IV Vortec 5300 engines and hampered by an alleged oil consumption defect:
2010-2014 Chevy Avalanche;
2010-2012 Chevy Colorado;
2010-2013 Chevrolet Express;
2010-2014 Chevy Suburban;
2010-2014 Chevrolet Tahoe;
2010-2013 GMC Canyon;
2010-2013 GMC Savana;
2010-2013 GMC Sierra;
2010-2014 GMC Yukon; and
2010-2014 GMC Yukon XL.
(Note: The vehicles list above were produced after GM emerged from bankruptcy in July 2010.)
Engine troubles plague “New GM,” lawsuit claims
After “Old GM” filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2009, the “New GM” emerged with fresh Chevrolet and GMC vehicles equipped with an engine styled as the Generation IV Vortec 5300 for the 2010-2013 models. The complaint explains that while GM’s Vortec 5300 engines initially hit the market with some fanfare stemming from their resemblance to those found in the 1960s-era Corvette Stingray muscle car, the emergence of serious and potentially disastrous flaws with the engine dampened any leftover anticipation felt by consumers.
Unfortunately for drivers, the engines came stricken with, among other flaws, defective piston rings that were unable to maintain enough tension to ensure oil stayed within the crankcase, the lawsuit says. The problems this can cause, the suit elaborates, include:
Oil reaching the combustion chamber, where it’s burned off during an engine’s power stroke. This reduces the amount of oil in the car, as well as engine lubricity.
The constant fouling of spark plugs, which must be dry and free of debris to operate properly. When spark plugs get coated in oil, engine function is significantly diminished.
Oil passing around the piston rings and hardening in the combustion chamber, creating carbon buildup. This can cause “spark knock,” which the lawsuit says can lead to premature wear of piston rings as they grind against cylinder walls and ultimately allows for the consumption of even more oil.
“Active fuel management,” PCV system also contribute to problem, suit says
The case further alleges that the automaker’s active fuel management (AFM) system actually makes the oil consumption problem worse and contributes to the vehicles’ engine damage. The system, which is responsible for “[deactivating] four of the eight engine cylinders for fuel-saving purposes in low-load operating conditions,” contains an oil pressure relief valve that sprays oil directly into the piston skirts “in quantities that the rings cannot control.” The piston rings, the case continues, then allow excessive quantities of oil into the combustion chambers where it is burned, and ultimately leads to loss of oil. But this is not the only problem caused by the excessive oil spray, the lawsuit explains:
In addition, the excessive oil spray collects on the piston ring surfaces forming carbon buildup. Carbon buildup on the piston rings interferes with the rings’ seating in their grooves, and thus interferes with the rings’ ability to seal out oil. Once the rings lose proper groove seating, they become misaligned with the cylinder bores. Immediate and aggressive ring deterioration occurs as the fragile rings scrape against the harder steel cylinder bores at unintended angles.”
Further still, the complaint adds that the defendant’s Generation IV Vortec 5300 engines are beleaguered by a “flawed” positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system that vacuums oil from a vehicle’s valvetrain into its intake system. The oil ingested by the PCV system is ultimately burned in the engine’s combustion chambers, contributing even further to an already excessive oil consumption problem, the case says.
Additionally troubling for consumers is General Motors’ oil life monitoring system, which—you may have guessed the plaintiff alleges—fails to do what its name implies.
Do we even need an engine at this point?
Despite its name, GM’s oil life monitoring system does not monitor engine oil levels, according to the lawsuit. Rather, the system monitors engine conditions, such as revolutions and temperature, in order to quantify a vehicle’s expected deterioration in oil quality, the suit states. This information is then used to recommend to a driver when it’s time for an oil change.
While GM’s oil life monitoring system keeps an eye on engine conditions, one aspect it does not take into account is a vehicle’s actual oil levels, the lawsuit says. This apparent blind spot, the plaintiff claims, results in drivers often traveling “thousands of miles” with inadequate engine lubrication and wearing out and damaging internal components – a particularly troublesome issue given that the vehicles are already prone to excessive oil loss.
A little more warning next time, please.
The suit explains that the oil pressure gauge and oil canister image on each vehicle’s dashboard are supposed to illuminate upon detecting low oil levels; however, they do not provide any indication as to when oil pressure falls low enough to cause internal engine damage, according to the suit. Overall, the oil pressure indicators inside of the cabin do not provide an owner or lessee with any indication that their engine is in danger due to unsafe oil levels. As the complaint tells it, the oil canister symbol in the vehicles does not light up “until well past the time when the Class Vehicles are critically oil starved.”
The oil consumption defect can ultimately degrade spark plugs “no matter how often drivers top off their oil levels,” the suit goes on, indicating that the problem is simply too compounded to be staved off by an elevated attentiveness to maintenance. Fouled spark plugs, the suit says, can cause a weak or intermittent spark within an engine—if they produce a spark at all—that can lead to misfires and abrupt shutdowns, and present a significant safety risk.
“Engine misfires and shutdown events put occupants at risk,” the complaint reads, “as the Class Vehicles become stranded in hazardous traffic conditions, dangerous weather conditions and/or remote locations.”
2014’s Vortec 5300 engine redesign
While GM has over the years offered dealers assorted instructions on how to address excessive oil loss, the automaker’s remedies have served as nothing more than “stop-gap” fixes that have failed to completely and adequately fix drivers’ engines, the lawsuit alleges. Nevertheless, GM, without a true fix on hand and without disclosing the oil consumption defect to drivers, implemented a redesigned Generation V version to replace the Generation IV Vortec 5300 engine and supposedly remedy the defect alleged in the lawsuit.
The overhauled 2014 Vortec engine came equipped with an “improved sealing ring package,” the suit explains, an AFM shield that directed oil spray away from piston skirts, and a new valve cover with an updated PCV orifice. The case adds the 2014 Generation V Vortec also reintroduced an oil level sensor.
The lawsuit asserts that while GM’s redesign of the Vortec 5300 engine effectively confirms every apparent defect described above, owners and lessees of vehicles with Generation IV engines were left entirely out in the cold.
“Those people remain saddled with their defective Generation IV Vortec 5300 Engines with no relief from GM,” the suit relays.
Moreover, despite knowing of the Chevy and GMC oil consumption defect, GM continued to sell and lease vehicles to consumers without disclosing the potentially catastrophic problem, the suit says. In fact, to this day, GM has not warned or otherwise informed drivers that their vehicles may be consuming oil at an unreasonable—and unsafe—rate, the lawsuit alleges.
From the suit:
Rather, GM has allowed drivers of the Class Vehicles to continue driving those vehicles, despite knowing that they are consuming oil at an abnormally high rate, and has continued allowing drivers of the Class Vehicles to rely on the Oil Life Monitoring System, despite knowing that they were driving well past the point at which their vehicles have consumed the amount of oil necessary for proper engine lubrication and proper, safe operation. The result is Class Vehicles that suffer engine failure and engine damage, including spark plug fouling, ring wear, lifter collapse, bent pushrods, camshaft wear, valve wear, rod bearing wear, rod breakage, wristpin wear, wristpin breakage, crankshaft wear and main bearing wear or destruction and other forms of internal component wear/breakage due to unacceptable heat and friction levels and oil breakdown.”
Consumers would never have bought or leased affected 2010-2014 Chevrolet and GMC vehicles, or would have paid less for the cars, had they known they were buying into an engine rife with flaws, according to the lawsuit.
Am I covered by this lawsuit?
The case looks for the court to certify nationwide and Ohio-only classes of all current and former owners or lessees of any of the vehicle models listed at the top of this post.