A proposed class action lawsuit filed late last week claims certain Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles are plagued by a defect that causes the SUVs to burn or consume excessive amounts of oil, leading to a risk of catastrophic engine damage and serious safety concerns.
According to the 43-page complaint filed January 6 in Missouri federal court, the affected vehicles include 2014 to 2017 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles equipped with a 2.4-liter EcoTec engine. The case, which echoes previous litigation against General Motors involving earlier models of its Equinox and Terrain vehicles, says the 2014 to 2017 models have “one or more design defects” that prevent them from properly using engine oil and cause the engine to burn off or consume as much as one quart of oil per 1,000 miles driven.
As a result of this “unacceptably high” amount of oil consumption, Equinox and Terrain drivers must get more frequent oil changes or add engine oil between scheduled oil changes to prevent engine damage, the case says.
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Per the lawsuit, excessive oil consumption can lead to “a host of serious problems,” including engine shutdowns and stalls, spark plug fouling, engine misfires, unexpected loss of power, vehicle “jerking” and even engine fires.
Making matters worse, the vehicles allegedly have ineffective warning systems that fail to put drivers on alert that their engine oil is low—meaning some drivers only find out about the apparent problem when their car stalls or otherwise fails, the suit says.
“The result is a system that causes drivers to unknowingly travel hundreds or thousands of miles with inadequate engine lubricity levels, wearing out and damaging moving internal engine components,” the complaint reads.
A vehicle’s unexpected failure is a “substantial safety concern” given it could occur while the vehicle is in use, potentially putting drivers, passengers and others in harm’s way. There’s also a possibility that the lack of oil could cause an engine to overheat and catch fire, the suit notes.
According to the case, defendant General Motors LLC has been aware since “no later than late 2010” of the “significant problem” with its EcoTec 2.4L engines and has “actively and fraudulently concealed” the oil consumption issue from potential buyers.
In fact, the case says, GM previously settled class action lawsuits involving the oil consumption problem, but the settlement was limited to only certain 2010 to 2013 Equinox and Terrain vehicles. Per the suit, the 2014 to 2017 model years “suffer the same Oil Consumption Defect” as older Equinox and Terrain vehicles that GM has agreed to repair.
The lawsuit alleges that Equinox and Terrain owners would not have bought their SUVs had they known about the apparent oil consumption problem and have been left with “often inoperable, useless and unsafe” vehicles.
What causes the alleged oil consumption problem?
The root cause of the apparent oil consumption issue in Equinox and Terrain vehicles is a defectively designed piston and piston ring assembly, according to the complaint.
Per the case, the pistons in an internal combustion engine are fitted with compression and oil control rings that are designed to keep engine oil—a thin film of which exists between the pistons and cylinder walls to reduce friction and heat—from entering the combustion chamber.
In short, the lawsuit alleges that GM installed low-tension oil rings that fail to prevent engine oil from seeping into the engine’s combustion chamber, and this, in turn, causes manifold problems, according to the complaint.
First of all, the suit says, some of the oil that enters the combustion chamber is burned off, which reduces the overall oil level in the engine and, consequently, increases the risk of engine damage due to improper lubrication.
Second, oil in the combustion chamber that doesn’t burn off may coat the spark plugs’ electrodes and keep them from firing properly or at all, the complaint says.
The unburned oil could also harden and cause carbon buildup, leading to pre-ignition detonation, commonly called “spark knock,” according to the suit. Spark knock, the case says, causes the piston rings to be unseated from their positions and wear out even more quickly and vaporizes the thin film of oil on the cylinder walls, causing it to be vacuumed into the intake manifold.
Further compounding the problem, according to the case, are oil spray jets that “overload” the piston rings with excessive spray, and the engine’s positive crankcase ventilation (PVC) system, which apparently vacuums oil from the valve train and ultimately feeds it into the combustion chamber.
While all of this is happening, drivers remain blissfully unaware that their vehicles are experiencing “irreversible” engine damage because the cars are equipped with an ineffective warning system, the complaint goes on to argue.
Although the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain have an oil pressure warning system that is supposed to illuminate a red image of an oil canister and display a text warning on the vehicle’s dashboard when “oil is not flowing through the engine properly,” the warning appears “well past the time” when oil levels are critically low, the lawsuit alleges.
Similarly, the oil life monitoring system, which is reset each time the car gets an oil change, is “useless” given the increased rate at which oil is consumed, the suit says. Per the case, the system provides drivers with a “false sense of security” by failing to detect how much life is left in their oil. As a result, many drivers come to find out that their car was operating with little to no oil only after they begin experiencing problems, the suit says.
Alleged oil consumption problem is a safety issue, case argues
The lawsuit stresses that operating a car without sufficient engine oil is dangerous and can lead to an engine fire or an increased risk of accidents.
Per the suit, GM itself warns drivers in its owners’ manuals to stop driving if their car’s oil pressure is low, stating that the engine “can become so hot that it catches fire.”
The lawsuit goes on to stress that if an affected vehicle’s engine is damaged enough, it could fail to accelerate properly or shut down unexpectedly while the car is being driven. This could lead to an accident or leave drivers and their passengers stranded in an unsafe location, the suit says.
GM has long known about the oil consumption problem, lawsuit alleges
Despite these significant safety risks, the lawsuit claims GM has known about and attempted to conceal the apparent oil consumption defect from its customers for years.
According to the case, GM’s own testing, a vast number of consumer complaints and data from its dealers should have put the automaker on notice of the apparent issue. Further, the suit says, an internal report indicates that the company has known about the problem since at least 2010.
Nevertheless, GM has not issued a recall for the 2014-2017 Equinox and Terrain vehicles and has refused to fix affected EcoTec engines free of charge, according to the lawsuit. Instead, the case alleges, GM subjects drivers who complain about the problem to a “burdensome oil check” and, in some cases, maintains that the excessive oil consumption is “normal.”
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The case looks to represent current and former owners or lessees of 2014 to 2017 Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain vehicles equipped with a 2.4-liter engine who either reside in Missouri or purchased their vehicle in that state.
What if I don’t live in Missouri?
Currently, the case is only looking to cover Missouri residents or buyers. However, it’s possible that the lawsuit could be amended to include people in other states or that more lawsuits will be filed.
How do I join the excessive oil consumption lawsuit?
When a proposed class action is first filed, there’s usually nothing you need to do to join or be considered part of the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, those affected—called class members—should receive direct notice of the settlement and instructions on what to do next.