2008.08.27 How about a class action against stupidity?

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

I was excited recently when I saw a notice of a class action lawsuit covering repairs to certain GM vehicles. A year or two ago I wrote about discovering that I wasn’t the only one who had spent big money on manifold repairs to their Buick.

According to the notice of the class action, the problem extended to several GM engines and the Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and GMC divisions as well as Buick. With the settlement promising up to $800 in reimbursement, I headed to the class action website for more details.

Unfortunately, my hopes were short-lived. It turns out that $800 is available only to class members who paid over $1,500 in repairs during the first four years the car was in service. The older the car was before it needed repair, the less money you were entitled to.

In my case, the settlement will pay me back a whopping $50 of the $1,200 repair cost, but only if the Buick’s original owner bought it late in the 1998 model year. If he bought it in late 1997 or early 1998, seven years will have passed and I’m out of luck entirely. I need to find out the car’s original sale date to see if filing a claim will get me a minuscule return on my expenses or be a total waste of time.

I did dodge a bullet a couple of weeks ago in the car repair arena. I’ve had a slow leak in a tire for about a year now. Not enough to cause a problem, I just needed to add five or six pounds of air every month when I checked tire pressure. Then, I started to get vibrations in the steering wheel when I drove over 53 or 54 mph.

In late 2006, I had bought a new set of tires. They cost almost $400, by far the most I’ve ever spent on a set. Usually, I buy the cheapest tires I can because my vehicle will normally give out long before I need tires again. This time, since I was planning on keeping the Buick for a while, I sprang for a set of Goodyears. 

The tires even came with free rotation for life, a feature I never had before. “Just bring them in every 6,000 miles,” they told me. That advice went in one ear and out the other, tire rotation being an alien concept to someone used to buying a different junker every year or two.

Now I would have to return to the tire store and depending on their findings, have to confess to tire neglect. Sure enough, I was informed that the tires were “cupping” severely and possibly ruined. Then came the question, “How long has it been since you had them rotated?”  There was no use trying to get around it, they had the odometer reading right on my receipt. “Not quite 18,000 miles,” I said.

They weren’t very happy to hear that, especially when I could have gotten it done for free. They did offer to put it on the rack and see what they could do, if anything. That’s where they discovered  the tire with the slow leak had a bolt in it. It’s amazing it was there so long and didn’t ruin the tire. Another customer at the business wasn’t so lucky.

A Morenci man was also there to have a flat tire looked at. His low tire pressure alarm went off a few miles from home and by the time he pulled in his driveway, one tire was flat. They discovered the flat was caused by, of all things, a deer antler he had apparently run over.

Most likely, it was a piece of an antler left over from a vehicle-deer collision or a shed that somehow ended up on the road. The unlucky driver never even knew he hit it, but the tire was ruined and it was $200 for a new one. I told him that sounded like a column idea and for helping me out, I’d leave his name out of it.

I told a hunter friend the story and he said the Morenci man was fortunate. He knew of someone who lost two tires to deer sheds in one day. That man wins for the unlucky tire story for this week. And I ended up being the lucky one.

My tire shop friends fixed the tire with the bolt, did the free rotation and worked enough magic with wheel weights and their balancing machine to fix the vibration without replacing the tires. After extracting my blood oath that I’d return in 6,000 miles for an inspection, they let me go after charging a mere $24 for everything.

I feel fortunate that I got away so cheaply when I could have been buying four more tires. Now if I can just get that $50 from GM, maybe that “I’m a stupid idiot” feeling would go away. While I’m thinking about it, maybe I should go check my oil.

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