Lawsuit seeks millions from GM for cracked wheels on pricey Corvettes
DETROIT - After serving 40 years in the Michigan government, Vanessa Bishop Diggs retired to the warmth of Savannah, Georgia in 2016 to “enjoy the moss that hangs from the trees, the architecture, the food, the Culture and the music, "she said.
By May 2019, 66-year-old Diggs had saved $ 97,000 to buy the car of her dreams: the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 high-end sports car in black.
"That was my dream vehicle. I've done everything I should do in life. When you've done this and that, things come to you and you reap what you sow," said Diggs. "And then, bam!"
Vanessa Bishop, 66, stands with her 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 on August 15, 2020.
A year later, Diggs' dream car began to "close and flicker" at just 15,000 miles, she said. Diggs found out that it had four bent rims. The warranty didn't cover replacing and GM reps told her that her driving and normal wear and tear were causing the problem. It cost her $ 3,000 to replace the rims - and it shattered her dream.
"I don't want the car now, even with the new rims, because it was sick," said Diggs. "I don't want to deal with it and how General Motors treats me, I don't want to now."
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Diggs is one of hundreds of 2015-19 Corvette Z06 or Grand Sport model owners who have reported bent or cracked rims despite low mileage and careful driving. Some have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, others to the Better Business Bureau.
A class action lawsuit filed against GM is now seeking million dollar reimbursement for 18 owners named in the lawsuit, as well as everyone else, including Diggs, who have sustained damaged bikes. The class action lawsuit accuses GM of using substandard materials and a faulty manufacturing process that resulted in substandard bikes.
GM declined to comment on this story. However, a GM spokesperson said there had been no safety recalls for the 2015-19 Corvettes, nor are any planned. According to GM, the damage is caused by regular wear and tear while driving, the car's chief engineer said.
GM dealers also offer customers tire and wheel protection, said a spokesman. While the cost varies based on many factors, it is typically around $ 1,000 for the overall plan, the spokesman said.
Bad roads or bad manufacturing?
The consolidated class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on September 10th holds GM responsible for the defective wheels, arguing that those affected should get their costs reimbursed. It is filed on behalf of everyone who bought or leased a Corvette Z06 from 2015 to 2019 or a Corvette Grand Sport from 2017 to 2019.
The lawsuit alleges that the rims on these models are "prone to warping and cracking without impact damage." GM made the wheels out of inferior material that is "cast rather than forged, of insufficient strength and quantity to withstand the torque and power consumption of the drivetrain," the lawsuit states.
Vanessa Bishop stands next to her 2019 Corvette Z06 at a Corvette Club Car Show in Savannah, Georgia, November 2, 2019.
GM also used less material than needed to save "unsprung weight," the weight that is not supported by the vehicle's suspension, the lawsuit said.
"As a result, the rims are not strong enough and crack and deform under normal driving conditions," said the lawsuit. This leads to the vibrations that the drivers felt. The lawsuit said the cars were unsafe to drive because the broken rims could damage the tires and cause air leaks and flat tires.
Car and Driver Magazine's review of the 2017 Corvette Grand Sport was also cited in the lawsuit. It reported that it had to replace or repair six damaged wheels during its $ 4,098 test period during its 40,000-mile test period, the lawsuit said. GM will not cover the costs under the guarantee.
"Consumers regularly paid over $ 900 per wheel to replace a broken wheel with an equally defective spare wheel," the lawsuit said.
Lawyers: We're looking for consumers
The lawyers named in the lawsuit declined to comment on the exact amount of compensation they were seeking.
“We are consumer advocates and we look forward to defending the rights of all consumers who have bought one of these vehicles with defective rims. Our only goal is to make sure owners get what they expected, "said Tarek Zohdy, senior counsel at Capstone Law in Los Angeles, one of the law firms filing the lawsuit.
But the math shows it could add up to tens of millions of dollars.
In 2019, GM sold 17,988 Corvettes. GM doesn't break out how many of them were Z06 and Grand Sports. Even if only a quarter of them were the affected models Z06 and Grand Sport, that's 4,500. Replacing all four rims for about $ 4,000 each could cost these owners $ 18 million to reimburse them. That's only for a year.
GM wouldn't find out what percentage of sales were made by the high-end Grand Sport or Z06 models, but a spokesman said the Stingray coupe and convertible models are the most popular editions sold. These had no problems with bikes. Likewise, there are certain wheels on the Z06 and Grand Sport models that customers may or may not have selected for the car, a GM spokesman said.
Corvette Engineer: It happens
Over the years dozens of complaints about wheel bending and cracking have been posted on the Corvette Forum. In 2017, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Jüchter addressed the topic in the forum.
Jüchter wrote: "We develop wheels that can withstand extreme pothole loads and test them on high-speed laboratory equipment that can simulate the entire life cycle of the vehicle."
"People are often surprised that a wheel can be bent or torn without any visible damage to the tire or obvious scratches on the wheel."
Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter will accept the award for the North American Car of the Year 2020 on Monday, January 13, 2020 at the TCF Center in Detroit.
He said that a wheel is often "bent by a road hazard, but the damage to the driver is almost invisible at first. Perhaps the driver will notice a little more vibration, but often not when the wheel is just slightly out of round (just one or two Millimeters). "
Eventually, he said, "fatigue cracks" can form and the wheel, which may not look any different, will begin to leak air from the rim.
"As it is hundreds or thousands of kilometers after the harmful event, the driver often cannot remember having hit something that would justify a crack in the wheel," wrote Jüchter. "I actually saw it myself."
But for those who endured the problem, GM's statement falls flat.
Diggs said GM customer service representatives told her it was her driving and normal wear and tear that caused her bent wheels.
"I'm not hot rodding in this car or racing down the street," said Diggs. "I'm from Michigan so I know how to duck and dodge a pothole. It's my baby and it's insulting when someone says, 'wear and tear' and suggests that I abused it."
A driver becomes active through BBB
Jim H. was told it was normal road wear when he encountered the problem. The Ohio man, who asked that his full name not be used by the automaker for fear of setback, bought his new 2017 Corvette Grand Sport Convertible in June 2017. He paid about $ 73,000 for it and only drove it in warm weather and pristine streets.
Jim H. asked to use his full name. This is his 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport. He had to replace all four rims, which cost nearly $ 5,000. He received the reimbursement from the Better Business Bureau, he said.
But last year, with less than 6,000 miles, it developed a vibration, he said. The local dealer told him that all four wheels were bent. His bumper-to-bumper warranty did not cover the cost of replacing the bent wheels.
"GM and the dealers blame the road conditions. But the roads I drive on are pretty good," said Jim H. "It just seemed unreasonable to me for this to happen. I babysat the car."
He could drive the car, but it vibrated and he said he was concerned the bent wheels could crack and leak air and get him stuck somewhere.
"Chances are you'll destroy it too, but I was more upset that I was stranded," said Jim H. "I was very upset that my car was damaged and I did nothing to fix it to damage."
Around Labor Day 2019, he bought replacement wheels for the aftermarket. "I was still fighting GM and I knew I wouldn't put their wheels on my car," said Jim H.
It cost him $ 4,940 to repair his car. Jim H. filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and won an arbitration. GM had to reimburse him for the $ 4,940 he paid.
In the verdict, the arbitrator wrote: "Contrary to its advertising, the manufacturer stated at the hearing that the wheels must have been damaged due to the road conditions and that even 'slight indentations' at 'low speeds' can lead to them bend the wheels. " . "
The referee found that apart from his four bent wheels, there was no evidence of road damage. "If the vehicle had a bent wheel, the possibility of a road condition causing the damage would possibly have been reasonable, although it would be difficult to believe under the circumstances," recalling the good care that Jim H. took of the vehicle offered.
"I find the manufacturer's explanation incredible," the umpire wrote, adding, "I find the only reasonable explanation is a manufacturer's defect that should be covered by the manufacturer's bumper-to-bumper warranty."
"The win meant more to me than the money," said Jim H. "How upset I was with GM as a company and how they treat their customers and how they brush me aside, it felt great to go against them and get something I think that was fair. "
Couple on their Corvette: "It had to work"
Douglas Settell and his wife Joanne Ottens from Sacramento, California, remain loyal GM customers because of their experience, but not for the Corvette.
In June 2018, the couple paid $ 106,000 for a 2018 silver Corvette Grand Sport. They bought it from the showroom floor with less than 10 miles on it, they said.
"It was a pretty exciting time and it was a nice car," said Ottens. “For that kind of money, they expect a car that drives well. Corvette is such an iconic brand, I'd never heard of it having mechanical difficulties. "
Douglas Settell and his wife Joanne Ottens, who sits on the passenger side in Sacramento, California, purchased this Corvette Grand Sport 2018 in June 2018. However, they sold them back to the dealer after two cracked rims.
But within two weeks of possession, Settell noticed an air leak on the passenger-side rear tire. He had to refill it routinely, he said. But the dealership found no problem with the tire. So Settell continued to drive, even though he and Ottens suspected something was "very wrong".
Finally, in January of this year, the tire picked up a screw. Settell got it into an independent tire store and they found the cracked rim. Since there was a three-week delay in ordering a new rim from GM, Settell had the store weld the cracked rim.
But by August the rim had cracked again. Settell paid $ 872 to replace it.
"I asked the dealer why this was not covered by the warranty and the service manager said he had tried multiple times to make a warranty claim on this issue and General Motors refused each time," said Settell.
Soon a service technician would find out that the driver's front wheel rim had also cracked. Settell ordered another new rim. Then he got a call from the dealer.
"The dealer said they are interested in buying back the car in order to increase their used vehicle inventory," Settell said.
Ottens felt her husband was "driving a death trap" and Settell was fed up.
Douglas Settell, located in Sacramento, California, stands for the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty pickup truck, which he traded in for his 2018 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport after the sports car had two cracked rims. October 8, 2020.
"I was fed up with cracking rims and having to pay for it out of my own pocket, and GM has not kept its guarantee for it." I was fed up, ”said Settell. "Also, I didn't feel safe driving out of town because if I hit a pothole and tear a tire, I'll be in a world of injuries. It could get out of control. It had to go."
So the couple sold the car back to the dealer for $ 48,000. Settell got a 2020 Silverado heavy-duty pickup in his place. The couple are not eligible to participate in the class action lawsuit because they sold the car. But if it catches on, they might consider requesting a refund, they said.
Other ways to get things right
A spokeswoman for BBB Auto Line declined to disclose how many Corvette wheel damage cases were handled similarly to Jim H. BBB Auto Line, a division of BBB National Programs, provides out-of-court dispute resolution between consumers and automakers over alleged vehicle defects.
Almost 63% of all claims are resolved through mediation, said Abby Hills, a spokeswoman for BBB National Programs, an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to industry self-regulatory accountability and dispute resolution programs.
If the parties cannot resolve their dispute through mediation, they have the option to initiate arbitration, she said. The customer can accept or reject the decision within a specified period of time. If the consumer accepts the decision, the manufacturer is legally required to comply, Hills said.
There are 250 complaints about the 2015-19 Corvette wheels on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
"We are in regular communication with the manufacturer and are continuing to collect information and monitor the issue," said Sean Rushton, NHTSA spokesman. "NHTSA will not hesitate to act if a safety-related defect is discovered."
Consumers should report potential safety flaws to NHTSA on their website or by calling 888-327-4236, Rushton said.
Diggs filed a complaint with NHTSA in July. But she said she would never buy another GM vehicle even though her father worked for GM as a punch press at Oldsmobile.
Vanessa Bishop sits in her 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 on June 1, 2019, the day she picked up the new car.
"My father would turn around, but that's fine because if he were alive he would be very angry now," said Diggs. "People could be killed if they don't fix this."
She has also requested documentation from the Better Business Bureau. Attorneys in the class action lawsuit have reached out to her, she said, and she plans to join her.
"GM can do this right through humans," said Diggs. "I just want you to do the right thing and make sure people are safe. If I get my $ 3,000 back, that's the icing on the cake. But you can't treat people that way."
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Lawsuit Seeks Millions of GM for Allegedly Bad Wheels on Corvettes
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