In the recall aftermath, is it smart to buy a GM car?

Understand what the recent recalls mean

Published: May 23, 2014 01:30 PM
Chevrolet Impala

With General Motors announcing recall after recall, it is natural that you'd question whether it makes sense to buy a new or used Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, or GMC vehicle. After all, recalls by their definition involve safety—a primary buying factor for shoppers.

With a recall, at least a problem has been identified and a solution made available, free to the customer. Having recalls isn’t an indication of an unreliable automaker. In fact, all automakers have recalls and most models are subject to at least one some time in their service life. (Check for yourself using the Consumer Reports recall search tool.)

The key for an automaker is to recall quickly when a problem has been identified, communicate clearly to customers, and provide essential dealership support for making corrections.

Because GM did not act in this manner regarding ignition switches in some small cars, the automaker has been brought before congress, charged a $35 million civil penalty, sullied its reputation, and even become a recurring late-night talk show punchline. As a consequence, the “new GM” says that it has been redoubling its safety efforts, and consequently, that it is being increasingly proactive in the wake of “ignition-gate." Hence, recall after recall is making news, more for the quantity than the quality. And there is a difference.

For instance, GM was aggressive with its recent recall for the redesigned Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Silverado HD. With the Escalade, GM issued a “stop sale” calling on dealers to hold on to inventory until the SUVs could be corrected before most SUVs were delivered to customers. A stop sale is the best reaction to a problem with a new model. In this case, automaker is holding off on revenue to solve the problem.

The bigger issue is when a problem is known and not swiftly addressed, such as with the ignition issues.

Should you buy a used GM car?

Cars from the Old GM were not as good as competition and clearly built to price, as was often reflected in our road tests and even annual reliability surveys. In fact, GM was notorious for squeezing cost out of suppliers, pressuring them to further reduce costs over time. Arguably, some cars, therefore became worse during their model span, rather than improving.

In many cases, we didn’t recommend older GM cars when they were new and still don’t today. The key is to research the desired model, as there are some cars that are more appealing than others, and have the specific car inspected. How a car was cared for can make all the difference in the next owner’s experience. Once you buy a used car, have your local dealer or repair show confirm that all relevant recall work has been conducted.

Should you buy a new GM car?

Yes. There is a clear difference in the quality and performance of the latest models to emerge from post-bankruptcy GM compared to those sold even just five years ago. The latest vehicles generally score well in our testing, with impressive fit and finish, competitive feature sets, and strong performance. The Buick Regal, Cadillac ATS, and Chevrolet Corvette, Impala, and Silverado are among the recent shining examples. But, across the brands, reliability remains inconsistent. As with buying from any automaker, it pays to check the latest road test scores, predicted reliability ratings, owner satisfaction ratings, and owner costs to make a truly informed decision—All of which are readily available on our model pages.

Jeff Bartlett

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