Saturn, the division of General Motors, made a design change in the middle of the 2001 model year on their L-series cars that increased the size of the lubricating nozzel [sic] of the timing chain. This change was reflected on cars manufactured after it was implemented, but the existing cars already manufactured were not corrected or remedied. We purchased an L200 new in June of 2001 from Saturn of Fairfax, after the design change, but it was manufactured in November 2000, and thus was not corrected. The vehicle was purchased with a 36,000 mile "Car Care" service package, which was extended to 60,000 miles before its expiration, a package which also served as an extended warranty.
We learn all of this after the timing chain failed at 84,700 miles, and subsequent searches of NHTSA investigations, findings and service bulletins. Saturn itself has stated that the chain is scheduled to be replaced at the 90,000 mile service - an implied warranty that the part should last at least 90,000 miles - but Saturn's filings with NHTSA all state that the failure is never supposed to happen while the vehicle is in operation.
Ours broke on April 17, 2007, in Richmond, Virginia, while pulling out of a stop sign. Instantly dead in the water, I had to wait half a day to be towed back up to Northern Virginia. Initially, the timing chain seemed the likely diagnosis, but upon review, the break during operation damaged the engine itself beyond repair. If I had not stopped to eat before hitting I-95, it would have broken on I-95 at highway speeds, increasing the chance of damage to life, limb or property.
It was taken to Saturn of Manassas, the same location where the car's entire service history took place, where between the local entity and corporate both have been dragging their feet - finally offering a 15% discount off of a warranty price on a new engine - an Insult. 15 percent on something that they are 100% liable. I suppose they wanted to see if we would accept that low-ball. The appearance is they were not concerned with RESOLVING the situation, but rather trying to drag it out into oblivion. Well, we would not accept it. The same local retailer who claimed to not have any clue what corporate was doing, even when corporate sent an email stating clearly that the local retailer's service manager, Tom Tellepson, was delegated to review the situation. (And we still have not heard from Mr. Tellepson, as even the 15% offer call was by the Service Clerk)
Saturn's "Customer Service" (in quotes as they apparently do not believe in it) area in Tennessee assigns "Area Managers" to a case - Managers who don't return calls timely, and assume that the customer is unimportant. This from a position that is supposed to be the liaison between the customer and the local retailer. Very poor at best in this role, this manager had trouble getting calls returned from the local retailer, and then we end up hearing the 15% insult from the local retailer's service clerk a full two days before the "area manager" called back, and even then, that was only after several subsequent emails to the main email@example.com address. Things are so shady there that you can't even get a last name or a direct phone number for one of these "managers", and when you ask for their supervisor, you are told that they have none. (Somebody had to hire them...) Finally when pressed, they give up the name of the "General Manager" of Saturn (purportedly a Jill Lajdziak), but the way they act, who knows if that is true or not. The "area Manager" could not (or would not) name the head of GM - that I found by accessing GM's 2006 annual report.
This particular Saturn was #2 of 4 we purchased new in the past 8 years. Our reward for loyalty to Saturn? A product that could not even make it to that 100,000 mile threshold - the instant-photo line-up at any Saturn retailer. And even with an admitted safety and mechanical defect, one which Saturn knew about from the start, Saturn, and by extension its corporate parent, General Motors, have refused to back their product. This in the face of their current vehicles bearing 100,000 mile warranties, and current brochures of theirs claiming "customer service" was key. Perhaps it would not be so bad if the part failed as Saturn stated in its prior NHTSA filings it should - at startup. That would have meant only a timing chain to replace. But Saturn's filings were at best inaccurate, for this very situation proved their prior filings wrong. So in their infinite wisdom, they would rather stick it to a loyal customer than admit that they were wrong. That they should have recalled the existing 2001 L-series models when they made the design change. There is a message for GM in all of this: loyalty cannot be blind, and it cannot be one-way.
This story will be retold, and they will be sorry they thought so little of customer service. Saturn and GM have in an instant shattered our confidence in them, and the safety of our remaining Saturn. So much for their claims in their current brochures, "you'll get as much attention after you're a Saturn owner as you did when you first walked in the showroom." or "There is a way to treat people like always." - it seems Saturn's true treatment has been revealed.
Complaints have already been filed with NHTSA and the Center for Auto Safety among others, and more will come. Letters to the aforementioned Jill Lajdziak, to the Chairman and CEO of GM, G. Richard Wagoner, Jr., and the President of GM North America, Troy A. Clarke, are awaiting response. They have a chance to make things right.