The day I pulled off the car lot in my newly purchased used 2006 Chevy Cobalt, my windshield was cracked by a rock thrown from the bed of a gravel truck. I was devastated. Though several years old, the car was the newest I had ever owned. The Little red car that I was so proud to have bought, was visibly flawed. Within a few days, I learned that it was flawed in ways that were more devastating than a cracked windshield. Flaws that were not visible and ones that were potentially fatal.
Only a few days after purchasing my gas efficient, reliable $8000 investment, it began to have mechanical issues. The keys became lodged in the ignition, only able to be released by the emergency button and my car stalled several times a day. After contacting a local GM dealership, I was informed that because the car was no longer under manufacturer warranty, it was my problem to deal with.
At the time, I was a single mom with bills to pay and having a car payment itself was sometimes difficult. I did not have the money to pay for costly repairs to the Cobalt, so I drove it and quickly learned how to restart the engine when it frequently cut out. I did not grasp the safety hazard of driving it, I simply was trying to financially provide for my family and that included driving the Cobalt daily. I succumbed to the fact that I had purchased a lemon and I dealt with it.
After almost a year of daily power failures, I was notified of a recall on the fuel pump. I scheduled an appointment to have it fixed with a GM dealership. The fuel pump was the least of my worries, before I could have the fuel pump repaired, I barely avoided what could have been a tragic accident.
As I was backing out of my driveway on a stretch of road, notoriously nicknamed The Highway to Heaven, my family almost became a faulty ignition switch statistic. With my now husband next to me and our son in the backseat, the Cobalt stalled in the middle of the road. I glared through the rear-view mirror and saw a tanker truck barreling speeding towards us, he had no idea that I was stalled and had no intentions of slowing down. Panicked, terrified, survival instinct kicked in. I threw the clutch into park, restarted the car and slammed on the gas. We literally were seconds away from being underneath a truck. I vowed not to put my children in the Cobalt until I had the fuel pump replaced. I hoped that it would fix the problem. It didn’t.
While having the fuel pump replaced, I explained to the GM service manager the other issues I was having. He told that there was no recall addressing the keys being permanently lodged in the ignition and gave me a list of other problems that may be contributing to the constant stalling. He also said that if I wanted to explore the problems and repair them, it would be at my own cost. Not once did he tell me that my car should not be driven because it was a safety hazard. He jokingly made me believe that the issues I was having, were user error, not a fatal defect. He never explained that my car was unsafe to be on the road. I took his advice to change the oil more frequently and because of he did not suggest my safety was at risk, continued to drive the Cobalt.
Another year past, the stalling continued. My car stalled at stoplights, on the highway, in the middle of the road and on some days would not start at all. Restarting it became a natural reaction that required no thought process, it was part of my daily routine. I learned what would trigger a complete power failure. I always drove next to the safety lane and avoided roads that didn’t have one. I never drove on bridges, narrow exit ramps or in rush hour traffic. I knew the safest distance from another car if I suddenly needed to restart mine. I detoured past railroad tracks, pot holes and bumpy roads. I avoided those that would jar my car and cut off all power. I adapted.
Finally, after two years of screaming for help, someone listened. Maybe not just to me, but to thousands of other General Motors car owners. A recall happened. I finally had an answer. My 2006 Chevy Cobalt had a faulty ignition switch. It was like this huge burden that I had carried with me every day, was lifted. I felt exonerated…..until I started reading news reports about the recall. As I read the first article, I stopped cold when I read that thirteen deaths had been reported. I felt like a cannonball had been dropped directly on my heart. I broke down and cried. People died, teenagers with promising futures lost their lives, families were grieving. I had a flashback of the tanker truck, seconds from slamming into the back of my car. I thought about my little boy sitting in that backseat. MY baby could have been killed. I didn’t contemplate my own mortality but that of those that rode with me and those I didn’t even know who shared the same roads. Guilt. I had no idea.
My Chevrolet Cobalt now sits at a GM dealership. The ignition switch has been replaced but, it will not start due to a dead battery that will not hold a charge. I signed a waiver stating that I would not drive the car while awaiting repair parts. In exchange, after calling many GM dealerships, I finally found one that would provide me with a rental car until the parts arrived. The parts came in last week and I was asked to take my car to the dealership so that they could replace the ignition switch. When I attempted to start the Cobalt, it wouldn’t even turn over. The battery was dead and after multiple attempts to jump start it, it finally had to be towed at GM’s expense. It was then discovered that my battery would not hold a charge and would need to be replaced. The service center representative offered to have the battery replaced for $175. When I balked at the idea, she also offered me a great deal that would allow me to trade my Cobalt in on a newer GM vehicle. The rental car needed to be returned as soon as possible per GM’s recall procedures, or, I would be forced to pay for it.
We are a family who lives paycheck to a week before the next paycheck, like most families who drive older model economy cars. There are days that we struggle to afford gas for our car, let alone $175 new battery. Not having the money for a battery and being presented with an option to drive something other than my Cobalt, I made an appointment with a GM salesman. Less than 12 hours later, I came to my senses.
My car sat for 2 months with a bad ignition switch because of GM’s negligence and the agreement I signed stating I would not drive it. A faulty ignition switch can cause a car battery to drain, especially when parked for long periods of time. When I was starting my Cobalt daily, the battery was maintained and I had absolutely no issues. If in any way the ignition switch contributed to draining the battery, which I am certain it did, GM should fix it. GM’s approach is that my battery was old and could have kicked the bucket at any minute, not their problem.
After I recovered from my I don’t have $175 for a new battery panic, I realized the insanity of the idea that I needed a newer GM vehicle and a hefty car payment Wow, think about it. I don’t have the money for a new battery, but, I am going to somehow going to cough up several thousands of dollars for a new car? Does that make any sense? It was deceptive and I was targeted in a helpless moment. I wonder how many people like me were also presented with the option to trade their Cobalt’s in and took that option despite the fact that they could not afford it, desperate to drive something other than a death trap. Even with the recall repairs, I will never feel safe in my Cobalt. I am not the only owner to feel that way. There still are reported issues with the Cobalt, that have not been addressed.
I somehow found a way for the last several years to pay off $6500 of a $8000 car loan, for a car that I had every intention of keeping for it’s lifetime. Had I been presented with accurate safety information, I would have never purchased the car. I was duped by GM. I own a car that is no longer a silent lemon but one that has been front page in the newspaper. I’m stuck with it. I can imagine my Craigslist ad: 2006 Chevy Cobalt for sale that almost killed my family. Recall part repaired, the keys are still stuck in the ignition and I can’t guarantee what other problems it has that I don’t know about. Oil has been changed more than regularly.
I don’t want to play Russian roulette with peoples lives by driving a Cobalt. I shouldn’t have to pay for a new car battery. I can’t get back the peace of mind I should have had while driving my car, or, the money I spent paying for it. I cannot afford to buy a new car. I feel screwed by GM and I am one of the lucky ones. Merely issuing a recall and admitting wrongdoing cannot bring back the lives of those who lost them behind the wheel of a Cobalt. I have sucked it up and dealt with car problems for three years and it looks like the only choice I have is to keep sucking it up, scrape together the money for a new battery, pick up my Cobalt and deal with driving it …..until, one day I can afford to buy a Ford.