Judge: Class Action Can Proceed

Complaint claims GM full-sized SUVs, trucks suffer premature engine failure

General Motors workers on the engine line Thursday, December 8, 2016 at the General Motors Spring Hill Manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, TN. (Photo by Sanford Myers for General Motors)

A class action lawsuit against General Motors for premature engine failure will be allowed to proceed, a federal court judge in California has ruled.

United States District Judge Edward Chen, of the Northern District of California, certified the class action lawsuit filed by Beasley Allen Law Firm, Dicello Levitt Gutzier and Andrus Anderson LLP attorneys on behalf of owners and lessees of GM full-sized SUVs and trucks that suffer premature engine failure from excessive oil consumption.

A class action being certified does not mean the judge believes the defendant to be at fault. It simply clears the way for pre-trial procedures and, potentially, a jury trial.

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At the heart of the case is GM’s Generation Four Vortec 5300 V-8 engines, which the plaintiffs allege consume oil in such high volumes that it fouls spark plugs and aggressively wears internal rotating components from inadequately lubricated metal-on-metal contact. This excessive oil consumption defect lies in piston rings that wear prematurely, allowing oil to migrate into the combustion chambers and burn away, the plaintiffs allege.

The lawsuit also claims worn piston rings also allow excessive combustion gases to pass into the oil pan, where they blend with oil and travel back to the engine’s intake via the engine’s combustion vapor recirculation system, fouling spark plugs.

The plaintiffs allege that GM long knew of the oil consumption defect but failed to warn consumers either before or after purchase.

In certifying the class, Chen stated, “GM was aware of an oil consumption problem with the Gen IV engines as early as the end of 2008 or early 2009.”

GM contended that it had repaired owners’ engines with a low-cost engine cleaning procedure, but the judge rejected that contention. “Despite the fact that GM knew that the [repair] was ineffective by February 2010, it still directed servicers of GM vehicles to complete the procedure as part of the recommended response to oil consumption problems without addressing the root problem,” Chen stated.

Chen certified the plaintiff’s class of more than 830,000 drivers of 2011-2014 GM pickups and SUVs, including Chevrolet’s Avalanches, Silverados, Suburbans and Tahoes and GMC’s Sierras, Yukons and Yukon XLs with Generation IV Vortec 5300 engines.

The judge certified class claims for three bellwether plaintiffs — California, North Carolina and Texas — as the parties agreed at the outset of the litigation to pursue a bellwether plaintiff model for purposes of efficiency and manageability of the class case.

“In an effort to squeeze more power and fuel mileage out of an established GM V-8 platform, GM overcomplicated an otherwise simple design and created an engine that self-destructed typically before the warranty expired,” says Beasley Allen attorney Clay Barnett, who works in the firm’s Atlanta office.

GM’s Spring Hill Manufacturing plant, in Tennessee, makes the 5.3L V8 engine that powers Chevrolet’s Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban, as well as the GMC Sierra. The plant also makes a 6.2L V8 engine that powers the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL. In January 2020, GM announced a $40 million investment into the Spring Hill GPS facility to increase capacity of the 5.3L V8 engines for GM’s full-size truck and SUV programs. The plant employs approximately 3,800 workers.

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