— GM liftgate problems will take center stage in a lawsuit that alleges a recall did nothing to fix power liftgates that can suddenly fall on people.
According to the lawsuit, a 2015 recall of 686,000 SUVs didn't do enough to fix the liftgate and strut issues.
The GM liftgate system consists of two gas-pressurized struts intended to lift and hold the liftgate up by a simple push of a button.
Inside each strut is a piston rod that slides in and out of the cylinder, which is sealed at the top to retain pressurized nitrogen gas inside. The stored gas is supposed to provide the pressure to hold the heavy rear liftgate in the open position, something that isn't possible once the gas escapes.
The proposed class-action lawsuit includes all current and former owners and lessees of the following SUVs:
- 2010-2012 GMC Acadia
- 2010-2012 Buick Enclave
- 2010-2012 Chevrolet Equinox
- 2010-2012 Chevrolet Traverse
- 2010 Saturn Outlook
- 2010-2012 Cadillac SRX
- 2010-2012 GMC Terrain
The 2015 General Motors recall involved four models to reprogram the liftgate actuator motor electronic control units. But GM admitted the Stabilus struts in the SUVs allowed dust and dirt to collect on the strut rod seals, causing the seals to fail. This is a problem that a simple software update won't fix.
In conjunction with that recall, the plaintiffs say GM admitted:
“[The] vehicles have a Prop Rod Recovery system intended to accomplish a controlled, slow return of the liftgate to the closed position if the liftgate’s gas struts are no longer capable of supporting the weight of the liftgate. However, in these vehicles, the liftgate’s Prop Rod Recovery system software may be unable to detect/stop a liftgate with prematurely worn gas struts from falling too quickly after the liftgate is opened.”
According to the lawsuit, this is proof the prop rod recovery system was never intended to hold the liftgate in the full open position because this is the job of the struts.
The automaker agreed to replace the struts, but only if they failed at the time of the recall repair or within 90 days of the repair. The plaintiffs claim GM knew additional models were affected by liftgate problems but never recalled those vehicles.
General Motors has allegedly known about liftgate strut problems since 2010 when it issued the first of several technical service bulletins (TSBs) about the problem.
“[p]ower liftgate closes immediately after fully opening. Usually has a loud clunking noise at top of gate travel just before power closing. A customer and/or technician may comment that when using the power liftgate, it will open fully, drop a few inches, then power close.” - July 2010 TSB
The plaintiffs say the 2010 bulletin involved weak liftgate struts that cause the gate to enter “consumer safe mode and power close the gate slowly.” If the liftgate would not remain open, the dealer was instructed to replace the struts.
Three years later GM dealers received another TSB.
“GM engineering has determined that improved durability of the liftgate strut can be realized by installing the strut assembly with the rod end facing downward (attached to the liftgate) when the liftgate is in the closed position. In this orientation, dust and dirt does not collect on the strut housing to rod seal, which can cause wear on the seal.” - June 2013 TSB
In February 2014, GM issued another TSB that extended the model years of the vehicles covered in the first TSBs through model year 2014.
“[s]ome customers may state there is a clunk or pop type noise coming from the power liftgate assembly when the lift-gate reaches the full open position. They may also notice that the lift-gate drops slightly when this occurs.”
In a March 2014 TSB, GM said customers with 2010-2014 Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles also had complaints about the power liftgates.
“[s]ome customers may comment that power lift gate sags (lowers) from the (selected) open position. This is a limited amount of movement and the gate does not lower unintentionally. The customer may also comment the liftgate reverses travel when opening or closing. Check the right side gas strut for signs of wear, cracks, leaks or other damage, then check the hold open ability of the gas strut and replace the liftgate strut as needed.”
According to the lawsuit, GM told dealers that when a customer brought in a vehicle for strut replacement, they were to install the new struts with the rod facing downward. However, the change in struts should have allegedly been performed to all vehicles affected by the problem, not just for people who complain.
In addition, General Motors should have known about the serious problems because the liftgate strut supplier, Stabilus, had been involved in three other recalls from different automakers going back to 2006. Two of the recalls were the result of federal investigations that were opened following reports of people injured by falling liftgates.
The GM liftgate lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan - Amy Miller, et al., v. General Motors LLC.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Miller Law Firm, DiCello Levitt & Casey, Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., and the Davenport Law Firm.