JAMES STANFORD 07-02-2003
The Big Vee that Holden imported is giving the carmaker a pain in the chest. And it's hurting owners, too, because there's a waiting list for corrective surgery, writes JAMES STANFORD THE engine that Holden refers to as its heartbeat is causing continuing problems. The carmaker faces massive repair bills as it rebuilds imported GEN III alloy V8s in its big-car range.
Holden admits about 2000 engines have been fixed and a substantial number of those have been rebuilt.
The GEN III problems relate to oil circulation, excessive oil use and rattling noises when the engines are cold. The problems are most likely to affect engines built from June 1999 to early 2002.
Owners have had to wait up to 10 months for engines to be worked on as dealerships struggle with the workload. Many owners are still waiting.
Each rebuild requires eight pistons and rings, conrod bolts, head bolts, gasket kit and coolant, which, if Holden were not footing the bill, would cost about $3000 for parts.
It takes a mechanic three days to rebuild an engine and that would cost about another $1000 in labour.
The 5.7-litre GEN III was introduced for the VT II Commodore range in June 1999, replacing the reliable 5.0-litre Australian-made V8.
The GEN III is made by General Motors in Ontario, Canada. It was developed at a cost of about $2 billion.
Early on, some manual models of cars fitted with the engine suffered serious damage due to oil starvation when driven hard. That problem was rectified within a few months.
Other problems relating to oil use and rattling when the engines are cold have taken longer to deal with.
Holden says new parts, including tighter-fitting Teflon-coated pistons and a revised piston-ring pack have been fitted to new engines and used in rebuilds since late 2001-early 2002. This has mostly solved the problems.
The rattling noise, which can be heard for a few minutes during start-up on affected engines, is referred to as piston slap.
It is usually caused by too much piston-to-bore clearance and means the piston moves around in the cylinder bore, hitting the cylinder wall. Experts agree piston slap does not cause mechanical damage.
Some other GEN III engines are using more oil than expected for a modern engine.
One owner told Cars Guide he came close to running his engine out of oil as he approached the 10,000km service because of excessive oil use.
"I took the dipstick out and there was no oil on it," the owner says. "I put some oil in and the engine took three litres.
Holden says 67,000 GEN III engines have been sold in Australia and only about 2 per cent of owners are unhappy with them.
But Holden sales and marketing manager Ross McKenzie says the company has appointed a special engine rebuilder at each dealership and admits some customers have had to wait.
"We are basically doing it on a triage basis and say, `OK, we are going to deal with our customers who are the most aggravated or have been waiting the longest and do it case by case by case'," he says.
McKenzie says cases of oil use and piston slap do not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with an engine, despite the fact that Holden has rebuilt so many.
"There isn't a fault there. We are not trying to fix something that is broken. We are just trying to improve (customer) perceptions," he says.
Holden chief engineer Tony Hyde says Australian roads are not littered with parts of GEN III engines.
"There are customer perceptions on how an engine should perform or deliver and I think that has created the situation that we have now.
"There are some customers who think engines shouldn't use any oil or use what they would consider to be large amounts of oil.
"Similarly, the engine has some noise characteristics through certain temperature ranges that the customers pick on and that is probably dependent on the environment that the vehicle is in as well," he says.
"Some customers think that is fine and some customers think, `Oh, that's a noise', and think that something major is occurring when that is just a characteristic of the engine. "
S EVERAL Holden service mechanics have told Cars Guide that any GEN III engine using more than 1.5 litres in 10,000km is considered for a rebuild.
But Hyde says a GEN III engine operating properly could use about 2.5 litres of oil in 10,000km and be acceptable.
Experts contacted by Cars Guide say such oil use would mean owners would have to regularly check and top up their oil between services, given that GEN III engines have an oil capacity of about five litres.
Some Holden dealers are offering free oil top-ups between services so the cost of the expensive synthetic oil is not passed on.
Several owners are waiting on new pistons with a revised gudgeon pin to arrive in dealerships before their engines can be stripped and rebuilt because of piston slap or oil use. Holden says the parts have arrived in Australia and should be sent to dealers soon.
Most owners contacted by Cars Guide were happy with their cars in general but upset that a car as expensive as a $50,000 SS Commodore or a Statesman would have to have its engine rebuilt.
Chris Jeffreys, 56, a company director who bought his V8 Statesman at Easter 2000, says it has used a surprising amount of oil since new.
"After the 10,000km service the dealer said to watch my oil level and after another 5000km I had to put another litre in to make sure it would get through to the next service. "
T HE dealer did an oil-consumption test by measuring how much it used over a few thousand kilometres and concluded the oil use was bad enough for the engine to be rebuilt.
"That was eight or nine months before last Christmas, but I had to wait because I was told I was ninth on the list," Jeffreys says.
He says the dealership has confirmed it will fix the car when the new piston and ring kits arrive, but he is not happy.
"It will be three years old at Easter and still nothing has been done. I didn 't expect this from a new engine, especially a V8. "
Many other owners feel angry their new engine has to be rebuilt and that a repaired engine won't ever be
Holden's Ross McKenzie acknowledges that many people regard the engine rebuilding as "really intrusive surgery and that the car will never be the same again".
"The psychology of it is that I bought a new car and you are going to turn it into a second-hand car.
"The truth is that it is already a second-hand car, but the customers don't see it that way. "
McKenzie says customers are more passionate about the GEN III V8 than other engines in the range.
"It's the whole heritage of Holden. This is the heartbeat of the company and customers have an emotional response to it. "
A mechanic says the engine prob lems are damaging Holden's image.
"It's not good when you get the top-of-the-line Caprice, which is the flagship of the range, and you have got to rebuild it. "
Owners say . . .
SS ute"I'M ABOUT to have it tested again after a rebuild at 9000km for piston slap. It was a big improvement when it was done, but it gradually came back. "
CV8 Monaro"I BOUGHT a new Monaro last June, and when it's cold it sounds like an old L34 (Torana). The car is good, so I'm prepared to put up with a rattle when it's cold. "
Statesman"I HAVE been informed by phone that Holden will be replacing my engine in the 2000 Statesman in mid-April when they get a new shipment of engines with revised pistons. Hopefully, I will get a new engine under warranty without piston problems. "
SS sedan"I COULDN'T be more happy. I've done 98,000km and have not used one drop of oil. "
SS sedan"WE HAVE worked out this Gen III uses 1.2 litres of oil every 2000km and Holden have told me the maximum oil usage for a Gen III is 2.5 litres every 6000km and my engine is a borderline case. The thing sounds like an old London taxi. "
HSV GTS 300"MY wife drives the car to work and I checked the oil just before 10,000km and it needed three litres. Now it's getting worse and they have offered me new pistons. It's not a 1969 Ford Anglia, this is a $90,000 motor car."
VTII HSV GTS"I BOUGHT a VTII HSV GTS with 18,000km on the clock for about $75, 000 and I reckon I would have been back to the dealer about 40 times, three times on the back of a tow truck. It uses a massive amount of oil and the engine has been worked on five times, with two new piston sets, but it still uses heaps. "
SS ute"IT'S a lovely car to drive and if it didn't have this problem I would be thrilled. The engine was rebuilt. It did improve and it's not quite as bad as it was, but it's still there. "