Dear Car Talk:
Should door handles that fall apart one by one be considered normal wear and tear, or should GM foot the repair bill as a recall? GM service shops aren’t sure why my 2007 Chevy Suburban LTZ exterior door handles are coming apart one by one.
The problem started during the polar vortex in Cleveland in January 2019 when I hadn’t driven the car in a few days and thought I’d better not leave it sitting too long. The key fob unlocked the doors and I got in and drove it. It was after I returned to the car from my first stop that, although unlocked, the driver’s door handle wouldn’t open the door.
I kept pulling on it in disbelief because it had just opened for me in the driveway, but the right side of the handle broke away and was left hanging, attached only on the left side. I had to climb in through another door to enter. Then later that day, I returned to the car from the library and now none of the four doors would open. I had to enter the car through the tailgate.
When the weather warmed up, all the doors worked again except the front driver’s door with the broken handle. So now I enter thru the right passenger door, which is beginning to loosen up as well. I called GM customer support and they offered a $100 voucher on repairs from a GM dealer of my choice. The estimate, however, greatly exceeds $100, and I don’t think this is normal wear and tear.
I think they didn’t test these handles in sub-zero temps and they’re using inferior quality handles or fasteners. Should this repair be totally on GM? -- Mike
Well, my one piece of advice for you, Mike, is to make sure that your next new vehicle has at least nine doors. You need lots of options.
The door handles GM used on these vehicles are certainly not going to end up in the Museum of Exemplary Automotive Quality. And saving a few cents on parts is not something that’s out of character for lots of car companies. But you have several things working against your case.
First, there was a polar vortex. Cars are designed and tested in cold weather, but in a truly extreme event, with temperatures well below zero for an extended period of time, things often break. Ask your plumber. He probably had a spectacular January in 2019.
Second, when the handle didn’t work, you kept pulling on it “in disbelief.” I’m guessing your disbelief was accompanied by some choice four-letter words and some serious yanking. If you were angry and pulled the handle off the car in frustration when it was minus 10 out, you’re at least partly responsible for the damage.
Finally, the Suburban is over a dozen years old. That’s well out of the warranty period. Now, I agree with you. A door handle should last the life of the car, but it’s not warrantied for the life of the car. It’s warrantied for 3 years and 36,000 miles. And that warranty ran out ten years ago.
So, it’s completely up to GM whether they offer you any help in repairing this, and it sounds like that’s what they did. They probably know that the handles are problematic, so they offered you a $100 discount, as a goodwill gesture.
If I were you, I’d ask a couple of independent body shops for estimates on replacing the handle. They may be able to do it for less than what it costs at the dealer, even with the $100 discount. Or maybe not. And then I’d fix the damn thing. I mean, think of the replacement cost of all the pants you’re tearing up at the knees from crawling across the front seat.
You have my sympathy, Mike. But unfortunately, cars break. More so as they get older. Don’t let it ruin your life. You don’t know how many years you have left on Earth. As annoying as this is, you don’t want to waste them crawling across your front seat cursing GM.