A paint job ought to last longer than three years.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a question about paint. My three year old Chevy Beretta is losing its paint color. It started out as a black car, and now the entire trunk has turned completely gray, while the rest of the car has spider webbing cracks throughout the paint. The local dealership called GM, and told me that because my mileage is 50,000, GM would only pay 50% towards a new paint job. Does GM really believe that mileage affects paint? Had I owned this car only six months, and put 50,000 miles on it, would they be singing the same tune? Or does General Motors really believe that a paint job should only last 50,000 miles? What do you suggest?

RAY: Well, Marla, don't be so quick to judge, here. If they'll pay 50% when you have 50,000 miles, maybe they'll pay 100% when you get to 100,000 miles? You might want to hold out.

TOM: Don't listen to him, Marla. He's been inhaling too much carbon monoxide. Anyway, I'm on your side. Everybody knows that a paint job ought to last longer than three years--regardless of the mileage. And since I've predicted that General Motors is going to be the car company of the 90's, I know that there must be someone at GM who knows this too.

RAY: That's right. After all, they're building Saturns now, aren't they? You don't think a Saturn owner who came back with fading paint after three years would be told to pay for half of the company's mistake, do you? Of course not! Saturn would fix it and apologize profusely for the inconvenience. Why? Because they'd like you to come back and buy ANOTHER Saturn someday.

TOM: So I'm convinced that the lame response you got to your paint problem is one of the last vestiges of the era of Roger Smith--the mother of all accountants. Smith was Chairman of General Motors for ten years. And during those years, GM owners got the corporate shrug on bad paint jobs, faulty steering racks...you name it. And sure, GM saved a few bucks. But they also lost thousands and thousands of customers--like you. I mean, are you going to go back and buy another Chevrolet if the paint peels after three years and the company denies responsibility?

RAY: To be fair to GM, they have to try to stonewall you. If they didn't, people would be lining up around the block to get them to pay for everything from bald tires to fuzz-balls on the velour seats. So, like many other companies, they start by telling everybody "no," and figure that the cry-babies will go away, and the people with legitimate claims will moan and groan even louder. It's their version of the GMAT--the Groan and Moan Aptitude Test.

TOM: So you're just going to have to find the right person to groan and moan to, Marla. You're going to have to find that person--who I know exists--at GM, who will see your complaint as an opportunity to make you a happy and loyal GM customer for many years to come.

RAY: The person who knows what a coup it would be if the next letter we printed from you said "The paint on my Chevy started fading and cracking after three years, so I brought it in, and GM said 'No problem. That shouldn't have happened. We'll fix it.'"

TOM: Now, how do you find that person at GM? I don't know Marla. That's a tough one. I'd start with Chevy's regional zone office, and if that doesn't work, I'd hire the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Maybe David and Maddie can track him down. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

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