“The worst reliable compact car” by Consumer Reports is no prestigious tag to carry around. The first-generation Chevrolet Cruze is the unfortunate bearer of this title. The internet is filled up with articles on how bad the Chevrolet Cruze problems are. You can also find strong advice on the internet to stay away from it. But is it that bad?
History of Chevrolet Cruze
In the late 2000s, Chevy engineers were scribbling around on the drawing board to create a compact car. Till then, The Chevy Cobalt was their compact offering in the US. But it was getting a little too old in its tooth. The Cobalt was never a remarkable car. It existed in the Chevrolet lineup hoping to be a no-nonsense transportation instrument. But they got it so wrong that it was very far from its sole purpose.
Also sold under the now-defunct Pontiac brand as the Pontiac G5, the Chevy Cobalt had its fair share of issues and recalls. It was not very safe either. As per an IIHS study, 2005-2008 Cobalts showed the highest fatality rates in its class. The class average figure of 71 deaths per million was surpassed by the Cobalt with 117 deaths per million.
With the Cobalt being a forgettable venture into the small car arena, its replacement did not have big shoes to fill. But soaring oil prices and the aftershock of the great depression were looming over every car customer. This made the small car market more significant than ever before. Chevy needed a proper small car to replace the aging Cobalt. Enter, Chevrolet Cruze.
Enter, the Chevrolet Cruze
The Chevrolet Cruze was a promising prospect on paper. The car despite its “small car” credentials, was decently sized. It sported an aggressive design, bringing in fresh air to the otherwise mundane segment. Both the exterior and interior showed off a decent amount of muscle.
On the engine front, the Cruze had a versatile lineup. The base trim, LS, featured a 1.8-liter 138 hp gasoline engine while the higher trims came equipped with a 1.4-liter turbo. Later on, a turbodiesel 2.0-liter engine was also added to the lineup, with an output of 151 hp.
But the Cruze failed to show anything worthy of recognition beyond that fancy frock. Here is where the Chevrolet Cruze problems started.
Given the Cobalt’s dismal history, the Chevrolet Cruze did not have much to bea. All it had to do was not break down to be recognized as an improvement. Chevrolet Cruze problems did, however, not let it do that. It was riddled with issues that triggered multiple recalls. Risk of engine fires, brake assist failures, faulty axle components, the lot.
The reliability was so bad that Consumer Reports stated that Chevrolet Cruze problems made it the least reliable compact sedan in its first year.
Safety, the Only Saving Grace
Things are not all that gloomy though. The one area that the Chevrolet Cruze problems did not show up was on the safety front. The compact sedan was the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s (IIHS) 2011 Top Safety Pick with the highest rating of “good” in their crash tests. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave Chevrolet Cruze the highest five-star rating.
In the Australian market, the Holden Cruze, a rebadged version, scored yet another five-star safety rating in the ANCAP tests. Another rebadged version of the Cruze, the Daewoo Lacetti Premiere added another rating of five stars to the mix, at the Korean NCAP.
But despite the excellent safety ratings, the first-generation Cruze was known mostly for its reliability, the lack of it. Chevrolet brought out the 2nd generation Cruze in 2016, hoping to buff away some of these blemishes. To an extent, the new Cruze could kill off most of the Chevrolet Cruze problems and is more reliable than the first one. But the memes did not stop. The second Cruze was ridiculed for its sedate design language. The new design did not please many, especially because of the aggressive styling of the first-gen Cruze.
But in this story, we will focus on the first-generation Cruze and the common Chevrolet Cruze problems.
Most common Chevrolet Cruze Problems
Many Chevrolet Cruze problems are considered to be significant, especially when it concerns the engine.
According to Chevroletproblems.com, The most vulnerable parts of the Chevrolet Cruze are the transmission, engine, HVAC system, and cooling system. Basically, all major parts. Used car buyers should stay away from the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze as it reports most issues. The number tapers down with the next model years but all is not well here too.
Most customers report issues like reduction in engine power, antifreeze smell in the car, improper gearshifts, transmission failure, and more. Let us dive deep into each of them to understand what is what.
Reduction in Engine Power
This is a grave Chevrolet Cruze problem that is also shared with its siblings, the 9th generation Chevy Malibu. Users of these models have reported that the driver information system sometimes throws a warning their way. It reads “Engine Power Reduced” and it means exactly that.
When this issue crops up, the driver faces a loss in power and hesitance to accelerate. This can be dangerous, especially if you are overtaking on a motorway or merging into one.
This had even brought GM into a muddle with some of their Malibu customers filing lawsuits against them. The customers say that GM’s response to their complaints has been terrible. The customers usually face large repair bills if this Chevrolet Cruze problem shows up.
What causes this?
The Chevrolet Cruze uses a drive-by-wire throttle system. The Electronic Control Unit gets fed with readings from the accelerator pedal sensors. The ECU does complex calculations and orders the electronic throttle control to open up the throttle as it governs.
Unlike older vehicles where the accelerator pedal and throttle are connected physically through a cable, this eliminates that contact. The technology exists intending to improve throttle response, and in most cars it does. But in the case of the Chevrolet Cruze, problems are all that it gave.
The electronic throttle system in the Chevrolet Cruze tends to fail often. This translates to a delay and as the car reads “Engine Power Reduced.”
This Chevrolet Cruze problem throws some error codes as well. Code P0122, Code P0223, and Code P2138 point to an issue within the system.
The same drive-by-wire system in the Chevrolet Cruze causes this problem as well. Not just in the Cruze, it also pops up in the 9th gen Impala and Malibu, 1st gen Equinox, and 1st gen Aveo.
The electronic throttle system in the Chevrolet Cruze tends to fail often, causing delayed acceleration. It takes a long while for the information to be processed and converted into actual physical work. The acceleration will not happen as intended and the rest is self-explanatory.
Other Engine-related issues
The engine issues do not stop with delayed acceleration and loss of power. About 51% of all reported Chevrolet Cruze problems are in and around the engine. With such a volume of issues, comes diversity. In this case, many ways your Cruze engine can turn into a hassle.
Other engine issues include spontaneous stalling, rough idling, backfiring at idle, and more. The Cruzes are known to stall in traffic, with the passengers scratching their heads as their beloved sedan blocks the traffic behind.
A valve cover issue can crop up on your Cruze that will light up the engine check light. This may mean that you will need to replace the gaskets and evap purge valve. Should be a quick fix.
Both the automatic transmissions, the six-speed automatic, and the six-speed manual were plagued with leakage problems. Axle seals, transmission case bolts, cooling translines, torque converter seals, and many other components of the transmission are known leakage sources.
If leaks are not your preferred kind of inconvenience, the transmissions have other issues to bother you. Chevrolet Cruze problems you with jerky gear shifts or high revs with no acceleration. This issue can cost a bomb as it requires a complete transmission rebuild or replacement. If you are lucky, the issue can be traced back to a simple solenoid problem, but this is not the situation in most cases. If you are even luckier, it may be a blown transmission fuse or degraded transmission fluid. These are even rarer scenarios though.
Any problem with the transmission or the engine can most probably be expensive and time-consuming. So, if you are out on the market for a Chevy Cruze, it would be common sense to stay away from these first-generation Cruzes.
If someone tells you that their Chevrolet Cruze stinks, it may not be a figurative expression. His/her car may actually stink, as this Chevrolet Cruze problem leads to that. Many customers report an anti-freeze smell inside the cabin after they turn the heater on. Many others find leaks that flow into the cabin, soaking the carpets in anti-freeze.
This is no joke as anti-freeze can be hazardous. It can cause eyes to burn and throats to go dry. In a closed space like a car’s passenger cabin, the effect of the anti-freeze can be more dangerous. Owners are concerned and many of them do not take their children in their vehicle.
What causes it?
The opinions on the web point to an issue with the heater core. This leaks the anti-freeze and gives out a nasty odor. In Technical Service Bulletin #PI0935, GM says that “This condition may be caused by an unpleasant odor coming from the grease used to lubricate the components inside of the heater and air conditioning evaporator case.”
What are the effects?
It does not matter what causes it, the customers are suffering from it. Many of them were diagnosed with health issues caused by the chemical.
Leaking Water Pumps
This was a Chevrolet Cruze problem found mostly in the trims with the 1.4-liter turbo engine. Water pumps drive the coolant around the engine, bringing the temperature of the mill down. Any issue in the water pump can heat the engine, leading to a lot of other grave problems.
Chevrolet Cruze water pumps are known to fail sometimes, leaking coolant. This can cause the failure of the air conditioning system and overheat the engine. GM had released a service bulletin in 2015, mentioning this issue, most prominent in the 2011-2014 model Chevy Cruzes.
The warranty coverage for this Chevrolet Cruze problem was extended by GM by 10 years or 150,000 miles, whichever is earlier. The only possible repair was to replace the water pump completely. At least, the customers did not have to face the big dollar numbers this time.
More Coolant Leakage
The water pump is not the only part that gives Chevrolet Cruze problems with coolant leakage. Coolant hoses, hose connections, gaskets, thermostat housing, and many other parts can wear down prematurely. And premature wear comes with leaks, no need for any explanation there.
Turbo Bypass Valve Issue
As a turbo feeds in more air into an engine, it also has a facility to let out waste air. This is called the bypass valve or the wastegate. The bypass valve is responsible for the signature “Sututututu” sound of a turbocharged vehicle. This valve lets the waste air go out of the turbo when the driver lifts off the throttle. This is needed when the vehicle is slowing down or stop.
In some Chevy Cruzes, the bypass valve may end up not closing properly. This leaves a gap through which air can always escape, even while accelerating. When this happens, the driver loses power. The opened-up valve can also take in the dirt, which can be damaging for the internals
This Chevrolet Cruze problem is made even more painful with their turbo design. Chevy designed the bypass valve built into the turbo housing. So, you cannot replace just the valve. You will need to take it to a garage to get it fixed, and thankfully, it is not a massive headache to fix. With the right amount of DIY skills and tools, it will not be that hard to fix it yourself as well.
Cooling Fan Starting Issue
If you have been disheartened by the coolant leakage from the water pump, we have bad news for you. The cooling fan as well can fail on you. The fan may not start when needed or may stop when needed even more. This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the Chevrolet Cruze electric problems.
Electricals can be a headache in the back even in some generally reliable vehicles after they rack up some miles. In the case of Chevrolet Cruze, a car known for its unreliability, it can be an absolute migraine.
In the Chevy Cruze, there are many areas where electrical problems pop up like McDonald’s on every street. Instrument Cluster gauges not working is one of the most prevalent of them all. This can be a huge inconvenience on the run.
The radio and HVAC displays may show erratic patterns when it comes to turning on/off. The headlights switching from low beam to high beam automatically and blinker noises fading into an almost inaudible beep are some other Chevrolet Cruze problems that are electric.
Yet another electrical issue paves way for an interesting situation. Some users have complained that the radio shuts off and the dash lights start flashing when the driver applies brakes. Everything falls back into place once the driver starts accelerating.
An extension of the aforementioned issue is also seen on the Chevrolet Cruze Problems list, this time it is scarier. The car can shut down all its electrical systems after it comes to a complete stop. It will take around 5 mins for the Cruze to turn back on again.
Even though electrical issues are small niggles, the frequency at which they occur can be agony. Tracking these issues to their root cause is also a hectic task, that may also add a hefty diagnosis fee to your final bill.
Soft Oil Drain Plug
This is a problem that extends its roots to the drawing boards that gave birth to the Cruze. The oil drain plug used in the Cruze is extremely soft and easily damaged when excessive force is exerted. It only needs 10 lb-ft of torque to screw back in. Anything more than that, or using the wrong tools can strip the bolt and round it off.
It may sound like a small inconvenience, but it is not. When are getting your oil change done you must mention it to the person replacing your oil. Else, you risk your car having an extra-tight drain plug that is almost impossible to remove.
For such a small issue, a stripped drain plug can take up a lot of your time. Removing the stripped drain plug can be a laborious process. You can also choose to skip this issue by using a more efficient drain plug. But making sure that the new plug has the same thread pattern is also important.
Major Chevrolet Cruze Recalls
As we have seen, Chevrolet Cruze problems were rampant in its time, and they did not go unnoticed. NHTSA took cognizance of these troubles back then and issued quite a lot of recalls. Let us glance at the major ones.
Steering falls off
Back in 2011, Chevrolet had to recall 2,100 of these sedans as a customer car’s steering wheel came detached from the column. According to Wall Street Journal, at least one customer faced this issue, forcing Chevy to act. Your steering wheel suddenly coming off the column and being a useless object in your hand is scary enough. Imagine this happening while you are on the move.
As per NHTSA documentation, Chevy said that this was caused as an “assembly plant repair procedure resulted in an improperly fastened steering wheel.” Even though the recall numbers were less, it was detrimental to Cruze’s image.
Engine Fire Issue
In some Chevrolet Cruzes, if oil changes were not properly done, oil was found to drip onto the lower air deflector. If the oil came in touch with the hot engine parts, it could catch fire. 475,418 Chevrolet Cruzes were affected, from the US, Canada and includes 701 Cruzes sold in Israel. This issue was rectified by modifying the lower air deflectors.
Engine Fire Issue – Holden
The Chevrolet Cruze was sold in the land down under as a Holden Cruze. These vehicles were almost identical to one another, so Chevrolet Cruze problems were Holden Cruze problems as well. So, this was a Cruze recall from Australia for the same engine fire risk caused by oil accumulating in the lower air deflector as the American Cruze. In 2012, Holden announced a recall for the 2012 and 2013 model Cruzes, facing the risk of an engine fire. Holden had to recall 9,547 Cruzes to modify the lower air deflector.
Brake Assist defect
Many Chevrolet Cruzes, precisely 292,879 of them, were recalled in 2013 for a potential loss of brake assist. Drivers of these vehicles may have to exert more pressure on the brake pedal to achieve the desired braking force. Only the trims equipped with the 1.4-liter turbo engine and the automatic transmission were affected. The dealers had to replace a microswitch inside the power brake vacuum pipe assembly.
That is not all. Chevrolet Cruze problems had led to multiple recalls apart from the ones we listed. If you would like to learn more, head over to NHTSA’s recall page.
Winding the Chevrolet Cruze problems up
It is now no secret that the first generation of the Chevy Cruze is a horrible used car buy. Examples of this sedan, especially the ones with high mileage, may display one or more of the signature Chevrolet Cruze problems. It will always be the best idea to stay away from the Cruze as a used car buy. More reliable alternatives will be the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, or the Honda Civic.
But if you are hell-bent on buying a Cruze, appealed by its aggressive looks, prepare a little. Stay away from high mileage cars. It also needs mental preparation as even the most well-kept Cruzes have been known to act up a bit.
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