It might be fair to say that a vehicle couldn’t possibly get any more innocent than a Chevy Traverse. Chevrolet’s mid-size three-row SUV is as family-friendly as an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants over a PG-rated movie night. The Traverse appears to be the ideal choice for anyone looking for a great family car, with plenty of room to spare. But peel away underneath the unassuming skin, and you might just yourself drowning in a sea of Chevy Traverse problems.
The Chevy Traverse offers a lot of kit and practicality for the money, but the Chevy Traverse may just cost you a semester’s worth of your kid’s college tuition if and when it goes wrong. But is it really that bad, and is it a car worth traversing all the inconvenience just to have a go in it? Well, it’s got a fairly handsome shape, plus a lot of interior space for your whole family and an entire Walmart’s worth of groceries. That, plus a lot of clever safety and convenience tech packed in.
Yet, it didn’t take long for all the issues to start appearing following its inception amidst the ashes of the Financial Crisis. It ranges everything from minor electrical faults, to transmission woes, and at times catastrophic engine failure. So, you might wonder as you’re reading this, is Chevrolet’s family roundabout going to bankrupt me all the way to the workshop? Well, our guide on all the noteworthy Chevy Traverse problems should hopefully help you answer that.
- What is the Chevy Traverse?
- Worst model year?
- Common problems (Model year: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017, 2018)
What do you need to know about the Chevy Traverse?
First, let’s take a closer look at what the Chevy Traverse is, and why it needed to exist. Its design was inspired by the Chevy Sequel concept, which made its debut in 2005. The Traverse followed suit in the Sequel’s display of a new chevron-styled grille that came to identify Chevrolet cars of the era. The veil was finally lifted from the 1st-generation Traverse in the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. Contrary to the Sequel’s use of hydrogen fuel cells, the Traverse stuck with a V6 motor.
More specifically, it was Chevrolet’s ‘LTT’ 3.6-litre V6, mated to a 6-speed GM automatic transmission. The underpinnings of the 1st-gen Traverse were shared with several other General Motors vehicles, including the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave. The 1st-generation of the Chevy Traverse had the most amount of problems – as we’ll look more into later on in our Chevy Traverse problems guide. It was on sale for a long time, from the 2009 to 2017 model years.
The 2nd-generation of Chevrolet’s Traverse was introduced for the 2018 model year and remains on sale today. It shared a platform with the new Cadillac XT6, including updated versions of the aforementioned GM staples. With its new and rugged truck-like design, the 2nd-gen Traverse had some tech upgrades for active safety features and other improvements. The powertrain options now include a 3.6-liter ‘LFY’ V6 and a 2.0-liter ‘LTG’ turbocharged 4-cylinder.
Which model year is the worst when it comes to Chevy Traverse maintenance?
Overall, the Chevy Traverse itself was decently well received by the automotive press and its customers. It’s very practical, with plenty of high-tech gadgets, comes at a fairly reasonable price tag, and is plenty capable on or off the road. Plus, the most recent 2020 and 2021 model year Traverse was given a highly respectable 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA. If you could have a single vehicle that could do as many things right and all at once, the Traverse would be it.
But that luster begins to dim once the repair bills start coming in. The 1st-generation of the Traverse in particular was quite problematic as maintenance goes. Most especially, the Chevy Traverse made between the years of 2009 and 2015, which can suffer disastrous problems. In order of severity, these cars suffer from a myriad of different engines, steering, transmission, and electrical problems. Those are the most common and costly issues to bear in mind.
Based on the website, CarComplaints.com, they have concluded that the 2011 model year of the Traverse is the worst. This is taking into account the severity of the problems and the expense associated with fixing them. Along these particular model years, the Chevy Traverse problems also prompted the most number of recalls. For the most part, the most serious of these recalls concern the transmission.
What are the Chevy Traverse reliability issues that you need to know about?
We’re using a popular site known as CarComplaints.com to narrow things down and identify specifically as to what problems are plaguing which model year of a certain car. Their webpage accumulates complaints made by online users, as well as those filed directly to the NHTSA. CarComplaints.com’s database is the basis for our Chevy Traverse problems guide here. As mentioned earlier, the worst model years range from 2009 to 2015.
However, the frequency of complaints started dropping after 2012, and especially after the 2013 facelift. In summary, the 2017 model year Chevy Traverse had little to no complaints thus far. Meanwhile, the 2nd-generation of the Chevy Traverse saw an uptick of complaints in its maiden launch in 2018. But after that, the car is still too new for any significant problems to crop up. We also saw GM’s more concerted efforts to address major quality and reliability issues.
Here is a more in-depth breakdown of the most common and notable Chevy Traverse problems, based on their model year:
Chevy Traverse problems, 2009 model year (1st-generation)
This was the first full model year of the Chevy Traverse on sale following its unveiling. This model year has quite a large number of issues, but by far not the worst. In this model year alone, CarComplaints.com noted that there were more than 1,300 TSBs. Otherwise known as Technical Service Bulletins, TSBs are official communications made between Chevrolet and their dealerships. This is to detail key problems with the car, and how to troubleshoot or fix them.
There had also been 8 recalls made so far. In 2009, there were two recalls totaling nearly 300,000 Chevy Traverses. This is an issue with the gear lever and faulty parking brake, which may enable unintended movement even while parked. There were also several other recalls concerning the wiring, electrics, airbags, and more. The most serious recall in terms of sheer number was in 2014 when over 1.3-million cars were recalled over the seatbelt restraints.
The liftgate struts might also fail and cause it to fall on top of someone. This prompted another recall in 2015, totaling over 690,000 cars to have them fixed. As far as Chevy Traverse problems go, CarComplaints.com recorded over 637 unique complaints made against the 2009 model year. This is quite a high number for any car on their database. As we’ll take a closer look, the most common problems are with the steering, engine, and transmission.
1. Steering – hard to turn the wheel
A third of Chevy Traverse problems for the 2009 model year surrounds the car’s steering. Many owners reported instances where they would have difficulty turning, especially at lower speeds. As such, maneuvering at lower speeds such as needing to park or driving around tight spaces can be a challenge. This can be noticed by the steering wheel being stiff to turn. Or, there might be odd ‘knocking’ or ‘clunking’ noises when turning the wheel.
Some owners have reported hazardous situations where they very nearly hit another car or noticed the steering correct itself suddenly while driving. The problem has been narrowed down to a faulty steering rack. Owners have reported the problem being fixed after replacing the entire rack and pinion system. The steering issues can start cropping up after 100,000 miles and has a repair bill of around $1,200 to $1,400 on average for a fix.
2. Engine – high oil usage, spark plug failure, broken timing chain
After steering issues, engine problems sit in second place for the number of complaints. Commonly, owners have reported that their Chevy Traverse would consume a lot of oil. So much so, that excessive oil consumption can cause performance issues. One owner was informed by a mechanic that the engine needs to be replaced ($4,500 – $5,000) if they want to fix the problems for good. Alternatively, the camshaft and sensors could be replaced ($1,000 – $1,500).
Among other engine-related issues with the 2009 Chevy Traverse was spark plug coil failures, which could happen at mileage as little as 48,000 miles on average. This can cause misfires and a repair bill of around $360. Perhaps the most serious common issue, however, was faulty timing chains. This can happen at a mileage of around 100,000 miles and will result in a hefty bill of around $3,000 to fix the timing belt.
3. Transmission – complete transmission failure
The transmission on the Chevy Traverse for the 2009 model year can also be problematic. It can be felt as a sudden loss of power, unable to change gears, the engine revving high, or transmission slippage. It could happen at around 88,000 miles on average. The cause varies, but has been narrowed down to prematurely worn-out transmission fluid. This results in complete transmission failure, and the only way to fix it is a full replacement of the entire transmission, costing between $3,000 to upwards of $4,000.
Chevy Traverse problems, 2010 model year (1st-generation)
Based on data from CarComplaints.com, the 2010 model year Traverse saw a large increase in the number of reported issues. There were more than 1,400 different technical service bulletins on faults related to this year of the Traverse. In contrast to the previous model year, there were “only” half as many recalls. All of them were issued alongside the 2009 model year Traverse, covering aspects of the seat belts, airbags, and rear liftgate as mentioned earlier.
A 30% increase in the number of Chevy Traverse problems from 2009 saw the 2010 model year record 996 complaints on CarComplaints.com. It even helpfully wins the “Beware Of The Clunker” award on their website, owing to the high dissatisfaction over the Traverse’s reliability. Some of the issues of this particular model year, such as the faulty steering and powertrain problems, are carried over from the 2009 car.
1. Engine – blown motor, faulty timing chains
Some owners of the 2010 Chevy Traverse noticed the ‘check engine’ warning light flash, followed by an immediate loss of power. Other potential signs were a ticking noise with the engine running, or the odd noise as though the engine was running without any oil. Despite many of these owners diligently changing the oil, the 2010 Traverse can fall victim to a completely blown engine. The only fix was to replace the engine with a new block.
Estimates vary anywhere from upwards of $6,000 to more than $13,000. Not only deadly expensive to fix, but it can start showing signs of failure after just 100,000 miles of driving. Another part within the powertrain of the 2010 Chevy Traverse that could fail is the timing chain. Just like the 2009 model year, this will require an immediate replacement, with an average bill of between $2,000 to $7,000 depending on how much damage it’s caused to the rest of the engine.
2. Steering – power steering failure
As with the 2009 car, the Chevy Traverse problems for 2010 also included faults within the steering rack. More than a third of complaints centered around this issue, mostly on the power steering system. The power steering might stop working entirely, or it would sometimes cut in and out. Often, this happens while maneuvering at low speeds, such as reversing or parking. Some owners have also reported a noticeable ‘clunking’ noise while turning.
The cause of this is the steering rack’s inability to lubricate itself sufficiently. It might require replacing just the power steering pump, or it might require a complete replacement of the whole steering rack. For the Chevy Traverse, the average repair bill varies anywhere from around $1,500 to $6,000 if major repairs are needed. This could also because of a leak in the steering pump, which will cost you around $1,500 to $2,000 for a repair.
3. Air-conditioning unit – pressure hose and compressor failure
Another one of the common Chevy Traverse problems for the 2010 model year was its A/C unit. When the A/C unit fails, it can be felt almost immediately with it blowing out hot air, or if the air isn’t cold. The faults can vary from a premature failure in the pressure hose (thus causing Freon refrigerant to leak), or a broken compressor. On the less severe side of things, it can be fixed for as little as $350, but if major components like the compressor need replacing, it may cost upwards of $1,500.
Chevy Traverse problems, 2011 model year (1st-generation)
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the 2011 model year is the most heart-aching as far as Chevy Traverse problems go. It was affected by the same batch of recalls as the previous 2009 and 2010 model years. However, the 2011 model year Traverse has twice as many complaints compared to 2009. Many of the problems that it faces are a continuation of the previous year’s and are equally complex and expensive to fix.
Worst of all, most of these issues only tend to appear after the warranty period (approximately 73,000 miles under coverage). The 2011 Traverse is hence noted to be the worst model year based on CarComplaints.com’s database as far as maintenance goes. Although the frequency of electrical problems has gone down, there are still major faults within the engine and steering. Another new entrant here is the possibility of brake-related defects.
1. Engine – faulty timing chain, blown motor
Just like the past two model years, the 2011 Chevy Traverse faces monumental problems with the powertrain. Once again, it takes up the lion’s share of owners’ complaints with the 2011 model year. The timing chain here is equally prone to premature failure, which can result in the ‘check engine‘ light flashing. According to some owners’ comments, this is instantaneously followed by a sudden and immediate loss of power.
If this isn’t fixed quickly, it can cause a lot of secondary damage to the rest of the powertrain. On average, a repair of the timing chain is quoted to be around $2,500 to $3,000. Drive it for long enough, and it could result in a completely blown motor. Replacing the entire engine on the 2011 Traverse is said to cost about $6,000 to $9,000. Other owners have reportedly needed to change the throttle bodies and the catalytic converter in addition.
2. Steering – power steering failure
Power steering failure is just as common of a malfunction in the 2011 Traverse just like the previous model years. Even with meticulous servicing on the owners’ part, the steering system can still suffer from lubrication problems. The consequence is needing to replace the power steering pump, or the entire steering rack and pinion. In some cases, it might necessitate replacing both, which will cost you upwards of $2,000 for a fix after just around 88,000 miles.
3. Brakes – faulty electronic stability control
There is a large number of Chevy Traverse problems in the 2011 model year concerning the brakes. There is actually nothing wrong with the brakes themselves, but with the electronic stability control (ESC). Chevrolet’s GM-based “Stabilitrak” ESC system can sometimes go off without a warning, causing you to slow down or brake in an instant. This can result in a loss of control and will require replacing some of the vehicle’s sensors with an average repair bill of around $1,000.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2012 model year (1st-generation)
The 2012 Chevy Traverse did see a gradual decrease in the number of complaints, with 556 total reports on CarComplaints.com. Most of the problems here are repeated from the earlier model years. In many cases here, it involves the powertrain once more. Some owners have reported that their cars would shudder while driving at low speed or while driving uphill. Others, meanwhile, have noted a sudden loss of power or the engine completely dying.
Just as we discussed earlier, the common causes can be narrowed down to prematurely worn or contaminated engine oil, as well as a faulty timing chain. If it’s been taken care of early on, it would still cost you around $2,500 on average. However, continue driving it for too long, and it might result in a lot more damage being done, such as a blown motor. Replacing the whole engine in the 2012 Traverse costs an average of around $7,000 to $8,000.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2013 model year (1st-generation)
Chevrolet’s 2013 model year for the Traverse started seeing a halving in the number of overall complaints compared to 2012. There are 233 reports marked on CarComplaints.com, mostly listed under ‘braking’, ‘engine’, and ‘electrical’. However, all of these problems are actually the same, and the finger can be pointed towards problems with the ESC program. As per the 2012 model year, there are still lingering difficulties with the Stabilitrak electronic stability control.
The after-effects of the ESC issues can cause damage elsewhere, as it can affect the car’s driving behavior such as braking and acceleration. A simple replacement of some sensors or fuses will cost around $600. But additional wear and tear from a faulty ESC can cause issues, as one owner found out after being quoted $3,000 after their transmission needed a replacement. Other small niggles with the 2013 Traverse included problems with the A/C unit.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2014 model year (1st-generation)
Based on CarComplaints.com’s data, the 2014 Chevy Traverse problems saw an uptick over 2013, with 544 reports in total. A carry-over defect from the past year is defective electronic stability control. The Stabilitrak ESC can go haywire and cause a sudden reduction in speed. Embarrassingly, this issue could start appearing at a very low mileage of just around 36,000 miles. A replacement of some fuses and sensors will fix the issue, with an average bill of $750.
This could also have unintended damages to the transmission, which can be felt as jerking by some owners, or as a hard shunt while changing gears at low speeds. Another common fault with the early Traverse model years is the airbags. Some owners noticed a ‘service airbag‘ warning light on their dashboard. If not serviced right away, a failed sensor ($250 for a fix) might result in the airbags not being able to deploy in the event of an accident.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2015 model year (1st-generation)
The 2015 Chevy Traverse saw yet another decrease in the frequency of reliability concerns. A lot of the complaints are echoed in the preceding model years. In order of how many complaints there are, these defects relate to the air-conditioning, Stabilitrak ESC program, and power steering issues. There were also a small number of owners whose 2015 Traverses had burnt down due to electrical short-circuiting. However, this has prompted a recall.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2016 & 2017 model year (1st-generation)
These last two model years – 2016 and 2017 – of the 1st-generation Chevy Traverse didn’t see as many problems as per the earlier years. Gradual improvements have led to around 250 complaints for both those model years combined. Once again, the issues from the previous Traverses have persisted here, though only in smaller quantities. These are mostly related to faults with the Stabilitrak electronic stability control.
Chevy Traverse issues, 2018 model year (2nd-generation)
2018 saw the introduction of the newly updated 2nd-generation of the Chevy Traverse. The largest share of the complaints with this model year (225 in total) is related to the transmission. Particularly, it concerns a “Shift To Park” message popping up in the instrument cluster. This can sometimes result in owners not being able to shut off the engine and lock the car. The best DIY solution found so far is to fiddle about with the gear shifter until the message goes away.
Thankfully, the 2018 Traverse is still a fairly new car, and most owners can have these problems fixed under warranty. In general, this fault within the transmission highlights that electrics are one of the primary reasons for a lot of complaints made against this particular model year. For instance, rapid and sudden changes in speed, or the parking brake not releasing or disengaging. Other owners have complained that their power steering module in the 2018 Traverse had failed.
Conclusion – Should you be concerned about these Chevy Traverse defects?
Now, I’m sure you’re reading this and are understandably feeling a bit worried. Maybe you have a Chevy Traverse waiting for you in the garage, or perhaps you might be in line for buying one. In short, the earlier model years of the Traverse – in particular those made in 2009, 2010, and 2011 – can be a land-mine in terms of reliability. You could be out of pocket to the tune of $10,000 just to fix all the little (and very big) problems. In short, it can be a nightmare and a half.
There are at least some things that you can do to help mitigate any heartaches in the future. If you are planning to buy a Chevy Traverse, then consider getting a pre-purchase inspection done. Especially take note of some of the aforementioned Chevy Traverse problems. Have these defects been serviced or replaced by the previous owner? Were there any of the above symptoms cropping up during your test drive? Did your technician friend reveal anything nasty?
If you already own a Chevy Traverse, then maybe think about getting it checked out anyways by a qualified mechanic. Keep in touch with your local dealership to know if there are any recall notices or problems that you should be aware of. If you’re able to, see whether you could get an extended warranty program on your Traverse if it’s still fairly new. In all, the Chevy Traverse is a very reliable and helpful companion to have in one’s life… If and when it works properly.