Serviceability Report: Chevrolet ImpalaPosted 3/08/2005
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
As I travel, rental cars are driven with an eye toward this series of articles. My trip to the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) last November in Las Vegas included a shiny red 2005 Impala, a free upgrade for loyalty.
If you have been reading this column, you know that what we are engaged in is to see if the designers have helped or hurt us, as we go about fixing their cars. This month, we will focus on the Chevy Impala 3.8 four-door sedan.
As I have said many times, I will not let my bias change the real story. My father, Raymond, ran a repair shop in Ogden, Utah, during the '50s and '60s. GM, Ford and Chrysler were kings; I was his son; and there were only American cars in my life. Then came my '59 VW bus, my brand-new '72 Toyota Hi-Lux pickup, and a couple of years later, my '74 Honda Civic. The imports were just coming into their own.
How has the largest car company in the world done with its most popular sedan? Let's find out:
Is the 2005 Impala 3.8 getting better for techs to work on or not?
So far we have reviewed Japanese, American, Korean, English and German offerings. We are back in the United States again.
One look under the hood of the 2005 Impala shows that little has changed over the years. GM's 3.8 has been a great engine - not the most powerful, fuel efficient, super ultra low emissions vehicle (SULEV)-rated or high tech - but good. The techs who work on these all day just go about their work. Service is easy after tricks are learned, like changing the air filter. It looks easy but the first time is frustrating, as you fight with the intake hose. It could be a lot easier to replace.
GM gives you a pick-up point for battery positive so you don't have to work with the side terminals very often. Nice of them, but why side terminals at all? After someone has overtightened the cable bolts, a simple job now gets too interesting. The three ignition coils are in the open and the alternator (OK, it is now a generator) is right in front of you. GM gives you plenty of room to get to the rear bank of spark plugs, as well as the front. For a V6, this is not a technician's nightmare when first opening the hood.
So far, this car's sales have been weak with consumers. Fleets and rental companies are the bulk of the buyers. A car with such a historic name sure deserves more car buyers than this. What is keeping the average buyer away?
The interior is typical for GM. It is not exciting but it gets the job done. In "The End of Detroit" by Micheline Maynard, she makes an interesting statement. The low-end customers - those with little income and/or a poor education - are gravitating toward GM. This is not a good thing if you are relying on GM for repairs. More importantly, those who practice preventative maintenance will not have the money or inclination to keep their cars up. I always wanted customers with money and a good education because they can pay the bill as the car requires maintenance and they generally understand the economics of keeping their car in good shape.
Let's compare a '00 Impala to a '05 model; both having an automatic transmission with the 3.8. Mike Kotarba, a Chevy dealer tech and iATN contributor, helped with the technician's viewpoint.
Intake manifold gaskets are a common problem, so watch for this. Not too many improvements or changes over this five-year spread. The fuel filter has been sequestered to the gas tank.
This car has had issues with bad air flow meters (AFMs), power control modules (PCMs), bad grounds, a recall (No. 03054B) on the fuel pressure regulators, many technical service bulletins (TSBs), a few malfunction indicator light (MIL) lamp codes, fuel pump problems, and more. It is typical for this car. It is not enough to make the owners want to get rid of their car, but it sure has its share of problems.
Overall, this entire car is not a bad design. It is easier to make a large car more accessible than a smaller one. GM needs to keep a focus on the other models it makes, as some would not fare as well as the Impala.
Is there ever going to be a car that is designed for service? E-mail me at email@example.com and vote for the best service design you have seen on any car, van, SUV or truck sold in the United States since 1996. I will report the survey in my next article. Until then, remember: It is harder to fix them than it is to design them.
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