Serviceability Report: Chevy Cruze - Transmission Digest

Serviceability Report: Chevy Cruze

This is another in a series of reports that asks a simple question: Do the automotive engineers look at “ease of service” when designing a new car?

Tech to Tech

  • Subject: Serviceability report
  • Vehicle Application: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
  • Essential Reading: Diagnostician, R & R
  • Author: Craig Van Batenburg, AAM

Remember the Cobalt? Is the Cruze a big improvement?

This is another in a series of reports that asks a simple question: Do the automotive engineers look at “ease of service” when designing a new car?

So far we have reviewed more than 30 cars and trucks from every major car company in Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Italy and, of course, right here in America. Is General Motors better at serviceability now than it was 10 years ago? Did the bankruptcy scare add more passion for getting it right?

The GM of old is not the same as the new GM. Most of you know me as a Honda lover. It is true I had made my living understanding and fixing Hondas since the ’60s as a dealership technician and an independent shop owner/technician. But things do change over time, and if you are open-minded you will change too. Today, I drive a Chevy. Not your average Chevy, as it runs mostly on electricity. It is funny that I have been explaining voltage for decades and now I drive a car named after one part of Ohm’s law.

I recently attended the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Congress in Detroit, which I’ve attended every year for more than a decade. The SAE event is about the future and shows the latest technology that the carmakers and their parts suppliers have invented. Turbos are coming back and multi-speed transmissions are everywhere. The cars sold today are better than ever, but is all this complexity getting in the way of simple service and repair?

GM has a new laptop-based scan tool using the MDI module with GDS software. My company bought one last year and we have experience with this tool. A caution here: If you don’t use it weekly in an environment with high-speed wireless, you will be downloading new software or re-subscribing to the website after seven days go by. In other words, it times out every seven days! Other than that, the new scan tool will not replace the Tech 2, so hang on to your old GM tool. The new MDI is required for the new Cruze.

As I have been more involved with GM than ever before in my lifetime, it seems to me that the people – with few exceptions – who work at the corporate level really have a way about them that can be seen as humble and open to accepting that they do not have all the answers. I also noticed that GM has a great engineering brain trust. The Cruze is one of the products that could have been made years ago but it took until now to use all the talent that Chevy can bear on a new car. But is it serviceable?

On my drive back from Detroit to Worcester, Mass., I stopped in the small Ohio town of Fremont, which has fewer than 20,000 people. The local Chevrolet dealership, Al Baumann Chevy, was a joy to visit. While I opened the hood on a new 1.4-turbo, shiny red Cruze on the showroom floor, the service department drove my year-old Volt into the shop to recharge my battery. It was a slow Thursday afternoon, so Jay Schafer, one of two service consultants, answered my many technical questions about this newcomer. Schafer has that spark that everyone who ever had a car at a dealership wished his or her service adviser had – and I was not even a paying customer. So how did the Cruze stack up?

First, this car is selling very well. It is well equipped, quick and a far cry from the stripped-down Cobalts from a few years back. There is a low-end 1.8 LS, but it is not a big seller. It is the 1.4 turbo that is the most popular.

Under the hood is a large-enough area that allows your hands access to what you need when it is in for normal service. A cartridge for the filtering of the 5/30-weight oil is straightforward, so plan on a few more oily rags when done. The air filter has screws, not clips, but they are right on top, so no problem here. The iridium spark plugs are hidden under a small cover along with the coil strip. One bad coil and the owner will get four new ones. Not “best practice,” but faster assembly time when new. Positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valves are going the way of timing belts, because they are old-fashioned and not in keeping with the times. The Cruze has a “front-cover valve” that is a lifetime system and takes over the job of the PCV. Automatic-transmission service is just a hot drain and fill or maybe a flushing machine, but no pan with a filter is fitted. Does this make you feel old, knowing all that old-time servicing is going away? When was the last time you greased a front-end part?

The Cruze has many models, but the Cruze Eco is a unique model in that many inexpensive tweaks were done to improve highway mileage. First, Chevrolet optimized the Eco’s aerodynamics by closing off a part of the upper grille and adding motorized shutters to the lower air intake to close it off during high-speed cruising. Chevy also lowered the Eco about a half inch, with springs borrowed from the Cruze’s optional sport suspension, and smoothed airflow beneath the car with underbody panels. The engineers also fitted a thin spoiler to the trunk and installed a full-width air dam beneath the front bumper. The net result is a claimed 10% drop in aerodynamic drag, and the lower stance means less body roll in corners.

The ECO version is lighter by removing the rear center armrest, the rear center headrest on manual-transmission cars, using thinner sheet metal in some locations and even reducing the length of weld flanges.

The Eco uses the Volt’s ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires with Eco lightweight rims. That dropped 5.3 pounds of unsprung weight at each corner compared with the Cruze 1LT. Chevrolet reduced the capacity of the fuel tank of the manual-trans Eco from 15.6 to 12.6 gallons; again, less weight when filled up. If one does many small things, they add up over time.

Let’s take a look back at the Cobalt. It was produced from model year 2004 to 2010 and was the prior Cruze. There were a few recalls that affected the electric power steering and many TSBs. The 12-volt battery was moved to the trunk and a spare tire was an option. The Cobalt was just an OK car, not at all exciting, and was priced at the low end of the American-made economy cars. GM had other low-end cars, but they were usually Korean. Many Chevy owners are proud they drive an American car, so when they find out a Chevy may be a rebadged import they shy away or make it well known they aren’t buying a foreign car. “Buy American” is back with many consumers.

The GM bailout was controversial, and in this election year you will be hearing more about it, but however you feel, the new GM is making great cars and that is a good thing. As we move away from eight-cylinder engines, the underhood access is just getting better.

Overall rating: The Cruze “build quality” is getting much better than even five years ago. The ease of service is about the same. This car is not a problem for technicians who service them on a regular basis because it is still very much a GM, only better.

Craig Van Batenburg, AAM, is a master hybrid technician. He was the owner and lead technician for more than 25 years at his own shop that specialized in Honda and Toyota vehicles. Van Batenburg was the president of ASA Massachusetts from 1993 to 1996. He is owner of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), which he founded in 1998. He develops technical classes for those who require updating their knowledge in hybrid and electric cars. Some of his customers include the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, Delphi, Midtronics, John Deere, Porsche of America and BG Products. You can reach Van Batenburg at [email protected].

This copyrighted article is reprinted with the permission of AutoInc., the official publication of the Automotive Service Association (ASA). To learn more about ASA and its commitment to independent automotive-service and repair professionals, visit or call 800-272-7467.

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