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Chains don't go distance

Chris Simpson recently bought a used 2006 VE Holden Commodore Omega for his wife. Just after the car reached 100,000km on the clock, an engine warning light started to glow ominously 15 minutes into every trip.

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Chris took the car to his local Holden dealer to diagnose the problem, who told him that the timing chains on his engine were worn and he needed to replace them before they caused serious engine damage. The dealership quoted Chris more than $2500 to replace three worn timing chains – and this was after a 50 percent discount on the cost of the chains. Chris wasn't happy. He thought that the car was not of acceptable quality and Holden should foot the bill.

He has a point. Timing belts and chains control the opening and closing of the engine's valves. If the timing is out, the engine becomes noisy and doesn't run properly. It can also result in engine failure. Timing belts are more commonly used than chains, but they wear and stretch and need replacement after around 100,000km. Timing chains should last the life of the engine – over 300,000km.

Chris investigated further and discovered this was a known problem for the 3.6 litre LY7 engines fitted to VE Commodores from this period. There were many examples of the problem here and Australia. In the US, General Motors (Holden's owners) even issued a Technical Service Bulletin recommending replacement of the faulty chains with modified parts.

Chris contacted us for advice. He then chased Holden for an answer for several weeks. During this time he couldn't drive the car for fear the worn timing chains would cause more serious engine problems.

Our Consumer adviser Maggie Edwards says “the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) states that goods, whether bought new or used, must be of acceptable quality. This includes reasonable expectations of durability and applies to used cars as well as other goods. Chris may have been the second owner of the car, but the CGA still gives him the right to have this manufacturing defect fixed.”

Acceptable quality in this case would have been timing chains that lasted the life of the engine – just as they do on other vehicles, including other Holdens. There was clearly a design or manufacturing problem with these particular chains.

Holden has finally agreed to replace the timing chains on Chris's car at no cost. Chris and his wife are now looking forward to enjoying trouble-free motoring in their Commodore.

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