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Rant & Rave: GMC Dealer Recalled a Little Too Much 3


I keep a 2007 GMC Yukon Denali parked at the Utah house to drive when we’re there. It’s perfect for “Inter-mountain West weather.” It’s comfortable, holds plenty of passengers and cargo, has great four wheel drive, heated seats, and a has a handy windshield washer fluid heater system that can help defrost ice on the windshield.

Wait, strike that last part… it no longer has the windshield washer fluid heater. Because back in July 2010, GM recalled 1.5 million vehicles between model year 2006-2009. This is from their press release:

The heated washer fluid system was recalled in August 2008 because a short circuit on the printed circuit board could overheat the control-circuit ground wire. Dealers at the time installed an in-line fuse in the heated washer module wiring.

The government closed its initial investigation after the 2008 recall. GM continued to monitor the performance of the heated washer fluid module in the field and continued communications with NHTSA.  In June 2009, a new and second failure mode was identified by GM with the first confirmed report consisting of smoke only. Since then, GM has been made aware of five fires.

Soon after the recall announcement, I started receiving letters and postcards from GM asking me to take my car into any dealer to have the recall performed. But unlike most recalls, GM didn’t plan to replace the defective unit with a better one. They would simply remove that feature from the car and offer a “voluntary payment” of $100. I used that feature often in Utah, and didn’t want to lose it, so I ignored the recall notices that came every few months… over a few years.

But then I learned about the AlphaTherm AT-37GM. According to its website, the AT-37GM is a universal heated wash unit that replaces the production GM unit and plugs into any GM vehicle (without any modifications) in 15 minutes or less. But it’s not just a direct replacement. The AT-37GM is an upgraded unit that exceeds the requirements of the original GM heated wash and contains a higher quality plastic material, rubber seal around main cover, silicone coated electrical terminals, and most importantly, a new printed circuit board design with electrical circuitry rated two times higher than the original GM heated washer unit, which allows the AT-37GM to survive a much harsher electrical environment. And, hopefully, not cause any fires!

I found the AT-37GM for sale online between $70 – $80, so with the $100 from the GM recall, I’d end up with the same heated windshield fluid feature via an upgraded unit that wasn’t at risk of starting a fire, and walk away with $20 in my pocket. Seemed like a good deal!

But I don’t like good deals… I like great deals. So I searched eBay for “AT-37GM” and found the following listing (seller name and item number removed for privacy):

AT37-GM listing on eBay

AT37-GM listing on eBay

The seller was asking $50 for a slightly used AT-37GM, which sounded like a pretty good deal. But I noticed that the seller was in Lehi, UT — which is only a few miles from my Utah house. I pressed the “Best Offer” button and offered to pay $30, then included in the notes an offer to come pick it up in person since I was in Provo, thereby avoiding any shipping costs. The seller counter-offered $35 and told me he could actually meet where he worked in Orem, UT (even closer to my Utah house). I gladly accepted.

My next scheduled visit to Utah was only a few days later, on Wednesday April 22, 2015. I met the seller at his workplace (he was a car mechanic). The unit looked good as new. He explained how to install it by clicking it into the existing bracket (no tools needed) and plugging in the existing washer tubes. He even gave me the yellow fuse the the dealer generally removes when the perform the recall. I gladly paid the $35 cash, thanked him, and headed for home.

Since I had a few hours before I needed to be anywhere else, I called Harmons Downtown Auto Center, the GMC dealer in Provo, and asked if I could schedule the heated washer recall. The service manager informed me that they could do actually do it right away, so I drive directly there. I checked in, gave them my keys, and asked if they wouldn’t mind giving me the yellow fuse that gets removed during the recall procedure (you can never have too many spare fuses). In hindsight, I now wish I’d explained that I was planning to install my own aftermarket washer (which was actually sitting on the back seat of the Denali because I’d driven straight there), but half-expected to get a “you really shouldn’t do that” lecture, so I remained silent.

After a brief 30 minute Facebook-surfing session in their customer waiting area, their service manager arrived and informed me that the procedure was complete. He handed me my reimbursement check… in the amount of $2,065! That was well above the expected $100, and while it seemed generous, I knew it must be a mistake. He laughed and quickly determined that someone in the finance office must had looked at the service code of 206500 and typed it in as the amount, so he apologized and hurried off to get a new check. He reappeared a few minutes later with a $100 check. I thanked him, took my keys, and headed for home. I didn’t have time to do the install that afternoon, so I decided to do it first thing in the morning. But I went to bed feeling pretty good about my $65 profit!

The next morning (Thursday April 23rd), I looked up the AT-37GM install instructions online (it really was as simple as seller had described) and headed out to the garage. The first step in the instructions said to “Locate the GM heated washer fluid unit. If the GM recall procedure was performed, locate the bracket.” I looked where I expected the bracket to be, but found nothing. Upon a closer inspection, I discovered a dirt outline on the firewall where something used to be installed. I confirmed via a few more web searches that this was, in fact, the washer heater bracket location, and realized that the technician at the dealer must have mistakenly removed the bracket. It was just after 8AM on Thursday (which is when they open), so I called the dealership and asked if they happened to have the parts they’d removed the previous afternoon. I was informed that they’d have to ask the technician (they told me his name, but there’s no need for me to include it here) and put me on hold. A few moments later they told me that the technician had thrown the bracket away. I asked if it might still be in the trash, and was told that it might be, but that the smaller trashes were dumped into a larger container every night, and that I was free to come down and look through the large dumpster myself, but that it had probably already been emptied. He then transferred me to the parts department so I could see about buying a new one.

All of a sudden, my $65 profit no longer seemed like such a good deal, and I wondered just how much of it I’d have to give up to purchase a new bracket. But after a brief conversation with the parts manager, I learned I wouldn’t have to give up any of my $65 profit… because I couldn’t. GM doesn’t sell the bracket separately; it only comes as part of the entire heated washer fluid assembly. And to make things worse, you can’t even buy the heated washer fluid assembly any more… because (you guessed it) the part is recalled and they don’t offer a replacement! I was frustrated, but it wasn’t the parts manager’s fault, and venting to him wouldn’t accomplish anything, so I simply I thanked him and hung up the phone.

I was perplexed, because every online AT-37GM installation story I found across various GM truck forums touted how easy it had been for the owner to just simply click the new unit into the existing bracket — which got me wondering whether the recall instructions were explicit about leaving the bracket in place. A quick web search produced this PDF file of GM Recall Bulletin 10153A from July 2010, which was hosted on the NHTSA website. I scrolled down to page 15 to the section titled “WINDSHIELD WASHER SOLVENT HEATER REMOVAL.” Here’s a screen-capture of that section:

GM Recall Bulletin for heated windshield washer

GM Recall Bulletin for heated windshield washer

The bright read “Note” section in step #1 states in no uncertain terms, using capital letters, to “NOT remove the assembly bracket from the engine compartment.”

I was still a bit frustrated, and while nobody at the dealership had been rude to me on the phone, I kinda felt like they’d try to make the issue my problem instead of their problem. So I called the 800 customer service number for GMC to ask if they could somehow source the bracket and send it to me. I was connected to the extremely helpful Cheryl. After listening to what happened, she looked up the recall bulletin herself and confirmed that the dealership had, in fact, made a mistake in removing and throwing away the bracket. She took my information and assured me that she’d figure out a way to get a bracket to me, even if she had to make a dealer visit a junk yard to locate the discontinued part. I currently own three GM products (Hummer H2, Escalade, and Denali), but this was the first time I’d ever needed to call the customer service line. I was extremely impressed with the experience.

By 11:21 AM that morning, I’d received an email from Cheryl with the reference number for my case. Then, less than an hour later, I received the following voicemail from the dealership:

“Mr. Jenkins, this is (the service manager) with Harmons, I’ve got this bracket for you that we took out yesterday for the recall. So… we went dumpster diving, found it, got the two nuts… so you can stop by any time and pick that up. We’re here ’til 6 o’clock. Today is Thursday the 23rd. Thanks!”

Unfortunately, I’m terrible with voicemail, so I didn’t actually listen to that message until I was back in Seattle. 🙁 But I’ve since called the dealership to thank them for rescuing it, and plan on dropping by to pick it up next week when I’m back in Utah again.

So I’m glad that this story, which started out as a rant, happily turned into a rave for GMC’s customer service — as well as the dumpster-diving efforts of the service team at Harmons. I don’t grade companies on whether or not they make mistakes (because we all do), but rather on how they address those mistakes.

I’ll continue to drive my GM products with pride, and will post an update to my blog once my AT-37GM washer fluid heater is installed.

I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below.

  • I wouldn’t drive a GM product if they were the last vehicle on earth. I have traveled the world over and every time I see a GM product, I cringe. They solved their financial problems on the backs of the taxpayers, and continue to do the wrong things to their customers. I spent a lot of time in GM products in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of 5 tours from 2004-2009 (I was a uniformed DoD civilian supporting Provincial Reconstruction Teams). They were continually broken and needed huge caches of expensive parts (and multiple mechanics) to keep them working. The US Government spends huge sums on GM products yet they continue to perform poorly for their customers. To think a company having the majority of vehicles on roads on every continent world-wide has to file bankruptcy at all is repugnant to me. Nothing GM will every pass my driveway. Never. No amount of heated washer fluid would matter. None.

    • Tell us how you REALLY feel, Michael! 😉

    • Chad Campbell

      Define irony…

      A guy that made lots of money rebuilding Iraq that was paid for by taxpayers bitching about taxpayers taking care of GM.

      By the way, don’t open any books or anything, Michael. You’ll quickly find out exactly how many auto makers take our loans from the government and never pay them back. (Hint, you won’t be able to find one that doesn’t.)