The Disgruntled Diesel Owners Group (DDOG), a local consumer organization of more than 250 persons, reached an agreement yesterday with General Motors that could provide cash compensation for problems that members have had with their diesel cars and light-duty trucks. The agreement also provides for certain repairs to be made at GM's expense.
"The agreement is not everything we wanted, but it does establish procedures which we think will help GM diesel owners receive at least partical compensation for the problems they have had with their vehicles," said Joyce Arndt, founder and president of DDOG, most of whose members live in metropolitan Washington. Arndt and her husband own and operate Ray's Auto Body in Vienna.
William H. Noack, GM public relations manager for the Washington region, described the agreement as a "way to enhance the satisfaction of our customers, who have indicated that they have problems with their diesel-powered GM vehicles."
He said that DDOG had submitted an initial 24 claims to the auto company for consideration. "We will look at those and if we can resolve them, and I have every confidence that we can, we will begin looking individually at the rest of the DDOG members' car problems," he said.
GM has manufactured over a million diesel-powered cars and light-duty trucks since 1978, according to Clarence Ditlow, director of the nonprofit, Washington-based Center for Auto Safety. The center has received about 1,600 complaints on the GM diesel from across the country.
GM diesel owners have reported serious problems with their cars, including blown head gaskets, cracked blocks, defective fuel injector pumps, oil leaks that cannot be repaired despite repeated attempts, broken camshafts and crankshafts and bad transmissions. Repairs have cost as much as $6,000 to $7,000 in some cases, with repair bills of $3,000 to $4,000 not uncommon, according to DDOG officials.
Under the terms of the agreement, a DDOG member whose GM diesel broke down on the road may submit a special claim form, along with documentation, for repair bills, towing expenses, lodging and other costs incurred as a result of the car's failure. GM then decides how much, if anything, it will pay as compensation.
"If you wanted to be harsh, you could say the agreement is worth nothing, because GM doesn't promise to pay a dime to any diesel owner," said Mark Steinbach, attorney for the consumer group. "But we think diesel owners have a good chance to recover some of their losses, based on what happened in Oregon, where GM signed a similar agreement last year with diesel owners.
"When we checked with the Oregon group, we were told that GM had paid an average of $1,000 to $1,500 to individual diesel owners, based on the first 200 claims filed," Steinbach said.
Diesel owners who accept repairs or awards from GM would remain free to sue GM or benefit from any of the class-action suits currently pending against GM, Steinbach said.
To take advantage of the procedures under the agreement, a GM diesel owner must be a member of DDOG. Only those who pay the $20 membership fee by the closing date for memberships will be eligible for the full benefits of the agreement, Steinbach said. That date hasn't been set, but he said that those interested should contact the group within six weeks at DDOG, 316 Dominion Rd., Vienna, Va. 22180.
DDOG will meet to discuss the agreement at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry Street South, Vienna. Additional meetings are planned for locations in Maryland and Virginia.
GM also pledged to pay DDOG up to $63,500 for legal fees.