By on July 7, 2020

2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS in Wisconsin wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Better clean up that spilled drink. It’s a safety hazard.

Yes, two low-end, Recession-era Chevrolets have been singled out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for an investigation, this one pertaining not to faulty ignition switches (that’s all in the past), but the pooling of flammable liquid in areas where such things should not pool.

A probe opened on July 5th concerns the 2008-2010 Cobalt and 2008-2009 HHR, two incredibly sensible vehicles with low ownership costs, according to friends of the author. But not every owner is singing their car’s praises.

According to the NHTSA, 208 complaints about fuel leaks have flowed into the agency. The leaks stem from corrosion in the fuel lines near the left rear wheel well, which is exactly where an identical leak sprung up on your author’s ’93 Corsica many, many years ago.

“The corrosion occurs at the polymer blocks that attach the fuel lines to the underbody and underneath an insulation wrap-heat shield adjacent to the exhaust pipe and muffler,” a document associated with the probe states, adding that 39 of the complaints noted dripping fuel or a puddle of gasoline forming beneath the car.

Given the age of these vehicles, the number built (there’s 614,275 under this particular microscope), and roadway conditions experienced in the Salt Belt for half the year, one could imagine the problem being more widespread than initially thought. The investigation’s still in its earliest stage; time will tell whether the NHTSA turns its focus onto earlier or later models, or whether the agency prompts a recall.

Again, speaking from experience, your author would caution any owner not to be a moron by attempting to light the gasoline pool with a flung cigarette while pulling away from friends’ homes. That kind of thing might be cool when you’re 19, but not now. It’s worth noting that the sister car of this writer’s former compact bowtie sedan (two-for-one auction deal) self-immolated in the driveway of a later owner, cause unknown.

In the Cobalt and HHR’s case, Chevy says no known fires or injuries are linked to the fuel leak issue.

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC, General Motors]

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41 Comments on “The Chevy HHR, Cobalt Might Not Be Entirely Safe...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Looks like the engineers over at “Motors Liquidation” have some work to do.

  • avatar

    First-time commenter, but long-time reader. Hi everyone!

    I wonder if the problem is only limited to 2008 & 2009 models. I once had a 2007 HHR, and toward the end of its life with me it sprang a fuel leak in the exact same spot outlined in the NHTSA report.

    On top of everything else wrong with it, I got rid of the vehicle without repairing it.

    I realize I am merely an n of 1, but the similarities of my vehicle’s experience to this snippet of news are concerning. I’m thinking I dodged quite the bullet.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It has become abundantly clear that the Delta-platform cars (with the lone exception of the Astra H) are extremely disposable, under-engineered as they are to a dangerous degree. They were not designed to last beyond six years, and it’s scary that so many people still depend on these. Arguably, the people driving them in 2020 are the ones least equipped (from a financial standpoint) to deal with an issue, or to recognize a manufacturer defect when one appears.

    If I were rich, I’d start a Cobalt Retirement charity; the cars are *that* bad.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “I’d start a Cobalt Retirement charity”

      What about an alternative solution… a program to send the cars somewhere they’d be loved and maintained by people who are adept at maintaining decades-old automotive hardware… instead of sending them across the rainbow bridge to The Crusher, send them across the sea, to a tropical island paradise where old cars live forever…

      Gentlemen, I have a solution to the Cobalt and HHR problem, I propose to you

      ((drumroll, curtain slowly parts))

      C4C: Clunkers for Cuba

      ((music, canned applause))

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Does anything with a computer even stand a chance over there?

      • 0 avatar
        aja8888

        Or Trinidad! Lots of old bombs still running there too!

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          This was a Lutz car if I remember correctly. You know, when he was GM’s Car Czar. Let me see. Ah yes, a quote from C/D:

          “But things are different this time. (Yeah, right-Ed.) GM has an evangelist for good cars-Bob Lutz-and he has a vice-chairman’s clout. In so many words, Parks says Lutz told engineers not to hold back on the good stuff and how they’ll get that money back and more in reduced rebates.”

          https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/a15132462/2005-chevrolet-cobalt-first-drive-review/

          Six year design life, if Kyree is correct, and the above statement do not jive. These things were filled to the brim with “good stuff”. GM good stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I see plenty of HHRs and Cobalts on the road, but then I don’t live in the Rust Belt.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    This has long been known to be a common issue with these cars.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Brake lines too. GM changed to some substandard coating on metal fuel and brake lines in this era. The lines on my 2004 Cadillac corroded badly while the ones on my 99 Sonoma still look good.
      Local garages are making good money putting brake lines on GMs from this era, lots of pickups and SUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        The W-body got the bad lines earlier. Had a 1999 Intrigue that had extreme rust on all fuel, brake, and transmission cooler lines. I know salt takes its toll, but that car rusted much, much worse than any other car I have ever owned.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ? Can we blame Mary for this ? .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    614,000 Cobalts/HHRs 10 to 13 years old still on the road. And the Idiots on this sight say GM vehicles don’t last.

    The great thing about GM vehicles is they can be fixed. The Asian vehicles slowly take your soul. Until your nothing but a shell of a man. Praying for deaths sweet relief.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I was thinking the same…

      Just imagine if Honda’s Takata cars were still on the road?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Some would say these last too long (probably GM’s legal dept mostly). But no one said all 614+K of the “Cockroaches of the Road” built are still on the road.

      Nor would anyone call them invigorating to drive, but I don’t know about SS editions. Otherwise they seem cheap/easy enough to own and keep on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        If we take all of the Cobalts off of the road, then what will be the chosen car for Meth addicts on “Cops” trying to convince the Officer that they have no idea how that meth got in the glove compartment.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Trick question! Cops just got canceled this past month.

          (But to answer your question, there are still plenty of Malibus from the 90s and early 00s.)

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            My future-Mechanical-Engineer kid’s 2006 Malibu has been a surprisingly reliable performer (slight oil consumption is the only issue right now).

            [He rode home from the hospital in a 5th-gen Malibu, so maybe there’s some cosmic connection to the 6th-gen Malibu.]

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Yes, I checked, and that was 614K sold, 390k Cobalts and 224k HHRs. Given the average age of cars on the road, the majority might well be still on the road, though. The leaks may have already cropped up on a number of them and been repaired.

        In several states with smog testing, the fuel leaks would have compromised the evaporative emissions pressurization test. Replacement of leaking fuel lines is one of the cheaper fixes for a failed smog test in California.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Lots of people on this site* say that GM vehicles last. “Run badly longer than anything else on the road” is a punchline around here. Whether or not it’s a fair characterization is certainly a fair question (and GM has made and still does make many fine automobiles, as well as many others that are less than fine).

      I must ask about the GM Daewoos: Can they be fixed while they slowly take your soul until you’re* nothing but a shell of a man, praying for death’s* sweet relief? Hehehe

      I must admit I find being called an Idiot, with a capital I, very flattering.

      * You’ve got to work on your homonyms.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Does this include the GM products built in China, which is Asia?

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      Not sure what you’re saying Pete? I fix tons of Asian cars and always recommend them to my customers looking for something they can just put gas in and go. As a mechanic for over three decades who has owned many types of cars, Japanese cars are all I drive anymore because I don’t have time to fix my own cars.

      That being said, I agree with you that the Cobalt/HHR is not a bad car. I’ve fixed several of these fuel leaks for customers (you smell gas long before you see it) and they are still driving them. I have two young customers with Cobalts who drive the wheels off of them with very little problems other than routine maintenance or the latest body panel they pulled loose on a high curb. They make great starter cars because they’re cheap to buy and to fix. Just put new rear springs on one and paid $48 for the pair!

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but it says 600,000 + built. It doesn’t mean that many are still on the road. Also, internal emails were released during the ignition switch recall investigation revealed that significant corners were cut, with the end result: people killed. Just imagine little “Norms” driving their POS Colbalt with pride only to get seriously injured by a safety defect from their beloved General Motors.

  • avatar

    That’s why EVs are superior to ICE cars – they never have fuel or oil leaks.

    But going back to GM practices. That’s what happens when you develop the habit laying off well paid but experienced older engineers and replacing them with recent college graduates or outsource their jobs to China or India altogether. GM exists over 100 years and they should know already what materials to use in fuel lines and how to route them under the body.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      I’m no GM apologist or a fan, but they’re not the only ones to try things and have it backfire. The Germans are all” we’ll build this part out of plastic, even though its been metal since the Benz trike appeared. It’ll save weight and cost”. And then that becomes the Achilles Heel for that car.

      That said, the Cobalt and HHR were scrap when they left the factory. They should all be gone by now.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “That’s why EVs are superior to ICE cars – they never have fuel or oil leaks.”

      Uh, I don’t think they’re quite there yet. If it moves then it needs lubrication. If it needs lubrication then that’s gonna come from oil or grease.

      You can put traction motors and motor-generators in the wheels but they’ll need lubrication. You can put a big main motor but it’ll need something resembling a conventional drivetrain which means a transmission/transaxle/transfer case, or something with gears and oil in it, with U joints or CV joints along the way. And there’s still liquid cooling for a lot of hybrid and EV batteries. Just sayin’.

      I think EVs have good promise of fewer moving parts and simplified maintenance, I just don’t think they’re at the point of turn the key and no leaks for 100,000 miles.

      Back to making fun of the HHR though :D

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Inside Looking Out,

      I once sat in a meeting at old GM where it was explained that the new guys had routed the brake lines on a certain new vehicle along the underside of the ‘frame rails’ (unibody but similar idea) instead of up where they wouldn’t be hit by road debris (like the old guys knew to do) and hey we need to move the brake lines before start of production and here’s what it will cost.

  • avatar
    Bcweir

    Sings old GM advertising jingle “Get that great, GM feeling, with genuine GM parts..”

    Be sure to thank that overpaid, UAW union employee who so lovingly assembled these vehicles with obvious precision and careful attention to detail.

    This is what happens when Michigan pays a common assembly line worker more than they pay their teachers.

    Next time, buy a Toyota or a Honda.

  • avatar
    subuclayton

    You can deride (literally) all the HHR’s you want, along with crappy mileage PT Cruisers, but they are having the last laugh. Junk though the elitists say they were and are, I can’t recall the last time I saw either one of these cars on the road that didn’t have a spiffy new paint job and the obvious affection of its owner. These cars connected with a lot of people, and they will still be around until the government starts arresting drivers of cars with gasoline engines.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    Wow. So much hate on here for everyday cars! I have worked on (and owned) all kinds of cars over my 30+ years in the repair business, and while it pains me to say I’m not a fan of domestics in general, the Cobalt and HHR were not as bad as people say. They are pretty reliable and extremely cheap to fix when they do break. For people of limited means (students, entry-level workers, those rebuilding their credit after a divorce, etc.), these cars are actually a good choice for basic transportation that is reasonably reliable that won’t break the bank on maintenance and repairs. For the same money, you’d have to buy the cars I like (e.g., Honda, Toyota) with double the age, mileage, and rust. I’ve fixed a few of these fuel line issues and it gives you plenty of warning, they don’t just explode. The repair itself is cheap. It’s a serious issue, to be sure, but if everyone who owns one of these has them checked and/or repaired for it, they can look forward to many more miles ahead. ALL cars have problems eventually, but for working people on a limited budget, what matters is what it costs to repair and how long the car is down.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Just so ~

      I can never brag about whatever hooptie ride is rusting quietly in my driveway, I like sedans and light duty pickup trucks .

      I konw folks who own an HHR or that Plymouth retro thing , the love them and in the end by buddy saved up the $ to have his busted tranny fixed and still drives and loves that car .

      Typically, the guys who yammer the lost & loudest about some POS, don’t have anything better .

      -Nate

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