That Classic GM Build Quality Strikes Back On My 2009 Chevy Cobalt SS Sedan

There have been a few issues.

balt hero fixed
Peter Holderith

I like my 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, which you'd know if you could hear me talk about it 50 times a day. I bought this odd duck of an economy car because I was tired of people whining about how bad GM products from this era are and wanted to experience it for myself. At first, I felt vindicated. The Cobalt SS has been way better than I anticipated, and with the price I paid, I wasn't expecting a ton.

But now, alas, some issues with the car have become apparent, and I'll walk you through them as you're welcome to point at your screen and screech "I told you so!"

The Brakes

Unsurprisingly, all of the expensive stuff on the Cobalt SS is specific to the SS trim level. The engine, the limited-slip front differential, and yes, the front brakes. They're from Brembo and they work very well—until your pistons start melting. 

Peter Holderith

I took the car to the shop because of a separate braking issue, and before you go pounding on my email inbox telling me I'm not a real car guy because I don't wrench on my own stuff, yadaydayda, I just moved into a new apartment, I don't have any tools, and I also don't have any space to work. I'll join you in any Autozone parking lot in November to change your shot-out suspension bushings, just not in the pathetic tandem parking space I have behind my building.

Peter Holderith

In any case, one of the pistons in the front-passenger calipers had melted somehow, and taken that bore of the caliper with it. "Did I do this?" I thought to myself, attempting to remember if I had done any brake-melting maneuvers lately. I don't think it was me, and the brakes did seem sketchy when I got the car, so I'm just going to blame the previous owner. Works every time.

I will also blame the previous owner—it's more justified in this case—for not wanting to replace a stuck e-brake cable. See, a few weeks back, I released the parking brake to find that, strangely, it wouldn't go all the way back down. Conveniently, the entire Cobalt interior is pretty much just snapped together with press-fit metal clips, so I took off the covers over the adjuster to see this:

Peter Holderith

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the left side of the parking brake linkage is disconnected. That's odd, I thought. In fact, maybe that's my problem. So of course, when I got home, I backed out the tensioner nut (with a pair of elderly pliers) until I could re-affix both cables. When I gave the lever a little tug and then lowered it back down, the driver's side cable remained right where I left it. Perfect. The caliper is now stuck. I smiled to myself: I have done it.

The problem also initially occurred (the handle not going all the way down) in the parking lot of a Wegmans, and my girlfriend was in the car with me. We were, in fact, getting groceries. This was personally embarrassing because, since I now write about cars for a living and am indeed a fervent car enthusiast, I am supposed to be The Car Man. Ever get that acute embarrassment as a car enthusiast? 

"But you're The Car Man, right? Your car is broken, though. You bought a bad car, but you're supposed to be The Car Man." Just trust me when I say you feel stupid.

The Alignment

The alignment on this car was also really bad when I got it. The steering wheel, in fact, was cocked over to the left about fifteen degrees. This was another reason why I took the car to a shop instead of trying to do any work myself. I'm not the kind of guy who likes to sit around with a bunch of string, a tape measure, and a bubble level for a few months trying to get my wheels lined up right on the money. 

The bad alignment was also causing a bit of shaking at some speeds on the highway. It wasn't alarming, it was very minor. That being said, I would rather not have to deal with it, because, as you're about to read, the car isn't very pleasant on the highway to begin with.

The (lack of) Sound Deadening

This is an economy car, I get it. I also paid $4,700 for it, I get that too. I say all of this before I tell you that this car, on the highway, is too loud. There's no other way to put it. I would like about, a million square miles of Dynamat to layer into the floor of this car, particularly into the wheel wells. The amount of road and tire noise that comes in is tremendous. Turning up the music helps, but at the same time, I can feel my eardrums slowly leaving the building. It isn't fun.

In fact, the only good part about this car on the highway, outside of the fuel economy, is cars like WRXs and Focus STs that think they'll get by you. It's fun to see the look on somebody's face when they get pulled on by a Chevy Cobalt—most are actually good sports about it—but when that's over you get transported back to... the land of noise. 

You also get to hear all of the minor rattles the car has developed over the course of ownership, the most prominent of which was a loud clicky sound coming from the rear suspension. It got sorted out when I took it to the shop, however. I actually kind of miss it. 

Peter Holderith

But Aside From That...

The car has overall been good. It gets good gas mileage, there's plenty of space (especially when you fold down the rear seats), and it has the right kind of punchy power for managing city traffic. The ride is also very good, and it handles the somehow-worse-than-Philadelphia roads in Boston with ease. It helps that the previous owner installed a rear tire that clearly has too tall of a sidewall, but hey, I'm not gonna throw them out until winter comes and goes. The wheels, as I have discovered, are also of the hearty forged variety, so I'm hoping they'll be a little less prone to shattering if I do hit a pothole with somebody living in it. 

So there, pre-bailout GM haters, there's your ammo. A lot of this car was built cheaply, and it shows. At the same time, a lot of it still works great, and never fails to impress me. I know it may seem hard to believe, but I still think this is a genuinely good car. Sooner or later, I'll throw some money at the suspension, get some new wheels and tires, and really see what this thing can do. You'll see. You'll all see.

I'm still open to people telling me I bought junk. Send me an email: peter@thedrive.com