Problems with VE Commodore as Tow Vehicle

Submitted: Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 01:29
ThreadID: 106104 Views:4994 Replies:11 FollowUps:13
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My wife and I have just returned from 5 months travelling from Canberra to Port Douglas and return towing a Jayco Westport behind a 2010 VE Calais. When we were between Newcastle and Sydney on the return leg, we noticed a clunking sound coming from the rear of the car. We stopped 2 or 3 times and looked at the hitch area of the car but couldn't see a problem (nothing looked out of place or damaged). Cautiously (at about 80-85k/h) and continued on to Canberra. When I unhooked the van, I noticed that the tow bar was quite loose. I called a mobile mechanic who dismantled the rear of the car and found that the mounting bolts that secured the tow bar to the chassis of the car were badly damaged. Moreover, the boot floor of the car had broken out and in the eyes of the mechanic, we were very lucky not to be travelling any further. In short, my comprehensive insurance will not cover the damage (not collision or impact). Although the car is only 3 years and 2 months old, Holden Customer Assistance, will not assist in the repairs (it is a genuine Holden tow pack fitted to the car when it was new by a Holden dealership) to the car. I would like to hear if anyone else had a similar problem with this type of vehicle.
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Reply By: Member - bbuzz (NSW) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:22

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:22

Holden are at fault.

Be persistent, take photos and get your mechanic to sign a stat dec.

Contact the Customer Complaints department of Holden and set out the problem, with copies of the pics etc. Then, state what outcome you want (don't hold back and assume you had something to do with the problem).

Mention that you are considering access to ACCC if a satisfactory decision is not reached.

I had to this with Toyota, including two demands form the ACCC (Toyota didn't attend the Resolution meetings) before I had a reply. ACCC, will and can make a binding decision on a company if they won't play ball.

It will cost you time and few letters but these car manufacturers have to be held accountable.

Good hunting


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AnswerID: 525827

Follow Up By: brian m24 - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:57

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:57
Hi Bill- many thanks for your words of encouragement. cheers Brian
FollowupID: 807880

Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 09:28

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 09:28
Bbuzz is correct. Despite your new car warrantee running out you have a holden with a holden tow pack that has failed in normal use. Above any supplier warrantee goods must be fit for their designed use. If you have not exceeded the tow and hitch weights then you have a good case. Contacting your motoring organizations legal department may help. The RAA helped me get a free new engine for my old Pajero when a reconditioned one spat the dummy 3 months after the warrantee expired.
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Follow Up By: Member - Fab72 (Paradise SA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 14:19

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 14:19
Wrong.... the car left the factory without a towbar. The dealer fitted it. It's the dealer's responsibility to make good the situation.

Each dealer is privatley (or corporation) owned. None are owned by GM Holden. Holden engineering is responsible for the initial design of the towbar, BUT it's the dealer's responsibility to ensure that the towbar is fitted in accordance to the manufacturers specification and method. If this critical step is not followed, the buck stops with the fitting dealer.

For example...the OP mentions a caravan. If caravan company XYZ builds a caravan and it is sold by Joe Bloggs Caravan Sales and Service and the customer requests a XYZ awning be fitted by the dealer prior to pick up which then falls off, the onus is on Joe Bloggs to fix the problem.

It's easier to bash Holden though...right?

FollowupID: 807912

Reply By: Lyn W3 - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:51

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 08:51
Were you using a WDH?
AnswerID: 525829

Follow Up By: brian m24 - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 10:30

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 10:30
Hi Lyn- yes, we were using a two bar wdh (not Hayman Reese) along with air shocks. The most critical measurement in towing is the tow ball weight, and this is calculated (as advised by "other commercial towbar retailers") at 10% of the towing vehicle's capacity (the tow pack fitted to my car was a genuine Holden 2100kg unit) thus my maximum tow ball weight should be 210kg. But this is actually not the case with Holden- their tow ball weight is (as advised by the local dealership) 165kg. I searched all my manuals and service booklets which came with the car and found no mention of a tow ball weight figure. I checked the weight of the tow ball andon my car and found it to be 160kg.
FollowupID: 807897

Follow Up By: splits - Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 00:48

Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 00:48

Are your air shocks a genuine Holden part? If not, and I am assuming you are using them to lift the rear end, then they could be contributing to your problem,

Shocks are not springs, they just move with your springs and dampen the oscillations. The air bag around them is a spring and an exponential one at that. They will get progressively harder as they compress just like your bump rubbers do. This is the opposite to the way you coil springs work. They could be severely restricting the downward movement of the car body well before it would normally reach the stock bump rubbers. This would mean the linear coil springs would not be able to compress to their maximum as they try and absorb the momentum built up by the heavy rear end of the car as it falls when the wheels go into depressions in the road. This could induce excessive stress into the tow bar mounting points.

There is also the issue of the wdh. They are notorious for damaging tow bars and their mouting points if the correct one is not used. The manufacturer of my car says to use one for ball weights above 90kg but does not list any specifications. I have heard some other manufacturers don't recommend them. I don't know what Holden says but you can always ring their customer information number and ask them.

This really needs the attention of a suitably qualified mechanical engineer with experience in suspension design and caravan dynamics to determine exactly what has happened. I very much doubt a mobile mechanic, or dealer mechanic, would have those qualifications. I suppose you could say the car needs the automotive equivalent of a coroners report before any blame could be laid on anyone.

You can bet if you take anyone to court, they will have people at that level to explain their case.
FollowupID: 807975

Follow Up By: brian m24 - Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 11:21

Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 11:21
Hi splits- many thanks for your input. As far as I know, the air-shocks were fitted to the car when it was purchased by its original owner (who I personally know and hold with the highest of integrity). The shocks (I assume) to be genuine GMH as the tow pack was fitted by a GM Dealer.
What I am really wondering is if other VE owners have had the same or similar failure of the tow bar mounts. Cheers Brian
FollowupID: 807997

Follow Up By: splits - Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 13:48

Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 13:48

"What I am really wondering is if other VE owners have had the same or similar failure of the tow bar mounts. "

Try asking the members of this forum, you might get a lot more answers there.
FollowupID: 808014

Reply By: Racey - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 09:47

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 09:47
Holden have 3 levels of towing package 1200, 1600 and 2100 kg.Check what the rating of your system and compare that with the weight of your van when loaded and would suspect you would need the 2100 kg system . If the loaded van is lighter than the rating of the tow package, you have a good case against Holden. On the other hand if the van is heavier, you have a big repair bill on your hands.

Don't be put off by the 3 year warranty issue. If the tow package is correctly rated, the damage would have started before the 3 years was up, not withstanding the fact that the average person would expect the car to last more than 3 years without this type of problem. In other words the goods sold are not fit for purpose and you should have a right to expect compensation from the manufacturer/supplier. In this case it is technically the dealers problem as they sold you the car and the contract of sale was between you and the dealer.

Check the ratings if that's OK, go back to the dealer and then to your local Consumer Affairs Dept.

Hope all goes well for you. Keep us informed of your progress

AnswerID: 525831

Follow Up By: Ross M - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 14:18

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 14:18
I'm with Racey here.
I would imagine the damage began a long time before the failure and so still under warranty.
Careful CLOSE UP examination of the fractures will show if it was a progressive or sudden failure. ie, mostly rusted break surfaces and some bright and shiny, but also broken, which happened most recently.

The Bolts may never have been tightened sufficiently to prevent movement and fatigue of the surrounds ie A fitting fault.

The other problem may be any load spreading washer/s may not be big enough to distribute forces, so size does matter there. If too small then movement begins and a failure results.

Pictures of all fittings and fastening will be essential.
FollowupID: 807911

Follow Up By: Member - Fab72 (Paradise SA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:53

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:53
In fact, the only difference between the 1600kg and the 2100kg towbars is the tongue.
The rest of the structure is a common unit.
That is....if it is actually a genuine Holden bar. I say this because many dealers will fill Haymen Reese, Halls etc. and the customers assume it's a genuine item simply because it was fitted at the dealer, by the dealer.

FollowupID: 807941

Reply By: Road Warrior - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 11:16

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 11:16
I seem to recall something during VE development that it has a plastic boot floor, is this still the case??>
AnswerID: 525834

Follow Up By: Member - Fab72 (Paradise SA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:50

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:50
The spare wheel tub is made up of a composite material.
Not where the towbar mounts to.
FollowupID: 807940

Follow Up By: brian m24 - Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 11:09

Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 11:09
This is true to a degree. The spare tyre is inside a composite material (I would describe it as a plastic) tub with a fibre-board cover over the tyre. The remainder of the floor of the boot is a very thin metal. And as Fab72 mentioned, the tow bar mounts are inside the chassis rails. Thanks for your input. Brian
FollowupID: 807995

Reply By: Honky - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 11:35

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 11:35
Doesn't the 2100kg tow pack come with a boot and floor bracing?

AnswerID: 525835

Follow Up By: Lyn W3 - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:01

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:01
If I want to tow 2100kg I would make sure that there were a couple of hefty chassis rails to bolt the towbar to.
FollowupID: 807900

Reply By: Nomadic Navara - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:14

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:14
Another line of attack is to go to Not Good Enough web site and post your complaint there.

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AnswerID: 525837

Follow Up By: Shaker - Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 08:15

Friday, Feb 07, 2014 at 08:15
This is becoming an NGE website, almost as much whinging about products & services as there is about travel & camping.
FollowupID: 807981

Reply By: Hoyks - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:38

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 12:38
Yeah, before going all Internet rage on them I'd contact Fair Trading and find out exactly what your rights are and note sections of the relevant acts so that you can reference them in a letter to Holden.

If the salesman stated that the vehicle would tow you van with no worries and they fitted a tow pack rated to the load, then you definitely have grounds to claim that the vehicle was not fit for the purpose for which you bought it.

I'm only a smoko room lawyer though ;-).
AnswerID: 525838

Reply By: John and Regina M - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 15:52

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 15:52
I see a problem.
Unless it's a recognised issue with your model, then Holden can simply refuse your claim on the basis you have overloaded the installation.

Good luck proving you haven't. Ever.
AnswerID: 525857

Reply By: Member - Craig F (WA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:54

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 19:54
Interesting how some know the answer but not all the facts.
Op never stated that he has owned the car since new so may not know the towing history. Car may have towed something it was not rated for. Car may have been in an incident that caused the origin of failure. Tow assembly may have been removed and refitted for some reason.
Only the original OP could answer these. When taking all the facts into account you could then start to lay blame.
The OP is asking for anyone with experience with a similar issue not a witch hunt.
AnswerID: 525870

Reply By: Member - Fab72 (Paradise SA) - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 20:03

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 20:03
I note that in your OP you state that you have been in contact with Holden Customer Assistance. No where does it say that you've contacted or been in to see the selling dealer who was responsible for fitting the towbar in the first place. To me, that would have been the obvious first step in the problem resolution chain.

I'm not at all surprised that an operator on the other end of the phone at Holden Customer Assistance refused any claim. Based on your description of the events, the whole root cause analysis has been based on the word (and personal opinion) of some mobile mechanic - not a Holden Technician. Furthermore, no opportunity has been given to the dealer to investigate whether it was an error on behalf of the fitter (usually NOT a mechanic), whether or not the right nuts, bolts and washers were used. Whether there has been any contributing factors that could have lead to torque relaxation or whether it may have been a faulty kit.

As I said, your contract for supply and fit rests firmly with the dealer. It's their responsibility to investigate the root cause and action a repair. Holden Customer Assistance (CAS) and the next level (TAS) will only intervene when all other avenues have been exhausted.

AnswerID: 525871

Reply By: Razerback - Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 21:57

Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 at 21:57
Seems the question of towing the Westport with a Commodore has been asked before. The vans often end up loaded.

You can argue your case to Holden via the dealer who installed the tow pack but have all your facts and weights correct and then threaten legal action if you are confident of being in the right. There is no doubt you are nudging the limits of the Commodore with this van, if you are going to do a lot of towing then I would suggest a different vehicle. (In good faith)

AnswerID: 525884

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