Home Model Specific Issues Chevy Malibu Problem: Avoid These Model Years!

Chevy Malibu Problem: Avoid These Model Years!

by Kelvin Yates

The Chevy Malibu is a mid-size four-door sedan and it’s one of America’s best-selling sedans, although the Camry still holds the crown. That being said, the Chevy Malibu is very popular. But what about the Chevy Malibu problem? Are they reliable?

Like most other cars, the Chevy Malibu has its own set of problems. This post will discuss the most common ones, and the model years to avoid. Note that we’re focusing on the fifth generation model (1997) and newer:

Chevy Malibu Problem: Overview

The Malibu has been around since 1964, although back then it was a top-line subseries of the Chevy Chevelle. Think of it as the top trim version for the Chevelle. It stuck around until 1983 spanning four generations.

Chevrolet then resurrected the Malibu name in 1997. And has since been around and the Malibu is currently in its ninth generation, which was introduced in 2016.

The Malibu has come with a variety of engines over the years. From small 2.2L Ecotec engines to the larger 3.9L High-Value V6 from General Motors. Nowadays, Chevy offers it with either a 1.5L turbo four-cylinder or a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder.

The Malibu is a decent sedan; it has plenty of space, is comfortable to drive while remaining somewhat engaging, and has enough power to lug a family of four around. And while beauty is in the beholder, I think ever since the seventh generation (2008) it’s a great-looking car.

Its biggest drawback is probably the interior. While it’s not bad, let’s admit it, American cars’ interior is still a little lacking in terms of quality than their Japanese counterparts.

Car and Driver also note that the current Malibu isn’t as well-equipped as its rivals. And with Hyundai offering better than ever value for money in terms of features, this only exacerbates the problem.

Look, with cars like these, it’s never going to be as exciting as owning a sports sedan, or an EV, and even some crossover SUVs are now more exciting than the Malibu. But it’s a perfectly good car, and if you’d like a sedan other than the Camry, the Malibu is a perfectly good choice.

Chevy Malibu Reliability

Now, onto why you’re here. While the Malibu is a perfectly decent sedan to drive, is it reliable? If you’re considering a Malibu, chances are it’s going to be your daily driver. And what good is a daily driver if it isn’t reliable?

The worst ones seem to be the early 2000s models. While the 2010s model years had their own issues, there aren’t nearly as many complaints as the early 2000s models.

Both the fifth generation (1997 – 2003) and sixth generation (2004 – 2007) have an average reliability rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars according to RepairPal. Although some model years did score 4 out of 5 stars.

Meanwhile, the seventh generation (2008) and onwards all have a reliability rating of 4 out of 5 stars according to RepairPal. This is considered average, so the reliability is decent and puts the Malibu in 9th place out of 24 mid-size cars.

Chevy Malibu Years To Avoid

Admittedly, reliability ratings aren’t always accurate. Some surveys show that the car’s reliable, but then in reality it might be not. It all has to do with the sample of the study. Anyway, the best way to decide is to look at complaints.

Even when you look at complaints you’ll need to sift between widespread problems and isolated ones. Only then you can truly determine which model years are reliable and which ones to avoid. Don’t worry, we did the job for you, and here are the model years to avoid:

  1. 1997 to 2011. Yes, you should generally avoid them altogether. The fifth and sixth generations seem to have a lot of electrical complaints. Whilst the seventh generation has steering and throttle issues.
  2. 2013. This was the year they introduced the eighth generation. It’s common to have reliability issues in the first model year of a new generation car. In this case, it’s mostly power delivery and electrical issues.
  3. 2016. Much like the 2013 model, the first model year also suffers from reliability problems. Most are powertrain-related.

So, that doesn’t leave you a lot of options, does it? But if you don’t want to deal with reliability problems, best stick with the 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017 model years and onwards. Some of these model years still have reliability issues. However, there are much fewer complaints, and a much safer option if you want to own a Chevy Malibu.

Problems With Chevy Malibu

Regardless of what car you buy, there are bound to be problems with the car. Some are minor, others have more serious problems. That’s why it’s good to be an informed buyer, and know what problems to anticipate before buying a car.

If you’re thinking of buying the Chevy Malibu, here are its common problems that you should be aware of:

1. Engine Power Reduced Chevy Malibu

The current Chevy Malibu is generally reliable, but one complaint that we’ve seen a lot is the “Engine Power Reduced” warning on the dashboard (similar to the engine malfunction power reduced issue on the Nissan Altima). This seems to affect mostly the 2016 model year, but owners of the 2017 to 2019 model years have also reported the problem.

The warning is pretty self-explanatory: when it comes up, the Malibu will greatly slow down and limits its engine power. It’s almost like limp mode. However, limp mode occurs due to a transmission issue. This particular warning light in the Malibu seems to be caused by a faulty throttle position sensor or TPS for short (or the throttle body sensor).

As the name suggests, this sensor detects the position of the throttle. This translates your throttle input into the car’s Engine Control Unit (ECU) which controls the throttle body. If the sensor is faulty, the ECU goes into a panic and limits engine power as a safety measure.

Note that there are other potential causes. You can diagnose it yourself by using an OBD-2 scanner. If you see codes P0121, P0122, P0223, or P2138 then it’s a faulty TPS. Learn more about the OBD-2 system in our guide.

General Motors is refusing to acknowledge the problem and recall the car. But there’s an ongoing class-action lawsuit in New York and Maryland.

If you choose to fix the problem yourself, replacing the TPS costs around $150 to $250. But you may also need to replace the throttle body, which can cost up to $400 including labor.

2. Delayed Acceleration Problems

It seems that accelerator issues aren’t new to the Chevy Malibu. As mentioned, the 2008 to 2011 model years aren’t reliable and should be avoided. There are many reasons, and accelerator issues are the most common complaints.

To explain further, you need to understand how the throttle system works in the Chevy Malibu and most other modern cars. They now use a drive-by-wire system, which essentially means that the throttle body (which controls fuel and air input) is controlled by an electrical signal from the accelerator pedal.

This technology is great, as it enables features like cruise control and can help with fuel efficiency. But there’s no physical connection between the pedal and the throttle body, and this means there will inherently be a delay between you putting your foot down and the throttle body responding since the electrical signal has to travel first.

Chevy Malibu Problem

Most carmakers already got the hang of minimizing this lag. But for some reason, the throttle controller in the Malibu seems to struggle to deliver this signal quickly. Resulting in noticeable acceleration delays.

Note that this is different than when the engine hesitates to accelerate. This is usually due to an engine issue, such as worn spark plugs, clogged air filter, or faulty Mass Airflow (MAF) sensor amongst other things.

We can’t seem to find a clear solution to how to fix this problem. Some say that fitting an aftermarket controller—which costs around $110 before labor cost—can fix the problem, but we can’t guarantee it. This problem affects the 2008 to 2011 model years, as well as the 2016 model year. Best to avoid them altogether.

3. Clunking Noise

This was a widespread problem sixth generation model years. While we already told you that you should avoid it, the problem was so widespread we think it’s worth mentioning. Additionally, some of the seventh-generation models also have this problem.

There’s a total of steering-related 509 complaints for the 2004 – 2007 model years. Most of them are about the car making a clunking and popping noise when turning. We’ve also seen complaints about the power steering failing intermittently and the steering locking up.

There seem to be several potential causes. Most owners report either a faulty rack and pinion system, or a bad steering column. The solution is to replace either one of these components.

Many owners state that repairs cost them around $760. But it should be noted that a full rack and pinion replacement can cost as high as $1,300 due to the intensive labor required to replace them. If this isn’t enough to put you off the sixth generation Malibu, we don’t know what will.

4. Passlock System Error

Modern cars come with an immobilizer that prevents the engine from starting when the car doesn’t detect the correct key in the car. Chevy calls this technology Passlock but in principle, it works the same way as it does in other cars.

The immobilizer system is generally very reliable in most cars and rarely fails (sort of like the most reliable sports cars). However, the Passlock sensor in the fifth and sixth generation Malibu (1997 – 2003 and 2004 – 2007) is known to fail. The problem seems to stem from the pins within the key cylinder that oxidize over time causing it to fail.

Once it fails, a red or yellow security warning light will flash on the dashboard. And if you turn the key, the car will either start but then shut off, or refuse to start at all.

You can get around this by leaving the key in the auxiliary or ‘ON’ position for around 15 minutes. Afterward, the light should be constantly on rather than flashing. At this point, you can try turning it on.

Not exactly ideal when you’re late for a big work meeting. But when you consider replacing the key cylinder can cost up to $450, then maybe 15 minutes isn’t that long? Maybe use the time to go over your PowerPoint presentation once again?

5. Takata Airbag Recall

This one isn’t exactly Chevy’s fault, but it’s a problem that you should know. If you’re unfamiliar, Takata makes various automotive components including airbags. And many cars use their airbags, including the Chevy Malibu.

The problem is that the chemical they used to inflate the airbag can become unstable. This can cause the chemical to explode with excessive force, which then causes the metal canister to break and shoot sharp fragments into the occupants of the car. Not exactly pleasant, and potentially fatal.

This problem affects over 100 million cars worldwide. And it’s the largest automotive recall ever in the United States. According to Motor Safety, only the 2010 – 2011 models are subject to the recall and around 1,145 units are affected.

However, we’re seeing conflicting information. Some suggest that this problem also affects the 2013 to 2015 models. You can find out for sure by looking up the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on NHTSA’s website.

VIN is not private information and your Malibu’s seller should be happy to give it to you. If they refuse to do so, convince them that it’s not confidential information. And if they still refuse, best to just walk away from the transaction.

6. Service StabiliTrak Chevy Malibu

StabiliTrak is Chevy’s name for its traction control technology (you can learn more in our guide on what is traction control in a car). Available since the eighth generation Malibu and many other Chevy vehicles. It’s a system that prevents wheel slips during tricky conditions, ensuring the car doesn’t lose traction and keeps you safely on the road.

The system works by taking information from various sensors, such as the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), the wheel speed sensor, and more. If the sensors detect that a wheel is about to slip, it will control the engine power output and/or engage the brakes accordingly to prevent the slip.

While not as common as the other problems on this list, many owners have reported this problem occurring. There is a myriad of potential causes. But the most likely culprit seems to be the reluctor ring inside one of the wheel bearings which controls the ABS. If this is the case, you’ll need to replace the bad car wheel bearing (which you can test by learning how to tell if wheel bearing is bad or if you have a loose wheel bearing).

It’s best to leave the troubleshooting to a professional, as diagnosing this can get quite complicated. And you’ll need to prepare around $400 to replace the wheel bearing. To find out more, check out our write-up on how many wheel bearings does a car have.

7. Other Chevy Malibu Problem

That’s not all the Chevy Malibu problem. There are three more we’d like to give a dishonorable mention: the transmission, the intake manifold gasket, and the door locks.

The transmission failure often occurs in the 2010 Malibu with the 2.4L EcoTec engine. It’s a complete failure that requires a transmission rebuild, which can cost up to $4,000. Many owners report it failing at around 80,000 miles, whereas transmissions normally fail at 150,000 miles.

It’s not as bad as the Nissan Rogue’s infamous transmission problems. Nevertheless, it’s expensive and can be dangerous. Thankfully, it seems to only affect the 2010 model, and complaints are fairly minimal.

Chevy Malibu Problem

Meanwhile, the coolant leak problem seems to affect mostly the 2002 model year. While we already told you to stay away from it, we think it’s worth mentioning as there are quite a lot of complaints.

The problem comes from a cracked intake manifold gasket. The intake manifold controls air distribution to the cylinders, and there’s a gasket that sits between the manifold and the engine to prevent leakage.

It’s perfectly normal for the gasket to fail over time. And many owners report it at around 80,000 miles, and to be fair, this is a perfectly reasonable mileage for the gasket to last. However, there are a few complaints noting that it fails as early as 37,000 miles.

Regardless, this is something you should be aware of if you’re planning to buy the 2002 model year. Especially ones with the 3.1L V6 engine. Repairs will cost around $600.

Finally, there are also reports of failing door lock actuators in the 2007 to 2011 model years. The actuators would sometime lock themselves, or wouldn’t lock at all. There are reports of owners paying nearly $1,200 to replace the actuators on all four doors.

Chevy Malibu Problem: Buying Advice

Here is our buying advice if you want to buy a Chevy Malibu:

  1. Avoid the troublesome model years. 2012, 2014, and 2017 model years and onwards are the safest ones to buy.
  2. Do a VIN check to find out about recalls. Paid VIN reports will also let you know other information, such as accident reports.
  3. Take a thorough test drive. Pay close attention to the common problems we’ve mentioned, such as acceleration issues and noises when turning.
  4. Inspect potential problem spots. A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) would be a smart move, which costs $250 on average. Have a trusted mechanic do it for you, or you can find PPI services online.

Follow our tips, and they’ll help you find the perfect Malibu for you. If you’re not sure about its reliability, consider its rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

If you’re buying brand new, you should also consider the Hyundai Sonata (just be wary of the Hyundai Sonata life expectancy) and the Kia Stinger. These Korean brands have a great reliability track record as of late. And they come with an industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

FAQs About Chevy Malibu Problem

Got more questions about the Chevy Malibu problem and the car in general? Here are some answers you might find helpful:

Are Chevy Malibus Good Cars

While they’re not very exciting, they are very good cars. Engines are powerful enough, they’re very comfortable to drive and have decent fuel consumption. Avoid the bad model years and you’ll be happy with it.

How Long Does Chevy Malibu Last

Like most cars, the Malibu can last between 150,000 to 200,000 miles before needing major engine and transmission repairs. Of course, you need to maintain it properly such as keeping up with regular oil changes and replacing worn-out parts.

Are Chevys Reliable

According to various reliability studies, Chevy is generally somewhere in the middle of the pack. In other words, average. Less reliable than the likes of Toyota, Mazda, and Hyundai. But still more reliable than Nissan, Ford, and VW. The important thing is to research the model year you’re looking to buy, and avoid it if there are widespread problems.

Where Is Chevy Malibu Made

Current Malibus are made exclusively at the GM Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City. Past generations were also made in Michigan, Detroit, Oklahoma, and Delaware.

How To Disable Start Stop Chevy Malibu

The car should have a stop-start button (it has the letter A with an arrow around it) on the dashboard. Press it until the light turns off, and you’re done. You’ll need to do this every time you turn on the car, as you can’t permanently disable it without aftermarket reprogramming.

What Does Engine Power Reduced Mean On A Chevy Malibu

The Reduced Engine Power warning light can pop up due to various causes. But in the case of the Malibu, the most common cause is a faulty Throttle Position Sensor or TPS. If the sensor goes faulty, the car’s Engine Control Unit will go into panic mode and limits engine power to minimize damage. Replacing either the TPS or the throttle body assembly should fix the problem. You can also diagnose it first by using an OBD-2 scanner to find the trouble codes.

Why Does My Chevy Malibu Say Shift To Park

This is usually due to dirt and debris buildup on the switch contacts for the Park gear. The buildup prevents the car from engaging the gear, which is necessary when you want to leave the car hence the warning. Try putting the shifter in Park and wiggle it. If it still won’t engage, then cleaning or replacing the switch is necessary. Certain Malibu models are eligible for a recall.

Chevy Malibu Problem: Final Thoughts

That’s all for the Chevy Malibu problem. In conclusion, the early 2000 models are not reliable and you should stay away from them. The later ones have their own issues, but complaints are fairly minimal compared to the older models.

As mentioned, stick to the 2012, 2014, and 2017  model years and onwards. While some of them still have issues, it’s few and far between and they’re your best bet if you want a reliable Chevy Malibu.

Chevy Malibu Problem

The important thing is to follow our buying advice and thoroughly inspect the car before purchasing. It will help to ensure that you don’t buy a lemon. And of course, make sure to keep up with general maintenance so that your Malibu will stay reliable and avoid the Chevy Malibu problem that we’ve mentioned. Good luck!

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