1998 Chevrolet Malibu LS 3.1 V6 from North America
You'll be on a first name basis with your mechanic
Driver's side mirror replaced.
Brake service required every 20,000 miles.
Rear sway bar bushings replaced within first 5,000 miles to stop creaking.
Premature tire wear of standard Firestone Affinity tires at 30,000 miles required total replacement.
Leaking intake manifold required replacement at 43,000 miles (coolant leak) ($700)
Heater/cooler fan assembly required replacement after 36,000 miles because settings 1 & 2 stopped functioning.
GM standard CD player replaced three times - CD head easily misaligns.
Tail end lens assembly prone to leaks and corrosion of bulb sockets. Premature bulb life on tail lights. Bulb sockets corroded requiring complete replacement of lens assembly ($250US).
Although I have nice things to say about the comfort, styling and performance of the 1998 Malibu LS, the reliability of this vehicle leaves a lot to be desired.
Plusses: V6 engine is very peppy, standard on LS. Good gas mileage. Comfortable seating, good speakers and sound. Handles very well at all speeds. Large trunk. Large windshield makes for easy viewing.
Minuses: Almost all pertain to reliability.
In reviewing hundreds of comments about the Malibu while doing research on my own car's problems, I have discovered an alarming rate of common failures on this vehicle. Some are uncannily common and are very disturbing. In order of how frequently I have noted comments about problems:
1. BRAKES. By far, this is the most common problem reported, and I have experienced it too. The factory supplied brakes, pads, and rotors are very poor and require service at least every 20,000 miles. Mine required new pads after just 8,000 miles. Brakes are often NOT a warranty matter and many will have to spend several hundred dollars dealing with this. Rotors are even more expensive.
This problem manifests itself by grinding, pulsing, or excessive vibration when applying brakes. Varnish problems are also indicated if you have trouble stopping when brakes are wet.
If you have to spend money, buy aftermarket brakes with a lifetime warranty. You'll save money over time.
2. COOLANT LEAKS. This is what my car is dealing with as I write this. It more often than not is the result of a leaking intake manifold gasket. This problem usually starts at around 35,000 miles and its earliest appearance is signified with a low coolant warning light.
If under standard warranty, INSIST on a pressure check for leaks, telling the service person to particularly check this gasket. It is very expensive to replace post-warranty, so push hard to get it dealt with under warranty.
Mine first began leaking last winter and did not appear to have a leaking gasket. After topping off DexCool coolant, car was fine until low coolant light came on this week (seven months later). This time, it turns out to be the gasket and I am paying $600 + tax to resolve it.
This is a very serious problem and is potentially a killer for your Malibu if un-addressed. If the DexCool is leaking into the engine, its corrosive nature will destroy it eventually.
I've seen at least 50 messages on this common problem alone.
3. POOR TIRE WEAR: The standard tires on the 1998 Malibu LS appeared to be the Firestone Affinity. They reduce road noise and are comfortable tires, but they are very prone to fast tire wear. By the time my car hit 30,000 miles, the tires prevented my car from passing state inspection.
You must regularly rotate, balance, and align these tires like clockwork if you want to see them last. Even though I did that, premature tread wear appeared after one winter of driving with just a slight alignment problem. Firestone reps told me they replace the Affinity's all the time. A good replacement recommended by several other messages (and by myself) are the Firestone SB-30 tires. They improve traction, but are a bit louder on the road.
4. PREMATURE BULB WEAR. The Malibu requires frequent bulb changes, usually with tail lights involved. Luckily, the bulbs are cheap, but they should be replaced in pairs. Since the bulbs are contained within a plastic lens assembly, this should be taken out of its position, opened, and checked. Is water collecting in the bottom? Bad news. Like mine, your Malibu has poor waterproofing. Once water collects in the lens assembly, corrosion often follows. If your sockets are corroded, the entire assembly must be replaced, a $250US repair. Automated car washes are bad news for the Malibu because water manages to get into all sorts of places.
5. HEATING/COOLING PROBLEMS. The most common failure on the Malibu is in the fan speed mechanism. Relays tend to fall apart quickly. The most common failure comes when you do not move the dial into the click stop position correctly. Get it slightly between settings, and failure will result quickly.
This problem is most easily identified when fan settings 1 and 2 do not operate, but 3 on up work fine.
Others report A/C fan shutting off for no reason.
Important safety tip: The Malibu's heating system was designed poorly for condensation control during winter driving. If you set the control to recirculate internal compartment air, your windows will quickly fog up. Use the external air setting during winter driving in cold climates.
6. CD PLAYER NOT THE BEST. If you use your car's CD player a lot, if your CD's begin to chatter or skip, your player is either dirty, or more likely has a misaligned laser head. This usually requires replacement. My Malibu is on its third unit.
At this time, since my car is just nearing four years and has less than 50,000 miles on it, I am considering an extended warranty. The Malibu is trouble prone and the bills add up quickly. If you are considering a used 1998 Malibu LS, you should never consider it without an extended warranty. This model year simply has an unacceptable number of common problems.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 1st October, 2001
31st Aug 2002, 19:18
This review is right on the money. I just spent $2100 fixing all the problems described here on my 1998 Chevy Malibu. I love the car--it handles great, has a lot of "get-up-and-go," but it's had chronic problems since it hit 30,000 miles. I won't own another Chevy.
24th Sep 2002, 23:47
I was searching to see if anyone else has had experience with the coolant on the 98 Malibu. Mine is 4.5 years old. I had only a 3 yr, 36K miles warranty and regret not having extended it. The coolant has been leaking for awhile, but now I must get the manifold replaced. Many of the other comments in your review go along with my experiences. Many small inconveniences, but I see that they are common.
I had the dealership put in a new tape player since it did not auto rewind/play in both directions and when they replaced it, I was too quick to leave the state and well, the fan made a vibrating noise for two years. Now the a/c controls are set in a little bit and the noise has gone away, however, the A/C comes on and off with every bump in the road.
One last thing I have not read about yet, my steering wheel makes a very quiet woof-woofy noise when I am parallel parking (turning the wheel briskly with little car noise and rolling room). My email address is KSRoberts@hotmail.com in case you have experienced that too.