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Reatta braking - safe or not


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Please help. I have loved this car from new. I would like to get one in decent shape locally. Just stumbled on this site, think its great and informative. Is there a serious braking problem with this car? Or is it a maintence problem. I don't want a car that the brakes fail without warning. I have an 89 Riv that I love, the Reatta would be a second car to play with. Is there a best year, or are they all the same? Please any and all info would be helpful. Thank, Wayne

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Wayne, Consider this, the Reatta is the mechanical and electrical copy of your Riv! Do you feel unsafe with your Riv? It is easy to come here and gripe when a part on your 10 to 15 year old vehicle fails! These are complex vehicles not unlike the new cars sold today! They can be difficult to diagnose and parts can be expensive!<P>------------------<BR>Denmech@hotmail.com<BR>65 Riv GS<BR>69 Skylark conv.<BR>87 GN

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Wayne, Consider this, the Reatta is the mechanical and electrical copy of your Riv! Do you feel unsafe with your Riv? It is easy to come here and gripe when a part on your 10 to 15 year old vehicle fails! These are complex vehicles not unlike the new cars sold today! They can be difficult to diagnose and parts can be expensive!<P>------------------<BR>Denmech@hotmail.com<BR>65 Riv GS<BR>69 Skylark conv.<BR>87 GN

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I don't disagree with Denmech, except that he seems to think I have no cause for complaint. I think I do when it comes to essential safety features of a car. I don't buy the argument that we should make excuses because this is 1980's technology. I wasn't told I was buying an engineering experiment. I was told I was purchasing a premium motor car from the world's largest company (at the time). I'm not trying to be the Reatta crank from Florida. I'm trying to tell you all that my experience is not unique (obviously from the other posts here) and that the brake failures are not something we should simply accept as being normal for a car this old. I have owned cars many many years old than this vehicle. My other car is the cheapest thing Ford made in the mid-70's and yet I have never had an essential safety feature fail in such a way that I couldn't detect the deterioration ahead of time.<P>GM put so much electronics in control positions on this brake system that, in my opinion, they should have built in more safeguards and defaults to cover the situation when the electronics fail.<P>Having said that, I would advise the following. If your brakes currently are working fine, then just make sure that you have your sensors checked periodically. That will ensure that you get a dash warning light if your system does begin to fail. In my case, a sensor was dead, but the dash test still showed that the relevant indicators were working. The sensor failure meant that a whole cascade of failures could go on undetected ultimately resulting in an inability of my wife to press the brake pedal sufficiently to stop the vehicle. If she'd been hurt, I would be suing GM right now instead of warning all of the other Reatta (and Riv) owners to check their sensors. I think you all would be wise to join me in asking NHTSA to look into this. That way, the repair/replacement is back on GM who designed the system to have this propensity to begin with, and not on the unsuspecting individual owners who have to live with a crap shoot!<BR>

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When considering the purchase of a Reatta, buy the best car you can afford. While "Denmach" above said they are a copy of the Riviera, that is true about the mechanicals, ie..engine, trans, rear suspension and the dash is common on both cars.<P>After that your on your own...every body panel,glass, trim, seats,door panels are unique to the Reatta and if they are in need of repair or replacement, you must find a Reatta donor.<P>The ABS brakes are not well understood by service people and the components cannot be rebuilt, they must be replaced, which makes them expensive. If you purchase a well maintained car and keep it maintained you should not experience any abnormal failures.<P><P>------------------<BR>Barney Eaton Reatta division technical advisor and keeper of the Reatta database.

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Denmech, in many ways, I agree with you (HOLD ON FOLKS!!). You're absolutely right! These ABS braking systems are first generation masterpieces designed specifically to decrease the potential dangers of "Panic" Brake lock. And they worked as they were directed to, allowing even the most inexperienced driver at least a fighting chance in a "loss of traction" braking incident. GM deserves an award for the inginuity inherent in these systems, especially when we consider where we stood, technologically speaking, in the '80's and early '90's. <P>The problem WAS not the braking system, but RATHER GM's (also inherited) 'Short-sightedness' and overzealousness! GM possessed the attitude Intel/Microsoft had at the same time: "Put it out there, let them buy it, and we'll fix it later if we have to"! And like Intel/Microsoft their behinds where found in the fire for it. <P>The problem IS that the Reatta was NOT a line properly marketed in the first place, so didn't carry the lifespan (production quantities) necessary to cause GM to stand up and take responsibilty for their irresponsibility. She has become a marketing and technological 'mistake better swept under the rug and disavowed'!<P>Oh, they'll admit they made them, but they've conditioned their "authorized" mechanics to believe that just because "many other GM autos carry the same braking system as the Reatta", this also means that those other vehicles carry the same "Brain" behind those mechanical parts. I have many "unauthorized" mechanics in my family who are afraid to touch my car, though they'll gladly work on most Cadillacs, Corvettes (not the 2000's), and even PA's (as you like to call them). These same "unauthorized" mechanics don't even twitch at the thought of working on the Grand Nat'l, which is nothing less than a "Sup'ed-up" 3800 like ours.<P>But NONE OF THESE CARRY A COMPUTER PROCESSOR WITH AN INSTRUCTION SET AS COMPLICATED AS OUR OWN, not even the Grand Nat'l. These car's electronics were so far off the beaten path (at the time) that CHILTON doesn't even reference them. As John Schiller, Senior Marketing Advisor of CHILTON Publications, informed me when I raised hell about them not having a reasonably priced (non-professional) manual for this car, "In <his> opinion, no guide was made for <'88-90 Reattas/Rivieras>, not necessarily because of their limited production, ...but because <the Reatta/Riv's> electronics were so complicated, that <most of it> couldn't have been intended to be user-servicable."<P>Now what does that tell us? Stop trying to soften the blow on GM, they don't deserve it. They knew the electronics were experimental, but rushed just a little too fast, trying to restore market share they were losing because of many similar goofs all along their product lines. It took them almost a decade to recover, mostly because of the many mistakes they've made along the way. They SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE for the potential faults inherent in the technology behind these braking systems. If it was a Cadillac Eldorado or a Corvette, make no mistake about it, they would have. They certainly did with the Grand National's processor (after the threatened/filed lawsuits began to pile up), didn't they!<P>No anger my friend, just a bit of fact to go with the fiction they've been feeding you. The Reatta is no worse than any other car, and better than most, you're right. The big issue here is that, unlike the rest of GM's product line, they want to sweep this little bit of history under the carpet and act like the problems never existed! We deserve at least as much support (even recall support when necessary) as the Chevette and Asto Van from the same time receives, don't you think? Especially for $20-25K more! rolleyes.gif<P>------------------<BR>D. L. Mc Crea<BR>DIGItal TECHnologies, LLC<BR>Consultants_1@Yahoo.com<p>[This message has been edited by Consultants_1 (edited 03-10-2000).]

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The weird thing about all this GM bashing regarding the brakes, is the system itself is German (Alfred Teves). I am not defending the brakes, and GM did switch to a different system on the '91's for a reason. I have not seen any posts regarding poor performance of the last year, apparently because it works better. They went back to conventional vacuum assist, along with the anti-lock. If you are looking for a Reatta, the 1991 would be my choice, plus it had five more horsepower and different gearing. I have explored the brake system on my 1990, and the post about keeping it clean and checking for error codes and the sensors, lights etc... is a good one. The system does work, but no system is foolproof. It pays to test any system occassionally, including the brakes. Try a few hard stops in a traffic free area to see how it works and you will be better prepared to notice any change or deterioration.<P>------------------<BR>Hal, btk@vbe.com

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If there is no problem with pre 91 brakes, then why did the 91s come out with a much better system??? Never had even the remotested problem with the 91 brake system. However my 2000 Silverado sometimes grabs, pulls, slides, maybe this is GM's way of getting back at us that have never had an older brake problem maybe they have now put it out to the mases.......

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"Why did they change the brakes" If there was nothing wrong with them? In fifteen years Buick alone has used approxamately 20 different systems made by at least 6 different manufactures(Teves, Bosch, Delco Bosch, Delphi, and Delco) Some were updates to existing systems to improve diagnostics, servicability, ect. Some as buisness decisions, a few years ago the Delphi plant went on srike causing GM to stop production of many models that used their system. You can bet they learned their lesson! Early on It was thought that driver feedback was desirable during ABS operation, hence the all in one systems. Customers didn't like the feel so most new systems have the ABS unit seperate from the master cylinder.<P>D.L. Refresh my memory what was wrong with the GN processor? The only recall I remember was a prom(chip) replacement for emmisions reasons! Why your "Family mechanics" are willing to work on Cadillacs but not on Reattas is a suprise to me as Cadillac to that point always had much more complicated electrical systems than buick! I have never seen any decent repair manuals that cover electrical systems on any late model cars, other than the factory manuals! Yes it's true most Tech's in the shop would run when a Riv or Reatta came in, but they have either found a new line of work or are still struggling on the new cars! I dont know what you mean by the statement that GM abandoned the Reatta, I'd love to hear why you belive this?<BR>The Grand National, which by the way shares no common parts with the 3800 engine, was a $17,000 dollar car loaded, And of course it didnt recieve the options that a Reatta had!<BR>Nor did that Mid 70's ford ("the cheapest thing ford made") Bscopatz drives! God I hope it's not a Pinto....Did they ever recall that one for safety issues?<P>If you like the car and are willing to cope with the complexities of it fine, If not don't buy one! If you want a new car with all the features of a Park Avenue, with it's 11 onboard computers (not to many Tech's that can properly diagnose them either) You would expect there is a higher possibility of failures! If not buy something simpler like a VW. (I work for a Buick VW dealer and I would estimate that they tow in 50 VW's to every Buick) For all its complexity it is still a very dependable car!<P>------------------<BR>Denmech@hotmail.com<BR>65 Riv GS<BR>69 Skylark conv.<BR>87 GN

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It is indeed a Pinto. Well, actually, a Mercury Bobcat with 233,000 miles on it. It has been towed exactly once in it's 24+ year history. I lost count of the times the Buick was towed. Pinto/Bobcat's did have recalls. They were fitted with a gas filler assembly that would easily explode upon rear impact. That recall embarrassed Ford no end, when it was discovered that the company bean counters had figured out that the lawsuits resulting from car fires would be cheaper than fixing all the Pintos they had built. Such is the mindset of our large corportations. I believe GM and Chrysler have had similar "black eyes" in their past. I see this as more of a situation where Buick/GM designed (or purchased and installed) a system that was not exactly as reliable as it should be. Given that the cars are now aging, it's a good idea to have your system checked out. Don't forget to check those sensors. The dash light coming on during test mode is no guarantee of functioning sensors. One wonders what engineering thought process allowed that to happen. Surely not the Human Factors folks.<P>As for my aversion to all things GM from now on, it is based on my very simple comparison between the Reatta and every other vehicle I have ever owned. The Reatta is by FAR the least reliable, the most expensive to maintain, and ultimately, the most dangerous (given a total brake failure without warning).<P>Having said that, I hasten to add that this is just my personal experience. Maybe I got a "lemon" or maybe the previous owner drove it into the ground and I inherited the unnoticed deterioration he caused. I feel victimized here because I paid premium Buick prices to keep this car maintained at all times. I took it in immediately when something went the slightest bit wrong. I had the extended warranty, and it never covered any of the things I had problems with, until of course, it was out of warranty. My AC unit repair was one of the last ones they did before going to a lifetime warranty, so when it broke, I got to pay for it all over again. My engine died for no explicable reason. Need I go on? Since I don't have this kind of bad luck with other vehicles, I blame the vehicle and the company that made it.<P>Now, you know where I'm coming from. And with all that, I can still state that I am being as fair minded as possible when I say that Buick should have to recall all the vehicles with this braking system. It is a bad engineering design if it can fail catastrophically. I don't see how you can disagree with that. What other options are there? Owners aren't told to maintain the sensors, are they? NO!!! Owners aren't warned that failure of Buick Reatta brakes is different from every other vehicle they may have ever driven. How many cars do you know of where the pedal freezes solid in the up position? And, if that system was used in other vehicles, then it should be recalled on all those vehicles too. It is a bad design, based on our experience with it.<P>

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Hey everyone. Most of the brake problems can be avoided. Before you start saying not in my case, there are instances where a part fails.<BR>Other cars have the same problem ie, diesel<BR>GM cars with powermaster. Anytime a brake(the red one) or the anti-lock (the yellow one) comes on. Hae it checked out by a trained service person. You can check codes and come<BR>close to troubleshooting it bur the Teves II<BR>brake system is not easily diagnosed. I was trained on this in the late 80's by GM and<BR>I personally do not like the brake system<BR>but it is not all that bad. Just remember anytime a light comes on it comes on for a reason.<P>Brad Pennington<P>------------------<BR>

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Brad, I agree whole-heartedly with what you say. My question for you is what should we do with a system where the warning light doesn't come on and the brakes still fail? That's what happened in my case, and I hope I'm just the unlucky 1 in a million. BUT, what if I'm not? What if Buick designed the sensor array in such a manner that failure of the sensor did not also activate the dash warning light (even in test mode)? What if the failure of other components could then happen without any warning to the driver, until ultimately the whole system ceased to work?<P>This may not be a problem with the brake system per se. Rather, whoever designed the sensor protocol didn't take into account the possible failure of the sensor in that section of the system. I basically lost my car for want of a $10 part and I'm royally P.O.'d about it. I call that bad engineering and I would be a difficult person to convince otherwise.<P>So, servicing your brakes the instant a dash warning comes on is a good idea, but, as my case showed, it is no guarantee that your brakes will work when you push the pedal. I recommend periodic checks of the sensor. I'm not sure how to do that, or what checking a sensor means (oscilloscope and test signals?) but it is clear to me that if there was a sensor check as part of Buick's service recommendations, I would still have my Reatta.<P>I truly hope I'm the one person this will ever happen to. If I owned one these vehicles still, I would get the sensors checked or replaced periodically. Given what I read on NHTSA's site, and some of the other posts here, other folks have had their brakes fail without a dashboard warning. Tells me there's more to this than just trusting the indicator lights.<P>

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Denmech, I'll keep my reply as short as possible (I'm a bit longwinded in case you haven't noticed). grin.gif<P>The EEPROM prob with the Grand Nat'l was a well known burnout prob. Stupid chips just fried themselves on a regular basis for many different reasons (mostly insulation and grounding probs once someone laid their foot into those cars). <P>My "Family mechanics" are a bit more exerienced than you would imagine a "backyard mechanic" to be, most having worked for GM, Bosch Electronics, and Mopar when they were companies to be reckoned with. (The one most against working on my car STILL works for GM as a Master Tech).<P>You're absolutely right about the "new" Cadillacs being like the Reatta, using computers to control rather than just monitor the vehicle's many complex subsystems. And you're also right that they won't touch the newest (2000 year) vehicles for most thing also. For obvious reasons! You would think that as systems became more integrated and technology more advanced, diagnosis of those same systems would have become more simple and definitive for those with the proper training and equipment. But the fact is diagnostics have become more and more a game of "hit and miss"! White smoke and water out the tailpipe used to mean a blown headgasket, now, it could be timing, adjustments, ECM, etc...<P>Oh, and you may want to watch the comments on the old "cheapo" Ford Pinto/Bobcat. Like the Chevette, Escort, and trash of a K-Car, those cars have accomplished the impossible and many are still running strong. They've survived the "stereo-typical woman" who forgets to put oil/transmission/steering... fluid in it till it stops running. I've never seen another set of vehicles that you could unseize the engine of just by adding oil!!! shocked.gif<P>------------------<BR>D. L. Mc Crea<BR>DIGItal TECHnologies, LLC<BR>Consultants_1@Yahoo.com

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D.L., Hmmm. in 20 years I've never seen a PROM fail (EEPROM's as the name refers, are reprogramable, they are used in newer PCM's and are not replaceable!) I have of course seen ECM's fail, but cant remember replacing any on '85 to '87 Grand Nationals!<BR>If your family "Mechanic" is indeed a GM Master Tech then he better get used to the more complex electronics! Even "entry level" vehicles will be incorporating this new technology to some extent. You can be quite certain that the manufactures aren't behind this! Since 1996 all vehicles sold in the US have to comply with OBDII (on board Diagnostics). The Goverment is proposing that OBDIII vehicles will be equipted so that after a Malfunction Indicator Light comes on due to an emmission related failure you will only be able to start the vehicle a fixed number of times before it's engine will be dissabled and it will have to be towed to a repair facility! <BR>Those "cheapo" cars are pretty much nonexistant around here, Most taken by the rust God! And if there are still any around I'll bet NJ's new Emmission Inspection program will get them!<P>------------------<BR>Denmech@hotmail.com<BR>65 Riv GS<BR>69 Skylark conv.<BR>87 GN<BR>ASE cert., BEST '97&'98

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  • 4 months later...

I have been reading all the posts regarding the brakes and have been telling my husband that there is a braking problem with these cars. I think he somewhat believed me (he better have!) although I think he thought I might be exaggerating somewhat. Well, you guessed it, I was driving my 90 convertible when low and behold I braked and it pulled very hard to the left on a four-lane highway. If there would have been someone in the left lane, I might have hit them. Fortunately, I was driving with both hands on the wheel and managed to correct it without a problem. It seems to only do it when I brake hard, a very gentle brake is okay. The pedal is also doing strange things. Seems to not want to push in and then with a few pumps pushes in all the way. Anyway, I am not driving it until it is fixed! I have printed most of the posts regarding brake problems and given them all to my husband. I have noticed posts regarding a comparison of the 90 and 91. My 91 has almost 30,000 miles on it and I haven't had a problem with the brakes at all. My 90 has 9,000 miles on it and here I am having problems. In fact, I can honestly say that the brakes on the 90 never felt from the start like the brakes on my 91. I feel that a recall should be made, although I will be surprised if it happens. Look how long it took to get a recall on the Firestone tires!

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Sueiniowa,<P>Please post your story to NHTSA.<P>The best way to do it is through their hotline or website. Here's the info:<BR>1-888-327-4236 is the hotline <A HREF="http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/oscripts/IVOQ/VOQ/voq1.cfm" TARGET=_blank>http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/oscripts/IVOQ/VOQ/voq1.cfm</A> is the URL for the<BR>online form.<P>We also have a petition drive at the new website <A HREF="http://www.reatta.org/" TARGET=_blank>http://www.reatta.org/</A> <P>

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I just revisited this thread and saw all the posts about complex electronics. Recently, I was polled in an automotive survey regarding new technology for vehicles and how much I would pay for it. There wasn't a check box for "read catastrophe theory first before putting these in my car" but I guess saying I would pay "$0" for some of the automated controls is close enough.<P>I work in Traffic Safety. Many of these devices have been talked about for years as part of the "Intelligent Vehicle/Intelligent Highway" Systems of the future. As someone pointed out above, we'd all better get used to even more complicated electronics in vehicles. The next generation will have things like voice controls, adaptive cruise control (maintains spacing between vehicles automatically), lane departure warning/correction, hazard warnings, night vision enhancement, and so on.<P>All these systems are meant to make traveling in a car safer, as is ABS. My primary hope when, out of necessity, I own such a vehicle, is that it is not my responsibility to go on a website for 6 months to figure out why the system self-destructed and what I can do about it short of paying 10% of the original purchase price of the car to fix a single component. If maintenance protocols are not available for these systems, I will be a VERY vocal critic of their implementation. Imagine a haywire adaptive cruise control during rush hour.<P>Car manufacturers are involved in product litigation over things that not their fault all the time (e.g., drunk rolls his Suzuki Samurai when he falls asleep). They are the deep pockets in the automobile world and so they are the prime target for personal injury lawyers. But in some cases, the systems they design (and then disown) are the cause of crashes or injury/death. I like to imagine them taking extra care to ensure that their new electronic systems are have layers of failsafes, that the probable failure modes are all covered with diagnostics, maintenance procedures, and redundant systems. But that peace of mind comes with a price tag that the market may not bear. It's why the space shuttle is so darned expensive (triple redundancy), whereas the average family car is cheap.<P>Ultimately, my fear is that cars will have MORE systems like the 88-90 Reatta ABS. Things with unfamiliar failure modes. Things with no redundancy. AND, things that when they fail, the preferred option is "COMPLETE REPLACEMENT."<P><BR>

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