Monday, May 17, 2010

Holden Commodore – A Great Australian Car?

Holden Commodore – A Great Australian Car?

First I must admit that I am a Ford guy.  I’ve owned a lot of Fords – my wife keeps a list.  At the moment I have a 2002 AUIII XR8 ute and a 1981 TF Cortina 3.3 manual.

I’ve also owned a couple of Holdens – a VL Belina and a VUSSII Ute.

In September last year I purchased a VE Commodore International.  This was my first brand spanking new car in a long, long time.  The reason I wanted a new car is that we intended to travel and I wanted something that would reliably cover long distances in comfort.

So why not a Falcon I hear you ask?  Easy.  I hired a Falcon last year when we were in Brisbane.  I found that because of the osteoarthrosis in my left knee, a couple of hours in the Falcon had me in pain and limping badly when I got out of the car.  A shame really, but at 60 years of age it is a fact of life that your body is in payback mode for all the things you did to it that you shouldn’t have.  It will happen to you too.

The International was a good buy.  It was a special, built on the Omega.  The extras were : leather seats; leather steering wheel; 6 stack CD; rear parking sensors; fog lights and 18” alloys.  I wanted LPG, but only a limited number were made and none were left.  The dealer offered to install gas for me which I accepted.  There was a government rebate of $2000 if the gas was installed prior to purchase.

The car was standard except for the gas of course, but I also had an amp and woofer type speakers installed in the rear parcel shelf.  The amp was integrated into the Holden sound system and boosted all speakers.  This gave a nice full sound without going over the top.  This meant that I could listen to Barry Manilow’s music the way it should be played for those long journeys we were planning.

I also upgraded the lights.  I was going to fit driving lights on a bar similar to what the Police use on their cars, but the guy would not guarantee that the lights wouldn’t vibrate; and there is nothing worse than driving lights throwing a dancing beam in front of you on a dark night.  So I fitted HSV lights which have a projector low beam.  These were upgraded with 4300k bulbs.  I retained the H9 bulbs as these were OK on high beam.  The results were very good.  I particularly liked the wide spread on low beam to both sides of the road.  We were ready to roll.

So all up, the car cost me $40,000 to get it to what I believe was a very capable long distance economical touring machine.

I wanted a few kilometres on the car to iron out any bugs that may arise.  I’m a realist and I understand that things happen.  The only problem we encountered was the air conditioner not working efficiently and the condenser was replaced.  We were running the car on gas all the time and at the 15,000 service we did not log any warranty problems.  Things were looking good.  I had definitely made the right choice.

Or so it seemed......

We planned the big trip:
Home to Adelaide via Mildura
Put the car on the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth.
Tour South West WA
Drive home.

The car was ready.  Two adults, luggage; and some bedding in case we needed it.  I fitted a homemade bug screen to protect the radiator because I knew there were locusts in western NSW.

My wife, Paula, and the Commodore, ready for our trip of a lifetime.  I’d done my homework.  We were well prepared.

With both tanks full we headed south.  A couple of hours into the trip we struck problems.

A ‘contact dealer’ message came up and at the same time the petrol fuel gauge, which was full as we were running on gas, showed empty.  Other than that, the car was running fine.  The nearest Holden dealer was at Wagga Wagga.  I rang and explained our problem and that we were heading to Perth, and asked if he could take a look at it.  He said he couldn’t fit us in until the follow week!  He suggested we monitor our kilometres so we didn’t run out of fuel.  Gee, thanks mate.

We pushed through to Balranald, still running on gas OK.

  Locusts that didn’t survive the Hay plain

We drove to Lake Mungo before planning to head to Mildura that night.

That’s when it happened. 

The car was completely dead.  No lights, no warning lights on the dash, nothing.  I recalled earlier in the day that the parking lights were on.  I thought that was strange, as the car has an auto lights off feature.  So maybe the battery was flat.  It was 2pm and we were 100 kilometres from Mildura at Lake Mungo with no mobile phone reception.

I asked one of the workman out there if he had a set a of jumper leads.  It turns out he did.  Now I know with modern cars you have to be very careful when using jumper leads, apparently the electronics can fry if used incorrectly.  That didn’t worry me because if it happened to our Commodore I’d simply set it alight then and there!

I hooked up the leads and the car started easily.  Phew! My wife said don’t turn it off and let’s head to Mildura!  Then another thought occurred to me.  We had travelled about 150 kilometres on dirt roads from Balranald, some of it corrugated.  Maybe a battery lead shook loose.  The battery is located in the boot and sure enough the negative lead was loose, so I tightened it up and continued on our way to Mildura.  It was then I noticed that the two error messages had disappeared from the dash.

The next day we did a bit of sightseeing, and as we were returning to Mildura the ‘contact dealer’ message came up again; and the petrol fuel gauge was not working.  I didn’t ring the Holden dealer this time, I just drove straight in to the Holden dealer at Mildura.  A very helpful service guy hooked up a thingamajig under the dash and did some diagnostic testing.  He declared that there was an intermittent fault in the upper fuel sender, or something like that.  He reset the error message and we were now confident that it was a faulty sender unit and we could drive around the problem, as they say in racing circles.

On our way to Adelaide the error message came up again, later the second error message of ‘check engine’ came up as well.  Now I’m smart enough to know that the car is running fine and the problem seems to be with the computer.  It brought back memories of the film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, where the computer was programmed to ensure that the mission succeeded, even, as it turned out in the film, if that meant killing all humans on board.  That computer was called HAL, a spoof on IBM  by having one letter near each.  Anyway, I was not confident that our HAL would let us get across the Nullarbor without shutting us down.  Clearly, as it was Saturday and no chance of getting to a Holden dealer, we were in trouble.

On Sunday, we loaded the car onto the Indian Pacific and headed to Perth.  The train journey was marvellous, but hanging over our heads was the fact that we had to drive back across the Nullarbor, in an unreliable car, in a couple of weeks time.

On Tuesday we hit Perth and I rang Perth City Holden and told them our problem.  Mel was great on the phone and soon we were at the service department waiting for someone to have a look at our car.

The Workshop Manager, Dave Appleby, was fantastic.  He knew what the problem was – it was the aftermarket gas system fitted to the Commodore.  There was nothing wrong with the system that cost me $4,500.  It was a software change that Holden apply to their gas vehicles, but had not been applied to mine.

Bewdy, easily fixed I thought.  Well, not quite.

You see, Holden will not release the codes, not even to their own dealers.  Now the following is what I believe to be the problem area, based on my understanding of the issue, so I may stand corrected on some of the finer detail.

Conditions for Setting the DTC
The ECM does not detect a change in fuel level in the secondary fuel tank of at least 45 percent over a distance of 120 km (75 miles).
           The above condition is present for 30 seconds.

This fault never occurred until we set out on our long journey because we usually only had about ¼ tank of petrol; whereas for our big journey we had both petrol and gas tanks full, but we were only running on gas.  Hence the conditions for the coding were met, and the fuel gauge was shut down.  This is turn led to the error messages even though everything was working OK.

It seems odd that Holden will not release a fix to the dealers.

Still, as I said before, we will drive around the problem.  We decided to run only on petrol so that HAL wouldn’t suspect any shenanigans going on and shut us down.

The car performed well as we toured South West WA; and then we crossed the Nullarbor and headed for home.  It was at a stop at Ouyen, in Victoria, about 1500kms from home, that we discovered another problem.

The motel guy was a car guy.  He noticed that the rear tyres on the Commodore we worn out.  Impossible I thought.  They were OK before we left home and the car has only done 25,000 kms.  I checked them out.  Sure enough, the rear tyres were stuffed.  We had crossed the Nullarbor on wet roads with bald tyres, we were lucky that we didn’t have an incident. 

The tyres were so bad they would not get us home.

Picture taken 200kms east of Norseman, plenty of tread on those rear tyres to cross the Nullarbor, yet they will be bald when we get to Ouyen, 2,000kms later.

We diverted to Swan Hill, about 140kms away.  Even though it was out of the way, I figured that we would get the right tyres for the car at a large regional centre.  It took three tyre dealers though.  The guy at Goodyear Swan Hill was fantastic.  He said he was not surprised that the rear tyres were worn out, indeed he was surprised that we had got the distance we had out of them.  He mentioned a local guy who only covered 7,000kms before his rear tyres wore out.  Apparently it is to do with the design of the rear suspension.  I couldn’t believe it!  We are not revheads, so I expected at least 40,000kms as I’ve easily got that distance on other cars I’ve owned.  I did a lot of research before buying the Commodore and I can’t believe I missed the problem with gas; and now extreme wear on tyres!

The tyre guy asked me what sort of tyres I wanted.  I told him the same as what’s on the car.  He said they are $538.... each.

So we had cheaper tyres fitted and continued on our journey home.

A big Australian car designed in Australia by Australians for Australians.  Just the ticket for touring this wide brown land. Really? 

I thoroughly researched a suitable vehicle for us to do some long distance touring, comfortably and efficiently.

Falcon seats aggravated a knee condition of mine, so I excluded the Falcon.

I didn’t want a 4WD.

The Holden Commodore International, on gas with upgraded lighting and stereo, seemed a wise decision.

The car let us down, it didn’t ruin the holiday we had planned for so long, but it did cause us some angst.

Holden will not release the codes, even to their own dealers, to fix a fuel related bug on cars fitted with aftermarket LPG.  This is turn leads to error messages from the car’s computer and completely shattered our confidence in the car which I nicknamed HAL.

A poorly designed rear suspension that can result in extreme tyre wear under certain conditions.  I found out later it occurs when heavily laden and driven on undulating roads – gee just like we encountered on our trip of a lifetime across Australia.

I have two faults in my car that are not uncommon and are known to Holden.  I’ll approach the dealer I bought the car from 9 months ago and see if I can get any satisfaction.  There is a castor kit available for the rear suspension, and we’ll see if I can get those codes to keep HAL silent.

Maybe I should look at replacing the Commodore.  I wonder if Holden will put the V6 into the Cruze?

Holden Commodore - The Great Australian Car - if you don't carry stuff on long trips you'll be OK.  

Is this how car design has progressed in this day and age?

It would appear so.

Click for larger pics


I sold the car when it was 10 months old with 35,000 kms on it.  

A guy form Gosford was interested in buying the car.  I told him about the problems we had with it and I sold it to him for $25,000.

With the money I bought a caravan.

I don't think I will be buying a new car ever again. 


Both Paula and I drive Fords that are 10 years old.  

Mine is the blue ute - a 5.0 litre Ford Falcon AUIII XR8  on sequential gas with NO BLOODY PROBLEMS!

Paula's car is a Ford FalconXR6 VCT with leather, premium sound and sunroof.

We are very happy with our bloody old Fords.


  1. I used to drive a Commodore a lot for work - funnily enough, it was murder on one of my knees on long trips, and I'm not as decrepit as you. I went with the 4WD in order to get what I call an "armchair" seating position. Your legs drop down from the seat, rather than stretching out as they do in a sedan. I can't take the stretching bit any more.

    The Cortina sounds like a hoot. When I was a youngster, my left arm was stronger than my right from having to row a very tight four speed around. Be interesting to see what the Cortina does to your upper body strength.

  2. Cav
    Reading about your problems with the Commodore reminds me of a trip I took a few years ago overland to Adelaide. The car was a BA Falcon with an LPG conversion like yours, and I towed a trailer. It was completely trouble free -

  3. Gee I really needed to hear that 17

  4. Anyway, I think my pictures were better, must be the Canon camera

  5. We don't have any problems with the car now because we have a 1/4 tank of petrol and run on gas. That way no error message arise.

    The problem with tyre wear occurs when the car is under load and driven on undulating roads, so it is not a problem at the moment.

  6. Hi,
    I just would like to thank you for drawing my attention to such an important subject.
    Very nice touch of you, and clear information treatment.

  7. i also want you to sell car in pakistan so that we can also have these awesome car to use.

  8. Buying cars brand new are a waste of money anyway. Buying second hand gets rid of the lemons and it sounds like you got one!

  9. No it wasn't a lemon, the car was designed to act that way. The problem was after market LPG where Holden had codes to reset the fuel activation problem when running LPG with a full tank of petrol at the same time. The car thought the fuel gauge wasn't working so it disabled it - that's what all the error messages were about. In vehicles modified by the manufacturer they had a set of codes which fixed this problem but Holden would not release these codes to the dealers.

  10. I have just bought one Cav, having read your blog it seems i will have interesting times ahead. Also, my left knee is knackered and has been after banging it on ladders when at sea in the RAN.

  11. Gee about your knee Netnode you should submit a claim. I know a good lookin' pension officer!

    May I suggest you check the wear on your rear tyres regularly and if they seem to wear quickly then consider fitting heavier rear springs. It seems the gas tank's weight combined with other stuff may mean that the rear springs are too weak.

    That'll be $50.

  12. Good story - shame it was at a cost though. I found your story via Google when searching for VE commodore problems. My mother has a 2010 VE commodore that bought with 8000km on the odometer - it's now at about 22,000 - it makes strange sounds at the front, the engine ticks and makes grinding sounds it didn't before, the brakes were bled recently but became "spongey" not long after and the transmission clunks when it changes gear (automatic). Sad really as she's owned Holden her whole life since her favourite LJ Torana some 30 years ago and this car has failed to deliver - Only bought it because she wrote her old VS off (which she still considers a superior vehicle). Glad things turned out okay, albeit at questionably large financial cost.

  13. I found with my VY SS Commodore the 2 inner rear control arm bushes are made out of nylon, I found that they are fragile and distort under load thus causing excessive negative camber on the rear therefore scrubbing the rear tyres out, the left hand rear tyre was scrubbing out and this was caused by a distorted inner rear control arm bush.

    I bought the car with about 182,000 kms on it in 2008 and it now has over 281,000kms on the odometer, I have replaced all the bushes, springs, struts,tie rods & ends & shock absorbers because all of that was stuffed, I did that around 13,000 kms ago and the front tyres are still serviceable, I will probably have to change them at around 288,000 kms after I put them on the back next week, the original front left hand one started scrubbing out after around 4000 kms after they were fitted, I found the tie rod ends were stuffed and they were a year old, yes "sumbody" sent me up a goat track to work in a sawmill that is normally only fit for a 4WD for a few months.

    Before then and after that I was only getting 6000 kms out of a new set of tyres, now I'm getting around 3 times that distance out of them.

    Regardless of the age, kilometres & condition of the vehicle I find whatever I do to fix that particular car is an improvement over what Holden do to them in the factory,I ordered some solid urethane rear control arm bushes though a seller on Ebay down at Mt Gambier in South Australia, I found after doing all of that & replacing the front struts (which were collapsed) that has improved both braking & reduced fuel consumption.

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