2008-2012 Chevrolet Malibu: reported problems, gas mileage, interior photos, driving experience

April 3, 2020
The previous-generation Malibu was still sold for the 2008 model year as the Malibu Classic, but it's a different car and we did not cover it in this post.

The seventh generation 2008-2012 Malibu is a front-wheel drive 4-door mid-size sedan.
2008 Chevrolet Malibu 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Photo: GM.
It comes with either 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Ecotec or a 252-hp 3.6L V6. Transmission choices for 2008-2010 model years included a 4- or 6-speed automatic. For 2011 and 2012, a 6-speed automatic was the only choice. The lineup consisted of a base LS, the LT, and the top-level LTZ trim levels. There was also a rare Hybrid that was later discontinued. The Malibu is a stylish sedan; it offers good handling and a comfortable, quiet ride, but what are the reported problems?

Problems: As of April 2020, there were 406 complaints at the NHTSA website related to the power steering for the 2008 Malibu and 559 steering-related complaints for the 2009 Malibu.
Chevrolet Malibu interiorChevrolet Malibu interior.
Some owners say that the electric steering assist goes out at random, but works again after the vehicle is restarted. GM issued a recall related to the power steering in 2014 (NHTSA Campaign Number: 14V153000), but some of the complaints on the NHTSA website are recent. If there is a problem with a steering assist in your car, it's best to check with a local GM dealer first. In 2015, GM also issued a bulletin explaining coverage and the repair using a torque sensor kit and a module. Google: '15356 – Special Coverage Adjustment – Loss of Electric Power Steering Assist'. The repair procedure requires a lot of precision; we would suggest to have it done by a qualified technician. Read this discussion at ChevyMalibuforum.com. Check for recalls on the NHTSA website or at the GM Recall Center.

There have been many reports of various electrical problems. For example, many owners mentioned problems with headlights: not only bulbs are difficult to replace (bad design), but the connector (socket) for the bulb can melt, causing the bulb not to work. We found these YouTube videos explaining the problem and repairs.
Another issue that we found mentioned on the NHTSA website is that the brake lights can work intermittently. There was a service bulletin 08-05-22-009C dated 2010 about this problem. Check this tread discussing the issue. In 2014, GM issued a recall (NHTSA Campaign Number: 14V252000) related to brake lights.

Many Malibu owners have reported replacing failed door lock actuators. Parts are sold online for $65-$110 (aftermarket); OEM parts cost more. The repair is not very difficult. Repair shops charge $69-$139 labor to replace one door lock actuator. If you want to do it yourself, there are many Youtube videos on how to do it.

Wheel bearings can fail causing a humming noise. Replacing one wheel bearing will cost $350-$480. Wheel bearings are common to fail in any car.

An exhaust manifold in a 4-cylinder Ecotec can crack.
2008 Chevrolet Malibu rear seat The rear seat offers plenty of legroom.
Symptoms include a ticking noise that is noticeable when the engine is started cold and a smell of exhaust coming from under the hood. Aftermarket parts are not very expensive. We found these Youtube videos describing the repairs.

According to the bulletin 14582, the throttle-position sensor may cause the engine to run rough, cause the malfunction-indicator lamp and/or an engine reduced power message to illuminate, and reduce the engine's power. Google '14582 Special Coverage Chevrolet Malibu' to find the bulletin.

2009 Chevrolet Malibu interior 2009 Chevrolet Malibu interior.
There have been a few reports about increased oil consumption. As the engine consumes oil, the oil level drops. Driving with low oil level can cause premature wear of many engine parts, including the timing chain drive. For this reason, we recommend checking the oil level regularly (see how) and top it up as needed. An engine air filter that is very dirty can also cause the engine to consume more oil. Read: How often should an engine air filter be changed?. There is no warning light for low oil level; often, the first indication that the oil level is low is the Check Engine light with a trouble code related to engine misfire or for a cam sensor. This means, with any engine issue, the oil level must be checked first.

Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2009, 2010 and 2012 Malibu with a 4-cylinder 2.4L Ecotec and a 6-speed automatic at 22/33 mpg city/highway, which should be enough to cover 416 miles on a tank of gas. The Malibu Hybrid offers only slightly better gas mileage: 26/34 mpg (2010). The EPA rating for the 2008-2010 4-cylinder Malibu with a 4-speed automatic is 22/30 mpg. The 2011-2012 Malibu with a 3.6L V6 gets 17/25 mpg city/highway.

Engines: The 169-horsepower 2.4L Ecotec is a dual overhead cam inline-4 with an aluminum head and cylinder block. It has variable valve timing. The 252-horsepower 3.6L V6 engine is also a dual-cam motor with variable valve timing. Both engines have a timing chain. A timing chain only needs to be replaced if stretched or there are some other problems, however, issues with timing chains, chain guides, tensioners and other parts of the chain drive have been reported in both the 4-cylinder Ecotec and the V6. The timing chain is replaced as a kit with several related parts. The repair is more expensive in a V6 engine (over $1,200). Signs of problems related to the timing chain include a loud rattle when the engine is started cold, as well as Check engine light, often with trouble codes related to cam and crank sensors.

Oil capacity:
2.4L L4 Engine: 5.0 qt. (4.7 liters)
3.6L V6 Engine: 5.5 qt. (5.2 liters)

Inside: The interior is roomy; the front seats are supportive.
2008 Chevrolet Malibu trunk The Chevrolet Malibu offers 15.1 cu. ft. of cargo space.
The dash layout is simple and functional, although some plastic could be better. We like clear gauges backlit in blue. The rear seat space is ample for two adults. The trunk is deep, but the opening is a bit small, limiting the size of items you can load.

Driving experience: On the road, the Malibu feels stable in turns and on the highway, with limited body roll. The ride is smooth and fairly quiet; road bumps are well absorbed by the suspension. One thing that could be better is the turning circle; for the 2008 Malibu, it's specified at 40.4 ft curb to curb.