A GM Chevy Cobalt Becomes the DeathTrapArtCar

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A 2007 GM Chevy Cobalt that will become the DeathTrapArtCar. (Photo by Kevin Six)
Kevin Six in his 2007 Chevy Cobalt. It will now become the DeathTrapArtCar.
Kevin Six in his 2007 Chevy Cobalt. It will now become the DeathTrapArtCar.

Actor/playwright Kevin Six is angry, and he’s about to drive that message home to General Motors.

Six bought a 2007 Chevy Cobalt a few years ago. He paid $8,000 cash, thinking it was a solid used car.

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That automobile is now about to become the DeathTrapArtCar, a painted protest to warn the public about General Motors.

The vehicle, along with several million others, is part of the General Motors faulty ignition recall. Other models affected include the Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Solstice.

General Motors acknowledges the defect has caused 13 deaths and 31 crashes. One auto safety group, however, believes that as many as 303 people have died as a result of the problem. The automobile manufacturer disputes their findings.

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“I gave them that money in good faith. I don’t think they dealt in good faith,” Six says. He also thinks the faulty ignition is just part of the problem.

Shortly after Six purchased his Chevy Cobalt, the dealership wrote a letter to the actor/playwright saying the car was in high demand. They invited him back to make an upgrade. At the time, he thought they were trying to make another sale by suggesting a trade-in.

In retrospect, he thinks they may have been attempting to do a preemptive recall while trying to get him to buy another car. He didn’t have the money for an upgrade.

Then things started to get funky. The dashboard lights would turn off for no reason. The radio would stop working or the headlights shut down when he put on the emergency brake.

“Those were all things that I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t know what this is. It just seems so odd.’ But it’s not enough to be worried about,” he says.

But after receiving his recall notice from General Motors about the faulty ignition switch earlier this year, Six became convinced the car had electrical problems tied in with the ignition. GM promises only to change the ignition switch, but they won’t recall the car itself.

“So I called him (the dealer) and he was just trying to sell me a new car… He said he would have to look at the Blue Book. And I’m like, there can’t be any Blue Book on this car. It’s worth zero dollars. No one is going to buy this car.”

He is probably right. It is widely known the faulty ignition defect causes the car and its air bags to shut down spontaneously. So you may be cruising down the highway at 70 mph when your car’s engine stops working. Suddenly, your power steering, power brakes and air bags are all useless.

When Six received his recall notice, the dealership didn’t have the parts so they suggested using only one key while driving the car. General Motors told owners heavy key rings could cause the car to slip into standby, making the car shut down.

“And then I thought, ‘Okay. What’s the problem really?’ And I did some research. The problem isn’t about the weight of my key…”

Indeed, he tested the key in his own car and the car doesn’t turn itself off. “I believe the problem is more to do with wiring than mechanics. But what do I know?” he asks.

The faulty ignition switch on the Chevy Cobalt, made by General Motors. (Photo by Kevin Six)
The faulty ignition switch on the Chevy Cobalt, made by General Motors. (Photo by Kevin Six)

According to the New York Times, the Chevrolet Cobalt has been plagued with problems. Owners have complained about failures with the clutch, air conditioning, and power steering. They have also cited locks opening and closing, doors jamming and windows falling out. In 130 instances, General Motors was forced to buy cars back, make settlements or equal trade-ins under state lemon laws.

Six remembers previous General Motors cars that were also problematic. “Going back before my time, the Corvair was one of these cars that just gave GM fits. And my brother owned a Vega. And when my Dad tried to get the Vega fixed, the dealership said, ‘Oh they gave us so much trouble. We call them Monzas now.’”

“So this is sort of the grandchild to the Corvair and the bastard daughter to the Vega,” he says.

“I don’t want the car, even if they replace the ignition,” Six laughs. “Because I don’t trust them. For 10 years they knew this problem existed and kept making the cars and kept selling the cars while people were dying.”

So what does a creative theatermaker do when he feels cheated by a large automaker? He uses his $8,000 car for an art project called the DeathTrapArtCar.

Six is inviting San Diego area artists to collaborate and paint a protest on his Chevy Cobalt. “This is a warning to people driving alongside this car. To shame General Motors into doing something about this car. And really, to draw attention to the matter.”

Thus far, he has commitments from two artists. One painter is planning on doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Total Recall’ motif. “The other… She is a calligrapher and she said, you know, ‘Nothing says screw you like screw you written out really pretty.’” He is looking for others to join them.

Six is wary of driving the vehicle. He still needs to get to work or auditions. Since his model has a stick shift, he thinks he can downshift and pull over if something goes wrong.

Since he has to travel the California freeways, the painted protest will send a message of warning to residents in San Diego and Los Angeles Counties.

He believes that if the car eventually goes back to the dealership, the artistic work will help deter the dealer from selling the vehicle yet again.

Six continues, “And you know, frankly, if they said, ‘Okay, we’ll take the car and destroy it and give you what you paid for it,’ this problem would go away for them.”

“I can’t afford to buy a new car. I can’t afford to buy a used car. I used all of my money on that car. I was hoping that it would last me… I try to keep the cars for 10 years. Did not have plans anytime soon to buy a new car.”

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Laura Axelrod
Laura Axelrod is a writer, filmmaker, playwright and actress. Her plays have been performed in New York, California and Europe. She has also contributed to The Birmingham News and AL.com. Her book reviews were distributed nationally through Newhouse News Service. She is a Curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. Read more at www.lauraaxelrod.com.