Are the 2002-vintage Northstars something to avoid

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2,268
Location
WNY
Looking at possibly getting my Mom a new car. The '99 Grand Prix has seen better days and is getting crispy. 191k on the faithful 3.8 Series II and 4T60-E (that probably never had a tranny fluid exchange). Thinking of looking at something like this for her. I personally think it's a real sharp car and looks like it's clean (from the pics). Thinking of taking a ride over to look at it today. http://buffalo.craigslist.org/ctd/4586866120.html I know the Northstars are peppy motors, but are they reliable? Or is it a typical case of preventative maintenance to keep it happy? Thanks.
 
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119
Location
texas
Check Consumer Reports, the automobile reliability reports books, they give you a complete picture, many people surveyed, and by which part groups. Otherwise, its just single anecdotal stories. Truth is: All cars breakdown, its just a matter of how often, so you can only trust big surveys for how often.
 
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14,505
Location
Top of Virginia
Having owned two Northstar-powered Cadillacs, including a 2001 STS that appears to be a near-twin to what you're looking at, here's my advice. I'd buy that car, but I wouldn't but it from a dealer with a rambling Craigslist ad like that. Find a well-maintained low miles one somewhere if you like them. The 4T80-E transmission is very rugged and the 2000+ Northstars are also generally pretty reliable. Earlier ones suffered from head bolt issues, and people unfamiliar with them lump the whole bunch into the same basket, Honda "glass transmission" style. I used to moderate a Cadillac forum when I owned my two, and I have a pretty good idea of what they're truly like to own. There are a lot of cheap plastic bits in the interior. Switchgear is very low-rent, but it works. Cadillac has always had a cool DIC (Driver Information Center) and built-in OBD diagnostic functionality (shared only with Corvette at the time). They're neat cars, and can be great bargains if you know what you're buying. The STS has electronically-controlled dampers that are mighty expensive to replace if you buy OEM dampers. There are aftermarket passive dampers that are much more affordable (but then you lose the adjustable suspension functionality). I'm not sure this is a car I'd buy for mom. I'd buy one for me in a heartbeat. But it's a 12 year old car and it'll have 12 year old car issues. Buy her a mid-2000s Camry or Accord or Taurus. Or get a first-year Fusion if you can swing the cash. A used Cadillac can be a great buy, but I wouldn't recommend it for mom.
 

redhat

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2,268
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WNY
Thank you for the information. It looks like a nice car. They look like they're a blast.
 
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14,505
Location
Top of Virginia
Originally Posted By: redhat
They look like they're a blast.
They are fast(ish), depending on your definition. The 2007 Corolla I replaced that STS with drove better, though. The STS is a BIG car. It's a big FRONT WHEEL DRIVE car. The dampers and springs felt artificially "boosted" to try to compensate for that and the car just didn't have a natural balance or feel to it. The steering was light, but it was also slow, so you couldn't just flick it around. The Magnasteer didn't have a very linear feel, and you'd get different sensations of steering assistance as you sweep through a corner. If I were looking at that vintage, I'd look at an SLS. It's the base model Seville and doesn't have the pretend-sporty handling that the STS has. It also doesn't have the active dampers. I had a '97 SLS (and loved it) and try as I might, I never liked the '01 STS. I just didn't warm up to its "fake" nature. The SLS was big and it rode big. It was honest about it. The Corolla was a small car and it was small-car tossable. The STS tried to be both, and in the end, it was neither.
 

redhat

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2,268
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WNY
Yeah I didn't get that either. I have heard from some friends/co-workers that this place is a decent little dealer. Not saying I'm committing to anything though. I wouldn't ever do a buy here pay here. Straight cash on something like this.
 
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14,505
Location
Top of Virginia
As I alluded to earlier, the Craigslist ad is a complete turn-off, and would compel me to shop anywhere other than this dealer. Who knows where he got the car, how he got the car, and what's lurking under the sheet metal. With contradictions in the ad, I'd steer clear of this dealer, so to speak.
 
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22,493
Location
Apple Valley, California
its quite possible that it will need headgaskets and all the head bolt holes repaired in the next 40k or so. budget about $5000 for this repair. if i was car shopping an older cadillac would not be on my list
 
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3,117
Location
Virginia
Originally Posted By: Miller88
We don't do buy here pay herer [later on] If you make XXX a week, you are financed. What?
They have an outside finance source that doesn't care about credit, just the fact that you make a certain amount of money and can verify it. It won't be a cheap interest rate, but it still beats Chuck Taylors.
 
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809
Location
Nebraska
Originally Posted By: Chris142
if i was car shopping an older cadillac would not be on my list
Agreed. I've never heard people speak of the Northstar as having the reliability of a Ford Modular, a GM LS motor, the Buick 3800, or even the Toyota 3.0/3.3 sludger. I'd go with a Lucerne or LeSabre w/ the 3800 if you want a GM product, or a Grand Marquis if you can live with a Ford product. Or a 4-cyl Camry or Accord.
 
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609
Location
New Jersey
Originally Posted By: redhat
Thank you for the information. It looks like a nice car. They look like they're a blast.
You should read a little closer. The Northstar is in one way a fantastic engine, with lots of tech, multiple valves, and relatively high power. However, they have known, pricy issues with heads, gasket failure and main seals. Each repair is in the thousands. Other trouble areas are engine management hardware and electronics in general. Even if you are okay with that, there is a general longevity issue. Go looking for Northstar cars with more than 150K on them. Contrast this with Lincoln Continentals and Mercury Grand Marquises which rack up starship mileage without complaint. (I am not saying that this is an apple to apple comparison, but they are all American boats. I have spent time driving STS's with Northstar engines, and the cars do handle fairly well and ride nicely. I do like the low mileage that the cheesy dealer's car offers, but would suggest you think through a Northstar car. You need reliability, and there are so many used car alternatives on the market. For esample, a gently used, nicely optioned Impala or Lucerne or LaCrosse built since 2005.
 
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609
Location
New Jersey
Originally Posted By: Hokiefyd
I'm not sure this is a car I'd buy for mom. I'd buy one for me in a heartbeat. But it's a 12 year old car and it'll have 12 year old car issues. Buy her a mid-2000s Camry or Accord or Taurus. Or get a first-year Fusion if you can swing the cash. A used Cadillac can be a great buy, but I wouldn't recommend it for mom.
Also great suggestions for alternative vehicles.
 
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25,990
Location
MA, Mittelfranken.de
2002 and up engines had the head bolt threads in the block problem addressed, not an issue. I would stay clear of the older ones, some were fine others let go, its a bit iffy.
 
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115
Location
saginaw michigan
My dad bought an 04 caddy with a junkyard engine in it. From what I gleaned in the caddy forums, the issues with the head gaskets can be largely avoided with yearly coolant replacement. Dex-cool once a year and no problems so far after 3 years. Knock on wood.
 
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3,018
Location
texas
I have always loved the STS body style. There is something about it from Al Pacino in Heat that I still admire. Its mechanical reputation though will forever keep my at a far distance.
 
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22,493
Location
Apple Valley, California
Originally Posted By: Trav
2002 and up engines had the head bolt threads in the block problem addressed, not an issue. I would stay clear of the older ones, some were fine others let go, its a bit iffy.
the so called fix was less head bolt tq! the 02 and up still blow headgaskets and pull the bolts out of the block .one of our best customers spent $8k to get his 04 fixed. it ended up needing a long block
 
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14,505
Location
Top of Virginia
Originally Posted By: Chris142
the so called fix was less head bolt tq!
This is simply not accurate. Cylinder bolt thread changes were implemented in 2000 which included longer bolts. Evidence of this is Timesert makes two different kits, one for 1999 and prior engines and one for 2000 and later engines: http://www.timesert.com/html/gm.html
Originally Posted By: Chris142
the 02 and up still blow headgaskets and pull the bolts out of the block .one of our best customers spent $8k to get his 04 fixed. it ended up needing a long block
Why did it need a long block? A head bolt repair on a Northstar is a very straight-forward process, and can even be done in the car. DIYers do the job for less than $1,000, with the correct Timesert kit. Timesert even makes an oversized kit that can be used AFTER an improper repair is attempted (and failed). I'm very curious why he shelled out 8 grand for a long block.
 
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8,598
Location
Florida
Originally Posted By: Hokiefyd
Originally Posted By: Chris142
the 02 and up still blow headgaskets and pull the bolts out of the block .one of our best customers spent $8k to get his 04 fixed. it ended up needing a long block
Why did it need a long block? A head bolt repair on a Northstar is a very straight-forward process, and can even be done in the car. DIYers do the job for less than $1,000, with the correct Timesert kit. Timesert even makes an oversized kit that can be used AFTER an improper repair is attempted (and failed). I'm very curious why he shelled out 8 grand for a long block.
I have encountered people who drive so far on a blown head gasket, that the amount of antifreeze in the cylinder is enough to lock the engine. I don't know if that is what happened to the unlucky man's 2004 Northstar.
 
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