Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

2003 Buick Century

Car needs a new transmission ($2200) and I can’t decide whether to repair the car or sell it on craigslist and buy another car. My Buick (which I Love!!) has 140K miles, runs great, gets 32 mpg on the highway, and everything still works great. But I’m afraid of the next big repair (timing belt/chain, major engine repair,whatever).
Any advice?

If the car has been reasonably well maintained and is as described, I would not hesitate to repair it and drive on. Your car has a timing chain and should be expected to last beyond 200k miles, and many last double that with regular oil changes and conservative driving habits. The only engine issue common with the engine in your car is lower intake manifold gasket leaks. This repair normally runs $500-700 and, if caught early, will not destroy your engine. Even if you had to do both these repairs and spent $3k, if you get another year out of the car you have spent less than a new car payment and increased insurance premiums. The Century is a good car and if you have maintained it well and love it as you say you do, do not hesitate to fix it. It will last and continue to save you money.

Are you sure you need a whole new transmission? The 4T65E transmission in your car does have some known issues which are easily resolved (or at least more easily resolved than rebuilding or replacing the entire thing), and failures are not very common unless they have been abused or neglected. What symptoms are you experiencing and who told you the transmission needs to be replaced?

I would start by checking out if your car has a timing belt or timing chain. If chain, don’t worry. They generally last a very long time and start giving signs usually before damage is done.

If it has a timing belt and you don’t know for sure if it has been changed, I would be concerned about driving it to the grocery store. Timing belts tend to do very serious damage to an engine when they fail. Timing belts generally cause the engine to stop the car when they go, but not totally damage it.

As for your question, you need to find out what maintenance it needs now and then how much it will cost to take care of that needed maintenance. If you are lucky you have a timing chain and if so it will likely start getting noisy before it goes and it may have a lot of miles to go before it will need replacement.

I has your car had all the recommended maintenance, if so I think I would keep it. It likely will be far less than a new car and in the long run likely less than a used car that might have some serious problems that the current owner decided not to fix and is selling it before it dies.

Good Luck

The only engine available in the Century was the 3.1L Chevrolet V6, which is, IMHO, a very solid and reliable engine. It uses a timing chain and it a traditional 2V OHV design. Their only weak spot is the lower intake gaskets, which is a widely known issue. A reasonable shop will replace them for $500-700. I used to do them all the time for $500 out the door, tax included, while the local GM dealers and other shops were asking $1000 or more, presumably because they didn’t want to do them. Not sure why, they’re not that difficult.

Thanks for the comments. I have had the car since '04 and have been very good about oil changes and other general maintenance. I usually drive conservatively, which drives my kids nuts, but I always use cruise control on the highways and keep it at 65 or below. How can you tell when the lower intake gaskets start to go?

I took the car to a GM dealer and he said he smelled burnt transmission fluid. I then took it to a local mechanic who specializes in transmissions and they were the ones who said serious problems and it needed to be rebuilt. The problem I’m having is this…if I’m in stop-and-go traffic, after a while, the car shifts hard into first and then hard again into second as I speed up. If I pull over, turn off the car, wait a couple of minutes and restart, it’s fine…it shifts smoothly and quietly. If I’m on the highway, no problems…it holds speeds uphill and down, no problems.

Thanks again for the comments!