Cadillac Seville STS has issues with suspension, serpentine slipping (harmonic balancer?)

Hello all,

I am new to this forum and to car repair/maintenance in general but I tried to do my research before posting here so I don’t sound completely clueless. A couple days ago, desperately in need of a car, we purchased a 2001 Cadillac Seville STS with just under 160,000 miles on it for $ 1800. The previous owner had it for 10 years and seemed to do most of the repair/maintenance himself (he left detailed notes on what he replaced). Today we took it to a mechanic and were quoted over $ 3000 in repairs after a full inspection. Some of the items, like replacing rear struts (which I can’t even feel!) or a wheel bearing I am not too concerned about right now. However, there are two main issues that worry me. The first one is the car jerking to the left (and the steering wheel automatically turning right until centered) every time I brake, especially at higher speeds. That is unsettling, to say the least. The mechanics said that the left outer tie rod ends need replacement, which sounds quite plausible, especially since the brakes and tires are pretty new (and in good condition). They also noted that the right front control arm and bushing need to be replaced as well. My first question is, does that sound about right, because there’s no other drift or wobble when driving?

The second serious issue is the serpentine belt slipping off the power steering pulley specifically. After readjustment, it stayed on for a few miles and slipped off again, but the funny thing is, it does not seem to slip off completely, just two ridges off, and it wants to stay that way. It keeps making the chirping sound too (regardless of whether completely on or slipped). From just a visual inspection I noticed a vibration/wobble in the power steering pulley as well as the crankshaft (the crankshaft less noticeably so). Other pulleys seem to be just fine, and there’s no other slipping or wobble, although the mechanic notes state that the serpentine is “glazed”. They suggested that the harmonics balancer is disintegrating, which makes sense, but why would the power steering pulley be more affected than the crankshaft by that? Also, if the rubber part of the harmonics balancer is coming off, does it mean that the whole thing needs to be replaced, just the rubber part, or could it be fixed with a sleeve? I also noticed some very low barely noticeable rumble when I turn the wheel sharply at low speeds (i.e. when parking). I assume that’s related to power steering pulley issues?

The car has some other issues, like something funky going with the ABS and computer system in general, but other than that, nothing else serious. Now, main question: what should we do with it? Go to a different mechanic, just go ahead and fix it at this one, try to sell it? I don’t know, I just want a safe and reliable ride. Is it worth investing money in it since the body is mostly in good shape, rust-free, no dings? Or should we just get rid of it and get something else. And if we were to sell it as is, what would be the appropriate price? Right now I am thinking of just taking it step by step and taking care of the tie rod ends first, then either the belt issues or the arm/bushings, and then the rest. Does that sound like a decent plan?

Like I said, I don’t know much about cars but I am trying to learn as quickly as possible (and learning from my own mistakes, too.) Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

First and foremost, the tie rod ends and the control arm are a hazard to you and other drivers.
They allow you to control the direction that the vehicle is going. Nothing like going down the highway and turn the wheel and the car goes straight.

At the same time you should address the wheel bearing issue. If that gets bad enough you could lose a wheel while traveling down the highway at 60mph. NOT good.

The ABS issue is most likely a wheel speed sensor, but that is just a guess.

The rear struts can probably wait for a bit, but ask the mechanic his advice on how long you can wait.

The harmonic balancer is replaced as an entire unit and should not be that expensive.
The reason that the PS pulley is affected is most likely that the belt comes off the Harmonic balancer and directly turns the PS pump next. Because it is coming off the balancer with a wobble…this sets the alignment to the PS pulley off, and the pulley cannot correct it.

I would have this taken care of soon, or you will just be spending money on towing charges that could pay for the new harmonic balancer.

As far as the mechanic. Why fire him. You asked for his opinion on your new purchase. Why hold him at fault that you bought a car that needs work.
I can’t see anything that he did wrong.

For your information…next time do not rely on a bunch of notes that the seller wrote down.
This means nothing. You may have bought it on Sunday, but saturday night he sat down with 3 different colored pens and wrote a couple of pages of things that he SHOULD have done while he owned it.
Instead drive your prospective purchase to the mechanic and ask him to give it a once-over.
He may have found the problems that you listed and you could then offer the seller $3000 less…or walked away and looked for something that did not need so many repairs.


I doubt of the seller would have accepted $3000 less on a car he was selling for $1800 :smiley: .
But other than that detail I agree with Yosemite’s post entirely.

Definitely get a second opinion on all the items, but, if you decide to get the repairs done, you’ll just have to consider this a $4800 car. Or a $3000 education.

Sincere best.

This sounds like another of those Craigslist horror stories. These days 1800.00 will not get you a vehicle that you can count on. As for selling it why would anyone buy it with the problems you list. I think the mechanic has given you fair assessment so I suggest letting him solve the problems step by step.

Hi Yosemite (and everyone else),

First of all thanks for a detailed reply and advice. I appreciate getting some of the perspective on this. Just to clarify a couple things though: a) I did not fire the mechanic and I am not trying to be in denial or anything. I know that he did nothing wrong, I just feel that the list of faults within the car is a little too extensive, so priorities should be made. Also I just wanted to ask around for a second opinion from another mechanic and perhaps find cheaper labor or some kind of barter agreement/payment plan for labor. b) I agree that the notes could’ve been fabricated, but I think what it is, the previous owner was just too old (um, yeah, like 70-80) and perhaps he was physically unable to perform some of the needed maintenance, or trying to be frugal/stubborn, he refused to bring it to the actual shop in the last year or so. Also, in our defense, the car we were driving to the place has some major undercarriage rust, causing the front left bushing to detach and the whole way there I was praying that the wheel won’t fall off. In other words, it was definitely unsafe to drive in, and the caddy seemed so much safer in comparison. Ah well.

A question for Yosemite (or other kind folks) if you don’t mind:

  • So just to clarify, if you were me, would you take care of the tie rods and control arm first, then replace the harmonic balancer and then the wheel bearing? I realize that all these issues need to be taken care of asap, but I don’t think I can afford all of them at once unless I can pay in installments.
  • Should I bother trying to resell the car? I know that I would never choose to lie about the car’s condition (esp the safety problems), so if I sell it as is, I would assume the price would be dropped to something less than $ 1000. Or would it be better to take care of the major issues and then sell it for more? Or that would make no sense at all?

Anyways, I’ve learned my lesson, and if anything, I am learning a lot about car mechanics, so I’ll just consider this a part of my “tuition”. Experience is priceless, right?

Oh, and Volvo V70, my previous car was only $ 125 and would still be very reliable if not for the damned body rust and wear and tear. It is a 92 and has over 200k on it but the engine and transmission still work amazingly well. So I guess I had my expectations a bit too high :confused:

You don’t really have a choice. The tie-rod and control arm are absolutely a first. Fix them or you can seriously injure yourself or others. The harmonic balancer really is a must as well. It will, at best, strand you requiring a tow ($) OR it will come apart spinning at 2000 rpm and tear a bunch of other things apart as it fails ($$$). Sorry but it is what it is.

I’m pretty much in agreement with the others. If you keep the car, you have to fix the suspension issues first for safety reasons, not to mention that you could chew up your tires and end up spending even more. However, I’m a bit nervous about the computer issue you mentioned, as that could end up being an expensive issue to diagnose and repair. What exactly is going on there?

As already mentioned, the next time you buy a car, definitely get a pre-purchase inspection. I’m pretty sure that most of these issues would have been spotted right away.

As a last note, you really can’t expect a “reliable ride” in that price range. A Cadillac of that age and mileage will likely end up having some more issues down the road.

“Definitely get a second opinion on all the items, but, if you decide to get the repairs done, you’ll just have to consider this a $4800 car. Or a $3000 education.”

As I usually do, I think that mountainbike summed up this situation very well.
And, just to add to the OP’s car-related education, the next time that you are in the market for a used car, it would be advisable to take a prospective purchase to your mechanic prior to buying it.

If a seller balks at a pre-purchase inspection, then it is time to move on to a different vehicle whose owner isn’t trying to conceal anything.

And to answer your question about selling the car… no, the repair costs are larger than the value, so all it is good for is scrap, in my opinion. So you can only scrap it or put thousands of dollars more into it to make it safe and drivable.

Control arms are $100. Tie rod is $40. Simple repairs, the northstar balancer uses the press fit to drive the oil pump. Yes it’s an odd quirk. Balances are cheap. Torque to 150lbs? Maybe more? The sts elec struts are $450 each, easy to install passive struts from non fe3 cars. They cost $60. Tons of info online to install resistor to make computer happy so u don’t get “ride control” error. The rear knuckle bushings wear. U can now get new bushings for $40. Or buy a new knuckle for $400.

I think $1800 is a pretty good price if that’s all the problems it has. Suspension problems – tie rod ends, control arms – stuff like that are normal wear items and are relatively easy to fix. These should be fixed as soon as possible for safety sake, as posted above.

Harmonic balancer problems are pretty common too. Especially in American branded cars for some reason. I’ve never heard of rebuilding them when they go bad, but maybe it is possible. Replacements are relatively inexpensive, so that’s usually the better choice. This is also something that needs to be done asap, as the belt coming off could leave you stranded, or worse, damage some expensive engine component. If this car uses a belt tensioner gadget, when those fail they can also be a cause of a belt coming off its tracks. Good idea to check up on that as part of the harmonic balancer replacement.

ABS problems can be more expensive to fix, but as long as the brakes work ok, that’s something that can be possibly be deferred or ignored. Many cars on the road don’t have ABS and seem to get where they are going safely enough. The principle function of ABS it to aid in maintaining steering control during rapid braking, not to stop the car faster. Drive a little slower and more carefully is always good advice, and especially true while your ABS is on the fritz.

I think you got a pretty good price on this car, so use the dough you saved to bring it up to good and safe running condition, and you’ll be looking good.

A fifteen year old Caddy with 160K miles on it with all those issues, sounds like a money-pit to me…The time to have a mechanic check it over is BEFORE you buy it…I would bail out, trying to minimize the pain…