Good replacement car for 2001 Cadillac 4.6L Northstar?

A friend and neighbor owns a 2001 Cadillac Deville with the 4.6L Northstar engine. She recently began complaining of excess oil usage (1 quart every 200 miles or so) and I began looking into this issue. This car was never really driven hard (bad) and they recently had it changed at Wal-Mart (bad). They likely used whatever crap 10W30 oil they put in all cars and used a cheap FRAM filter. This was changed in the winter and calls for 5W30. It is likely sticky rings and it doesn’t sound like this is the end of the world. I changed the oil with some ACEA Euro spec oil so I hope this helps free up deposits. It looks like others have had excellent luck by using the “Italian tune-up” as well as removing the spark plugs and soaking the cylinders with some type of solvent like MMO or SeaFoam. The aggressive cross-hatch of this engine is built for high RPM operation. I know that slight oil burning is part of the design of certain high performance engines such as this and the Honda S-2000. I am not worried about the oil burning and think that this can be resolved.

It looks like the FWD application of this engine has resulted in a comparatively weak transmission for this high-output engine and that it tends to go through transmissions. I believe the car has right at around 110,000 miles and she had began complaining of rough shifting recently. I don’t know if this is a sign of impending doom but figure it isn’t a good sign. Are there any ways to prolong transmission life? Change fluid? Use synthetic fluid? Have it “flushed” at a shop or is this more likely to introduce other problems?

The other issue I have read about are head problems. It sounds like these engines stretch head bolt, blow head gaskets, and the like. Is there a way to help with this? It looks like the coolant has already been switched to something other than Dex cool but is this the sure fire way to help? I can see it helping but if the bolts stretch over time, is this just a matter of time before it fails? I saw no evidence of head issues when looking it over and changing the oil so this isn’t yet a direct concern.

I looked up the used price of this car and it is $3000 or a little less. I informed her of all the pitfalls with this car as well as the low resale value and she is leaning towards just running the car until something gives way and I don’t really think this is a terrible idea. She says the car is paid for and currently runs pretty well so she might as well just keep it if it is worth so little in trade or resale value. I told her it might bring her as little as $400-500 in scrap once something goes and she is ok with that.

What would you do with the car?

What is a car you would consider replacing this with once something does fail? I am sure she would want a nice car with a nice ride like this one. I know some of the Buicks are pretty solid and was thinking about something along those lines.

Sounds like grandma needs a new car. The NS motor suffers from sticky rings if u baby it. Do the oupper cyl clean procedure. Than do a bunch of full throttle-decel runs in 2nd or 3rd gear. Helps loosen rings. The 4t80e trans is rock solid. Actually best fwd trans GM ever made. It is certainly not the weak link in this car. A fluid drain with new dex6 fluid may help.

Yeah, I read all about this procedure for unsticking the rings. Yes, the engine was likely babied too much and I think the cheap oil didn’t help.

So, don’t worry about the trans? If sounds like the heads are still an issue though.

I think she wants to definitely try to keep the car as of now. It sounds like the rings should be unstuck and the transmission fluid changed.

As for the head issues, I see there plenty of non-GM rebuilders who seem to be able to fix the problem permanently. What would this cost when it finally gets to this point? How about a good reman engine like Jasper? Anything you can do to prolong this besides not drive it?

Sorry to say, but I don’t think the car is worth enough to justify a Jasper engine.

Yeah, it is worth $3000 on a good day in mint condition. I called a few people I know about remans and they are starting around $3700 for the cheapest and that is just the motor, not the labor to install it. I also assume you would want all new bolt-ons like water pump, starter, etc. as I understand some of these are in extremely hard to get at locations. Maybe these are already on the new motors but I don’t know.

Either way, the car is worth so little that I can’t knock her idea of just driving it until it drops, especially since it drives nice and is paid for… People have offered me close to this value for my beater Geo Metro!

@cwatkin the Metro is probably so good on gas, you’d be a fool to give it up.

You’re probably laughing every time you drive past a gas station!

2000and newer cars had much less chance of headgasket issue. The real issue is the 20+ hrs labor to fix heads. How long does it take to put on 200 miles? Going to church 3-4 times month? You need to drive this car hard. You gotta exercise those rings.

If Grandma could previously afford a Caddy with a Northstar engine, then she might like a 2.5 liter ATS Caddy. The oil burning and impending transmission doom are good indicators that it’s time for new. Someone else should break it in for her if she drives too slowly and after that she should use the engine oil as specified by GM. Fram oil filters are as good as others; their use is not forbidden or discouraged by any vehicle mfr. of which I am aware. Sometimes people get mentally stuck with a car and need a little outside push to get rid of it. You can help with that.

The little Metro is incredible on gas. 52-55 MPG with my normal driving… Yeah, it can’t pass much EXCEPT the gas station but it actually isn’t horrid on power. I have it tuned up nicely with a good used engine so it does pretty well. Unlike the Caddy, this isn’t using oil like crazy. I have the 3 cylinder model. These things are like working on a 1970’s pickup while the Caddy is like the space shuttle.

As for the Caddy, she got it used for a pretty good deal. There were never any problems until she had the oil changed at Wal-Mart when her husband became sick and could no longer do it. This is when the oil burning really started. Anyway, I put good oil back in it and I hope this could be fixed by running it like it is stolen a few times per month. It looks like the Italian tune-up works wonders on these cars and pouring a solvent in the cylinders and letting it soak also helps with the stuck ring issue. I understand the European spec oil is much better for controlling deposits so that is what is running in it now. Maybe that will also help.

She says the car is paid for and that she wouldn’t want to sell it for only $3000 which appears to be the market value. I can’t blame her and figure she might get a little while longer out of it. We are planning to get the transmission fluid changed in it soon and see if that helps with the shifting.

I think the ring issue can be fixed. Plenty of these cars are driven by grandmas and it seems oil use isn’t uncommon at all. I may take it out with her riding and drive it like a racecar and tell her this is what needs to be done from time to time.

I don’t think cylinder wall crosshatch has anything to do with it. A can of Berryman B-12 could be added to the engine oil and that may, or may not, free up any coked oil rings.
If the spark plugs come out then a dry and wet compression test could be performed. This could provide an indication of ring problems although it’s by no means 100% definitive.

B-12 can also be added to the transmission fluid and that also may, or may not, improve shifting but I would change the fluid before adding the B-12.

The Wal Mart oil and Fram filters should not be blamed for any oil consumption problems. Odds are that if the rings are coked up this is due to an extended oil change regimen not suitable for the driving habits.
A 110k miles is not that much for a going on 13 year old car.

Unless things have changed, I think Quaker State is or was the manufacturer of WM branded oil.

Yeah, I agree that coked up rings are the likely culprit for sure but did read that SOME oil usage is quite common with these cars due to the cross hatch of the cylinders. This is obviously different as the car was just noticed to be low one day and oil continually needs to be added now. These cars do not like being babied as everyone will state and that is pretty much how this was driven. Grandma doesn’t run it like a sports car!

B-12 and Seafoam are great at dissolving crud inside engines. I have been told by some people that they do TOO good of a job and that you don’t want all that gunk just floating around in your oil all at once, possibly plugging stuff. I have talked to a couple rebuilders about this stuff and they say that while it has a purpose, an engine that has been neglected a lot isn’t one of them. I did make a point to look inside the timing and valve cover area with a flashlight through the oil fill cap. This area didn’t look bad at all and I could see a timing chain, a cam lobe or two, and a valve spring. All the metal looked pretty clean and there were no nasty sludgy deposits that I could see.

So B-12 won’t hurt a transmission? I would be worried about it eating out seals or some other polymer part internal to the unit. I know there are a lot more parts like this in transmissions than engines. Why not add this to the trans BEFORE the fluid is changed? That way, the stuff won’t remain inside too long and whatever gunk it breaks loose will be removed with the old fluid.

I wasn’t sure about the Wal-Mart oil being ok for this engine. Higher performance engines like the Corvette and most European sports sedans call for synthetic only and not just any ordinary run of the mill synthetic. Sure, the driving habits and change interval likely didn’t help BUT doesn’t GM have a Dexos1 spec for these cars? Sure, I know this is a pretty new spec but they had some number prior to that. I put some of this oil in her car and have told her to give it hell when getting on the highway and such. We will see if that clears it up at all, otherwise we may look into adding chemicals/solvents to the oil.

As for the Fram filter, it was like 1/2 the size of less of the one that was specified for this car by the parts store. I don’t know if this matters. There was also noticeable lifter clatter before the latest oil change. This was immediately gone with the new oil and filter and the engine was smooth as silk. This was both at start and after running a while at idle.

Almost any decent car is a good replacement for that Caddy. I would recommend a Toyota Avalon which rates extremely well with seniors who want reliable and comfortable transportation.

I don’t think she would want an import brand such as a Toyota but don’t know. The family worked in factories and such and most with that experience seem to prefer a domestic product to support their fellow American worker.

As for the Avalon, how easy is it to work on, especially DIY stuff? I haven’t really messed with many Toyotas which probably says something good about them but isn’t this pretty much the same under the hood as a Camry?

@cwatkin my 2005 Camry was built in Kentucky. Our boys put that car together.

It’s been my experience that Northstars use oil. Worse if grandma is driving it. Tell her to let you drive it for a week or two, and drive it like you stole it, and see if the oil consumption tapers down a little bit after that. Use the correct 5W30 name brand oil.

The head gasket issues aren’t related to stretch head bolts. Almost all cars use those. The problem is with the aluminum block. Upon reassembly that threads in the block will tend to strip out before the desired torque is reached. A company called TimeSert makes repair kits for this, but it involves drilling and retapping the bolt holes in the block.

I’d deal with the oil issue, leave the transmission and coolant alone until there’s a problem. This car may give grandma another 5-10 years the way she drives.

I am aware that most “import” brands, especially the Japanese ones, are actually made here but many of the older folks don’t like to change.

I think it is time for a fluid change in the transmission no matter what. No one knows the most recent change so why not? If the coolant is ok, I will leave it.

As for the oil, I told her I would drive it hard for her one of these days and free up those sticky rings.

@cwatkin Almost any car is easier and more rewarding to work on than a North Star Cadillac. As per other posters, the Avalon is built in Georgetown, KY, and has a very high US content. A Ford Fusion. by compariosn, is built in MEXICO!!!

We have been through this discussion a number of times. If OP is shopping for appliances, don’t buy General Electric. The whole division was sold to Mabe of Mexico, and more and more of the applances are made there and the quality and service is dropping.

We had such a traditionalist in our wine tasting group. This gentleman from England had been prisoner in a Japanese camp in WW II. Out of principle he drove a used Jaguar (refusing to even look at German cars), and bougth his wife a 1986 Hyundai Pony, since it was Korean and not Japanese. He ignored every bit of advice on which cars were reliable and AFFORDABLE to own.

I’ve got an Olds with the Northstar sitting in the garage. I’ve put 200K on it with no real problems but a nightmare to work on. It gets about 200 miles a year now. I always just used Mobil dino oil in it and leaks more than it uses.

I ran the car HARD some today and then she drove it well over 200 miles. The oil level seems to be holding steady so I think the rings are now freed up and will hopefully stay that way with good oil and some loading of the rings to keep them free. I ran the car up to about 85 in second gear and then let off, allowing the engine vacuum to work the rings. I will keep an eye on the level and go from there but it seems to be fixed.

As for the American vs. import products/brands, I don’t have an issue with them but many I know do. I am just saying that this car isn’t for me but someone who grew up in an era where anything other than American wouldn’t even be considered. I also know younger people who have families working in manufacturing and they don’t even consider something with an import nameplate. I hope the Ford Focus isn’t Mexico built as one of these people went out of the way to buy one rather than “import” branded competition.