Repair or Replace?

I was given a 1986 Olds Cutlass Ciera Brougham in Maqy of 2015 with 49000 original miles on it (grandmother driving to church, grocery store and YWCA). It has the 2.5 liter engine. The heater core went and the head gasket followed immediately after at 53000 mile in November 2015. Would it be better to repair the car or replace the car.

I’d replace it, find something newer, safer, more reliable. But you’ll very little for the Olds.

Have a trusted shop give the car a good going-over and provide a written report. If you’re still in doubt, post h is list here and we’ll try to help. Without this kind of information, it’s impossible to make a knowledge-based suggestion.

? Headgasket = major engine work, heater core = major interior work. No way to make that pay on an '86 Cutlass.

It is a great opportunity to learn how to replace a head gasket and a heater core. Neither are very expensive if you do the work yourself. A whole lot of labor though. If you mess it up, all you have lost is the price of the parts.

I like oldtimer’s suggestion. If you’re up to it. And willing to invest in a few tools, like torque wrenches.

If the car is otherwise in good shape, not much rust and none of the important parts rusted, I might be inclined to return it to the road, if only for sentimental sake.

That kind of low mileage grandma did can be hard on the engine, and if the cooling system has these problems it’s quite possible the routine maintenance wasn’t kept up to date. Usually experts recommend replacing the coolant every 2-3 years, independent of how many miles are driven. If grandma thought her low mileage meant routine maintenance isn’t needed, there could be other engine problems lurking. But replacing the head gasket is a good time to sus out the other problems. While fixing the head gasket, pop off the oil pan for example for a look-see, see how much gunk is in the oil inlet tube due to deferred oil changes, what the crankshaft looks like, check for end-play, check the pcv system, all the filters, etc.

Edit: You’d want to put a new water pump in.


This car has the iron duke, correct . . . ?

Since this has a cast iron block and heads, I’d say there’s a good chance neither the head nor the block are warped, after the headgasket went

The headgasket repair might be cheap and easy. Obviously want to do a cap, thermostat, and water pump as mentioned.

I’m not sure how difficult the heater core would be.

If you have to remove the whole heater housing . . . and I’m assuming you do, because that’s how it is on most car . . . you’ll need to find a shop to recover the refrigerant. I’m assuming the car has ac. And you might as well convert to R-134a while you’re at it

Clearly, none of these repairs actually make any financial sense

Is this car rusty?

It’s probably in desperate need of tires. They’re probably ancient and rotten

Move on unless you can diy.

I agree that if you have to have it done by a competent shop, the cost will far exceed what the car is worth. I’d sell it for parts.


I Seem To Remember That Those 2.5s From That Era Were Susceptible To Head Gasket/Coolant Leakage Problems. I Believe Head Bolts Were Know To Break Off.

I agree that if the car isn’t a rust bucket (take a close look at the gas tank, brake and fuel lines, floor pans, etcetera) and if you can DIY, then it would possibly worth attempting a repair. Low-miles newer cars are great, low-miles older cars, not always.

How certain are you that the head gasket is blown?

You state the heater core “went”. That insinuates that it blew out suddenly and this would dump coolant all over the floor of the car. The odds of that are zero in my opinion.
They can steam a bit or develop a drip though.

One would have to be a very neglectful to allow a heater core drip to lead to overheating enough to blow a head gasket so is that what happened?

Offhand, if the head gasket has given up and if you have to farm the job out to a shop my vote is to say goodbye to the car.

say goodbye, i just had to say goodbye to a trusty 1998 grand caravan. i knew that it only would cost 2800 for a used tranny, but just not worth the risk. Same money should be invested into something more current and safer.