As for those problems, if you want a Catera shop carefully. Within days of buying mine, in November 2006 at 48,000 miles, I had to have the Heater Bypass Valve replaced after it puked most of the engine's coolant. I didn't do my homework. Had I known about the Catera's inherent problems I'd have had the dealer inspect and replace it prior to my taking possession. I saw a pretty car at a great price. A German Sport Sedan in Cadillac trim. I later had the leaking camcover gaskets replaced. The crankcase breather was clogged, forcing oil past the gaskets, and onto the exhaust heatshields where it smoldered. Two years later the Crankshaft Position Sensor (CPS) failed and left me stranded. AAA to the rescue. The '97 - '98 Cats had the most problems. Some were addressed, but not necessarily cured, in '99. The 2000 - 2001 models are less trouble prone but not perfect. When you find a Catera that looks good on the outside, here's what to look for on the inside.
• Have Cadillac check the VIN for the cam-belt tensioner bulletin #02041A. This is critical. If the tensioner seizes the belt will break and the pistons will bend the valves. All 24 of them. This service must be done every 5 years/50,000 miles or sooner.
• Replace the Crankshaft Position Sensor (CPS). If it fails your Catera will stall and not restart until the sensor cools. Eventually it will quit altogether and strand you. Located near the oil filter, it's easy to replace and fairly inexpensive for a Cadillac part.
• Check the engine oil for coolant contamination. It will appear as a cream colored emulsion residue under the oil filler cap and maybe the dipstick. Wipe it off and drive the car at operating temp for 30 minutes. If it doesn't reappear it was probably normal water condensation and boiled off. If it reappears it could be antifreeze in the oil. Another indicator is oil in the coolant reservoir. They all mean the oil cooler is leaking and needs replacement. Left alone it will burn your engine's bearings and clog the radiator and heater core. A laborious but relatively cheap repair (for a Cadillac) if you do it yourself. Improved coolers were introduced in '99.
• With the engine running, check the coolant tank for bubbles or an exhaust smell. That's probably a blown head gasket. It's not that common but does happen. We suspect worn out coolant is to blame. Acids in the coolant attack the gaskets.
• Have the Heater Bypass Valve (HBV) behind the engine replaced. It's not expensive as Cadillac parts go and the labor is DIY easy. If you wait and it leaks it will puke all your coolant. When that happens it can also damage the DIS ignition pack on the '97-'98s.
• The cam cover gaskets can leak and drip oil on the exhaust heatshields and create smoke. This is too expensive to leave to Cadillac. They charged me $750 including the gaskets. Order the gaskets and have a trusted local garage do the work or DIY. Cleaning the crankcase breather relieves the excess crankcase pressure that blows oil past the gaskets so clean it out.
• Check for tire wear front & rear. Cupping or feathered edges indicates worn/split front & rear control arm suspension bushings. OEM replacement bushings are available as well as some polyurethane substitutes. New front suspension arms come with the stock bushings and ball joints already installed so that's an option too. Whichever fix you choose you'll need a wheel alignment. There's an aftermarket eccentric bolt available that will extend the front camber adjustment's range by +/- 2 degrees over stock to help bring it to where the tires wear more evenly. Eccentric rear suspension bushings for the Pontiac GTO, G8, or Opel/Vauxhall Omega, adjustable for camber and toe-in, will do the same for those tires.
There are other things like weak door stays, cracked brake light switches, EBTCM failure, cracked radiator caps, and HVAC control malfunctions. Search the forums for more info. Most irritating are the computer gliches and sensor failures which leave you stalled and stranded. Given the level of electronics in cars today and the harsh environment they operate in I doubt the Catera is worse than other cars. A failure is never an easy thing to endure but this is the 21st century and electronic controls are here to stay. Thanks to the database, on this and other Catera/Omega sites, information is available and you can go to your chosen service facility armed with knowledge.
My car has suffered the HBV, CPS, radiator leak, and EBTCM failures. I did have the timing belt & tensioner replaced plus the serpentine belt and its tensioner. The lower control arms were rebuilt swapping their front/horizontal bushings for polyurethane ones, as well as new rear/vertical bushings and ball joints. The anti-sway-bar received polyurethane bushings too plus new anti-sway-bar links. All the cooling system hoses, all filters including the crankcase breather box, all fluids including the differential oil, and the cam cover gaskets were replaced (I haven't had the Transmission fluid changed yet because it shifts so sweet but at the first sign of trouble she'll get new fluid and a fresh filter.), but those were all maintenance items.
And that's my point. The Catera has many faults but a lot of her "problems" are mostly lack of proper upkeep. Owners neglect the car's regular maintenance and blame her when something goes wrong. European roads tend to be smoother than our pocked and bumpy ones and no allowances were made for them in the Omega's transformation into the Catera. The price we pay is frequent suspension repairs and tire replacements. The desire for better and longer lasting suspension bushings drove me to find polyurethane ones. I did, plus high performance dampers, springs, brakes, and more.
My Catera Sport scoots like her tail was on fire, handles like she's on rails, and stops on a dime. Energy wasted scrubbing the tires into black dust by worn suspension bushings is now directed to speed and handling. I drive her hard like I'm sure many of you do and that's taking a big chance if you don't address past abuse and neglect. Don't forget, these cars are over 10 years old. Lots of potential problems waiting to bite us in the ass if the previous owners didn't perform the scheduled maintenance properly and timely. You want a more dependable Catera? Then you'll have to bring her neglected maintenance up to date.
Sounds bleak doesn't it? Don't get me wrong. It's not all gloomy. I'm just a "bad news first" type of guy. I love my Catera. I bought it in 2006. Some call the styling dated and bland. Sue me. I like it. It's soft and streamlined compared to the new edgy origami-like stealth fighter look Cadillac is pushing nowadays. Mine gets compliments all the time. And what about the "Japanesque" type styling the Germans have adopted with all sorts of sheetmetal sculpting and weirdness? Just look at the latest Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. They look like Hyundais and Kias. Makes me wanna gag. The Catera's '97-'99 prefacelift models have an aerodynamic form with a steeply sloped grille and low profile hood. Their rear treatment features full body width tail lights.
The 2000 model, sometimes mistakenly called the Omega C, introduced facelifted front & rear facias, side mirrors, as well as a restyled interior. The grille was more upright with a slightly raised hood for a more formal look that better matched the rest of the Cadillac line. The rear lost the full width lightbar and gained separate corner units with LED turn signals. Not quite the traditional razor thin Cadillac "Tail-Fin" lights but closer to them than full width lights. All Cateras have smooth body sides with no need of lines and creases to clutter their simple beauty. Like a young girl with too much make-up, or heaven help us, tattoos & piercings, the others are trying to be stylish or just plain different. The Catera was never a big seller here so there is nothing in the way of aftermarket styling upgrades beyond custom wheels and some tacky chrome body trim. There is still some body stuff from Irmscher, Steinmetz, and others in Europe for the Omega that will fit the Catera but it's rapidly becoming scarce.
The Catera has a roomy, comfortable cockpit for the driver and I never hear the passengers complain (except for the poor unfortunate stuck in the middle). I frequently spend 6 hours or more behind the wheel and arrive without stiffness or sore spots. The front power memory seats are comfortable and supportive with too many adjustments to list (heated too). I just wish they had bigger side bolsters. All Catera front seats were made by Recaro. Some came with Sport Seats equipped with manual adjustments, extendable thigh support, and thick side bolsters. Some cars came with heated rear seats as well. Even the side mirrors are heated. The HVAC has separate driver and passenger zones. The steering wheel tilts and has remote stereo control buttons. The cruise controls are on a separate stalk to the left of the wheel. The leather interior's styling is clean without Cadillac's traditional bordello plushness. It's very Teutonic. There were few options as the Catera was well appointed but there was an available sunroof, a power rear window sunshade, and of course the Sport package. The standard stereo was good but the optional Bose system was better. Superb actually.
And then there's the Catera's performance. Compared to her direct competitors, like the BMW 3 series, our Catera is overweight (3770 lb.) and underpowered (200 hp.) so 0 to 60 times suffered (8.5 seconds) but that only counts if you're planning to race her. For normal, and even slightly illegal, backroad driving she is a joy. In the transmission's Sport mode the Catera accelerates quickly (once above 40 MPH) so watch the speedometer. You'll be doing 90 MPH before you know it. This engine loves to rev. She's a little thirsty though (17mpg - city/24mpg - highway). She'll drink Regular (86 octane) but really comes alive on Premium (93 octane). The ECM adjusts the ignition timing accordingly using knock sensors. In 1999 the engine received updates like a Fly By Wire (FBW) throttle and Multi Ram Induction that carried over until production ended in 2001. Multi Ram Induction is a system of butterfly valves and passages that manage air flow through the plenum for the best performance. Before 1999 it was called Dual Ram Induction. The new system added more passages to better manage air flow for optimum efficiency. FBW throttle is controlled by your foot but through the ECM via a Throttle Position Servo so that there is no hard connection to the gas pedal. The advantages? I'm not sure.
The 4L30-E 4 speed electronic transmission shifts smoothly and has a Sport Mode that lets the engine rev close to redline before shifting to squeeze every horse out of it. The transmission uses what Cadillac calls adaptive logic but what that means, I haven't a clue. Some owners lament the lack of a 5 speed manual transmission but this automatic isn't a bad consolation prize. It has its quirks but generally gives good service with quick sharp shifts, up or down, plus the option of hitting the Sport button when you want that extra pop. The transmission can't be too pedestrian. BMW, among others, used it in some of their cars.
The transmission also has a Winter Mode (the mysterious Snowflake button) that locks out 1st and 2nd gears for 3rd gear standing starts with less torque to the wheels for better traction in snow & ice. It can only be activated when stopped and disengages automatically above 30 MPH. It doesn't work as well as we'd like but our cars are light in the rear so they're at a disadvantage. The Winter Mode works better if you use real snow tires instead of all season tires and pack some sand bags in the trunk. Be sure to anchor them to the rear shock towers to stop them from shifting and keep that weight over the rear axles. Snow tires and sand bags. Not a magic bullet cure, just better.
If you prefer a sportier ride and sharper handling then you want a 2000 - 2001 Catera Sport. Cadillac finally delivered on the full Opel MV6 suspension they promised at the beginning. It's stiffer, but not harsh, and tuned for the backroads. There is less body roll than with the standard Catera and the Sport's wider 235/45-17 low profile tires (standard size was 225/55HR16) keep the car planted. There was a 1999 Catera Sport but it was an intermediate step to this one. The '99 Sport had firmer damping and stiffer springs that became the 2000 Catera's base suspension. Even firmer and stiffer components were used for the 2000 Sport. The '99 Sport had unique 16 inch alloy wheels, front Recaro Sport Seats, re-contoured rocker panels, and a rear wing. The 2000 - 2001 Sports came with a satin silver grille instead of chrome, unique 5 spoke 17 inch alloy wheels, a rear wing, satin silver interior trim in place of the standard faux wood, and exclusive HID headlights for superior lighting. "Motorweek" road testers at the time praised the 2000 Catera Sport and called it comparable to Europe's best. They also drove the '99 Steinmetz Concept Catera, with its centrifugal supercharger, and loved it even more.