My experience with a timing chain replacement
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Cadillac CTS First Generation Forum - 2003 - 2007 Discussion, My experience with a timing chain replacement in Cadillac CTS Coupe, Sport Sedan and Sport Wagon Forums; Please note -- this is not meant to be a guide or provide instructions, but just maybe a little bit ...
  1. #1
    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Cool My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Please note -- this is not meant to be a guide or provide instructions, but just maybe a little bit of info on my experience for others who may want to try the same job.

    Last winter my car started making a very distinct rattling sound on cold-start when the weather was at below-freezing temperatures. At the time my car was still under warranty, and I asked the dealer service center to check it out, but they insisted the sound was the fuel injectors. I knew it didn't sound like fuel injectors but they wouldn't listen to me. Once the weather started to warm up, the sound went away. Fast forward to about two months ago, and the sound is back, except this time it's happening at temperatures well above freezing (70+) and it's getting progressively louder. I've heard the same kind of sound in videos posted online and the pre-2006 3.6Ls are known for timing chain issues so I decided to replace the chains. Since the dealer wouldn't listen to me when it was under warranty, I decided I would not bother paying them an arm and a leg to do it, considering the supplier where I ordered my parts from sells whole engines for a little less than the cost of the timing chain installation! I figured if I blow the engine I can just get a new one or swap it with a junker engine and trade it in for a nice new ATS next year when they come out

    I read up on this extensively, particularly thanks to the posts by Briggy and Doug in NC, as well as the useful information on AllDataDIY. I was fairly well prepared in terms of tools as well. I have a bunch of air tools from Harbor Freight which, while not the best quality, are reasonably priced for someone who is not a pro. The main tools I used we
    HF 10 Gallon 125PSI Air Compressor
    HF 1/2" Air Ratchet
    HF 1/2" Earthquake Air Impact Wrench
    HF 1/2" Compact Air Impact Wrench
    HF 1/2" Metric Deep Impact Sockets
    HF 1/2" Metric Impact Sockets
    HF Bolt Puller Set (for removing crank pulley)
    HF Pulley Installer / Remover Set (for removing / installing power steering pulley)
    HF 1/2" Click Stop Torque Wrench (only for lug nuts)
    GearWrench 3/8" Click Stop Torque Wrench(for anything that really mattered)
    Craftsman 32pc SAE/Metric Combination Wrench Set

    I also borrowed / rented the following tools:

    Snap-On Tap & Tap Wrench (I believe the size was M8 x 1.5 but check first!)
    OEM Harmonic Balancer Installer Kit from AutoZone

    In addition I have a 18" 1/2" drive breaker bar and numerous ratchets of 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" drive which I've accumulated over the years. I have various chrome sockets of mostly 1/4" and 3/8" sizes in both deep and shallow types, as well as various sizes of both fixed and wobble extensions. I used my 1/2" impact sockets for most high-torque applications (with either manual ratchet, air ratchet or impact wrench).

    I found the stubby flex head ratchets to be particularly useful, although being a cheap set (and being used the most) the 3/8" one started to fall apart toward the end of the job. I may see if I can fix it but for ~$10 for the set I can't complain if they don't last a long time.

    Looking back, having some ratcheting wrenches would have been very very nice in some places. Particularly the hard-to-reach areas like the rear alternator bracket bolt and the hose bracket bolt behind the engine near the thermostat. They tend not to be cheap though, and a good set can easily set you back close to $200+ just for a metric set if you start getting into the reversible + flex head etc.

    As for the parts, I was originally going to order the kit sold by AutoZone and Advance Auto but both of them were out of stock. This is the kit used by other users on this forum. It sells for around $230 and includes the chains, primary and intermediate gears, all 3 tensioners and all guides (except for the one which bolts to the oil pump). I first started checking over a month ago and it seems they are still not on stick -- maybe the kit has been discontinued? I ended up contacting a nearby Cadillac dealer which sells online at a fairly good discount over MSRP on the GM parts. They told me about a kit they sell which you have to ask for specifically when you place the order. The base kit they sell includes the primary tensioner, the 3 chains, a tube of GM engine sealant, a new AC Delco engine oil filter, and various seals and gaskets for the timing cover and water pump etc. I also added the 2 secondary tensioners and all of the guides to my order, and the total came to a little over $400 shipped including sales tax and shipping. The supplier was Crown Cadillac in Watchung, NJ and their web site is www.buy-oem-parts.com. They were very helpful when I had questions and their prices seemed to be around 30% below list which is nice when you're ordering a lot of small but expensive parts and the shipping doesn't cost too much. I forgot to add the PCV orifice, VVT actuator seals and spark plug tube seals to my order so I went and picked them up from a local Chevy/Buick dealer nearby. I also ordered the following parts from Amazon which had them at huge discounts and free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime

    Fel-Pro Valve Cover Gasket Set
    Fel-Pro Fuel Injector O-Rings
    Stant Thermostat
    AC Delco Water Pump

    I also ordered a new AC Delco Fuel Filter at a huge discount, which I installed a few weeks back.

    For supplies, I got 2 jugs of Prestone Dex-Cool, 4 gallons of distilled water, 6 quarts of Pennzoil Ultra 10W30, a bottle of Permatex Engine Assembly Lube and a 12-pack of blue Shop Towels (I only used about 1/2 roll but you can never have too many!). I also had a 10-quart drain pan for oil and a 16-quart drain pan for coolant, as well as various funnels for refilling or catching fluid.

    I won't go into the whole process of taking everything apart and putting it back together. There are some very good posts on this forum with lots of pictures and details which can explain it much better than I can. But there are some things I found to be particularly annoying and things to watch out for which I think are worth highlighting.

    First and foremost, the alternator was an absolute nightmare to remove! The bolts are very difficult to reach, and there are some thin brake fluid tubes preventing otherwise easy access. I ended up jacking up the front passenger side, removing the wheel, and reaching in with a wrench. Like most bolts, once you break them loose they will come off easily, but it was very difficult to get leverage. I tried using my wobble exensions but I could not get enough leverage and I was concerned about the brake lines. I ended up just pushing as hard as I could against a wrench and they finally came loose, although I essentially used my forearm as a lever and I have the bruises to show for it. I have small hands and someone with larger hands or arms may not be able to fit so easily, so having an extra long wrench for leverage (or maybe a very small breaker bar?) may be useful.

    The fuel rail is also a little tricky to remove and install. The fuel injectors fit in with friction and they are facing in opposite directions so you have to sort of wiggle them out. As Doug in NC recommended it's good to apply a little penetrating oil to prevent damage to the injectors since they are small and made of plastic. When it came time to putting them back in, since they are facing in opposite directions, it was a little tricky to get them all lined up. I lined up one side, pushed them in a little, then did the same for the other side, then pushed them all the way in and bolted down the fuel rail.

    The timing cover itself can also be a little tricky to get off. Once you remove all of the bolts, it is held in place entirely by RTV sealant, although the sealant does have quite a bit of strength. Once again I followed Doug in NC's post and firmly but gently pried between the timing cover and the cam shaft nuts with a screwdriver, making sure to wedge the openings with some soft plastic scraper blades I had available. Once the cover came off, I used the plastic scraper blades to remove the old gasket material and had a friend help clean the timing cover inside and out while I worked on the timing components.

    The really fun part, of course is doing the actual work on the timing components. I spun the crank pulley bolt on gently by hand and then used one of my large wrenches to rotate the crankshaft until the R and L marks on the cams were toward the top. First I removed all of the tensioners and guides so the chains would be loose, then unwrapped the chains from their gears. I then installed the chain on the right (which is the "left" chain) and lined it up with the intermediate gear, then installed the guide and tensioner. Once I knew the chain was properly lined up with all 3 gears I pulled the pin on the tensioner. Same with the primary chain. I used a mirror to look for the timing mark on the crank gear since it was on the bottom of the gear. Make sure you have a good mirror as it will come in handy!

    The most fun part was the final "right" chain on the left side. I went to put the chain on but the cams seemed to be askew. The distance between the "R" marks was different from the distance between the links on the marked chains. I figured one camshaft needed to be turned a little bit to make them match. DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE I DID: confused and not thinking it through properly, I grabbed the cam gear with my hand, and gently started to turn it. Of course I wasn't thinking of the fact that there are 6 valves and 6 springs all pusing against the cam. It sprung loose, running the tip of my thumb between the gears. If I had bigger hands I'm sure it would have done much more damage, but I ended up with my nail slicing into the skin on the tip of my finger and a nice bruise under the nail. Anyway the lesson is, do NOT turn the cam by hand, make sure to use a wrench!

    Incidentally when the cam spun itself (maybe 1/8 of a turn) it went right into the exact position to line up the chain marks! But I found that while the cams now lined up with each other, they did not line up with the intermediate gear. I tried turning the cams (with a wrench on each this time) but the tension of the springs against the cam lobes was too much to hold and line up the chain at the same time. The solution (which I probably didn't think right away of because my thumb was in intense pain and bleeding) was to just turn the crank a little bit. Maybe 1/8 turn on the crank got evertyhing lined up. Installed the guide, tensioner, and pulled the pin. Then I proceeded to turn the crank by hand with the wrench, roughly 4 full rotations, applying assembly lube to the exposed parts of all of the chains roughly every 1/4 turn until they were generously coated. I applied some to the cam lobes too just for good measure, I don't know if it was necessary but I had a little left over and figured it wouldn't hurt.

    When it comes to re-assembly, make sure you thoroughly clean the sealing surfaces of the timing cover and scrape out all of the old sealant from the grooves! I used some plastic scrapers to remove the sealant and then wiped everything down with degreaser to make sure there was no oil on the surface. I saw the AllDataDIY instructions recommend a kit which is essentially 3-4 bolts with no heads to line up the timing cover, but if I remember right the kit is close to $100! I decided to make my own so I bought some long bolts with the same threads as the timing cover bolts and cut the heads off with an abrasive cut-off saw, then ground the sharp edges smooth. I threaded the 3 bolts into the engine, 2 at the top and 1 at the bottom, and then pushed the timing cover over the bolts. I had applied the sealant a few minutes before and it was set just enough to still be a little tacky.Once I got most of the bolts in I removed the headless bolts and replaced them with real bolts. The timing cover was very easy to put in doing it this way as I didn't have to worry about holding it and threading bolts in at the same time, while also having to worry about the sealant smearing or becoming deformed.

    After that it was pretty much just the whole disassembly in reverse. Installing the alternator wasn't so bad since it takes much less leverage to torque a bolt than to break once that's been sitting there for years. Once I finally got everything back together, and refilled the fluids, I went to start the engine, which I'll admit made me very nervous. In fact I was shaking and hesitating just to start it since I knew if I did something wrong, my engine would be wrecked. I put the key in and turned. And it clicked. And I turned again, and it clicked again. And finally I turned it the 3rd time and it turned over slowly, started roughly, made an awful racket for a split second (which, just for that second, I was sure was my engine falling apart inside!) but once the oil started pumping through, it was smoother and quieter than I've heard it in years! A lot of smoke came out, probably from the oil I sprayed by the fuel injectors and the intake cleaner I sprayed in the manifold, but after running for a minute it sounded and felt very smooth!
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  3. #2
    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    I did have two problems, which were unrelated to the timing but something to watch out for. First, I believe I may have had a little water or antifreeze drip into the throttle body wiring harness connector, because after driving around for a few minutes, it started acting strangley. The throttle would randomly surge, sometimes up to 2000 RPM in park, and eventually while trying to drive on the highway it went into "Reduced Power Mode" and would only rev up to about 1500 RPM, so I had to drive home at around 10-15mph. I tried to run the throttle body reset procedure, but then I ran into the second problem, which was that my battery was failing. That was not unexpected as I've had some issues starting the past few months, and the battery is still the original one (on a 2005 car with 97k miles) but at this point it was very inconvenient! After jumping it and getting it running again, I decided to just take a break and think about it. I figured I would try spraying compressed air into the throttle body connectors on both the harness and the throttle body itself, and after that it no longer seemed to have the problem. I replaced the battery this evening as well which seems to have made a big difference in start-up.

    The moment of truth came this morning when I went to start up the car for the first time. The symptom was always a loud rattle sound that would last for maybe 2 seconds on cold-starts. It has been particularly cold lately in the northeast (we even had snow the other day!) and the sound was getting very loud. But when I started it up, even after sitting for around 10 hours, the sound was completely gone and it had a smooth idle! The engine now just seems to sound and run so much better and I am very happy with the results!

    In all this job took me about 22-24 hours to complete. Consider that I don't have an entirely comprehensive set of tools available, and I tend to work slowly on anything mechanical since I mainly work with computers on a daily basis. I also took plenty of breaks in between to look at the various web site and make sure I was on the right track. I think this is somewhat of an accomplishment for me since I am not a professional or even really an experienced hobby mechanic (most of what I've done on this car has been brakes, spark plugs, transmission fluid / filter etc.) and even though it took me some extra time, I saved a few $thousand in cash and also got some other parts installed which I doubt would be included in the normal service (extra tensioners / guides, water pump, thermostat, various seals and gaskets etc.). I think this also goes to prove that with good instructions and documentation available, and as long as you have the right tools and know reasonably well how to use them, it is possible to do even complex jobs like this. Of course whether someone else wants to take on this task is something they will have to decide based on their skill and confidence level, and how much they are willing to risk. For me it wasn't even so much a matter of the money, as that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I think I've done so. Of course, now with my luck my transmission will probably blow up tomorrow


    I didn't take a lot of pics since I was having some issues with my camera, but I will post a few.

  4. #3
    johnys customs's Avatar
    johnys customs is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    wow. real nice write up. thanks for taking the time to do it.

    so lemme ask. you spent only $400 in total?

  5. #4
    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    I will add everything up and post part #s later but I think it was around $650 for the main job including all timing parts, engine sealant, valve cover gaskets, water pump, thermostat, new accessory belts, air filters, coolant and oil. The battery was another $170 but was realy a separate issue. For all of my ~100k mile work (including changing diferential fluid which I'm doing this weekend, and fuel filter which I did about a month ago) I've probably spent about $1000 on parts and materials

  6. #5
    ternstes is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Have you noticed any oil consumption before or after the replacement?

  7. #6
    JimmyH is offline Cadillac Owners 10000+ Posts
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    great post

    added to the faq

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    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Quote Originally Posted by ternstes View Post
    Have you noticed any oil consumption before or after the replacement?
    I had very high oil consumption before, upwards of 1qt per 1000 miles. Dealer said it was normal, just like the" fuel injector" sound . I've only driven about 60 miles since finising the job so I don't know if there has been any change but I will keep a close eye on it . I've had oil consumpton issues for a long time and it would be interesting to see if this resolved it. I did change both the timing set and the PCV orifice at the same time, but there was a lot of evidence of oil in the intake manifold (and in the past I've found oil inside the resonator box btween the air filer and throttle body) so I would guess it is pcv related.

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    erdoc48 is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    I applaud your ability to tear into this engine and do all of the work. I have a question that will probably seem silly with all of the timing chain threads on the forum: is it possible that simply changing the oil more frequently than indicated by the computer would help to avoid timing chain stretch, or it the timing chain of the 3.6L engines just a bad design? My wife's car has 91K miles on it (an 06), and the engine runs like new- oil is frequently checked and loses maybe 1 qt/3000-4000 miles (I typically add 1 quart in between changes and get the oil changed every 7000 miles -which is way earlier than the computer indicates- using Mobil 1 5W-30 EP). Am I just lucky (so far)?

    Apologies if the question has been asked before or if you feel my post is in error/stupid.

    Thanks.

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    ternstes is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Quote Originally Posted by pyromaneyakk View Post
    I had very high oil consumption before, upwards of 1qt per 1000 miles. Dealer said it was normal, just like the" fuel injector" sound . I've only driven about 60 miles since finising the job so I don't know if there has been any change but I will keep a close eye on it . I've had oil consumpton issues for a long time and it would be interesting to see if this resolved it. I did change both the timing set and the PCV orifice at the same time, but there was a lot of evidence of oil in the intake manifold (and in the past I've found oil inside the resonator box btween the air filer and throttle body) so I would guess it is pcv related.
    I am interested in your feedback when you get more miles on it as I have similar oil issues in my 05.

  11. #10
    04silversmokects is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    So you didn't replace the gears at all? The only reason I ask is I'm gathering parts for this job and it is 400 bucks just for the cam gears

  12. #11
    TunixComplex is offline Cadillac Owners Enthusiast
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Very impressive job you did there I really have to applaud your confidence and hard work on this one! I also work with Computers on a daily basis and am reasonably adept with a set of tools but I dont think I would ever have the confidence to take on such a large project especially after throwing in the towel trying to replace my valve covers.

    Again, thanks for the write up!

  13. #12
    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Quote Originally Posted by erdoc48 View Post
    I applaud your ability to tear into this engine and do all of the work. I have a question that will probably seem silly with all of the timing chain threads on the forum: is it possible that simply changing the oil more frequently than indicated by the computer would help to avoid timing chain stretch, or it the timing chain of the 3.6L engines just a bad design? My wife's car has 91K miles on it (an 06), and the engine runs like new- oil is frequently checked and loses maybe 1 qt/3000-4000 miles (I typically add 1 quart in between changes and get the oil changed every 7000 miles -which is way earlier than the computer indicates- using Mobil 1 5W-30 EP). Am I just lucky (so far)?

    Apologies if the question has been asked before or if you feel my post is in error/stupid.

    Thanks.
    I suppose it's possible -- I bought my car used with about 25k miles on it and I have no idea how often the previous owner changed the oil. At one point the oil got critically low and I actually blew the crankshaft -- the original dealer told me they topped off the oil during routine mainenance but in reality they never did and it blew a few weeks later, but the repair was covered under warranty. Since then I learned not to trust them and check everything for myself (although that dealer also went bankrupt since the owner was running a coke smuggling ring and who knows, maybe a warranty scam too?) I've usually done every 5k miles or 50% oil life on the DIC, although apparently they are changing the firmware for the DIC on the newer cars to run down the counter faster so it's possible that the DIC calculations have been far too optimistic. The very high oil consumption probably doesn't help either. One thing I've noticed on that point (and which I'm going to keep an eye out for) is that occasionally under hard acceleration, particularly going uphill, I've seen clouds of smoke come out of the exhaust, even when the engine is fully warmed up and on warm days (this was before the work I just did). Between that and seeing how much oil residue was in the intake manifold, I'll bet somehow it was sucking oil up through the PCV, but I really don't know.

    Quote Originally Posted by 04silversmokects
    So you didn't replace the gears at all? The only reason I ask is I'm gathering parts for this job and it is 400 bucks just for the cam gears
    I didn't replace any of the gears. The dealer I bought the parts from told me they normally just replace the 3 chains and the primary tensioner. I added the 2 secondary tensioners and all of the guides since it wasn't a heck of a lot more (~$150 I think) and considering the investment in time and $, I figured the extra cost was minimal. I know the "SA Gear" kit that AutoZone and Advance sell comes with new crank and intermediate gears, but that kit seems to possibly be discontinued as it hasn't been available for at least 2 months since I started looking. I don't know if they replace the gears because the chains are a different design or just as a maintenance part. That kit is part # 76159 at both stores. I looked all over to try to find that kit but had no success, and all other aftermarket kits I found were for the V.

    Quote Originally Posted by TunixComplex
    Very impressive job you did there I really have to applaud your confidence and hard work on this one! I also work with Computers on a daily basis and am reasonably adept with a set of tools but I dont think I would ever have the confidence to take on such a large project especially after throwing in the towel trying to replace my valve covers.

    Again, thanks for the write up!
    It certainly wasn't a small or simple job but I think it was worth it for me, both to keep my engine going and for the experience. I would think the set of tools I used is probably about the minimum you would want to have though. There are some specialty tools that might help, like those fancy little Snap-On universal low-profile sockets I've used before at a shop I used to work at before I got my own set of tools built up, but at around $20 per socket the costs can add up quick. A good set of flex-head reversible ratcheting wrenches may be worthwhile though, I think Amazon has a 16pc GearWrench reversible Metric-only set for around $170 (and everything on this car is metric), but I got by with my set of regular Craftsman wrenches. It definitely helps to know one or more professional mechanics who you can get tools and/or advice from though. If your car isn't making an awful racket though, it may not be worth it. I figured with my luck, when I started the engine just to pull it into the garage my chains would snap and crunch up all of the valves!

    Was there anything particular about the valve covers that you had an issue with? I didn't think they were too difficult to re-install once I had them off although it is a bit of a process since you have to take off the intake manifold, ignition coils, various hoses and wiring harnesses etc. to get to them. I still think the alternator was the biggest pain in the ass with this. The bolts were very hard to reach and break loose, and then even when you do get them out, you have to get behind it with a tiny wrench and unscrew the retainer nut for the battery charger wire. It may be possible to leave the alternator in but I generally don't like to leave heavy parts hanging by flexible tubes or wires.

    One thing I still want to do, since I still have all of the old timing parts, is see if the secondary chains are different lengths. The new ones are identical but different lengths on the old ones would certainly indicate a problem. It seemed that the original "left" bank secondary chain (right side when viewed from the front) had more play in it but that may have had to do with the positioning of the cams at that time.

  14. #13
    pyromaneyakk is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Oh I should also mention -- the dealer I ordered the parts from did say the chain was an updated design to resolve reliability issues, but I maybe it's a combination of the chain and the oil life? I am also aware that they made a major chain re-design in the 2006 models and on, so that may have something to do with the 2006 models not having issues. In fact when I was ordering the parts I asked if they could send me the 2006+ chains and gears but they said it was not possible to upgrade the engine to the new chain design. In any case, I'm sure these new parts will last more than long enough to where it wouldn't be worth it to change them again. I don't know how long I will keep this car (I am planning to get an ATS when they come out but I may keep this one) but at some point in the future the car won't be worth that much anymore. At the very least I wanted to make sure it still runs in case I decide to trade it in when I get my next car.

    And also if it does turn out that the PCV orifice is the solution to the oil consumption problem (though proving this would be very difficult) I'm pretty sure you could replace it without taking much of the engine apart. It is in the back left part of the engine, you can certainly reach it if you take the intake manifold off, and it is just held in place by some light adhesive. I pulled it out by clamping vise grips around it and giving it a twist. I put the new one in with a thin layer of "Goop" all purpose adhesive around the main body of it and a little engine RTV at the top where the flange overlaps the top of the valve cover. Of course make sure not to get any adhesive / sealant near the holes in the bottom!

  15. #14
    erdoc48 is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    You did an incredible amount of work. If I were you, I'd get a lot of use from your CTS before getting another car, plus, I'd probably wait until the ATS is about mid-end cycle before getting one (let Cadillac get the bugs out of a new model first). Thanks for your reply.

  16. #15
    Pwayne is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: My experience with a timing chain replacement

    Awesome. Hopefully I won't have to perform this task, but if so this will be very helpful. Thanks for posting.

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