: Loaded '03 STS 103k great shape - Dealer says it's the head gaskets.

06-03-08, 01:18 PM
Hi all,
After taking my '03 STS on a recent long trip, it started to smell like hot anti-freeze when I pull up to a stop light. Temp gauge is still straight up, though. The car was built in Dec. '02.
I took it to the Caddy Dealer in Annapolis, MD, near my home and after pressure testing the engine, he says it's the head gaskets and it'll cost $5700 to repair including timeserts.

My question is: I was hoping to drive it for 2 more years but with today's gas prices, does it make sense to have it repaired, put in a crate N*, or dump it at CarMax.
The car is loaded with _EVERYTHING_ including NAV and is in beautiful shape.
I've read the threads on N* HG's, timeserts, and the crate N* now available from GM and I'm wondering what to do.
I love the car but with gas now at $4/gal and this car averaging 20mpg the way I drive it in my 50mi RT daily commute, I'm wondering which way to go; Repair the motor, have a crate motor put in, or dump it for something else.
I'm a big guy and need the interior room the STS provides, but 6 or $8k to keep her goin' is gonna hurt.

Any constructive help is appreciated. :hmm:

06-03-08, 01:59 PM
If the car is is great shape, loaded, and Fitzgerald can fix it for around $6k, you'll get a GM drivetrain warranty, then bounce that against what you'll get on a trade (if you're honest with the accepting dealer) and what a newer sporty type sedan will cost.

An '03 STS is still a head-turner.

Jim, Kent Island

(Just for grins and kicks, do a really good flashlight and touchy-feely search for coolant, on a cold engine, somewhere other than in the exhaust gas. The later Seville series Northstars aren't known for HG problems (yet), so maybe, just maybe there's something else afoot.......)

06-03-08, 02:56 PM
Just got off the phone w/ the dealer again and they are telling me $5,100 and 12mo/12k mi warranty on replacing the head gaskets.

06-03-08, 03:04 PM
Between you, me, and the gatepost I'd do it in a heartbeat. And ask for the head bolts (20) and gaskets which were removed. They belong to you anyway. You have already mentioned Timeserts, so I assume that's in the package: they wouldn't warrant the work without them........Take several digital pics of your engine, make copies, and leave a set on the passenger seat when you take it in................:rolleyes:

06-03-08, 03:09 PM
When was the last time you had the coolant changed on this car? The Northstar was designed in year 2000 to help fix all the problems that were occurring with head gaskets on this particular engine. So I'm wondering why your car is having this problem.

06-03-08, 03:21 PM
That is the first 03 I have heard of going bad. When you get the motor fixed it does have the new coarser thread so you won't likely see the problem again.

06-03-08, 05:15 PM
Yeah, an '03 with a head gasket problem is rare, though certainly not impossible. I'd get a second opinion. Besides That is way to much money for that repair. $3000 - $3500 seems to be the going rate.

06-03-08, 07:01 PM
I had the cooling system serviced 15 months ago when this same dealer replaced the water pump at roughly 80k miles.
As to the cost, the dlr said the book quotes 37 hrs labor and includes the gaskets (obviously), timeserts, plugs, and an oil change.
Is the 3-$3.5k price you mentioned from a Caddy dealer or other shop? I ask because I'm wondering about warranty on the $3.5k price?
The real bitch is I bought the car used 3 yrs ago with 48k mi and bought an extended 50k mi warranty which ran out 2k mi ago! Crap! :tsucks:

06-03-08, 08:42 PM
That is a dealer price from what I have heard here.

06-03-08, 08:44 PM
On my '99 SLS I was quoted $3500 - $4200 by the service dept at my local caddy dealer here in SE CT.

06-03-08, 10:27 PM
Hi all,
I took it to the Caddy Dealer in Annapolis, MD, near my home and after pressure testing the engine, he says it's the head gaskets and it'll cost $5700 to repair including timeserts.

Was this a compression test or cylinder leak down test? Two different tests. Before investing that kind of cash I would go for the coolant exhaust gas test to confirm. Maybe a dealer who is willing to go for the bigger ticket repair in a slow economy? There's a recent thread in the Deville forum here:

detailing an HG repair for about the same price. See if your dealer estimate stacks up to this actual repair. Yours would be the first 03 HG repair I have seen posted also.

06-03-08, 11:00 PM
PLEASE make sure you post in the poll section above as you will be #1 for the '03 models, surely to be followed by many more. OK, while I chose to get rid of my '98 when the H/G's went, I would get it fixed on your '03 STS. Its got more value than my '98 did but I would not pay over $3k for the job. Good luck to you, sucks that its such an expensive fix for these cars.

06-03-08, 11:27 PM
Yeah, an '03 with a head gasket problem is rare, though certainly not impossible. I'd get a second opinion. Besides That is way to much money for that repair. $3000 - $3500 seems to be the going rate.

x2 The symptoms you describe could also be a leaky water pump cover which is WAY more common on a 2000-2003 car. To fix the water pump cover will cost a DIY about $50 for parts or about $200 at a dealer...

06-04-08, 12:14 AM
x2 The symptoms you describe could also be a leaky water pump cover which is WAY more common on a 2000-2003 car. To fix the water pump cover will cost a DIY about $50 for parts or about $200 at a dealer...

x3 and you said the car has never even overheated so what is the problem?

06-04-08, 08:17 AM
The first time I noticed anything was after a 70mph/50mi run on the Pa Turnpike. When pulling into the toll both I smelled hot anti-freeze and saw some steam coming up from the drivers front fender. Not a lot, but enough to notice. I also noticed the temp gauge go an 1/8" to the right of straight up.
After paying the toll and rolling away a few hundred feet, the steam appeared to go away and the temp gauge went back to straight up. So I thought maybe one or both of the electric fans had stuck/died or the sensor or relay that kicks them on had stuck or died. I figured as long as I kept rolling on the highway I might make it home. I drove home another 150miles with the temp gauge straight up but seeing an occasional bit of steam rising from the fender at stoplights. Since then, it smells of hot anti-freeze whenever coming to a stop and I see a little steam coming from the drivers front fender for a few seconds (This is where the coolant overflow tank is, so I assumed it was dumping the expanded coolant into the overflow tank) but the temp gauge has stayed straight up. As this is my daily driver I figured better have it checked out.
So, I took it into the dlr yesterday and they checked it out and said head gaskets. After checking this forum I called back and asked if it they checked the water pump cover gasket. They said they did a cooling system pressure test and found no leaks and were sure it was the cylinder head gaskets.
I had a '93 SLS start over-heating on me and after reading the forums and replacing the radiator(thinking it was clogged up with corrosion), thermostat, and trying the cooling system pellets, I dumped the '93 as it was only worth about $3k and i couldn't see putting another 3-$5k into car that was 12 yrs old and had 140k miles on it.
Now I'm going down this road with the '03. Lousy luck for sure.
I've had good service from this dlr so far, including a few freebies like repairing stuck windshield wipers after an ice storm last winter at no cost, so I'm not inclined to think this dlr is ripping me, but as I said, $5100 ain't cheap no matter how you look at it.

06-04-08, 09:43 AM
your located in PA
where in PA are you at
i think your getting taken for a ride on that diagnosis

also if you did not have numerous claims on your 50K warranty then you could contact them and see if they will do something for you, sometimes they will provide some aid, sometimes not, its definatly worth a shot...

06-04-08, 10:59 AM
Get to know a couple of the techs at your local delaership, and you'll find that the redesigned headbolt / coarser thread revision has not eliminated the headgasket issues on the Northstar. As these cars start to see some miles, the newer Northsrtars with headgasket failures are showing up at the dealership. Dump the POS and buy something fuel efficient while you still can, instead of dumping $3000 to $5000 into a car whose value will continue to decline as gas prices continue to rise.

06-04-08, 11:03 AM
I'm located in MD but just took a trip through PA.
I did contact the warranty company, an aftermarket company called Continental warranty and they dinied the claim since the engine has over 100k mile.
They have have paid 3 or 4 claims in the past for a few hundred $$ each.

06-04-08, 11:38 AM
It looks likes this car has had it's coolant maintained so this should have prevented ever having the head gaskets go out.

You might want to check yourself and buy a coolant tester.

06-04-08, 04:16 PM
It is perfectly normal for the temp gauge to rise a bit after slowing down from a 70 mph run. The engine bleeds off the latent internal crankcase heat quickly. The fan(s) do not run or cycle at all above about 45 mph (sufficient airflow to maintain coolant below 223 degrees) unless the HVAC system is placed in an A/C mode, and you can turn the compressor off with the button. The amount of air that free flows through the engine compartment at speed is truly impressive.

I'm betting that you have a coolant leak somewhere near the surge tank.

Interesting to see that a couple of our resident worms have crawled out of the slime once again.

06-04-08, 04:22 PM
i dont think you have a bad hg
not likely

06-04-08, 04:58 PM
Short of pulling the motor a cylinder leak down test (not a compression test) or coolant test are the gold standard of headgasket diagnosis. I'd get the coolant checked as that is the quickest and easiest of the two. In reading your diagnosis from the dealer it seems like they ruled other stuff out to come to their conclusion instead of determining specifically that HGs are your problem. Did they send in a sales guy after the diagnosis to make you a good deal on a new or quality pre-owned vehicle? Can you post specifically what the RO says to lead to the HG conclusion?

06-05-08, 10:36 PM
Fender steam is exactly what the water pump cover leak does...

If the car has the original cover and original gasket... THESE DO fail... Very common problem... They leak underneath.. Next to impossible to see from the top... They drip onto the tranny bell housing and make steam and stink... Head gasket failures RARELY make steam... and the smell will be in the tail pipe NOT under the hood...

There is a TSB on the pump cover... fix that first.

How much coolant are you loosing?

06-09-08, 02:36 PM
OK, Ladies and Germs, here's the outcome.
I talked to the tech at the dealer, a terrific older gent, who did the head gaskets on my '03 STS and he DID do the coolant-exhaust gas test and it came up positive for exhaust in the coolant. He showed me the head gaskets and where the exhaust was blowing past the gasket into the coolant passage, between cylinders 1 and 3. He also kept my old water pump for me which was leaking and he showed me where it was leaking.
That part sucks because i had it replaced about 20k miles ago.
I asked him how many '03 N*'s he's had to do HG's on and he said 4 in the last year. He said he's done over 300 N*'s since he's been there and only a couple have come back after he's done the HG's. He also said he only puts in timeserts on the newer motors if the threads come out when he pulls the old head bolts, or he can't get them to torque to spec. He said he definitely has seen fewer newer (post 2000) N*'s blow head gaskets, but they still do it.
He feels it's the coolant, but he has to use what GM says.
He's a terrific old guy and satisfied me on every question I had.
So, head's up guys, the HG is less likely to fail in 2000+ N*'s, but it is not impossible. Changing coolant regularly significantly lessens the chances of a failure, but doesn't eliminate it.
Thanks for all of your responses.

06-09-08, 05:40 PM
ktraub......Glad to see you had it repaired. :mad: Too bad my "coolant leak near the surge tank" (water pump) call was the lowest cost of the whole fix...!!

Did you have it done in Annapolis ? If so, I'm acquainted with the gent that did the work.

06-10-08, 12:04 PM
Yep, had it done in ANP.

06-10-08, 02:09 PM
I'm glad you had it fixed - good luck with it - it's a good car, especially for us big guys. We will all have to be driving Pintos at some point, so we may as well enjoy it while gas is "only" $4 a gallon, right?

06-10-08, 09:58 PM
You may also get the prize for the first 03 N* headgasket replacement posted here. Destroyer will be sending you your souvenir "I got eaten by N*" keychain shortly...

06-11-08, 08:15 AM
Yeah, I figured we'd hear from the resident troll long before now.