: looking at a Catera for $2000

09-23-09, 04:23 PM
Hey All,
I spend most of my time on the CTS forum bu have a question about a catera.
I found a 2000 catera with 146,000 miles and a busted speedo for $2000.
My question is this, how many problems can I expect from this car. It will be for my sister, who is pretty rough on her cars. I have done a little research already and found that the catera is a known troubled car, which is why they stopped making them.
Anyone have any input to share? Should I "blow" $2000. on this car, or take a pass?


09-23-09, 07:14 PM
Should be pretty reliable and 2000$ for these cars is a sweet deal...
Most repairs if you do yoruself can cost you very little money.

There are a hand full of things that usually need replacement but its nothing terrible.

Just put aside 400-500$ for parts and enjoy it.

09-24-09, 03:52 PM
I rediscovered the Catera on internet used car sites and it jogged my memory. I remember liking the Catera when introduced in 1996 and loving the Steinmetz Concept Car, but quickly gave up thoughts of buying one. At over $30,000 it was too rich for my blood at the time. Plus Cadillac's stupid Ziggy promotion made a joke of the car before it had a chance to establish itself in the market. Why would anyone buy a car that wasn't even respected by its division? The Catera was forced on them by GM. It was not a homegrown Cadillac project. They hated this car. Still do. It's based on the Opel Omega, specifically the Elite and MV6 models. A German sport sedan bred to fly down the Autobahn and to attack twisting alpine roads.

So what does Cadillac do? Add 400 lb. in chassis reinforcements and sound deadening for a “Cadillac feel”, de-tune the engine from 210HP down to 200HP, govern the top speed to 125MPH from 150MPH, and soften the suspension from autobahn to boulevard. Compared to most American cars the Catera's still a sport sedan in the German mold just not what they get in Europe. To Cadillac's credit, the lessons learned from the Catera experiment led to a better CTS. A true match for the Euro sport sedans. By the way, CTS originally stood for Catera Touring Sedan. Cadillac won't admit it today but when the CTS was first proposed, that was its name. Just like STS (Seville Touring Sedan) and DTS (Deville Touring Sedan). But that was before the Catera was labeled a flop by the media.

The Catera is often mentioned along with the Cimarron as one of the worst Cadillacs ever but that's not fair. The Cimarron was a Chevrolet Cavalier, 4 cylinder engine and all, trimmed to look like a Cadillac. They later fitted it with a V6 but made no other substantive changes to improve the car and justify the price they were asking. It was an economy car, poorly built, with none of the excellence buyers expected. The Catera was a bonifide luxury sedan from Opel in Germany. Little changed, other than the engine and suspension tuning, from the Omegas sold there. A few Cadillac badges and some body colored trim turned them into Cateras. Lightyears better than the Cimarrons but once the connection was made nothing, not even the facelift and Sport versions would remove the stink. Not saying the Catera didn't have problems just that she wasn't the fraud that the Cimarron was. If Cadillac was truly serious about competing against BMW, MBz, and Audi the could have fixed the problems.

As for those problems, if you want a Catera I say 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 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. Now I know better. I later had the leaking camcover gaskets replaced. The crankcase breather clogged, forcing oil past the gaskets, and onto the exhaust heatshields where it burned and smoked. Two years later the Crankshaft Position Sensor (CPS) failed and left me stranded. The '97 - '98 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. This service must be done every 4 years/40,000 miles.
Have the Heater Bypass Valve behind the engine inspected for leaks. Better yet have it replaced regardless. It's not expensive as Cadillac parts go and the labor is 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-'99s.
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. That means the oil cooler is leaking and needs replacement. A laborious but relatively cheap repair 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 common but has happened. We suspect worn out coolant is to blame. Acid in the coolant attacks the gaskets.
The cam cover gaskets can leak and drip oil on the exhaust heatshields and create smoke. This is too expensive to leave to Cadillac. 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.
Check the tire wear front & rear. Cupping or feathered edges indicates the need for a 4 wheel alignment. It could also mean worn/split front suspension arm bushings. OEM replacement bushings are available as well as polyurethane substitutes. New front arms come with the OEM bushings and ball joints installed so that's an option too. Rear suspension bushings from Pontiac GTO, adjustable for caster and toe-in, will fit also.

There are other things like weak door stays, cracked brake switches, and HVAC control malfunctions. Search the forums for more info. Most irritating are the computer gliches and sensor failures which happen without warning. 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. I mention these things in the interest of honesty but aside from the HBV, CPS, and cam cover gaskets I haven't experienced any of the other stuff. My Catera Sport scoots like her tail was on fire and handles like she's on rails. But remember, you're looking at cars that have been out of production for almost 10 years. Lots of wear and tear was possible if the previous owners didn't take care and perform the maintanence properly. Shop wisely.

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. Some call the styling dated and bland. Sue me. I like it. It's soft and streamlined compared to the new edgy stealth fighter look Cadillac is pushing today. And what about the "Nipponesque" type styling the Germans have adopted with all sorts of accent lines and weirdness? Just look at the MBs and BMWs. They make me gag. The Catera's '97-'99 prefacelift models have a more aerodynamic form with a steeply sloped grille and low profile hood. Their rear treatment features full body width tail lights. The 2000 model year saw 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 to better match the rest of the Cadillac line. The tail lights converted to separate corner units with LED turn signals. Not quite "Tail-Fins" but closer to the rest of the line. The Catera was never a big seller so there is nothing in the way of styling upgrades here beyond wheels and some chrome body trim. There is some body stuff from Irmscher, Steinmetz, and others in Europe for the Omega 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 rare one stuck in the rear 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). They're just not bolstered enough to keep me planted in the fast twisties I relish. Some Cats came with genuine Recaro sport seats but not mine. Heated rear seats as well. The wheel tilts to place my hands in the right position for good control. 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 better was the Bose system.

And then there's the engine performance. The Catera is overweight (3815 lb.), and compared to her direct competitors, underpowered (200 hp.) so 0 to 60 suffered (8.5 seconds) but that only counts if you're planning to race her. For normal, and even slightly illegal, street driving she is a joy. In the transmission's Sport Mode the Catera accelerates quickly 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 oct.), but really comes alive on Premium (94 octane). The ECU adjusts the ignition timing accordingly using knock sensors. In 1999 the engine received updates like Fly By Wire (FBW) throttle and Multi Ram Induction that carried over until production ended. Multi Ram Induction is a system of butterfly valves that manage air flow through the plenum for the best performance. Before 1999 it was called Dual Ram Induction. The new system added more valves to better manage air flow for optimum efficiency. FBW throttle is controlled by the ECU via a Throttle Position Servo so that there is no hard connection to the pedal. The advantages? I'm not sure.

Other than the K&N style intakes that add a raspy sound but little performance and a few free flowing mufflers there's not much engine stuff here for an orphan like the Catera. Check for Vauxhall/Opel stuff on British and Euro ebay but remember, the Catera uses a unique ECU so their chips and such won't work. There are owners exploring V8 engine swaps but those are still in the project stage (except for the magnificent 7.0 liter V8 Lingenfelter Catera).

The 4 speed electronic transmission shifts smoothly and has a Sport Mode that lets the engine rev to redline before shifting to squeeze every horse out of it. It has some sort of adaptive logic but what that means, I haven't a clue. There's also a Winter Mode that locks out 1st and 2nd gears for less torque to the wheels meaning better traction from a standing start. It disengages above 30 MPH.

The Catera's brakes are good and compare well with equivalent sport sedans but could be even better. There's a simple upgrade. Luckily the GTO and Catera have some common ancestry. The dual piston front calipers & brake hoses from the 2004 Pontiac GTO are a direct bolt-on. A big improvement over the Catera's smaller single piston units. Combine them with slotted performance discs and C5 Corvette high performance brake pads, and you'll have all the braking power you'll ever need. The rear brake calipers use dual opposed pistons and are even better than the GTO's single piston units. Of course like most cars today the Catera has 4 wheel ABS braking too. What most don't have, and the Catera does, is Traction Control that prevents wheel spin on slippery surfaces by applying the rear brakes to the spinning wheels.

If you prefer an even sportier ride and sharper handling then you need a 2000 - 2001 Catera Sport. Its suspension is 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 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 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. Magazine road testers at the time praised the Catera Sport and called it comparable to Europe's best.

Even better handling for any year Catera, Sport or otherwise, is available. Suspension upgrades include Eibach lowering springs and Koni, KYB, or Bilstein dampers. GTO springs, front & rear, will fit along with the rear shocks, but not the struts. Suspension tower braces are available from Germany or the UK. Believe it or not Polyurethane bushings for the BMW M5 and Holden Monaro will fit the Catera and greatly improve steering response and handling, besides extending the replacement intervals over the original rubber ones.

As I said before, I love my Catera. The engine performance, the handling, the comfort, the styling, all of it, but don't let me sway you. She has issues. It all boils down to this: If you're looking for a dependable daily driver, the kind or car whose maintenance you can ignore. A car you can subject to abuse, then the Catera isn't for you. If you want a driver's car that, like a thoroughbred horse, requires some attention .............. buy one.

09-24-09, 04:51 PM
That previous post looks like something that came out of a encyclopedia, it summarizes everything that has to be said about this car...

I couldn't have said it myself any better...

As for price and what you get for that its the best deal around...

THink about this... 2000$ catera with a few well known and documented issues that can easily be fixed or on the other hand a 2000$ Dodge Neon or Chevy Cavalier... which one you think is better the 37,000$ Catera when new or the 12,000 Econo box? Not to mention that those econoboxes are full of problems too.

I think if you put the Catera up against anything in this price range it will beat it and send it home crying...

Hope you make the right choice... and if you decide to join us, we will be happy to see you around here...

Take Care!

09-25-09, 06:36 PM
Thanks MV6 an Elvin, that sure was a mouthful (that's what she said).
I asked the guy what repairs he has had done and he said none ever needed. I proceeded to let him know I am familiar with the known issues of the catera, and he then spouts off a list of new parts.
After that I surely can't trust the guy, so I walked.
But thanks for your input anyway.

09-25-09, 09:10 PM
Thanks MV6 an Elvin, that sure was a mouthful (that's what she said).
I asked the guy what repairs he has had done and he said none ever needed. I proceeded to let him know I am familiar with the known issues of the catera, and he then spouts off a list of new parts.
After that I surely can't trust the guy, so I walked.
But thanks for your input anyway.

Sounds like you made the smart choice!...

You will find another one man...

I saw one go on ebay for 3300, it was a 2000 WhITE SPORT with 71K Miles...

09-28-09, 05:47 PM
If you grew up in the Northeast, you probably recall Sy Syms, owner of Syms clothing outlets, with his ubiquitous television commercials. Sy would end each commercial by saying: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” His version of "Caveat Emptor". Glad we could help.