DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair
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Northstar Engines and System Technical Discussion Discussion, DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair in Cadillac Engine Technical Discussion; I am looking for help as I prepare to remove and repair my Northstar engine. I have removed, repaired and ...
  1. #1
    bill buttermore is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    I am looking for help as I prepare to remove and repair my Northstar engine. I have removed, repaired and installed engines including GM, Ford, Toyota, Mazda, Subaru, VW, etc, so, I think (I hope) I have the tools and the basic skills to attempt the Northstar. I want to do the best possible repair so I can look forward to many years of happy motoring with this really nice car.

    I purchased a very clean '98 Deville in January of this year with a leaking water pump, and oil seeping from the crankcase somewhere. The odometer is at 122,000 mi. The owner said the car had never overheated, but had displayed a low coolant light when the water pump began to fail. Before purchase, I ran a block test following the directions (idle with cap off to operating temp). The fluid did not change color and the bulb pulled and held a vacuum on the surge tank. I bought the special tool and replaced the water pump. In a couple months of driving, the highest temperature I have seen (pulling a hill) is 212F. (I keep the digital temperature display up when I drive.) I initially overfilled the surge tank, which resulted in the coolant loss from the overflow, then read here that I should have only filled to the seam. The car has had regular maintenance at the dealer and is filled with clean Dex.

    With no evidence of an external coolant leak, and with one episode of a miss on a cold start that cleared after a couple of minutes, about 800 miles after replacing the water pump, I got a low coolant message, and suspected the worst - that the head bolts had started to pull out and that I had an internal coolant leak.

    To confirm my suspicions, I purchased an inspection camera from Harbor-Freight, pulled the plugs and found evidence of a coolant seep on the right (rear) bank. Here is what cylinders 1,3,5,7, and 2,4,6,8 look like:





    The clean, shiny areas where coolant would collect when the engine sits would seem a pretty good indicator that coolant is seeping into all four rear cylinders. I consider this damning evidence and am looking for help in choosing the best methods and products to make this engine right.

    First, is it easier to remove the engine from top or bottom? I know the FSM says from the bottom is preferred, but I'm thinking I would have to jack and block pretty high to provide the necessary clearance. I have an engine hoist but do not have a lift.

    Second - Which product for thread repair? I have been researching the various fixes for the head bolts and am considering either the N*performance studs or the Huhn inserts. I like the idea of studs (works for Porsche) but am wondering about the availability of the kits. It seems a lot of folks have had to wait a long time for delivery. Another fix I came across, but have not seen discussed here, is a product called full-torque that claims a patented insert design that contracts rather than expands the surrounding aluminum as it is tightened. Costs $940 (!) for the kit, and $144 for a second set of 20 inserts. Not horrible if you are doing three or four N* jobs, but pretty pricey for one.

    Third - As I want to fix the oil seep, I plan to split the crankcase. So, I am thinking I will need to replace the main bearings, and the distributor plate. Haven't decided whether or not to replace the rod bearings. Seems like maybe I might not have to do so? I will probably purchase most parts from Rockauto.com. I have had good service from them in the past. I would like to find the least expensive source for the distributor plate and for new rod bolts if I have to do the rod bearings.

    If you have read this far, thanks for your patience, and thanks for any suggestions or help.

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  3. #2
    Faded Crest's Avatar
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    I am right where you are talking about going. This is my thread... Lots more info in that section of the forum too.

    http://www.cadillacforums.com/forums...t-started.html

    The engine generally comes out the bottom with the entire cradle. If you have a normal height ceiling in your garage, lifting the body off the cradle with a cherry picker is no problem.

    I am using Norm's inserts. $940 for the setup and kit you are talking about is too much for a single repair. There is also a brand new provider for studs that just showed up literally today. Carrolls Custom Cadillac. There is a new thread in that Performance/Technical discussion section. Don't know anything about it... Like I said, the thread just showed up today.

    I would also be concerned about the Canadian source at this point... I don't think they have it all together yet.

    By the way, I agree with you. It looks like the right bank is blown. That's what mine looked like after I sopped all the coolant out of the cylinders. The hard starting is also a telltale.

  4. #3
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Studs or serts work just fine, I think it's more a preference thing. I'd go with studs because they are surdier, and they take some of the stress off the block. You could pull it out the top, but you're looking for a headache. Just disconnect everything in the engine bay, and then use the engine hoist to lift the front of the car off the engine, trans, and cradle. Have an FSM? Those are handy in this repair, as is alldatadiy, but we are here to help as well For your engine internals, post pictures. Sub, one of the moderators on here, has had a lifetime of engine building experience and knows what to look for. He's helped Faded a ton on his project. Ranger's a genius too, and we've had several members do this as well. Maeng and JoeTahoe both did theirs with studs, and they did an exceptional job as well Joe went and found a Seville with HG problems just so he could fix it! You have a wealth of knowledge here, we are all happy to help. Good luck man. You can do this, and once you are done, your Cadillac will be better than ever!
    coaster and coaster like this.

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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    it appears that the NorthstarPerformance website is back to normal... i seem to remember that he has posted on the site last week that this week would be a new receptionist to answer calls has anyone tried calling him yet today?

    ----------

    oops... nevermind... the site has just been slightly re-vamped ... new message from today says

    Update - April 16 2012: We are almost back on track. 2 more days and everything will be back to normal....a huge thanks to everyone who has shown support through some rough times.....now it's back to fixing these Northstars the way they should be fixed - "once and for good!". -Jake Wiebe --
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    bill buttermore is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Thanks for the replies!

    To a moderator: Should this thread be moved to the engine technical forum? Sorry, I did not see it when I posted

    Faded: Wow! Thank you for taking time to document the work on your N* repair. I will be following your work closely. And, I have already spoken with Tim of Carroll Custom Cadillac re the stud kit. It's $350 for the studs, nuts and washers. Tim said they are working on a video that shows how to install them accurately without an adapter plate. I do like the idea of using studs, but Norm's insert kit certainly looks to be high quality - I like the work he did on the drill bit especially. I feel lucky to be able to choose between two excellent repair options. Garage? You have a garage that a car will fit inside? Lucky guy. I do my removal/install work on the concrete pad outside the garage door, then bring the engine inside the garage for the rebuild. It's not all bad - rainy days give me an excuse to rest.

    Luke: Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, I have two sets of FSMs for the '98 - the first and second versions. I feel fortunate to have found this Forum. I have been lurking for a few months and have been impressed with the expertise.

    Chris: Thanks for the update on N* Performance. I did call them at 12:30 Central time today, and although the message said they would be answering the phone between 12 & 1 PM Central time, I was unable to speak to a person or leave a message.

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    Faded Crest's Avatar
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Yeah, you could do the job outside as long as you planned for weather and rolled the cradle indoors as soon as you dropped it. What kind of neighborhood do you live in? HOA? They might not like the disabled car outside for very long.... They sure wouldn't like that in the town where I live!

    So the $350 stud kit doesn't come with any kind of a jig or alignment block for drilling and tapping? I would be curious to see his video. You already know more about them than most people here. LOL.

  8. #7
    bill buttermore is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    I live in an older neighborhood of mostly single-family owner-occupied smaller homes. I share an 18-ft wide garage with my neighbor. So, my half is something less than 9-ft wide. Probably worked okay for model Ts when the place was built - not so much for modern cars. The garage sits way back off the street behind the houses. I have been very careful not to leave cars on the pad in front of the garage with hoods up or off, or up in the air. Even if it entails extra work, I drop them back down to a normal height and support them safely while I am working on the engines or transmissions. So, when you look from the street, all you see is the back end of a car that appears to be parked normally in front of my side of the garage, and indeed, that is what it is. That's how I would want my neighbors to do it, so that's how I do it. I also replaced the drive train in my neighbor's car, so we are on pretty good terms.

    Yeah, I cannot imagine drilling into aluminum without some kind of guide - especially when the positioning is so critical - but Tim says they have figured a way that is more accurate than the adapter plate that comes with the N* performance stud kit. I am also anxious to see the video. He said it will be up on the website tonight or tomorrow.

  9. #8
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Quote Originally Posted by bill buttermore View Post
    Thanks for the replies!

    To a moderator: Should this thread be moved to the engine technical forum? Sorry, I did not see it when I posted
    Probably not a bad idea. I'll move it for you.

    Also check the Tech Tips section. There is some good advice there as well.

  10. #9
    bill buttermore is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranger View Post
    Probably not a bad idea. I'll move it for you.

    Also check the Tech Tips section. There is some good advice there as well.
    Thanks, Ranger. I'll check out the tips section, too.

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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    I am currently doing that job on a 98 Deville also with the exception of the mid case reseal. I pulled the motor out the top because I didn't have room for the car and the cradle in my garage. I also didn't want to undo anything other than what was absolutely necessary. The general consensus on here is drop the cradle but out the top isn't all that bad. You dont have to remove anything except the right front wheel. The hood can even stay on. What ever way you choose there will be plenty of help for you from this forum.

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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Quote Originally Posted by 92Deville View Post
    I also didn't want to undo anything other than what was absolutely necessary.
    Quite a lot less to to 'undo' when you drop the cradle vs going out the top
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Chris, I don't follow. The steering, all suspension, brakes, and A/C are all still in tact.

  14. #13
    RippyPartsDept's Avatar
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    no matter ... you had no choice ... either way is fine really as long as you get it back together correctly

    there is no one true correct way
    Chris Heath (RippyPartsDept) is an ASE Certified GM Parts Consultant at Rippy Automotive
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    Agreed. It's all just personal preference.

  16. #15
    bill buttermore is offline Cadillac Owners Fanatic
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    Re: DIY Northstar Head Gasket / Crankcase Leak Repair

    I've started removing stuff like I usually do to pull from the top, storing most of the parts in the trunk. But I am still open to dropping it; I'll see which way seems to require the least effort. I know that splitting the trans will be easier with it out the bottom.

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