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2002 STS, 2005 CTS 3.6
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Discussion Starter #1
A friend that owns a towing company in another city a few hours away, is being offered this 98k mile, one owner car for nearly scrap value as it has been diagnosed with a failed head gasket. The original owner states the car began to idle rough and have a misfire causing the engine light to flash. It has never overheated or been low on coolant to his knowledge. He pulled over and had it towed as soon as the engine light started to flash.

However the repair shop he took it to, for some reason, determined it was misfiring on one cylinder and that they needed to do some sort of '"exhaust test", and found traces of coolant in the exhaust and determined the "head gaskets must have failed" and charged him $100 for the diag. Does this even sound reasonable to any resident experts here? I would think ignition or a clogged cat is more likely the culprit...? A trace of coolant in the exhaust is somewhat normal in a Northstar, isn't it? Lol!

The owner has decided to give up on the car and buy a new one. This is a low mileage, one owner car in great condition in that rare "Graphite" color with all the options, and I'm tempted to pick it up.

Though I know it's tough to trouble shoot something like this with such limited info, I'm curious before going all the way there to check it out, to see if anyone agrees that it sounds like a rather poor diagnosis?
 

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Super Moderator
White Diamond '03 DHS (with DTS floor shift)
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86,781 Posts
Things that point to a failed HG.
1. It was "diagnosed as such by a "shop".
2. They found "traces of coolant in the exhaust.

Things that do not point towards a failed HG.
1. It's an '01
2. It has never over heated.
3. No coolant loss.
4. It's only symptom is a misfire and rough idle.
5. We have no idea how a "trace of coolant" was found in the exhaust system.

I'm betting on no HG failure.
 

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Administrator
2002.5 F55 CORSA STS, 2014 Explorer XLT FWD
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68,423 Posts
IF you want to screw your friend to the wall, buy the car for whatever the asking price is, diagnose the problem and repair it. Chances are 90/10 that it's a purge line or neglected maintenance problem as opposed to a "head gasket".

If the body and interior are better than 85% the car is worth even a head gasket repair job. The things are right nice vehicles - and there ain't no more of 'em !!! Fix it right and drive it like you stole it ......... :rolleyes:
 

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Master of the Dark Art of Diagnostics
2003 DHS - two-2002 DHS, 2003 SLS, 1995 Sedan DeVille, 1989 Coupe DeVille
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19,256 Posts
A friend that owns a towing company in another city a few hours away, is being offered this 98k mile, one owner car for nearly scrap value as it has been diagnosed with a failed head gasket. The original owner states the car began to idle rough and have a misfire causing the engine light to flash. It has never overheated or been low on coolant to his knowledge. He pulled over and had it towed as soon as the engine light started to flash.

However the repair shop he took it to, for some reason, determined it was misfiring on one cylinder and that they needed to do some sort of '"exhaust test", and found traces of coolant in the exhaust and determined the "head gaskets must have failed" and charged him $100 for the diag. Does this even sound reasonable to any resident experts here? I would think ignition or a clogged cat is more likely the culprit...? A trace of coolant in the exhaust is somewhat normal in a Northstar, isn't it? Lol!

The owner has decided to give up on the car and buy a new one. This is a low mileage, one owner car in great condition in that rare "Graphite" color with all the options, and I'm tempted to pick it up.

Though I know it's tough to trouble shoot something like this with such limited info, I'm curious before going all the way there to check it out, to see if anyone agrees that it sounds like a rather poor diagnosis?
==========================
Does this even sound reasonable
YES - one of the typical symptoms -
but not definitive -

A trace of coolant in the exhaust is somewhat normal
in a Northstar, isn't it?

ah - NO -

I'd recommend doing the BLOCK TEST -

there is only ONE way exhaust gasses get into the cooling system -
failed head gaskets -
 

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Registered
'02 ETC 34,000 miles 2002 F55 STS 83,000 miles, 2016 Challenger SRT 392, 6 Sp.
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264 Posts
The OP said the "shop" found traces of coolant in the exhaust. Perhaps he meant exhaust in the coolant which would indicate HG failure. Not sure how they would detect coolant in the exhaust, unless it was dripping
out the tail pipe. The rough idle on start-up could be an indication. Does it smooth out after a couple minutes or continue to misfire? Basscat is right, just do a block test and if negative, buy it up and fix the coil cassette, purge line or whatever and enjoy a nice car on the cheap.
 

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2002 STS, 2005 CTS 3.6
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413 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Thanks guys, glad to hear your sentiments echo mine. The car began to misfire when it was already at operating temp, so I doubt that it smooths out at any point. Not sure about the exhaust test, maybe it was exhaust in the coolant.

I think I can get the car for $500, which is what I believe he was offered it for. He has no interest in it, but knows I like Caddies, so he gave me a call. We'll see if I end up getting it...
 

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White Diamond '03 DHS (with DTS floor shift)
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86,781 Posts
Hell, for $500 you could recoup your money in parts very easily.
 

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Registered
2002 STS, 2005 CTS 3.6
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413 Posts
Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
UPDATE: Being it was so far away, I passed on it and am now regretting it. Turns out all the car needed was a water pump and a coil pack. The shop of horrors that the 70 year old owner took it to, fleeced him for $1500, screwed up the water pump install, then called it a headgasket problem and sent him away. What a joke some of these so called mechanics are. I can get it for about $2000 now, still a decent deal, $500 would've been a lot better!

And my towing buddy just got another N* car in for scrap, a nice black 2000 STS too, shop diagnosed with a " blown headgasket". Car is in fantastic shape, runs flawlessy, no coolant loss or smoke, just gets hot as soon as you drive it. Probably just a bad water pump or purge line on this one too.
 

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2002.5 F55 CORSA STS, 2014 Explorer XLT FWD
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Thanks for the comeback.

Posts 2 and 3. The Northstar "head gasket failure" is way overhyped. Yes, it's a problem in some engines, worse in some years, but not for the vast majority of Northstars.

For the flip side of your story, a young tire tech at our local Western Auto just bought a local, garaged 2002 SLS - the metallic champagne color - with 78,000 miles on it - overheating and "blown head gaskets" for $800 cash. The guys in the service bays went over it, cleared the purge line and changed the coolant. Kid has a cherry car for peanuts.
 

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The problem is that most people (so-called mechanics) will bash Northstars and will always say head gaskets when it has simple problems like blocked purge line or water pump failures, or even when it has no problems at all!
 
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