By on February 11, 2013

Justin writes:

Sajeev,

I have a 2001 Buick Regal LS. I bought it in 2007 with 14,000 miles on (yes, from a grandmother). It has 72,000 miles on it as of this morning. It’s not a great car and has required plenty of maintenance (for example, I’ve had to replace the brakes completely 3 times already). However, I have a few questions about long term items:

1. Spark plugs. Should I change them? The owner’s manual specifies 100,000 miles; does time play a factor in that at all? I’ve read that sometimes the back 3 never get changed anyway (apparently it’s a PITA).

2. Coolant. I had it changed once in 2008 (it’s Dexcool) because I had been reading the horror stories. How often should I be changing this?

I’m unsure how long this car is going to last, but I’ll keep limping it along until the cost gets too high. So cost is a factor here too.

Thanks!

Sajeev answers:

As you learned, buying a low mile original car isn’t necessarily a great idea. Unless you buy it for an occasional, collector type of vehicle. (*cough* H-town swanga *cough*) Though a 6-year-old car with low miles doesn’t exactly fit this definition: you replaced the brakes three times in the past 58,000 miles?  Whaaaa?

 

Either you got screwed by a mechanic or you are a seriously aggressive driver that needs elbows and vogues to slow yourself down.  Perhaps you should take a page from the Houston playbook, and keep that GM sedan Slow Loud And Bangin’.  But I digress…

  • Spark plugs: the 100,000 mile tune-up interval has been proven valid for every car I’ve seen, mostly because platinum plugs are that great. There’s a chance that age hasn’t been kind to the ceramic part of the plugs, but if the car idles smooth when cold, gets good mileage, decent power, no check engine light, etc…don’t worry about it.
  • Previously discussed here, here and here, Dex-Cool is a bizarre case where you can either flush it out (entirely, no margin for error) and switch to another type of coolant, or continue topping off with a Dex-cool compatible coolant, or you can continue to use Dex-Cool and service it as per the owner’s manual.  If you choose the latter, I’d service a little more regularly than suggested…out of fear of the Dex-Cool devil that comes from neglect.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

 

 

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41 Comments on “Piston Slap: 100,000 Mile Tune Ups, Dex-Cool, Grandma’s S.L.A.B....”


  • avatar
    KrisZ

    Dexcool is not as bad as internet hyperbole made it out to be. Most early problems came from GM’s poor choice of gasket materials, fortunately they sorted those out. Kept at a proper level this coolant has proven itself to go the 150k mile distance it was designed to do.

    At 100k miles I would also look into flushing the brake fluid, power steering fluid and ATF. If you really want to keep it long term I would also run a good dose of fuel system cleaner like Techron, cleant the throttle body and change the PCV.

    • 0 avatar
      W.

      Dexcool might not be awful, but head-gaskets on that 3000 series GM motors are. I’ve know four people (my parents included) that have had massive head gasket failure with both 3100 and 3800 engines. I advise anyone that I know to stay far, far away from them.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Lower intake gaskets on the late 90s to 2002ish 3100 and 3400 were prone to failure, but head gasket failures are much rarer and likely the result of being overheated.

        Intake gasket failures on the 3800 do occur as well, but usually spit out the top, and don’t usually dump into the crank case. During my years spent as a mechanic, I can’t say I’ve ever had to replace a failed head gasket on a GM 3800 that wasn’t the result of too much boost (L67 motor mods) or an extreme case of being overheated.

        Generally the 3800 is one of the most reliable engines on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Have to concur, the 3800 is pretty solid the only real ‘design flaw’ bring the plastic intake manifold IIRC. This problem was eliminated in the 2005 Series III, and can be proactively replaced in the earlier years.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        We have sold thousands of GM mid size sedans with 3800′s and have to date never had one with a head gasket failure. The lower intake manifold is an issue but once corrected should be good to go for several hundred thousand miles. The 200 on up engines got a redesign for the hot EGR tube which enlarged the hole and thus prevent coolant loss into the intake area. Most cars we sell go well over 100K before the LIM gasket needs replacing but most any mechanic should easily be able to do this. Other issues you may see with this car are a clunk when making a left hand turn which is the intermediate steering shaft. Those are about $100 bucks to buy and are no big deal to replace. Keep the 4T65 transmission serviced and the fluid clean. I would switch over to the new Dexron IV fluid. For brakes it sounds like your getting really cheap pads installed or you drive like a maniac. Use decent quality rotors from Napa and get the ceramic gold pads. I have used these on my 2002 Intrigue and my 2008 Impala which use similar brakes as your Regal and they last 40-45k miles easily.

        The majority of our customers with 3800 equipped Regals, Intrigues, Impalas, MC’s and Grand Prix’s have between 100K and 300K miles and many are repeat customers buying for there kids or relatives.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I take it you meant Dexron VI, not IV? Otherwise I’m curious to know why the 4th iteration is better than the 6th.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Anything is possible, but the GM 3800 is pretty darn close to bulletproof. A head gasket on a 3800 is a mechanic screwing someone over the manifold gasket (the real issue) or the engine was seriously overheated.

        Saying stay away from a GM 3800 is like telling someone don’t buy a Slant 6 back in 1971 because you heard they’re unreliable. Anything can happen – I have a friend who blew up a Honda 1.5 through abuse and neglect. Oh, he doesn’t see it that way, it’s Honda’s fault in his mind. He’ll never buy a Honda again – I don’t consider his focus group of one valid.

        Can you kill a GM 3800? Yup – but outside of manifold gaskets from late 90′s to 2003 – you have to try – hard.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Blowing a HEAD GASKET on a 3800 requires some real effort.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        How about the head gasket on the 3.1? Based on the original 2.8, will the gasket last? We inherited a 2002 Century with 95K…our last GM 3.1 we sold at 130K when we got this one and the head never let go…

      • 0 avatar
        old fart

        Totally agree with the head gaskets going bad ,maybe it a northern thing we have plenty of bad gaskets up here .Also I’ve heard mechanics say the plugs can hard to get out after 100.000 miles and change dex-cool more often

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Justin, if you’re waiting for this car to crap out on you, you’ll be waiting a while. A 3800 equipped W-body will last as long as you can tolerate the climate control knobs breaking off and the rocker panels ventilating.

    He is right about the brake component consumption, I have a few people in these cars and around 40,000 miles on a set isn’t uncommon. The middle of the road or cheap parts do not last very long on these cars. Top quality parts will last 60,000 miles or more, of course depending on usage.

    Otherwise, these cars tend to last a long time, even when neglected. The 3800 is pretty easy to work on, even those rear plugs aren’t bad to get at compared to most other cars built within the last decade. You can give it the reach and feel from the top, or get a better look at them from below. Changing the plugs at 70,000 miles or so isn’t a bad thing, it’s not uncommon to see vehicles with misfires due to worn plugs before the recommended service interval.

    You can flush out the dex-cool and change to a different coolant, but you MUST make sure you get it all out before switching. If you don’t, the mix tends to create a nasty sludgy mess in the cooling system which can plug up your heater core and other coolant passages. It would probably be best to flush the dex-cool, then replace with dex-cool. Sajeev is right, if left too long, dex-cool becomes dex-clog. If you last changed it coming up on 5 years ago, some point this year again wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “You can flush out the dex-cool and change to a different coolant, but you MUST make sure you get it all out before switching. If you don’t, the mix tends to create a nasty sludgy mess in the cooling system which can plug up your heater core and other coolant passages.”

      Danio how soon would this “mixed coolant” sludge start to form in your opinion? I had mine flushed out last summer and replaced with “good ol’ green” but the tech who did it isn’t what I wouldn’t call gifted, and the current color has a tint of the orange death.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        It can take a while, it’s not overnight. Remove the rad cap and take a look inside as well as the degas bottle. If there’s a brown residue that’s not oil forming, that’s likely it.

  • avatar
    jtk

    This is my question! Woohoo!

    KrisZ, do I recognize your username from the BITOG?

    Anyway, this car is not mine anymore; about 2 months after I wrote this email, the transmission decided to stop transferring power through the forward gears completely. I now have just over 10,000 miles on a Mazda 3 hatchback.

    As far as the brakes, I don’t know what the deal was. An elderly neighbor told me that Buicks wear the brakes out fast because they move forward without any pressing of the gas pedal… lol. I think they were undersized for the weight of the car.

  • avatar
    dcars

    My Mechanic recommended that I change the Dexcool sooner than 100,000 miles, but I noted the owners manual said to change it 100k. I didn’t have the money to change it, I had less to buy a new car. The Mechanic was right.

  • avatar

    Granted, I’ve always owned sticks… but I’ve never had to replace brake pads/shoes/drums on any of the cars I’ve owned. And I’ve put well into 3 digits of kilometres on three of them. One got into the mid-140s (pusing 90K miles) and the other, 180K (about 110,000 miles).

    I’d suggest that the original poster’s driving has more to do with the brake wear than any bad luck, especially since so many brake jobs have been done. Have someone who doesn’t chew through brakes ride with you for 20 minutes and critique your driving.

    • 0 avatar
      jtk

      I’ve owned a number of other cars that didn’t do this.

      I had a stick Nissan truck with stock brakes at 125,000 miles, and a Honda Civic with brakes that were replaced once at 90,000 miles (they were still going strong at 145,000 miles when I traded the car). And the Civic was autocrossed 9-10 times a year for 4 years.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Really! I know two people at work one with a 2006 Civic sedan and the other with a 2005 coupe model. Both have replaced the rotors and pads in less than 50k miles! I know because I did the brake jobs for both of them! Most compact and mid size sedans I have worked on regardless of where they were made from the early 2000′s on up seem to go about this long. My 2008 Impala went to 49K on both front and back. My aunt’s Avalon went to 52k on the fronts and 56 on the rears and were squealing like crazy on the wear alerts. I drive the Impala way harder than she does so I’m quite happy with that. Switching to higher quality rotors and ceramic pads yielded nearly 70K miles on my 2002 Intrigue but they were squealing like crazy by that point.

      • 0 avatar
        Wscott97

        I agree about the Civic, I have a 2006 Civic with 150,000 miles on it. I got the front breaks replaced twice, once at 75,000 and again at 125,000. The rear breaks are still original. My old Altima on the other hand needed new breaks every 35,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Wow…I get 30 to 40K out of my front brakes on every car I have ever owned, except my hybrid and those were gone – rotors too – at 50K….I suspect that many of those stick drivers use the gears to slow down…I don’t get saving easy to change brake friction with expensive to replace clutch friction…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Have you ever worn out a clutch? I had one inspected at 155,000 miles of aggressive driving, and it was judged to be as good as new by my mechanic. I wouldn’t recommend downshifting an automatic, as they have a habit of dying under such use. I haven’t had any trouble with using my manual transmissions to maximum effect in controlling my cars.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Nope. Original clutch on my car…pedal is getting a bit low though…

  • avatar
    KrisZ

    “KrisZ, do I recognize your username from the BITOG?”

    Hehe, yup I post on BITOG as well.

    “Danio how soon would this “mixed coolant” sludge start to form in your opinion? I had mine flushed out last summer and replaced with “good ol’ green” but the tech who did it isn’t what I wouldn’t call gifted, and the current color has a tint of the orange death.”

    You do not want to wait until it gels, you will have a very hard time cleaning the system after that. If your “mechanic” only drained the radiator, but not the heater core and engine block, chances are that there is quite a bit of dexcool left in the system and it does not play well with other coolants. The other way of doing this (if the block and heater core cannot be easily drained) is multiple radiator drain and fills with distilled water. It’s more time consuming as after each drain and fill the engine has to be run to mix everything, but in a lot of cases it’s easier to do that.

  • avatar
    86SN2001

    The spark plugs are a PITA? Then you’re doing it wrong.

    The back plugs are easy as pie, just unbolt the dog bones and rock the engine forward. You’ll have more room than you’ll know what to do with.

    My brother has over 200K on his 3800 Lumina…original engine and transmission. The cost of ownership could NOT have been cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      The rear plugs (not to mention the O2 sensor) are more difficult to access in the W-body Regal than on the same engine in the H-body (such as my LeSabre – it’s wide open back there on mine). I know on some W-bodys (with the 3.1 liter IIRC), the only way to easily get to the RR plug is to remove the alternator.

  • avatar
    jtk

    To clarify a couple of items:

    Rocking an engine forward to change plugs seems like a PITA compared to an inline 4. Also, I never actually had to do it.

    The first 2 brake jobs were cheap pads and rotors, the last was Bosch rotors and Performance Friction pads. Alas, the better stuff was only 14,000 miles old when the trans failed.

    My Civic was a 1997, not sure if that makes a difference.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      …Rocking an engine forward to change plugs seems like a PITA compared to an inline 4. Also, I never actually had to do it…

      Given that I’ve done it solo, more than once, rocking the 3.8L V6 engine forward in a GM W-Body is easier than changing a flat tire.

      • 0 avatar
        86SN2001

        Thank you. Actually, it’s easier than changing a headlight, replacing an air filter, or shampooing the carpet.

        It also takes less time than washing all the vehicle’s windows, filling it’s tank, or checking the air pressure in the tires.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    The 2005 Grand Am driven by my 80-year-old mother needed the rotors surfaced at 20k miles. I’m fairly certain she wasn’t hooning it. Seems like GM really cheaped out on brakes in that era.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      True story. My Alero seems to eat brakes at a faster than usual rate as well. And I lack money, so I don’t drive it particularly hard.

      Luckily its an easy car to replace the brakes on. Espeically with the 4 wheel disc option.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      The elliptically slotted ATE rotors have been working great on my mother’s ’99 Sunfire GT, even with cheap Jasper pads. I also replaced the caliper bushings at the same time and lubed them well with silicone caliper bushing grease, so that was likely a factor. Every other prior rotor/pad combo insta-warped. The factory brakes were already pulsing at 30k miles when she bought the car.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        W Body brake eating? Check THIS out:

        http://www.clubgp.com/cgi-asp/mods.asp?modid=3

        That should take care of any brake shortcomings…also check out adapting KONI struts for Taurus SHOs to W bodies as well. I’m going to try all of this plus more on our newly acquired W body and see how good it can become…certainly the price was right….

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @golden2husky

        Given the flexibility in the W-Body, the single, simplest, thing you can do to improve handling and road feel is a front strut tower brace. You will not believe the difference. GMPP depending on your year/make/model may offer one. Otherwise there are options out on the Internet. HUGE difference. There also was a couple of companies that made improved chassis braces that were better/stronger/stiffer than the stamped steel that comes standard from the factory. I don’t think anyone makes them anymore – might be able to find a used set on any of the W-Body sites or eBay.

        One nice thing about the GM W-Body is there is a huge tuner community with some crazy smart people doing some really interesting things. The cars are shockingly tweakable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’ve driven I think 2 or 3 different examples of Century (this generation). I was always shocked at the bouncy ride quality, the cheapness of the interior, and the on/off acceleration. There was no adjusting it’s rate, you were either speeding up at a predetermined rate, or maintaining a cruise. I had never felt anything like it. The transmission was damn near unresponsive.

    I also drove an Oldsmobile 88 from 1992, and it felt similar.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I believe the main problem with Dex-Cool was related to low coolant levels that were neglected for extended periods of time, especially on certain GM engines that were prone to intake manifold leaks: 3100, 3400, and 4.3L. AFAIK, the sludging would then occur at the hot air gap in the heads.

    My mother’s ’99 Sunfire GT is almost at 200k miles now on nothing but Dexcool. Every 30k miles I just drain the radiator (a little more than half the coolant capacity), and replace with 55/45 Dex-Cool and distilled water (very cold climate). The coolant always comes out a nice, clean orange and there have been no issues with the cooling system apart from a water pump change at 120k, due to leaking seals. Not an unusual repair on any vehicle.

    My buddy even switched over his ’87 6.2L Diesel Suburban to Dex-Cool in the late nineties and had no problems. It’s still running fine with over 250k miles.

    If any spark plugs are difficult to get to you could always just pull the easy ones to determine when they all need changing based on that. You shouldn’t need to do them before the recommended interval, but I still like to check them out earlier out of curiosity. I even pulled the ones in my Mazda3 within a year of buying them new to get some anti-seize on the threads. Not trying to start a debate over that or anything. I just cringe at the thought of non-lubricated aluminum threads after working as a mechanic in a bicycle shop for many summers and seeing the frequent horrors of galling. I’ve never had any issue after applying anti-seize or grease to any aluminum threads.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Let me put on my troll hat. Ahhh, there we go.

    72K miles.

    Three sets of brakes in 58K miles.

    Suggestion that the back three plugs “never get replaced” anyway.

    Blew up the transmission after 58K miles of ownership.

    Never asked in same questions if tranny fluid should be replaced (even though it as 11 years old and past 50K miles). Service manual recommends replacement at 50K miles for “severe service” and given its first years of its life it probably never got a chance to even warm up, and you churned through three sets of brakes in 62K miles – I would say that covers severe service.

    I hope you treat the Mazda3 better and you got a manual transmission. Mazdas are not exactly known for being the pinnacle of excellence when it comes to automatic transmissions.

    The poor Regal never had a chance – poor service, cheap parts, and abuse – nothing will kill a car, any car faster.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    If you’ve gone through that many sets of brakes either you ride the brakes constantly, you went to a tire store for the brake job and they put the pads on that cost them $10 or both. A quality set of brake pads from a reputable supplier will last 60K or more on these cars.

  • avatar
    SixDucks

    It is almost never the head gaskets in either the 60 degree (3.1L, 3.4L) or the 90 degree (3.8L) Buick V-6′s. In the smaller V-6′s, it is usually the intake gaskets, and in the larger, it’s the composite intake manifold itself. Thing is particularly with the small V-6′s the intake gaskets will dump coolant into the motor oil, and the dishonest or inexperienced mechanic will sell the more expensive job of head gasket replacement. Dexcool did indeed make the composite nylon/silicone intake gaskets soft, but the problem was eventually corrected. Some of the GM trucks suffered this as well. Dexcool is good stuff if used properly, Ford has started to use a very similar coolant in many of their new vehicles.


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