Piston Slap: A Way Out of The Cadillac Mafia?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Bryan writes:

I have a new baby, and a prized Miata, and want to keep both. Therefore I am considering selling my daily driver, a 2002 Cadillac STS with 82K miles. In order to reduce overall monthly costs, I need something with extremely high MPG. Therefore I am considering the Honda Fit.

I like small cars. I love the Miata. However, the STS is simply the nicest car I have ever driven. It’s like being friends with a mobster. Life with the “Soprano STS” is easy: soporific comfort, isolation, lots of leather, and nonchalant delivery of raw power if/when I need it. Did I mention this is the same model Silvio drove to whack Adriana in the NJ Pine Barrens? Every time I get nervous about the Northstar head gasket, the car pinches my cheeks and reassures me “ya worry too much!!!”

Secretly, while out of earshot from the car, I’ve made plans to get out. By driving a $11k Honda Fit, I can save $70/month when payments, maintenance, and $3.75 gas is factored in. When payments are over, I’d save $160/month.

But is it worth it? Can I have more fun/frugality in the Fit than luxury in the Caddy? One STS fact: each front seat has 10 individual air bladders that adjust every 20 seconds to the pressure points of the driver. It is the Most. Comfortable. Car. Seriously, driving the Caddy is like getting away with murder while intoxicated. Traffic melts away. Other drivers defer. Everything rushes by in silent fast motion. Did I mention it’s the last GM car to use soft leather? Or that it was the most expensive American sedan when new? As in Goodfellas, “it was a glorious time”.

So why the Honda? Thou shalt not keep a high-mileage Cadillac. Although head gasket failures were less common in 2002, Northstars still reliably blew their top that year. I already have a mysterious coolant leak. I’m starting to burn oil, though not too much yet. And the driver’s heated seat is broken. An insidious wheel-bearing noise is coming from the front, but it’s been unchanged for a year and that’s somehow even scarier. And finally, I get 17 MPG mixed.

Is it time for the Honda Fit Protection Program?


  • Cadillac payments: $100/mo, 0% interest, 19 payments remaining
  • Honda payments: $174/mo, 3% interest, 36 payments
  • Gas at $3.75
  • Caddy maint: at $1000/year
  • Honda maint: at $500/year

Monthly cost graph to 48 months:

Cumulative cost graph to 48 months:

Sajeev Answers:

Dump the Caddy immediately. Coolant leaks aren’t gonna end well on a Northstar, even a 2002 model. IIRC, that was the year for improved head gasket sealing, but that’s not to say that earlier 2002s slipped by without the upgrade. I am not a Northstar guru, hence my recommendation to run away. But conversely, your love of Cadillac and creative flair for writing mean you simply must own an LT-1 powered Fleetwood: if you think the STS is a nice car, you should drive one. Especially a Fleetwood with Impala SS suspension bits.

Well maybe an older Cadillac isn’t a bright move, considering your responsibilities as a father and possible future financial obligations…those graphs (with assumptions I consider mostly bunk) to boot! So let’s wrap it up and bring it home.

The STS goes away, but I am concerned that you’re making monthly payments on a car that old. Sure it’s at 0% interest, but you won’t be so luck with your next ride. That’s one reason why the low-value Honda Fit isn’t winning me over. They aren’t especially thrifty, and not just from a fuel economy standpoint. But clock the mileage between it and the Civic anyway. Why do you need a sporty Fit when you have a Miata? Save yourself some green and get a less desirable, more affordable car with more family appeal: a comprable Civic, Focus, Corolla, Sentra, Elantra, etc for thousands less. The list of mainstream value-mongers far outweighs the benefits of a Fit.

Save your cash for the Miata and your future LT-1 Fleetwood. This is your only hope to keep the Cadillac Mafia from givin’ you cement shoes.

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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3 of 74 comments
  • Ian Anderson Ian Anderson on Jul 05, 2011

    After watching the video a few more times I thought, wouldn't it have been a lot easier for Adriana to escape with the car if it was a SLS with a bench and column shifter compared to the STS with buckets and console? (Yes, I know the answer and I know it's obvious).

  • Bryanska Bryanska on Apr 10, 2012

    A quick follow-up: after a year with the Fit, I couldn't be happier. Repair costs have been zero. Zip. Even with a 80k mile salvage car. I have touched up the paint and replaced the battery, belt, fluids and brakes. But the car makes no odd noises and throws no mysterious codes associated with crankshaft sensors or TCS. It’s literally halved the cost of gasoline (I have a year’s MPG records). The super flexible interior means that I treat it a little rougher than the Caddy. I haul a lot more building materials, etc. The baby seat fits just fine. The center console is barely there and the windows are huge, so the Accord-sized front seat feels even larger. Of course, there is no power to speak of above 30 MPH. And every day I walk into work, I stroll past a 2004 maroon STS with a tan interior. Whenever I see one my heart skips a beat. So even though I’ve saved lots of money owning the Honda, I do very much miss the Cadillac. I’m torn between two long term plans: 1) Driving the Honda to 250k and investing in leather seat covers, sound deadening, seat heaters, and a premium in-dash sound system. 2) Trading it in 5 years when my MBA loans are paid, and treating myself to a 2013 MKZ or even a DTS.

    • CJinSD CJinSD on Apr 10, 2012

      You did the right thing, in spite of your consigliere.

  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.
  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)