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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • 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.

  • Varezhka The biggest underlying issue of Mitsubishi Motors was that for most of its history the commercial vehicles division was where all the profit was being made, subsidizing the passenger vehicle division losses. Just like Isuzu.And because it was a runt of a giant conglomerate who mainly operated B2G and B2B, it never got the attention it needed to really succeed. So when Daimler came in early 2000s and took away the money making Mitsubishi-Fuso commercial division, it was screwed.Right now it's living off of its legacy user base in SE Asia, while its new parent Nissan is sucking away at its remaining engineering expertise in EV and kei cars. I'd love to see the upcoming US market Delica, so crossing fingers they will last that long.
  • ToolGuy A deep-dive of the TTAC Podcast Archives gleans some valuable insight here.
  • Tassos I heard the same clueless, bigoted BULLSHEET about the Chinese brands, 40 years ago about the Japanese Brands, and more recently about the Koreans.If the Japanese and the Koreans have succeeded in the US market, at the expense of losers such as Fiat, Alfa, Peugeot, and the Domestics,there is ZERO DOUBT in my mind, that if the Chinese want to succeed here, THEY WILL. No matter what one or two bigots do about it.PS try to distinguish between the hard working CHINESE PEOPLE and their GOVERNMENT once in your miserable lives.
  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.