Piston Slap: Northstar Mills, Northstar Bills…

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap northstar mills northstar bills 8230

Chris writes:


I’ve got a 2002 Cadillac Seville with the infamous Northstar engine. I bought it nine years ago and at the time it was four years old and had 30K on the clock. Before I even ask, I’m sure you can already guess what happened. At 149,000 miles the head gasket issue has reared its ugly head. For those readers who are unfamiliar, the repair requires the engine and cradle to be dropped, stripped down, and re-studded with twenty new holes. As opposed to timeserts, this fix is usually permanent.

I can afford a car payment, that isn’t what I’m asking about. If I did buy a car, I would limit myself to $20-$25K, but there isn’t anything I really want in that range. I know the car has many drawbacks and is a bit outdated, but I have an attachment to it. I’ve kept it in amazing condition and aside from the said problem, it is mechanically perfect. I’ve obsessed over keeping it in this condition and any time I’ve heard a noise or noticed anything out of the ordinary, it was replaced. I’ve even wet sanded out the factory orange peel and buffed it to a mirror like shine.

I may be able to pull off the repair myself and if I do, it will cost me about $800. Otherwise I need to find someone to do it and it will cost me around $2K. The car isn’t worth much. Should I just bite the bullet and get rid of the thing or should I do the repair and hope to get another 1-2 years out of it?

Sajeev answers:

We wouldn’t even consider this if it wasn’t a Caddy…if any other car had this problem…

As a butthurt Lincoln-Mercury fanboi, its always burned me how Lincolns are more disposable than Cadillacs. Considering the poor quality of bespoke Cadillac power trains that, for most of my life, never deserved the higher demand: you see it all the way from new car inventory down to fully depreciated Craigslist rubbish.

It’s kinda “Ludacris.” But I digress…

If you are willing to save labor and install a head stud kit by yourself, you go right ahead and do it. It adds resale value while giving you time to enjoy the car before actually needing a replacement. That’s good for your wallet, your piece of mind and it’s probably a good character building experience.

Who here can say they did a Northstar head gasket repair, fixing that fatal flaw?

If you pay a shop for it…perhaps its time to let someone else deal with it. You gotta really, really love this car to shell out that kind of cash.

But then again, it’s a Cadillac!

[Image: Shutterstock user Vixit]

[Image: maeng9981 on www.CadillacForums.com]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 65 comments
  • Andrewa Andrewa on Apr 22, 2015

    The Standard of the World, hard as it is to believe nowadays but this marque once actually won a Dewar trophy despite being made in the US. Yes once upon a time Caddys really were "The Standard of the World! Ultra reliable and well engineered and manufactured, how the mighty have fallen!

  • Skor Skor on Apr 25, 2015

    This is not a DIY job unless you have a lift. The Deathstar Caddies are worth nothing because of their bad rep. The last halfway decent Caddy engine was the 4.9 and GM killed off that one to replace it with the 4.6 pile of sick. My advice is don't waste your time. If you really like this style of car, go out and buy a newish DTS, which are not worth much now either.

  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.
  • ToolGuy From the listing: "Oil changes every April & October (full-synth), during which I also swap out A/S (not the stock summer MPS3s) and Blizzak winter tires on steelies, rotating front/back."• While ToolGuy applauds the use of full synthetic motor oil,• ToolGuy absolutely abhors the waste inherent in changing out a perfectly good motor oil every 6 months.The Mobil 1 Extended Performance High Mileage I run in our family fleet has a change interval of 20,000 miles. (Do I go 20,000 miles before changing it? No.) But this 2014 Focus has presumably had something like 16 oil changes in 36K miles, which works out to a 2,250 mile average change interval. Complete waste of time, money and perfectly good natural gas which could have gone to a higher and better use.Mobil 1 also says their oil miraculously expires at 1 year, and ToolGuy has questions. Is that one year in the bottle? One year in the vehicle? (Have I gone longer than a year in some of our vehicles? Yes, I have. Did I also add Lucas Oil 10131 Pure Synthetic Oil Stabilizer during that time, in case you are concerned about the additive package losing efficacy? Yes, I might have -- as far as you know.)TL;DR: I aim for annual oil changes and sometimes miss that 'deadline' by a few months; 12,000 miles between oil changes bothers me not at all, if you are using a quality synthetic which you should be anyway.