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Is There Really Such a Thing as a "Lemon"?



  • Oh yeah, fairly common fault on Northstars. Here's a Northstar expert who describes the issues involved:

    Northstar Head Gasket Issues

    Also cylinder head studs can pull.

    Biggest problem with the Northstar is that very few rebuilders will rebuild them. Even Cadillac won't.
  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,071
    What years are affected?
  • Well we'd have to presume at least up until 2003 since this alleged expert on Northstars also lists the Olds Aurora, but otherwise I don't know. It could still be going on.
  • corvettecorvette United StatesPosts: 4,005
    IIRC, Cadillac made some design changes in 2001 (I think) that made head gasket failure much less likely (although not unheard of).
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,284
    have never been an issue in all the Japanese and German cars I've known, experienced, heard of, talked about.
  • Oh yeah, even German and Japanese cars have had issues. Subaru 2.5 engines are susceptible to defective head gaskets and of course the VW/Audi 1.8 turbo has been known to sludge up the engine oil and then overheat and blow the gasket. But these are somewhat older cars, not brand new ones.
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,284
    Hmmmm... if the VW 1.8 turbo overheated and blew head gaskets, wouldn't the driver of one of those 1.8's see his temperature gauge rise and overheat before the gasket blows, or did the temperature gauge not catch this "overheating" issue?
  • It was sneaky.

    Truth be known, on a modern car, by the time the needle hits the red, you're already toast. These alloy heads warp on the snap of a finger. They aren't Chevy 350 iron blocks, that's for sure.

    I think it was Audi (please correct me if I'm wrong here) that installed an AUDIBLE overheat alarm at some point.

    An ear-splitting shriek would be more like it.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    I know someone who had a 1994 Honda Civic that blew its head gasket twice. I think the first time was covered under warranty and the second time was around 80-90,000 miles, and that's when they got rid of it.

    But then I knew someone else who had a 1992 Civic and ran the hell out of it. Mostly highway driving so the brakes lasted forever, but he'd still find ways to dog it. The engine was on its last legs by around 180,000 miles, when he got into a minor accident with it. The mechanic said that, with the condition the engine was in, it wasn't worth putting any money in it to fix it, so I think it got junked.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    V-6 4Runners and pick-ups, later Tacomas. TERRIBLE head gasket problems, Toyota had to extend the warranty on them and you won't find one running around today with its original head gasket. That was a pervasive problem with that engine.

    And as shifty mentioned, up until at least 2001 or so, the Subaru 2.5 had fairly systemic problems with head gaskets.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • Oh Yeah, I forgot about the 4Runners. They had a very serious issue with head gaskets.

    But all these cars come with a fix--you install the improved gaskets and you have a good car again, or in the case of the Northstar, new head studs, etc.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    that some cars, when the head gasket blows, you can just put in a better gasket and then you're on your way again? While others, like the Ford 3.8 "Essex" engine, when the gasket blew, you were basically looking at a $5,000+ repair?

    Or is it really more of a luck of the draw type of thing? Perhaps in some cases, the gasket might get caught before it's totally failed, and then it's a minor repair, but if it blows out at 80 mph on the highway, your engine is toast?
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,680
    That reminds me of the closest car I ever had to being a lemon. It was a 1973 Subaru. With about 3k miles on it a head gasket blew. I took it to the dealer in Anchorage. There was a NINE WEEK wait to get into the service department. I needed the car fixed so I pulled the engine as it looked like the VW engines I had done a lot of work on. Replaced the defective head gasket. Within a week the other side blew. I learned my lesson about just doing one side on that POC. The real kicker was the dealer would not even warranty the parts. Cost me a $100 a side. They must have had a lot of failures as they had the parts in stock. The tires on that car were also very poor. Had two blow out in the first year. We lived up a long hill. When it would have 3-4 inches of snow that Subaru would pop out of 2nd gear trying to climb in snow. I swore I would never buy another front wheel drive car with that experience. I never looked at another Subaru for 20 years. The Dealer in Anchorage was the worst part of the experience. They were also the Saab dealer and gave the same horrible service. Blown head gaskets reminded me of that terrible little car.
  • corvettecorvette United StatesPosts: 4,005
    I think it was Audi (please correct me if I'm wrong here) that installed an AUDIBLE overheat alarm at some point.

    Late model VW/Audi cars all have a warning shriek that will go off when the low fuel warning comes on. I assume it will go off for an overheat, as well. Nearly scared the crap of me the first time I experienced it!
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    This sort of reminds me of something Shifty mentioned way back at the beginning - that a bad dealer can make a car that's not really a lemon INTO a lemon, or at least seem like one, through poor service.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    a bad dealer can make a car that's not really a lemon INTO a lemon, or at least seem like one, through poor service.

    They certainly can. Awhile back, my uncle's '97 Silverado had to go back to the dealer for transmission work. I forget how many miles it had on it, but remember it was out of the factory warranty, but covered by an extended warranty he had purchased. They had that truck damn near a month, getting it fixed!

    I bought my Intrepid from the same dealer. Around the 87000 miles or so, the oil pressure light started coming on. It would only do it at low rpms, one fully warmed up, in situations like idling at a traffic light. Well, my '67 Catalina used to do the same thing, and I pretty much "solved" the problem by just bumping up the idle a bit and putting in a heavier weight oil, at my mechanic's recommendation. Probably not a good idea to just throw thicker oil in a modern engine, though!

    Well, it took the dealer three tries to fix that sucker. And the third time I took it back, I had found a TSB on just that problem, and printed it out for them.

    I was down at that dealer for something else awhile later, and was chatting with the guy that sold me the car. Another salesman, a younger guy, was standing there with us. I had mentioned how it took them 3 tries to get the Intrepid fixed. My salesguy just gave me a sad look, and indicated that their repair shop was starting to get a bad reputation. Meanwhile the young guy just blurts out "Yeah, our repair shop SUCKS!!"

    They may be better nowadays, though. I think customer service sort of comes and goes in cycles. If it gets bad enough to hurt them financially, they'll wake up and take steps to improve it, but once they're riding high again, it can be easy to just slack off again.
  • Well of course, some cars are better than others right out of the box, and some are worse. No arguing that!

    Early Subarus were crappy cars, it's true, but by the standards of the 1970s, they weren't as bad as they look to us now.

    Part of a good dealer network, supported by the factory, is to identify defects in new models and get out the fixes for them ASAP.

    What makes people think they have a "lemon" (aka a TOTALLY defective, cursed, hopeless car) is more often that not the failure of the factory and the dealer to rectify what is truly rectifiable.

    In a way, a tale of woe about a "lemon" is really a mystery waiting to be solved.

    What caused repeated failures of the same component?

    How good is the dealer?

    How good is the owner?

    How good was the engineer who designed this part?

    It's quite fascinating, really, to go from generalizations to the "real" causes.

    Sometimes I guess one never really gets to the truth of the matter.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,680
    Early Subarus were crappy cars, it's true, but by the standards of the 1970s, they weren't as bad as they look to us now.

    I was rating it by the Datsun PU truck I also owned at the same time. It was NEVER in the shop the whole time I owned it. I sold it for $400 less than I bought it for new 6 years earlier. So I had a benchmark that I expected other Japanese vehicles to live up to. Unfortunately that 1970 Datsun must have been their peak year as the 1976 I bought to replace it was not as good of a truck. I mainly steered clear of Subaru because of the Anchorage dealer. I think they were tops in sales for the US. They were bottom in service. I think Subaru sells good because it is a cheap AWD. With an emphasis on CHEAP.
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