Why Granny's Engine Blew Up: Headgasket Problems with the Northstar Engine

Published: 09th June 2010
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The Northstar engine has been used in various Cadillac vehicles since the late 1980's. It was introduced to replace the V8-6-4 which, though technologically way ahead of its time, was not reliable. For the most part, however, the Northstar engine has proven to be both powerful and innovative. It does, however, have one glaring flaw that has bitten its owners time and time again - bad head gaskets.

The head gasket is, simply put, a strategically thin piece of rubber or metal, or combination of rubber and metal, that sits between two metal pieces of the engine. It's purpose in life is to keep fluids in and separated while being a sort of expansion joint between the two pieces of metal. Many engines never have problem with their head gaskets, and their often not considered maintenance parts. Unfortunately for many Cadillac owners, the Northstar engine is not one of these.

Possibly because the Northstar engine is so technologically advanced, this piece is prone to failure in almost every one of the series. Cadillac has made efforts to improve their head gaskets, and the sealability, but there are still issues, especially with the original Northstar engines.

The problem is fickle, too. Out of ten Northstars, only three or four may have a head gasket problem, and the others might go a few hundred thousand miles without incident. Because the head gasket is flexible, it molds itself to the engine, and if the seal is right, it may never cause a problem. This is why, in many ways, a tested used engine is better and more reliable than a new one.

With a brand new Northstar engine, you're taking a roll of the dice. Will the new head gasket seal as it should, or will it fall prey to the same issue that has haunted countless other Cadillacs? Used engines, on the other hand, are already proven, one way or the other. Even if the head gasket was going to be a problem on a used engine, once it's out of the car, it becomes obvious that the head gasket will need to be changed, and a better, aftermarket version will be used instead of the failure prone part from Cadillac.

Used engines are often recommended by mechanics over new engines when the engine is prone to certain, identifiable issues. The Northstar engine is well known for head gasket problems, but is otherwise quite reliable. Why take a chance on a new, untested engine, when you can have a tested one instead?

Has your Northstar engine failed, leaving you stranded due to a busted head gasket? Wouldn't it have been nice if someone could've removed your engine from the vehicle after it's first few thousand miles and checked that notorious part for problems? That's exactly the advantage of a quality used Northstar engine.

About: You don't have to trade your Cadillac STS engine in, or sell it with the damaged engine. You can keep your investment, and make it as reliable as it should've been from the factory with a use Northstar engine.

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