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Thread: New owner of a 96 Cutlass Ciera

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    Default New owner of a 96 Cutlass Ciera

    Well, I think I am at least.

    Greetings from Acurazine. My mother in law texted me the other day saying she had a car that she needs to get rid of. The car was her own grandmothers (passed away a few years ago at nearly 100), and it has been sitting in the West Virginia mountains at a farmhouse since then.

    She wants to give it to us, so we can have a spare car. I've seen the car in passing when I've visited the farmhouse, so I can indeed confirm it is a baby-blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, though we are unsure of the year until she looks at the title.

    Anyhow. My MIL also says it only has 50k miles on it, because it was only driven to the grocery store and back in this small town in WV. So I'm excited about that.

    BUT inevitably, there is work that needs to be done. As of right now, they only know that it needs brake lines.

    I live in Columbus, OH so I will be trailering the car (on a full dual axle....don't wanna trust those tires lol) from WV back to OH.

    So enough of me rambling. I was glad to see that this vehicle also has a forum/community much like my daily driver. I look forward to participating here once I get the car, and get under the hood to determine what is needed.

    My question to you all is: off the bat, is there anything I should immediately change/look for on these cars in specific? I planned on doing all belts and fluids in my garage, but like every car, I know there are strong and weak points.

    I would love any input or advice.

    Thanks for reading!



  2. #2
    Senior Member Keiths1976's Avatar
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    With those cars with the 3100 v6 make sure the coolant is leaking in the oil . Those intake manifold gaskets are a culprit with gm cars of that era . I have a 95 Buick century with the 3100 had the same intake gaskets replaced a 60k from the dealer and 90k I replaced them with metal felpro and she runs great with 190k after 15 years . Besides all of the gaskets fluids and those metal brake lines to be replaced they are great cars . Never overheat those engines cause they have aluminum heads and then u will need headgaskets and then intake manifold gaskets . There is tons of info on the forum as well as Facebook group to . The brake line u might have to use a junk yard to get those steel lines . If the rubber lines are shot you can get them at rock auto wheel cylinders as well that leak . You are getting a used free car I would say you will expect a easy 500 to get her up to par and running top notch pending suspension ,muffler , brake pads . Brake shoes . Yes low mileage is great but sitting is what causes things to rust and need to be replacing . Hope this helps Keith

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    Quote Originally Posted by Keiths1976 View Post
    With those cars with the 3100 v6 make sure the coolant is leaking in the oil . Those intake manifold gaskets are a culprit with gm cars of that era . I have a 95 Buick century with the 3100 had the same intake gaskets replaced a 60k from the dealer and 90k I replaced them with metal felpro and she runs great with 190k after 15 years . Besides all of the gaskets fluids and those metal brake lines to be replaced they are great cars . Never overheat those engines cause they have aluminum heads and then u will need headgaskets and then intake manifold gaskets . There is tons of info on the forum as well as Facebook group to . The brake line u might have to use a junk yard to get those steel lines . If the rubber lines are shot you can get them at rock auto wheel cylinders as well that leak. You are getting a used free car I would say you will expect a easy 500 to get her up to par and running top notch pending suspension ,muffler , brake pads . Brake shoes . Yes low mileage is great but sitting is what causes things to rust and need to be replacing . Hope this helps Keith
    Thank you for the info. I am unsure if it is the v6 or the 4 banger yet. I will definitely pay attention to the areas you mentioned. I browsed around a bit on Rockauto - I need to remember that these cars are getting older, and do not have a massive parts availability either.

    I may have to create a facebook again for that group....I had one in the past but deleted it years ago. As for everything else, thanks again for the input.
    Last edited by dasauceboss; 06-28-2019 at 08:51 PM.

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    Senior Member CorvairGeek's Avatar
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    Welcome from another Columbus native!
    A car from WV is usually better rust-wise, than a car from central Ohio, so that is a big plus. Especially a low mileage car.
    The parts supply isn't too bad, since there were so many of the same parts for lots of years.
    Jerry

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    Quote Originally Posted by CorvairGeek View Post
    Welcome from another Columbus native!
    A car from WV is usually better rust-wise, than a car from central Ohio, so that is a big plus. Especially a low mileage car.
    The parts supply isn't too bad, since there were so many of the same parts for lots of years.
    Hey! Good to hear haha. And yes, it's high up in the mountains, but it's right next to steubenville OH, in the little sliver of WV between OH and PA. Coincidentally, they don't get as much snow as one would think up there- you're right.

    I overlooked the fact that the buick century and others probably have the same parts...

    I'm headed to Dayton this weekend and I fortunately found someone selling a Haynes repair manual for this car for $7 there that I'm trying to pick up. Can't wait to start working on it!

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    As far as brake lines, I've always done new. For brakes I would rather not waste my time on something used that's been sitting around when new line is so cheap. I measure what I need as close as I can, then go the parts store and get standard American line sections and couplers that will total that length or plus just a little bit. Then I get a line adapter for each end. The guys at the parts store say that's the cheapest way. All the hoses and one of the master cylinder ports take a standard metric bubble flare adapter. The other 3 master cylinder ports are all different size and threads, but you can always bring in the master cylinder and they can match it up. They make tools for bending line, but for the most part I just form it with my fingers.

    I don't know about there, but here I have no problem getting parts for these old cars. Most of what I've needed is in stock, a few things are a day away.
    1989 Celebrity CL 4 door, 3.1 MPFI, 4 speed auto, summer daily driver
    1989 Cutlass Cruiser wagon, 3.1 MPFI, 4 speed auto, special summer ride
    1996 Cherokee XJ 4 door, 4.0, 5 speed, winter daily driver & towing vehicle
    1991 Tracker 2 door, 1.6, 5 speed, needs work
    Previously several Celebritys, 6000s, & 2 U-vans

  7. #7

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    I had to do a brake line on my 2dr 90 Century, and I just used the Ni-Copp lines. Very easy to bend and I used the rental flaring kit to form the ends.
    One other thing, it seems that many of my rubber fuel lines are starting to leak, so may want to check on those. Also, mufflers seem to rust off on these cars more than others.
    All my A-bodies are 89-93 Buick Centuries with the 3300 V6, so not very familiar with the 3100 specifically.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tlc1976 View Post
    As far as brake lines, I've always done new. For brakes I would rather not waste my time on something used that's been sitting around when new line is so cheap. I measure what I need as close as I can, then go the parts store and get standard American line sections and couplers that will total that length or plus just a little bit. Then I get a line adapter for each end. The guys at the parts store say that's the cheapest way. All the hoses and one of the master cylinder ports take a standard metric bubble flare adapter. The other 3 master cylinder ports are all different size and threads, but you can always bring in the master cylinder and they can match it up. They make tools for bending line, but for the most part I just form it with my fingers.

    I don't know about there, but here I have no problem getting parts for these old cars. Most of what I've needed is in stock, a few things are a day away.
    Awesome, thanks a ton for the info. Fortunately I have a bit of experience with tube bending at my job - hopefully it won't be anything too hard assuming I just need the lines, fittings, and new fluid, but I'm sure I won't know until I'm under the car.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 90BuickCentury View Post
    I had to do a brake line on my 2dr 90 Century, and I just used the Ni-Copp lines. Very easy to bend and I used the rental flaring kit to form the ends.
    One other thing, it seems that many of my rubber fuel lines are starting to leak, so may want to check on those. Also, mufflers seem to rust off on these cars more than others.
    All my A-bodies are 89-93 Buick Centuries with the 3300 V6, so not very familiar with the 3100 specifically.
    I'm looking into what I'm going to do for lines now. It doesn't seem too difficult, it's just a matter of choosing the proper materials. I will definitely inspect the fuel lines as well. Again, not sure yet if its a 4 or 6 cylinder, but if the exhaust rusts out, I might have to just straight pipe it

  10. #10
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    I presently own two FWD A cars, a '93 Century and a '96 Ciera wagon.

    3 of the 4 A cars I've bought were advertised as disabled when I purchased them, so I've seen some "major" failures and fixed them happily. No car is perfect, but I think the Ciera really comes close. Compared to many other GM cars of their era, they are relatively rust resistant, even in the rust belt I find relatively clean ones often. These cars sadly don't have much of any financial value, but as a getting around from here to there economically and in comfort car, they are very hard to beat. Most of the cars I find in junkyards had many years of life left in them, but consumerism is a powerful thing to the weak minded. Parts are everywhere and cross to most every front wheel drive car made by GM in the 80s and 90s. As stated, I have observed some major problems, but only after high miles or outright abuse (I wasn't kind to my '83 Ciera, was my first car, the trans failing was inevitable).

    As stated by others, the 3.1s are common for head gasket and intake gasket problems. Some A cars don't have a temperature gauge which doesn't help this at all. Adding a gauge if necessary may be a great idea. I also had a head gasket fail on a 2.2. In both cases of head gasket failure, we went ahead and just got a whole new head instead of sending parts out to be machined, was cheaper that way. Also, in both cases, the engine proceeded to run flawlessly for many thousands of miles after the repair, so if you have a 3.1 that's got a bad head or intake gasket, go ahead and fix it, it'll reward you (so long as it's not knocking already, then just get a motor).

    Transmissions, as I said, the 3 speed in my Iron duke powered '83 Ciera failed at around 180k miles. Not bad for being beaten to death by a teenage, stupid, unappreciative of what I had, me. The 3 speed in the 2.2 powered '95 Ciera I had slipped getting into second from the moment I got it running, poured a bottle of Lucas stop slip into it and it worked well enough for 80k more miles. The 3 speed in my current '93 Century needed a torque converter solenoid when I bought it, cheap fix, it's performing admirably presently. The 3 speed transmissions are regarded as being a little more robust than the 4 speed ones, but I don't really feel any of this is much of a worry. Replace the fluid when it needs it, don't treat the car like it's in a race, you'll be fine.
    Daily: '93 Century, '96 Ciera Wagon, '96 Tahoe
    Project: '85 Monte Carlo SS, '91 Camaro
    Race: '81 "Frankenvette" Chevette (L67 swap 24 Hours of Lemons)

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    Senior Member CorvairGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dasauceboss View Post
    I'm looking into what I'm going to do for lines now. It doesn't seem too difficult, it's just a matter of choosing the proper materials. I will definitely inspect the fuel lines as well. Again, not sure yet if its a 4 or 6 cylinder, but if the exhaust rusts out, I might have to just straight pipe it
    Incidentally, the '96 only are labeled just 'Ciera's. If it is a 'Ciera SL' it will be a 6 cylinder. If it is only a 'Ciera', it is a 4 cylinder.
    Made them easy to identify when we were looking at them new.
    Jerry

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    Quote Originally Posted by bluetrane2028 View Post
    I presently own two FWD A cars, a '93 Century and a '96 Ciera wagon.

    3 of the 4 A cars I've bought were advertised as disabled when I purchased them, so I've seen some "major" failures and fixed them happily. No car is perfect, but I think the Ciera really comes close. Compared to many other GM cars of their era, they are relatively rust resistant, even in the rust belt I find relatively clean ones often. These cars sadly don't have much of any financial value, but as a getting around from here to there economically and in comfort car, they are very hard to beat. Most of the cars I find in junkyards had many years of life left in them, but consumerism is a powerful thing to the weak minded. Parts are everywhere and cross to most every front wheel drive car made by GM in the 80s and 90s. As stated, I have observed some major problems, but only after high miles or outright abuse (I wasn't kind to my '83 Ciera, was my first car, the trans failing was inevitable).

    As stated by others, the 3.1s are common for head gasket and intake gasket problems. Some A cars don't have a temperature gauge which doesn't help this at all. Adding a gauge if necessary may be a great idea. I also had a head gasket fail on a 2.2. In both cases of head gasket failure, we went ahead and just got a whole new head instead of sending parts out to be machined, was cheaper that way. Also, in both cases, the engine proceeded to run flawlessly for many thousands of miles after the repair, so if you have a 3.1 that's got a bad head or intake gasket, go ahead and fix it, it'll reward you (so long as it's not knocking already, then just get a motor).

    Transmissions, as I said, the 3 speed in my Iron duke powered '83 Ciera failed at around 180k miles. Not bad for being beaten to death by a teenage, stupid, unappreciative of what I had, me. The 3 speed in the 2.2 powered '95 Ciera I had slipped getting into second from the moment I got it running, poured a bottle of Lucas stop slip into it and it worked well enough for 80k more miles. The 3 speed in my current '93 Century needed a torque converter solenoid when I bought it, cheap fix, it's performing admirably presently. The 3 speed transmissions are regarded as being a little more robust than the 4 speed ones, but I don't really feel any of this is much of a worry. Replace the fluid when it needs it, don't treat the car like it's in a race, you'll be fine.
    Thank you for the detailed response! I plan on picking up the car and having it back in my pole barn to work on within a month here, so in the meantime, the research and input from others is extremely valuable to me. I will be sure to inspect the head gasket, among the many other areas. I'm hoping that the low miles have been easy on the trans, but then again, my MIL's grandmother lives in the mountains, so even though the miles are low, those drives into town were a decently rough mile or two uphill each trip. I'd like to believe I'm an expert at prolonging the life of transmissions already with my DD, but beyond a fluid change, I'm not sure if these GM transmissions have an accessible filter to change, replaceable pressure switches, etc.

    Can't wait to get it and start working on it!

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    Senior Member CorvairGeek's Avatar
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    The 3T40 and 4T60E both have replaceable filters, inside the pan.
    Jerry

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    These cars are simple and extremely reliable as long as the owner keeps up with basic maintenance.

    The common gripes to consider from day one:

    Brake lines: Check for rust. The rear end of these cars tends to be more rusty than the front.
    Transmission lockup solenoid (TH125C tranny) : In a later model, this may have been replaced, so I'd wait for it to act up before doing anything, but know what to look for. Symptoms of failure are that the car stalls when coming to a stop from speed. It will restart when you put it in park, but stall again when it is put in gear. After a bit (sometimes rocking the car and fiddling with the selector will help) it will cool and retract, then you can continue driving. Short fix: unplug the lockup solenoid at the tranny.
    Radiator: At year 23, my radiator spontaneously exploded in rush hour in a blizzard. The lessons I learned from this was (1) flush the cooling system with some kind of regularity (2 years is pretty common) and (2) if the radiator looks scabby on the inside, replace it.
    Transmission cooler lines: From the factory, these are metal hard lines that run from the tranny to the radiator. But, they are steel, and the whole engine tends to move a bit, so after some rusting they tend to break. If they look scabby, the easy fix is to cut the middle section out and connect the ends with rubber fuel line, which doesn't rust and happliy flexes.


    Advice I'd wish I had when I got my car 17 years ago:
    Body Rust: Check under the car, brush and spray rust blooms with rest reformer and glossy black paint annually. The area around the rear spring purchases and rear seat is the worst.

    Use antiseize on every fastener and metal/metal surface that doesn't need a seal. Lug nuts, rim backs, rotor/hub contact, drum/hub contact, ect. Anything that was impossible to remove due to corrosion the first time will fall apart 10 years later when you need to get at it the second time.

    The usual cause for clunks and thunks switching into gear and in hard turns is a worn out upper engine mount. They cost like $4 each and can be changed in 5 minutes with common hand tools.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by holstien View Post
    These cars are simple and extremely reliable as long as the owner keeps up with basic maintenance.

    The common gripes to consider from day one:

    Brake lines: Check for rust. The rear end of these cars tends to be more rusty than the front.
    Transmission lockup solenoid (TH125C tranny) : In a later model, this may have been replaced, so I'd wait for it to act up before doing anything, but know what to look for. Symptoms of failure are that the car stalls when coming to a stop from speed. It will restart when you put it in park, but stall again when it is put in gear. After a bit (sometimes rocking the car and fiddling with the selector will help) it will cool and retract, then you can continue driving. Short fix: unplug the lockup solenoid at the tranny.
    Radiator: At year 23, my radiator spontaneously exploded in rush hour in a blizzard. The lessons I learned from this was (1) flush the cooling system with some kind of regularity (2 years is pretty common) and (2) if the radiator looks scabby on the inside, replace it.
    Transmission cooler lines: From the factory, these are metal hard lines that run from the tranny to the radiator. But, they are steel, and the whole engine tends to move a bit, so after some rusting they tend to break. If they look scabby, the easy fix is to cut the middle section out and connect the ends with rubber fuel line, which doesn't rust and happliy flexes.


    Advice I'd wish I had when I got my car 17 years ago:
    Body Rust: Check under the car, brush and spray rust blooms with rest reformer and glossy black paint annually. The area around the rear spring purchases and rear seat is the worst.

    Use antiseize on every fastener and metal/metal surface that doesn't need a seal. Lug nuts, rim backs, rotor/hub contact, drum/hub contact, ect. Anything that was impossible to remove due to corrosion the first time will fall apart 10 years later when you need to get at it the second time.

    The usual cause for clunks and thunks switching into gear and in hard turns is a worn out upper engine mount. They cost like $4 each and can be changed in 5 minutes with common hand tools.

    Thank you so much for the detailed response - this info is invaluable to me. I will consider these areas in my initial inspection once I get the car, and I'm sure I'll be fairly active on these forums once the car is in my garage.

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