Buying a used car isn't like buying a new car. Other than the odd manufacturing defect, you can be fairly confident that a fresh from the line car is going to have all its bits and bobs in order, will have a clean engine, a tidy interior, and that fresh leather smell that no amount of trying will ever replicate. A used car, on the other hand, comes with a unique set of problems. Does the engine work? Is the battery on its last legs? Is the interior more shabby chic than spic and span? And what IS that puddle of fluid under the trunk? When you're spending no more than a couple of hundred or so on an old motor, these kinds of questions aren't going to bother you too much. But when you're spending the kind of money a Cadillac Allante commands, they really should. Before you sign your name to the dotted line, you need to be sure about what you're getting. And you'll only be sure if you know what to look for in the first place.
Decide on the Model
Not all Cadillac Allante's are the same. Before you start getting too deep into the process, do your research into the differences between each model. Although it's always good to be flexible, knowing exactly what you're looking for is half the battle, and will minimize any chance of you blowing your savings on a car that doesn't quite meet the grade. Maybe you like the 1987? As the first Allante ever made, it holds a special place in a lot of people's hearts. On the flipside, it's one of the hardest models to find. Perhaps you prefer the '90 with its top latching mechanism, Recaro seats and stockpile of goodies? Or are you more of a fan of the '93, the last Allante ever made and for many, the best of the bunch thanks to its fabulous NorthStar engine and modern interior?
Along with personal preferences, it's also worth making note of how well the different models hold their resale value. Obviously, things change, and what's hot today could be yesterday's news tomorrow. But going by how things have held so far, the '93 might be the better choice for anyone considering turning the car around in a few years' time (although obviously, that also means a bigger investment now, which might be worth considering if you're on a tight budget).
Examine the Interior
Checking out a used car’s interior is one of the first things a prospective new owner is likely to do. And actually, it's a great place to start. If the interior is damp, soiled, or in generally poor repair, you're likely to be looking at car that's in bad shape from the top down. If the current or previous owners haven't seen fit to run a cloth or vacuum over the interior from time to time, it's very unlikely they've bothered to keep the engine, the coolant reservoir, or anything else in good shape either.
But when you're dealing with a complicated beast like the Allante, you'll need to check a few more things than just the dust levels. Some points you should always include on your check list include: if the door of the trunk doesn't open and close easily and of its own accord, it could indicate a problem with the pull down motor; seat adjustment buttons are easily damaged or lost: check if they're all intact; try out the audio system for size - press the buttons and make sure they do what they're meant to (although don't worry too much if they don't - of all the parts in an Allante, the audio system is one of the easiest to replace); make sure the dimming mirror is clear and hasn't sustained any spider cracks; check the wiring in the door by seeing if the power windows perform properly; check if any of the gages are missing a pixel; check if any of the under dash insulator panels are missing or damaged; cupholders, upper console lids, and glove box doors are all liable to get damaged or lost over time - find out what features that particular model should have, and make a note of any that seem to be missing.
As a final check, look for any signs of a faulty seal - if water can get in, you're looking at a big issue. If you're not quite sure if there's a leak (and if the current owner doesn't object), lock up the car then aim a garden hose at it. If any of the water gets in, you've got a broken seal somewhere.
Invest in a Service Manual
The last Allante may have rolled off the production line 27 years ago, but don't underestimate just how high-tech these Caddy's were for their time. Their systems were evolved and complicated, with multiple parts that even then, weren't always the easiest to source. These days, it's even harder. If something goes wrong, don't bank on being able to roll into your local dealership and find either the part you need or the specialist to fit it. Anyone who was around at the time of the original Allante run has probably retired by now, and the chances of hitting on someone who's had the training needed to work on a vintage Caddy are slim. The possibility of finding a part that was discontinued over 20 years ago is slimmer still (although in a small piece of good news, mechanical pieces like the suspension, engine, and brakes aren't specific to the Allante, so are relatively easy (and affordable) to get).
Owning a used Allante means you're either going to have to commit to spending a good chunk of money on future repairs (and a great deal of time and effort in sourcing parts) or taking a crash course in mechanics. If you go the 2nd route, be sure to invest in a service manual. It may take some time, but with patience, an ounce of luck, and some basic skills, you should eventually be in a position to perform basic maintenace work yourself.
Check the Engine
Don't part with any cash before you've taken a good, long look at the engine. The engine of the Allante is made from a combination of aluminum and cast iron. Basic requirements include regular coolant changes and supplement tabs to reduce the risk of corrosion. If any of the previous owners haven't paid due attention to its upkeep, you could be looking at a world of trouble.
Take the car for a test drive. Once you've finished, check for any signs of suspicious leaks. If there are any, take it as a big warning flag: if the engine hasn't been maintained, there's a good chance the rest of the car hasn't either. Changing an engine is one thing, but if you end up having to change every major mechanical part in the car because of shoddy maintenance, you could be opening yourself up to a much bigger spend than the one you originally expected.
Check the Coolant Reservoir
Buying a new car might not require you to look much beyond the surface. Buying a used car means you're going to have to. Take a look in the coolant reservoir. If its running on Dexcool (which should be fairly obvious by the reddish-brown color of the liquid), you might have a problem. GM introduced the controversial coolant in the 1990s; although it stands firmly by the fluid, numerous consumers (and class action suits) disagree. As autoblog.com writes, Dexcool is meant to last 5 years or 150,000 miles, but the problems that accompany it far outweigh the long lifespan. Cooling systems that run on Dexcool have a tendency towards increased acid buildup (which in turn can cause erosion of the head gaskets and intake gasket). Rust can also be a big issue when the coolant level gets low and oxygen enters the system, inhibiting coolant flow and increasing the risk of overheating.
Problems can also occur if the previous owner has accidently mixed Dexcool with regular coolant. When the two combine, you end up with a thick gel, clogged coolant passageways and damaged water jackets, radiators, and heater cores. The end result? Blown head gaskets, warped heads, and catastrophic damage to the engine. Even if Dexcool has long made way for regular coolant in the particular vehicle you're considering, it's still worth paying attention. If you notice any strange chunks or any brownish, oily gunk floating in the reservoir, steer well clear - the consequences on the cooling system, the head gaskets, and the engine are too diabolical to contemplate.
Check the Belts
When you're buying a vintage model like the Allante, it always pays to listen to the advice of the people who've been there, seen that, and got the t-shirt. Site like cadillacforums.com (https://www.cadillacforums.com/threads/best-allante-to-buy.7489/) offer a wealth of information, and can come especially in handy when you're reading up on what you should and shouldn't be looking for in a used Allante. One of the top tips offered includes checking the vacuum lines, belts, and hoses. The belts should be free of any big cracks or frays, and while some wear is to be expected (we're taing about 30-year-old cars, after all), the wear should be even. Take a look at the vacuum line array at the top of the throttle body and make sure the vacuum boot is in good order with no signs of cracks, rot, or general deterioration. While you're at it, examine the coolant hoses: if there's any signs of stains, it could be a sign the reservoir is leaking more coolant that it's retaining.
Fire Up the Engine
If you notice any problems when you start up the car, it's a sign to walk away from the deal. No matter how much you're in love with the interior, the paintwork, or the price point, a car that splutters, hesitates, or starts smoking on startup is no good to man nor beast. A little bit of purple smoke is nothing to worry about (well, we say nothing - it's generally a sign of a slight leak in the valve stem seals, but given the age of the car, this is generally something to be expected than to run in fear off). Thick smoke, on the other hand, can indicate a far more serious problem. As carfromjapan.com notes, thick smoke is typically a sign of a fault with the engine coolant, which can lead to serious (not to mention, costly) problems such as a damaged cylinder head, blown head gasket, and cracked engine block.
Check the Fuel Pressure
Replacing a fuel pump can be a costly exercise. Be sure to check the fuel pressure on the car before committing to any deal. Even if you've never tested a fuel pressure before, it's not too hard to get the hang of. YouTube is the best place to get some understanding of the process; check out one of the many tutorials before you head to the dealers so you know exactly what to do.
Check How it Runs
In 1993, Cadillac decided to introduce the NorthStar engine to the Allante. It's a great engine, sure, and one of the reasons so many prefer that year's model over previous incarnations. But as hagerty.com notes, it doesn't come without its problems, not least a tendency towards low oil pressure. Check how the car runs on idle. if there's any misfires, you might be in for trouble. Similarly, if you struggle to shift between gears, or if the SES light pops up when you shift from first to second, there might be a blossoming electrical problem in the works.
Check the Service History
Don't buy a car without a service history. And don't buy one where the service history throws up any repeat red flags. Copilotsearch.com has several helpful suggestions about what to watch out for, including any indication or words that suggest water damage, rebuilt vehicle, lack of repair history, former rental car, failed emissions, missing registration years or tax renewals, or that most dreaded of all things, 'many previous owners'.
Examine the Exterior
Obviously, you want your Allante to be in good working order on the inside. But you don't want to spend a wad of cash on something that resembles a rust bucket on the outside, regardless of how good the innards. Make sure to complete a thorough inspection of the exterior to check for any issues - even if they're slight, it's still worth knowing exactly what they are, and what the potential cost of repair will be down the line. Some of the most important things to note include the taillight assembly (if it's not already in decent condition, by prepared to spend a significant amount on repair - and that's to say nothing of the problems you'll have in even sourcing a new one); the bumper covers (again, they're can be hardtop source and costly when you do, so take note of any significant cracks or dents); the headlight lenses (if too want to pass safety inspection, these will need to be free from any major cracks or chips. Pay particular attention to the fog light portion, which is a particularly vulnerable area on the Allante); turn signals and side markers (any spider cracks are likely to grow into bigger problems after less time that you'd care to imagine); door handles and fuel door actuator (if something doesn't open smoothly, you've got a problem).
Written by Benjamin Smith
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