3800 variants?

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I keep reading in here about how good the GM 3800 series engines are. From what I've read, I gather that there are three variants:
3800 original 3800 series 2 and
3800 series 3
First off, is this correct?
If so, what are the major differences among the three?
Are all three similarly reliable given the same preventative maintenance?
I ask because all the talk about the problems with GM's late model engines, 2.2L, 3.1L, 3.4L, etc. makes me think that, if reliability and longevity are my top goals, I should really choose my next car based on which engine it has rather than what model it is.
May seem crazy, but I'm considering going this route.
I'm also divided between buying used with a service plan vs. new. I have about $3k in GM card earnings so that will play a role perhaps.
Also, I know of a friend whose father just died, and he's thinking of selling his father's 1988 Olds 88. The car has 89k miles on it, and the car has a 3800 engine. The car was well maintained. Any ideas on what type of mileage this car may max out at if maintained well and driven reasonably?
I'm the type of guy who cares little for style. I want the car to last as long as it can.
Sorry if I've rambled. Any and all thoughts/comments on all of the above are very much appreciated!
Many thanks!
Rick
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Rutger6559 wrote:

The main difference is a few minor things fixed, a bit more power, and a LOT more computers to diagnose things. The 3800 original was plagued with sensor and module problesm that the computer never got feedback on. The Series II fixed that to a greater degree. If your MAF is bad, it should tell you immediately instead of acting bad and not doign anything about it. Same if your timing chain slips a tooth or your O2 sensor is giving bad readings.
The III came out this last year, IIRC, so I'm not as familiar with it.

Good idea. The Engine is the one thing that matters, IMO - because everything else can be replaced, but if the engine goes bad, it's big money and a doorstop until you fix it.

Unless it's given to you for nearly free, I'd pass. It will need: Timing gear - chain and cogs and tensioner. Maybe a new cover. MAF, EGR equipment, smog, catalytic converter, O2 sensor, fuel pump, water pump, radiator, and at least a couple of modules like the ignition or crank/camshaft sensor. All of this in the next year or two. They are money pits once they get to be more than 15 years old.
That's just regular stuff that dies at around that age on a 3800 original engine. Then there's the suspension and brakes and body and electrical systems.
Now, I did see a 1997 Century last month on the dealer lot. Series II engine, 89K miles, fully loaded with touring suspension, CD player, premium sound, the works. Asking price was $4995, and the dealer had to qualms about starting at $4500 before haggling. Immaculate. Private party for it would be closer to $4000.
If engine reliability is everything, your choice is simpler. Get a Vibe. It has a Toyota engine in it and will outlast a 3100 or 3400. There's a reason it and the Matrix are selling so well - they are tanks and built much better than the other GM vehicles in the same price range.
Oh - there's a $2000 rebate now, so the price is about $15K.
New car - no worries.
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Neighbor has a 91 Olds 88 that has been trouble free, but she only has 24,000 miles on it.
Mine has been trouble free too, but I've replaced the general wear items. Engine has never been opened up except for an intake gasket at 220,000 miles.
From what I've seen posted 1990 - 91 seem to be very dependable motors.
I still have lots of original parts on mine.
Joe was wrong a 97 Century does not have a 3800 Series II motor.
Good Luck
========Harryface ======== 1991 Pontiac Bonneville LE, 3800 V6 _~_~_~_~276,100 miles_~_~_ ~_~_
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Harry Face wrote:

Sorry - 3100 series II, IIRC. Same diff-just 170HP(plenty, imo)
Still, a newer anything would be better than a 1988.
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snipped-for-privacy@earthlink.net says...

The 3.8 motor has been evolving for decades and has proven itself to be a real workhorse motor. There are a lot of differences between them but the block is basicaly the same tried and true hunk of iron. I'm just waiting for a site that will break these motors down into "Generations". There are about 3 different generations of "3800's" prior to the series II. I got this one good artical I'll post after this on the series III so have a look at it.

Why would that stuff die if it is maintained? Its only got 89k miles. Its got a good 200k of life left in it. Catalytic converter is a "catylist" and it doesnt die from age. How does a crank sensor go bad? Fuel pumps can last the life of the car if proper care was given. A lot of that stuff you listed seldom ever fails if a car was maintained.

I can do better, 1998 Bonneville SE 73k miles, cd player etc etc, bought "2" years ago, $5000. :D

What makes that more reliable? Its a 4 cyl in a van that hasnt been around long enough to prove itself reliable. I dont know of any vibes/matrix's with over 200k miles but I know plenty of 3800's well past that. If anything that Toyota engines going to go kaput faster in that van than it would in a car being as overworked as it is. I've never seen a 4 banger last as long as a six cyl in a van >Period<
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Bonneville wrote:

They are age related items. Fuel pumps, water pumps, radiators, and timing gear all are only good for 80-100K or 10 years before changing on that engine.
My car had ALL of those things simultaneously go bad this last year and it's an 87. It turned out the timing gear was so worn that the camshaft tensioner(holds it in place) had ground a hole into the timing cover. The main gear was some sort of plastic and teflon affair with two teeth left.
The MAF and EGR system was shot due to age, not mileage. Same with the radiator and CV boots. Electrical gremlins abound and the A/C uses the older R-12 only system that's expensive to fix - IF you can where you live.
The Cat goes bad if the timing is off and/or the MAF and 02 sensor are old - the engine after 15+ years usually just clogs and/or contaminates the cat and you don't pass smog if you are in a more stringent state.

Yep. :) Good cars. Cheap as well. NOT worth keeping past 15 years old. That's the problem with GM cars - they can take huge mileage, but the rest of the car and subsystems is all but dead at 15 years due to age related gremlins.

It's a 4 cylinder in a car that looks like a minivan hybrid. A good engine made by Toyota, which currently is in the #1 spot as far as reliability goes for their engines.
The old Corolla/Prism joint venture in the past was also a big success. Topyota makes great engines and GM makes great interiors and useability. Together, it's poetry. :)

They arent' that old yet. ;)

It's not a van - and it's no different weight-wise than a Camry.
It just looks like a van. Poke around inside - it's like the new Scion - different and a great blending of technologies.
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Let me guess you make a habbit of running the fuel tank near empty and/or you dont keep up with your fuel filter... A fuel pump should last and can last WELLLLL past 200k miles if you dont neglect it. Water pumps can fail at strange times but can also last near for ever. My dad had 160k on his truck before his went. He also went a year longer than he should have on his coolant. If your radiator rots as you say then someone obviously hasnt kept up with the cooling system like they should have.

GM is no longer making nylon timing gears. I dont remember the cut off date but it was either in the late 80's or early 90's they stopped using them in 3800's. If it had or has one you can replace it with steel and it last a life time.

Your egr could of got loaded up with carbon do to lack of maintenance or timing. CV boots arent a major issue. You can get rebuilt halfshafts for older cars for next to nothing. R-12 systems can be upgraded to r134a and if it has good cooling then no prob, if not then it can still make a decent driver if he buys it right. Electrical isnt to much of a hassle on them older cars. Less of it.

Yeah thats "if" something isnt running right. Maintain the engine and the cat takes care of itself.

I dont know about you but I see lots of the same problems with every make of car, not just GM.

No... Call it what you want, its a still a van. It has the same drag coefficiency. Everyone wants to drive it like a car at 75mph on the highway and wonder why they get such poor gas mileage.

Call it poetry if you want, I'll call it a headache everytime I have to pop the hood on one.

Exactly my point. The 3800 is a proven motor. 4 cyl have also been proven, proven to be bad choices in vans.

Again I echo the words "drag coefficiency". My bonneville has 2 more cylinders and about 1000 pounds over it and it gets gas mileage as good as the Vibe.

Trust me YOU WILL NEVER SEE ME AROUND OR ANYWHERE NEAR A SCOIN!!! Oh man you have lost all credibility with me if you like that...that.. monstrosity!
...Man when did everyone want to stop driving cars and start driving boxes and rubbermaid containers? Did I blackout that day?
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That's right a fuel pump can last over 200,000 miles. I had mine changed @ 250,000 ( 12 years old ) in April 2002. It was still working, but was one of those things I prefered to have done here rather than by Gomer & Goober in the middle of nowhere North Carolina.
Radiator / Heat Core are original, never had any leaks. Not having any front end smash ups either also helps prolong radiator life. The HC I may replace this summer, not sure yet, got to find out if the pipes on it are plastic.
A friend has an 88 SSE under 50,000 miles and his fuel pump began dying going to work one day, but continued to run for two days, then completely stopped a block from the dealer he works at. There were some years this car sat almost all year and was only used 2-3 times a year for vacation driving.
Also on my car:
Original Water pump lasted 123,357 miles Water Pump # 3 at 263,000 miles
Original Altenator lasted 118,000 miles, Altenator # 3 at 184,470 miles
Orignal Starter lasted 135,000 miles, still running with # 2.
========Harryface ======== 1991 Pontiac Bonneville LE, 3800 V6 _~_~_~_~276,100 miles_~_~_ ~_~_
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Bonneville wrote:

Nope - I'd say still on the original but failing fuel pump at 140K and 17 years isn't so bad. But the 88 - it will need one before it gets to 20 years old.

Early 90s. One problem with the 87 I have and the 88 mentioned. It's about a $450 job *if* the timing cover isn't ground into. $700 otherwise.

The entire engine was full of minor carbon deposits. Pretty easy to clean out, though.

Sure - the PITA is removing the other stuff to get at them.

I got a quote of $600. Yikes. The car's only worth $1600.

True. A 4-6 year old one would give the O.P. a lot less trouble than that 1988.

No, it's not. 2700 lbs, 102 inch wheelbase. 171 inches long. 69.9 wide. 29/36mpg with manual transmission.
That's NOT a van. 4 cylinders is fine for 2700 lbs.
For comparison: Astro Van 3953 lbs, 111.2 inch wheelbase, 189.8 inches long. 77.5 wide. Pontiac Sunfire 2771 lbs. 104.1 wheelbase, 182 inches long. 68.4 wide.
It's *smaller* than a Sunfire. Lighter, too. 1.5 inches wider, but that's more than offset by the length.
All the sites classify it as a small wagon as well.
The hp/weight ratio is virtually identical for the Vibe and the Astro Van as well. 1200 lbs less dead weight on the drivetrain to move around is a big deal.

29/36? You sure you're not smoking something? Go see one in person - other than the rear sheetmetal, it's exactly like the Toyota Matrix. It just *looks* like a van because of GM's design department messing with the metal and making the read squarer.

I'd not buy one - but it IS an example of a "van" looking vehicle that is not really one.
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Stop looking at EPA treadmill numbers. They have nothing to do with real world driving and there are about 4 combo's for the vibe. Try an automatic vs automatic. Going by those numbers you actually think a vibe would get as good as or better gas mileage than a Fiero? That should tell you right off that those epa numbers are off.

A blazer is classified as a station wagon by my insurance company. Does that make it a wagon? I can put a ships sailing mask on top of my car and still quote epa treadmill numbers, but when I go driving I wont get those numbers. The epa rates a cars highway mpg at a speed of 65mph. I get the same epa mpg rating at 75mph. You cant do that with a vibe and expect the same numbers.

Actually the scoin looks more like a box, but that is not really one... (It looks more like target practice actually.) >:D
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Bonneville wrote:

Dude. You are off your rocker. The Matrix/Vibe is not a van. That was manual vs manual. Vibe versus a Sunfire.
Automatic is ~2-4mpg less and a few pounds more for both. Now, the AWD version does have less power and 300lbs more weight, but no sane person would buy it with the track record on AWD systems in general.
As for the engine, it's the same one used in the Corolla. That's a verified reliable well tested design, and why GM was smart - it's built in the same GM/Toyota NUMI(SP?) plant that the Corolla/Prism was built at. They took the Corolla drivetrain and chassis and stuck it in a 200lb heavier car:
Corolla: Length: 178.3 in.      Width: 66.9 in. Height: 58.8 in.     Wheel Base: 102.4 in. Ground Clearance: 5.7 in.     Curb Weight: 2502 lbs. Manual transmission: 32/40mpg. Automatic transmission: 29/38mpg
They both are Corollas with a mini-SUV body on top of them. If you'd have done a bit of research, you'd have seen that it's not a "van". It's one small step away from a Corolla, in fact. I don't see some sheetmetal changing the fact that it's a Corolla at heart.

Oh - gosh - you think the mileage drops to half due to 10mph? Try 1 mpg less, if that. With automatic, it's 27/32mpg. So even at 75mph, it's getting 30mpg easily. That's not a van. I don't know WHERE you got the idea. Have to looked at the Matrix and Vibe in person? 50lbs of squarer sheetmetal is meaningless between the two isn't going to turn it into a completely different vehicle.
True, the aerodynamics are much worse than a Corolla, so it looses a few mpg. Even the AWD version gets 30mph highway.
Just admit you are wrong and were thinking about the Aztek by mistake.
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snipped-for-privacy@earthlink.net says...

Yeah with light foots at 65mph

This should cover all vibe models http://www.new-cars.com/2004/pontiac/pontiac-vibe-specs.html
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Bonneville wrote:

? You asked. I answered. No, I see no need to mash down the accelerator and waste gas just to get to 65mph 1-2 seconds faster.
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It's pretty pathetic that such a measly car sucks up so much fuel, and premium!
My Intrigue has 215HP and 230ftlbs and gets 22-24MPG / 30-32MPG of regular gas.
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Neo wrote:

Obviously, the only way to get it is with the normal engine and manual transmission.
As a base model mini econo-wagon/van, it's a good deal compared to the typical budget offerings like Hyundai and GM typically have to offer to first time buyers.
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The Intrigue's only engine is a 3.5 V6 and the only transmission, automatic.
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Neo wrote:

I meant the Vibe. Then it gets very good gas mileage and has cargo capacity like a small minivan.
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"Neo" wrote

automatic.
No, there were some years that the 3800 was also available....it was just a w-body after all. When it first came out, only the 3800 was available, then the next year both were available, then after that it was 3.5 only.
Ian
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Look how much a Buick LeSabre and Century weighs, 3567-3591 lbs for the LeSabre and 3353 for the Century. Look at the mileage it gets, 20/29/24...the same for both vehicles. Drag plays a bigger part then weight does at speed, and it's a much bigger part then people think. At around 60 mph the weight of the drag being put on the car does NOT depend on the weight of the car but rather the CoD. I'll give an example here, the new Vette with it's drag of .28 and a weight of 3245 lbs going 60 mph has about 54516 pounds of drag being exerted on it, if you increase the drag by .02 the new drag is 58410 lbs (I'm pretty sure that this is all right, weightXdragXvelocity). And it still manages to get 19/28/23 (not bad for something that's 1.2 times the weight of the Vibe with an engine that's 3 1/3s bigger :P) . By the way, the only dimensions that affect drag is what the wind hits, so the height and the width of the vehicle.
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about
Just remembered, wrong formula. I think the right formula is surface area times drag times velocity. So now I'll redo the same examples. (drag*72.6*49.1/144*60) For .28 it's 415.877 lbs. For .30 it's 445.5825. Those numbers sound much better.
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