Just bought a '95 Buick Century-- what do I need to know? (and a couple ?s)

Hi folks, I went out and bought my folks a '95 Buick Century wagon (3.1 SFI; note, not the slightly older 3.1 MFI) yesterday to replace our '87 Chevy Celebrity wagon (I love the Chevy, and the 2.8 is still strong,
but the front doors are badly rusted). The Century had 85k miles, a rust-free body, and was $2500. The seller is a very nice retiree who bought it at 66k miles 3 years ago from a Cadillac dealer. Questions:
1. how long do the alternators/water pumps last on the 3.1 SFI? I think that the alternator and water pump both went out around 10 years/80k miles on our Chevy 2.8. 2. are any under-the-hood parts interchangeable between a 2.8 MFI and 3.1 SFI? 3. the R134A A/C is out on the Buick-- the owner said that it didn't work when turned on this year, but did last year. Can you just recharge this at home? The last time we did a coolant recharge at home was R12 on an '82 Buick Regal... is it basically the same procedure as R134? If I bring the car to a shop and say "fix the A/C", will they likely just recharge it, or try to pinpoint a leak too? If the latter, how much $$$ might it be? 4. what kind of mileage should I expect? We get about 27mpg highway on our 2.8-liter Chevy with 3-speed automatic. 5. anything else I should know?
Thanks! John
PS: the Chevy's doors are rusting through-- can it still pass safety inspection this way? I'm thinking about bringing it to Massachusetts to use, but am not sure if it'll pass safety inspection.
PPS: anyone in the NJ area interested in the Celebrity? 113k miles, cold A/C (never needed recharge), the engine is very powerful, and the car never left me stranded. You could probably drive it cross-country tomorrow if you wanted to...
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Intake manifold gaskets biggest problem with the newer 3.1, watch for mysterious coolant losses. Alternators 100k on mine water pump was 125 k. I would have a /ac shop check for leaks before doing some kind of "home recharge", shouldn't be more than 75-100 to leak test and charge a/c. Really no under hood parts are similar, maybe the battery, lots of changes from the older body style/engine combo.

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The A/C compressor is a common wear out item on these. You really need to have the system checked for leaks.
I would not worry about the water pump unless the coolant was not changed out every 3 years or less (if any air or someone added regular coolant to a DexCool system, completely flush the system out and replace with regular green antifreeze and hope for the best).
The alternator also should be good for a while, unless the battery was allowed to go dead and the alternator was required to charge a bad battery after a jump start. In other words, make sure it has a good battery all the time. Regular replacement of the battery will cost less than replacement of the alternator.
The newer engines also had intake manifold gasket leaking problems, always keep an eye on the coolant, if there is a mysterious loss of coolant, have it checked immediately. The gasket repair costs much less than a blown engine due to a failed gasket.
Rear brake cylinders are known to have failed seals and leak brake fluid.
Even though it is less common by 95, the TCC solenoid still sometimes hangs up in the transmission causing the engine to stall when coming to a stop after going 45 mph and the car is fully warmed up. Like a manual that you forgot to push in the clutch when stopping.
Just have the car completely checked over by someone familier with the GM Century and Ciera. All major systems should be checked. If none of the common problems are found, it should be a good car. It should be periodically checked over as part of the normal maintenance on the car and it can be very reliable.
FYI since the Caddy dealer did decide to sell the car, it should have been checked over by them at that time, so it probably was in good shape at that time.
David

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Hehe. We've chatted about our wagons before. I have the 88 Wagon, and I slammed it into a curb on the Jamaica Way in Boston last year... I dumped it three weeks ago for a 95 Cutlass Ciera with the 3.1. Maybe you're my soulmate ;o) And yeah, those doors will probably pass in MA, my rusty doors on my car did, as long as you make some attempt to cover it up.
-Sam
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Sam, Do you know of problems with your Ciera's "intake manifold gasket?". I keep hearing that it always goes bad and that it's an expensive fix. It's making me antsy about the Buick I bought...
John (how many miles on your Ciera? known problems in its past? how much did you pay for it? Email me snipped-for-privacy@caregroup.harvard.edu to discuss if you want)

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