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Is the Northstar Engine Good Or Bad?

Is the Northstar Engine Good Or Bad?

The Northstar engine series was a group of high-performance V engines produced by General Motors, an American multinational corporation headquartered in Detroit that focuses on the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of vehicles and vehicle parts, between 1993 and 2011. Let’s find out the answer to the question, “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

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Northstar Engine History 

Originally considered GM’s most complex engine, the double overhead cam and the four-valve per cylinder aluminum block engine are most commonly associated with the Cadillac’s Northstar series. The Cadillac was a division of the General Motors Company that designs and features luxury vehicles. 


In the Northstar engine’s basic form, the mechanism was designed to displace around 4.6 liters, with the supercharged version being a 4.4-liter engine. Different kinds of Northstar engines were used at Oldsmobile and in several high-class and luxury Pontiacs in the 2000s, making you wonder, “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”


Despite the Northstar engine’s use in various cars that did well on the market, General Motors stopped producing the Northstar engine in 2011. The last cars to ever house the engine was the Cadillac DTS, the Buick Lucerne, and the Cadillac STS, which came off the line for the last time in 2011.

Northstar Engine in Cars 

If you wonder if the Northstar engine is good or bad, this might be confusing since the engine has been utilized in so many cars. The Cadillac DTS is a full-size luxury sedan produced by Cadillac and the largest luxury car for the 2006 model year. 


The Buick Lucerne was a full-size car manufactured by GM from 2005-2011 and was one of the top-of-the-line sedan options from General Motors before the Buick LaCrosse replaced it. Finally, the last car to receive a Northstar engine was the Cadillac STS, a midsize luxury four-door sedan manufactured from 2004-2011 and equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. 

End of Northstar Engines 

So, why did the production cease? And what is the answer to “is the Northstar engine good or bad?” Once the Cadillac STS had the last Northstar engine, it was replaced by the GM LS small-block OHV engine, used in newer Cadillac models, and using a simpler, push-rod engine design to be more reliable and consistent. 


These V8 engines were the only engines used by Cadillac for almost the next decade until the Blackwing V8 engine was produced in 2018. 


With a long timeline of being used in Cadillac cars, you might be wondering – “is the Northstar engine good or bad?” We are going to give you some insight here.

Northstar Engine Development

GM began designing the Northstar engine in the early 1980s when they anticipated the need for a dual overhead cam in the V8 engine, a piston engine in which the camshaft is located in the cylinder head above the combustion chamber. With the feeling of direct competition about to happen from overseas in Europe and Japan, GM needed to stay up to date with the times.


Before the Northstar engine was produced, Cadillac used the HT Overhead Valve V8, a piston engine that uses valves located in the cylinder head above the combustion chamber. Cadillac began producing new models to use the Northstar engine that he hoped would be direct competition against the luxury cars from BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus. 


With the Northstar engine production and the consumers wondering, “is the Northstar engine good or bad?” the numbers did the talking. 

Northstar Engine Features 

  • Powerful Performance  

The engine was capable of putting 300 horsepower out of its 4.6-liter engine, complete with a 90 degree V8 block with four bore spacing split into upper and lower halves. When asking yourself, “is the Northstar engine good or bad?” this points to “yes.” 

  • Valve Clearance 

The cylinder liners and the aluminum piston included valve clearance, with the valves striking the pistons if they lose timing. However, the Northstar engine used four valves per cylinder and a maintenance-free cam-drive chain to prevent any repairs or replacements necessary within the mechanism. The valve clearance helps to answer the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

  • Limp Mode 

One notable feature of the Northstar engine includes the limp mode, which allows the engine to keep running for a short amount of time without any coolant running through the system in case of an emergency. 


With the car supplying fuel to only one cylinder bank, the engine would cool the inactive bank to allow the engine to maintain safe temperatures and drive for 100 miles without further damage. This protective mechanism provides the answer to “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Limp Mode Function

Limp mode is self-preservation included in vehicles. This mode turns on when it detects abnormal readings or a misfiring or malfunctioning electrical component or mechanical operation. When this happens, your car can detect serious issues with the usual components of your car and need to be checked for your safety and prevent further damage to your car.


Limp mode turns off your car’s extra features, such as the radio and air conditioning, to preserve energy for the features required to run the car, like steering and transmission. That is why it is called limp – only the bare and essential features to drive your car, so the extra aspects are reduced and turned off. 


An example of limp mode is if your engine control unit detects that your boost pressure is 2.0 when it should be 1.3. If you unintentionally over boost, you could damage your pistons or other internal parts. Since many car owners do not notice the engine light, or ignore it thinking it is a minor issue, the engine control unit can turn on limp mode and shut off the turbo boost completely, to ensure it doesn’t damage any parts.  

Northstar Engine Series

Northstar Engine in Cadillacs 

The engine was first introduced in the early 1990s with the Cadillac Allante, a two-door, two-seater luxury car produced by Cadillac from 1987 until 1993. The Northstar Engine became the standard choice for Cadillacs, showing how people liked this choice for their cars when considering “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”. 


The 275 horsepower Northstar engine was used on all Cadillacs, while the Deville Concours and the Sevilles were fitted with the higher horsepower 300 hp version. The original Allante also featured the subsequent Northstar engine system, which contained traction control, adaptive suspension, and anti-lock brakes, a mechanism that is an anti-skid braking system to prevent wheels from locking up while driving on slippery surfaces. This protective mechanism helps provide an answer to “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Northstar Engine in Buick Lucerne

The Northstar engine was also sold under Cadillac’s name for over a decade before being used in both the Pontiac Bonneville and the Buick Lucerne in 2004 and 2006. 


However, the 4.0-liter Northstar engine was used in the Oldsmobile Aurora and the Oldsmobile Intrigue, showing how the Northstar was being used in other companies besides just Cadillac cars. This engine choice’s popularity provides insight into the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Northstar Engine Models

L37 Northstar Engine

The L37 Northstar was the original Northstar engine, producing ample responsiveness and power, which shows the consumers and the companies how the Norhtar engine can be quite good. The L37 code is used on high-output transverse Northstars, with a compression ratio of approximately 10:1. 


The original L37 features and performance produced 290 horsepower, with the engine topping out at around 300 horsepower. This shows that the Northstar engine produced some of the most powerful domestic front-wheel cars on the market, answering the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”. 


LD8 Northstar Engine

The LD8 engine is a transverse V8 for front-wheel-drive cars first introduced in 1994 and designed to provide more torque than the L37. Used on all torque-tuned Notaris, the compression ratio is 10:1 and is quieter than previous Northstar engines due to a tuned intake system and better hydraulics.

Northstar Engine Problems

Head Gasket Issues 

One of the most prevalent and common problems in the North star engines is the head gasket issues, which shows why one could argue the Northstar engine is bad in the Northstar engine good vs. bad debate. Many Northstar engines have reportedly experienced head gasket failure, which can be quite an important and expensive repair. The high price of this fix can make users ask themselves, “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”


The problem occurred when the engine ran hot for too long of a time, and the head bolts would pull out of the aluminum block, resulting in a leak of coolant and a loss of coolant moving into the combustion chamber. This is especially evident in Northstar cars, with heavy and billowing white smoke coming from the vehicle’s exhaust pipes. If you notice white smoke coming from your vehicle, then this can help answer the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Years of Head Gasket Issues

The most common years of the head gasket issues for the Northstar engines are 19097-1999, with the 2000 change of Cadillac lengthening the head bolts severely reducing the prevalence of the problem in Northstar engine cars. This decreased the chance of failure but did not eliminate the issues, showing how the Northstar engine remained bad in the following years. 


However, once the 2004 and 2005 model years came around, the head bolts were replaced using the LS6 head bolts, which were longer than the originals and had a coarser thread with a better girl, effectively altering the issue and making the 2005-2011 Northstar V8s no more prone to head gasket issues than other aluminum V8 engines. The ability of the Northstar Engine to withstand these head gasket liabilities can help you answer the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Oil Concerns

Other issues with the Northstar engines that have gone bad are the oiling in the cars. General Motors fixed a lot of these problems after the 2000 model year, but earlier cars develop leaks around the seals and valve covers in the vehicle. The oil pressure can quickly plummet, especially on the early Northstar engines in the 1993 and 1994 models, due to the debris caught in the oil pressure relief valve.


This problem will require the owner to replace the seals and the gaskets, with the gaskets being a bit tricky and time-consuming to fix. The engines use external oil pumps mounted to the front of the engine block, so if you see the low oil pressure, you can easily remove the oil pump, clean out the debris, and answer the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”. 

Excessive Oil Consumption

For cars in the pre-2000 category, they tend to go through oil much quicker than newer and more modern vehicles. The oil is not leaking in these cars, but it is being burned off quicker in the combustion chamber. The problem relates to the piston rings, which can get stuck due to the rings’ carbon buildup. When the piston rings get stuck in the grooves, they can’t do their job of wiping the cylinder walls and cleaning the engine.


This can allow the engine blow-by to go directly into the crankcase and cause a huge decline in power and fuel economy, showing how the Northsatrr engines can be bad in the earlier models. GM installed a ring-cleaning procedure for these cars that involves filling the cylinders with solvent to clean the rings. The excessive oil consumption can provide an answer to “is the Northstar engine good or bad?”

Carbon in the Cylinders

The presence of carbon in the rings was solved by the 2000 model year but created a different carbon problem of engines in the 2000 and 2001 model years, building up carbons in the cylinders. The carbon deposits cause the engine to knock and ping under hard acceleration, showing the Northstar engine performing badly in the 2000 and 20001 model years.  


When asking yourself the question of “is the Northstar engine good or bad,” you need to look at the history of this engine, the function of this part, the details of how this part was made and how it functions, and the most common concerns that arise in Northstar engines.