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The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:42 pm
by Tsuku
Now bear with me for a moment. I know it isn't exactly the most desirable of cars, but I've lately developed a thing for American front-wheel drive v6-engined sedans from the nineties. I guess I have Mulder and Scully to blame for that, driving their fine FBI-mobiles. Plus with our gas prices, it just makes a lot more sense than something like a Caprice. The used market for US cars in Finland is not that huge, so I don't have a whole lot to choose from.

The Lumina seems to be among the most common ones, since it was officially imported here in 95-97. Most of the other cars have been privately imported later on. As the Lumina is so common (a whole 16 cars for sale in the whole country ATM) parts availability seems to be pretty good for it. So it might be a wise choice in that respect, but it also feels a bit plain jane and boring...

So, the Lumina, is it any good? What should I look for when I go look at one? What goes wrong? Rust etc is the obvious thing, but what about the mechanicals? Is the 3.1l V6 any good, and the transmission?

If the Lumina isn't any good, what else would you suggest, keeping in mind our limited market. I've seen a few Eagle (Chrysler here) Visions, a really neat 1990 Buick Regal Custom and a bunch of Tauruses (Tauri?).

Thanks, Hoons!

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 7:22 pm
by Maymar
It's pretty hit and miss, reliability wise. They're simple enough cars, and the W-body had already been in production for 7 years by '95. The 3.1 did have head gasket issues, although GM had the most reliable transmissions in the Big 3's large FWD sedans (that's not saying much). The Buick might be more worth looking at - there's a pretty decent chance it's got the 3.8L V6, which has a better reputation, and nicer appointments. The W-bodies have never had phenomenal interiors (I blame Roger Smith, because why the hell not?), but the Luminas could get downright nasty without proper care.

The Eagle/Chrysler Visions are arguably the prime choice for drivability, but it's the worst pick for quality (either engine is fine, but the transmission is notoriously weak, and tie rods are a frequent fail point).

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 7:41 am
by P161911
I know that rear brakes in general were an issue for all the early W-body cars. Not sure if they got it figured out by 1995 or not, I doubt it. I worked for one of the largest auto parts suppliers in the US in from 1998-1999, we made a LOT of money off W-body brakes. The Taurus or the Regal would be better choices. Buicks were SUPPOSED to have a little better quality than Chevys. The Ford Essex 3.8L are known for eating head gaskets, at least on RWD applications.

ANY American car you can get that has RWD will be more mechanically sound. The interior, mpg,fit and finish might be worse, but the V-8s from the big 3 are all sound, same goes for the I-6s, and the Buick V-6 (3.8L/231 ci). The 3 speed RWD auto transmissions are usually good for 100k-150k too. In the US a 3-speed RWD transmission can be rebuilt for $500-$750, $900-$1300 a 4-speed. FWD transmission rebuilds are $1500-$2000.

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:53 am
by Stu_Rock
W cars of this era should be OK vehicles. At this point, any survivors will be very reliable.

The weak spot will be the intake manifold gasket in the 1996+ cars. GM used a material that gets weakened by the 2-ethylhexanoic acid in their new-at-the-time Dexcool orange antifreeze. Also, the design of the cooling system overflow tank makes these cars basically incompatible with Dexcool, yet GM used the stuff anyway. Closely examine the cooling system before making a purchase. If you purchase one, immediately switch over to G-05 or conventional green antifreeze. Other strange European antifreezes should also be OK, as long as they are 2-EHA free (many of them do have it).

P161911 wrote:I know that rear brakes in general were an issue for all the early W-body cars. Not sure if they got it figured out by 1995 or not, I doubt it.
The problematic rear disc brakes were used from 1989-1994. That 1990 Regal might have them, or it might have the problem-free yet really lame rear drum brakes.

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 7:13 pm
by ptschett
That vintage of 3.1L scares me a bit. A friend has had a 3.1L '95 Monte Carlo since '99 and it's due for its 3rd engine. #1 was replaced for a bad, internal-mechanical knocking noise (rod knock? piston slap? I don't remember) and the last time I talked cars with him he mentioned that the noise was back.

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:23 am
by Tsuku
Thanks for the answers! You haven't been able to completely scare me away from the Lumina. I will be paying close attention to the transmission and examine the cooling system closely, should I go look at one.

Stu_Rock wrote:W cars of this era should be OK vehicles. At this point, any survivors will be very reliable.

The weak spot will be the intake manifold gasket in the 1996+ cars. GM used a material that gets weakened by the 2-ethylhexanoic acid in their new-at-the-time Dexcool orange antifreeze. Also, the design of the cooling system overflow tank makes these cars basically incompatible with Dexcool, yet GM used the stuff anyway. Closely examine the cooling system before making a purchase. If you purchase one, immediately switch over to G-05 or conventional green antifreeze. Other strange European antifreezes should also be OK, as long as they are 2-EHA free (many of them do have it).


According to a Finnish forum on American cars, a leaking intake manifold gasket seems to be the main problem, even though almost no-one uses orange antifreeze here. Apparently the OEM GM gasket doesn't tolerate our normal green antifreeze either, but this is still good information, thanks! Also since it has no cabin air filter, the heating ducts and heater core tend to clog up, thus restricting air flow and making it a cold ride in the winter.

ptschett wrote:That vintage of 3.1L scares me a bit. A friend has had a 3.1L '95 Monte Carlo since '99 and it's due for its 3rd engine. #1 was replaced for a bad, internal-mechanical knocking noise (rod knock? piston slap? I don't remember) and the last time I talked cars with him he mentioned that the noise was back.


Not sure what to make of this? This is the first I've heard of such problems, is this common or is your friend just really unlucky?

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:16 pm
by Stu_Rock
Tsuku wrote:
ptschett wrote:That vintage of 3.1L scares me a bit.
Not sure what to make of this? This is the first I've heard of such problems, is this common or is your friend just really unlucky?
Seems unlucky, unless it was a consequence of an IMG failure. I've had two of these engines without any issues (a '94 and a '95).

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:29 pm
by TurboBrick
Find anything GM with the 3.8. That thing is like a gas powered diesel engine, loads of low end power and totally hopeless top end, but it will move a big boat down the road for far less fuel than you'd think is possible. My C-body Olds 98 ran great on regular 92 octane (Yeah, LOL), never drank more than 12L / 100km, usually average 10L and on the highway as little as 8.5L. That's basically old turbo Volvo mileage, if not better. The 3.1 is slightly more fuel efficient, I've done long trips with a Century and a Monte Carlo, both got high 7's. The Century impressed me especially because that was with the AC on, CC set to 135km/h and crossing the mountains in Utah.

I had a quick look at Nettiauto.. That '91 Park Avenue from Iisalmi doesn't look bad, and the price isn't stupid.

Re: The 95-97 Chevy Lumina. Is it any good?

PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:46 pm
by Tsuku
Thanks for the replies guys. I test drove one Lumina, but the really rusty body was a disappointment (no rust visible in pictures). It rode good though and had none of the aforementioned technical problems. I tried to test a few others too, but one owner had changed her mind about selling the car (really tidy and one owner from new) and our schedules just didn't match with another seller. Then I ran into a really tidy 1995 A6 Quattro (C4 body) that was just too good to pass. Oh well, maybe next time...