How to take care of a 1998 Buick Park Avenue
March 28, 2011 6:42 PM   Subscribe

There is a strong possibility my grandfather will be giving me his 1998 Buick Park Avenue within the next 2-12 months. I have never owned a car and do not know much about proper maintenance besides how to check oil. Help me prepare so that this doesn't turn into an even bigger expense than the insurance/gas will already be. Would love to hear from any who owns these cars.

The car is in pretty good condition, and I don't believe he's ever taken it on a very long drive. It does have 112,000 miles. He says the local garage valued his car at about $4900, which seems pretty hard to believe for me. But is this true? It would definitely ease my mind money wise if I could sell it for a couple grand or so one day.

What are things I absolutely need to check often? What do I need to have in the car and at my house? My hope is that I will use this car sparingly and bike 90% of the time. I would be picking the car up in Minnesota and driving it to Oregon; is this a super bad idea in December (he might wait to see if he passes his next driving test before giving it to me)?
posted by Corduroy to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by Corduroy at 6:43 PM on March 28, 2011

If you're looking for a car's value, put the requested information into the Kelly Blue Book evaluator. This will give you average prices you should expect when taking it to a dealer or when selling it privately.
posted by msbutah at 7:03 PM on March 28, 2011

Best answer: Until recently I drove a 91 Park Avenue, also in Minnesota. Quite a bit older than yours, but one thing I would recommend checking out is rust on the underbody; depending on how well it was cared for and how often it was used in the winter, there could be significant corrosion down there. Mine eventually had all the steel brake lines fail due to corrosion, which is a scary problem to deal with (because they will likely go out under stress, aka when you are trying to stop). The more recent vintage of yours likely means you won't have to worry about this particular problem, though.

Mine had something or another fail about once a year, which is pretty much expected for an old car (again, quite a bit older than yours). I don't know of anything in particular that Park Avenues are notorious for, but I'd definitely get an overall check-up when you start driving it to pinpoint any potential issues. Buicks have a reputation for reliability, and they are very easy to service (and source parts for) so it's easy to find mechanics eager to work on them.
posted by brightghost at 7:16 PM on March 28, 2011

Best answer: Large, comfy, fairly powerful - worth closer to $2500 in immaculate shape. It's got most modern safety features, including traction control and ABS (anti-lock brakes) - winter driving is fine.

Once every 5k miles, change the oil and filter. Use a high-mileage oil or synthetic. Once every 30k miles, change the spark plugs and spark plug wires and the air filter. If it hasn't had it done already, change the timing belt (a somewhat big expense, but worth it if you plan on holding onto it for another 50k miles.) Check the tires. They're generally good for 30-40k miles or more, if you check to make sure they're at the right pressure once every few weeks. If the wipers streak, go to NAPA and buy replacement blades - they'll help you find the right size and put them on, and are less than 15 bucks for the pair, and last a year or two.

Don't pay for expensive flushes of the coolant, transmission or power steering. Not worth the money, and don't do a lot to extend the life of the car. Make sure they're all topped up to the proper level, tho. There's a manual in the glove box that explains how to do it, and lots of online tutorials as well.

Find a mechanic you trust, by word of mouth or online. Avoid dealerships for service, as they're rip-off artists. AAA membership is a great idea for a car that age, offering free roadside assistance and discount/free towing... plus there are other discounts and deals.

Oh! Also have a mechanically-inclined friend show you how to change a tire. This is important, as it's the difference between being a few minutes late, or a few hours late. It's dirty and strenuous, and you will feel like superman once you've done it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:19 PM on March 28, 2011

Cars are an expense. For a real life example I give you this. I bought a 1999 grand prix for $2000. It was in an accident which accounts for low price ,but no damage to any functional parts. So far it has required both front wheel bearings replaced, new tires, transmission fluid and filter replaced, The gaskets for the cooling system are starting to go, which so far as been solved with magic goo put in the cooling system. I consider this a really good experience for this old a car. I would not take it across country without a through going over and all fluids changed. I would expect you to pay $2000 to keep this car safely on the road for five years. Yes check the tires, and be anal about tire pressure.
posted by JohnR at 7:25 PM on March 28, 2011

Since you don't plan to drive it that much, you should make it a habit to drive it a little bit every week, such as to get groceries. Cars don't like to sit. And you can probably get a good idea of gas consumption from your grandfather and do not put more than a few months of gas in it if you won't be driving that much. You'll probably end up driving it more than you think, though.
posted by Yorrick at 7:37 PM on March 28, 2011

Best answer: Former Buick Park Avenue owner here ('95)...

Other than the aforementioned rust (which eats cars alive where I live), I had an issue with the starter from time to time. The rear shocks also have 'ride-leveling' feature that uses a small air pump under the hood to pump up the rear of the car if you put something heavy in the trunk. If your shocks start to leak for some reason, and you don't feel like spending money to replace them, you might consider disconnecting that pump.

Overall, the car was really nice, and if you've got the 3800 engine, it's pretty reliable, as large GM cars go. Most repairs weren't a big deal and parts were easy to come by. Fiddly electric bits were some of the first things to go wonky on mine, notably the power window on the passenger side.

On my particular car, in its last year of life, I found I had to keep an eye on the tire pressures. The alloy rims didn't seem to make a great seal against the tires I bought. That could have been just me, though.

It's a great car for road trips, not so great for around the city, especially on-street parking. Trunk is huge though, and it rides really nice on the highway.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2011

Response by poster: Really helpful answers, thanks everyone! I think driving it once a week would be a pretty average amount for me, with an out of the city drive once or twice a month. I will definitely ask my grandfather if he knows about the rust, which I would bet is an issue due to his Minnesota living, but I also imagine him going to a car wash fairly regularly.
posted by Corduroy at 8:37 PM on March 28, 2011

First things to do:

1) Get all the maintenance records on the car from your dad. See if it has been kept up to date with scheduled maintenance at the recommended intervals. Pay particular attention to timing belt changes. Was this ever done?

2) At 112K miles, stuff starts going wrong with cars. I would take it to a trusted mechanic and have it checked out top-to-bottom. Triage any problems, fix what must be fixed.

3) If you don't know how to do it already, practice changing the tire. At least check that your spare is present, inflated, and you have all the needed tools - jack, lug wrench, etc. to change your tire.

Have fun driving.
posted by dudeman at 8:44 PM on March 28, 2011

I had this exact car (maroon edition, I named her Agnes). Most of the problems mentioned here were present in my car, passenger power window sometimes acted up, shocks in the back went and had to be replaced. Overall though, it was an awesome car. I bought it used from my friends dad at just over 100k miles and drove it to about 270k. She lasted a long time and never overheated.

In addition to the other problems (and this could have been specific to my car) the heater started acting up and eventually my dad jammed open the vent so the car would stay warm in the winter. As a result, there was no a/c in summer which wasn't a huge deal for me.
posted by abitha! at 8:52 PM on March 28, 2011

My teenage son had this same car as his first car. It ran like a champ until he totaled it. I will be forever grateful to that damn Buick, because he took out a telephone pole and emerged completely unhurt. So I believe it's a really safe car - the hood crumpled up and took the impact; the airbag worked perfectly and as I said, he was fine. Now that I think of it, though, there was an issue with the passenger side window - it jammed all the time - but other than that it was a great car.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:22 PM on March 28, 2011

Lots of good stuff at Car Talk.... including advice on finding and choosing a mechanic, maintenance that you can do yourself, how to deal with all sorts of things that can go wrong. Bookmark it and spend some time exploring!
posted by drhydro at 10:00 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a Haynes Manual. They'll show you how to do the proper maintenance and at what interval.
posted by electroboy at 6:10 AM on March 29, 2011

Ah, yes, the air ride. That's one of the earliest problems I had with mine; there was a leak in the system, and the pressure pump apparently works even when the car is not running, so it was draining my battery trying to keep the pneumatic shocks pressurized. My mechanic just disabled the whole system which caused no problems. The nice thing about a luxury vehicle is you can not fix things and still end up with a standard vehicle! The other nice thing is the heavenly seats.
posted by brightghost at 3:04 PM on March 29, 2011

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