As my 98 Pontiac Bonneville was getting older, I thought about looking for a newer car. It was 2009 and I knew that the 3800 engine was out of production, so I decided to see what was out in the market. I wanted a 3800 engine owing to my positive experiences with them, so the field was narrow. Buick LaCrosse, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Buick Lucerne.
I didn’t like the styling on the Grand Prix, so that was crossed off my list. That left the two Buicks. Looking at dealer inventories in my area, the prices were about $3000 more than I wanted to pay. After test driving a couple of Lucernes, I decided that it would be the car I would pursue. One day I was looking at the cars on eBay Motors out of boredom and curiosity. I like to look at the salvage cars to see what insane prices some people ask because they think that their pile of oxidized iron is valuable. On this day, however, I was looking at Lucernes. There were two that caught my eye, one in Florida and one in Texas. The Texas car was pretty well equipped, but it had dark aftermarket tinting on all of the windows. Not for me. The one in Florida was a 2007 with 20,000 miles. Still under factory warranty for two more years, so what was the risk? I put in a bid, but did not meet the reserve price. I then contacted the dealer and asked would he take an offer. Apparently, I was the only bidder on this car. The salesman called me within an hour and asked what my offer was. I told him and he said “SOLD.” When would I like to pick it up? He even offered to take a personal check as payment.
I proceeded to purchase a one-way ticket to Orlando on Southwest for $80 and then booked a local shuttle to Daytona Beach for $30. Arriving on a Saturday afternoon, the salesman picked me up at the shuttle office and took me to the dealership. After I gave the car an inspection, finding nothing wrong, I finished the paperwork within 30 minutes and started my 1000 mile trip home. One small glitch was the itemization of the dealer doc fee for $200. I told the salesman that I didn’t pay doc fees and his response was “What do you care, you’re paying the total price you offered for the car.” He had a point. The car performed flawlessly on the two day trip home and I had saved over $3000 compared to dealer prices in my hometown.
My Lucerne is a CX model with cloth bucket seats. It had the usual A/C, automatic, power seats, power windows, and CD stereo. The base car came with a front split bench seat that wasn’t very comfortable, but the bucket seats have enough side bolster to be very comfortable.
The 3800 engine is the Series III, which added even more refinement to an already great engine. It also has an aluminum intake manifold and aluminum upper intake manifold gaskets! The aluminum upper intake hasn’t been seen since 1993. The engine has good low end power and the car averages 24 MPG on my mixed highway/city loop. In town mileage is only 18 MPG, but on highway trips I have been able to achieve 30 MPG.
As you might expect, the trunk of this car is HUGE in keeping with the H body tradition. The Lucerne is on the same body platform as the Cadillac DTS, but the DTS has a lower beltline. The Lucerne is a quieter car than my LeSabres and is better assembled.
An early modification I made was to replace the OEM radio with a custom unit. AM/FM radio stations in this area are mostly talk, hip hop, or some other noisy music format with lots of advertising. This radio has a HD tuner, which allows me to listen to several good jazz, contemporary, or oldies music stations with virtually no advertising. Another plus is that I can store music on a thumb drive and play it, or plug in my iPod.
An early failure was the driver’s outside door handle, which looks like metal but is really plastic. In the winter, the door seals at the top will freeze to the body whenever there is any moisture present. The first time this happened, I just tugged on the door handle harder. Mistake. The handle broke and I had to get into the car from the right side. Fortunately, the car was still under warranty and the handle was replaced at no cost. Now, whenever the door sticks, I wedge an ice scraper between the upper door frame and the body and gently maneuver it until the door comes free. I keep the scraper handy in the trunk. I also learned to spray the upper door gasket with silicone lubricant in the fall.
There have been two major repairs to the Lucerne since I have owned it. The first involved the right front wheel bearing.
One day when I started the car, the instrument panel display started flashing a warning about ABS failure and a chime starting ringing. Checking the car with my scanner, it told me that the sensor in the RF wheel had failed. This was easy enough to replace, as there are three screws securing it to the knuckle. The hardest part was removing the rotor, which was secured to the hub with a torx head screw. Of course, the insert in the screw for the torx bit rounded off, so I had to drill the screw out.
The other major repair was the A/C condenser. There are two screws which join the condenser’s connection to the coolant lines together. One can be removed from the inside, the other requires removal of the front bumper cover to gain access. Ouch!
One thing I continually dislike about this car is the A pillar and mirror design. On my earlier H body LeSabres and Bonnevilles, the mirror was attached to the door several inches back. Between the thickness of the Lucerne A pillar and the attachment of the side view mirror right next to it, there is a severe blind spot that is created. Doesn’t impair my vision most of the time, but on twisty roads it is a problem.
The Lucerne is 11 years old and has been in my possession for 9 years. It came with 20,000 miles and it now has 70,000 miles. Starts right up when I need it, and takes me where I want to go without complaint. Very comfortable for road trips with lots of usable room. Unfortunately, this will be my last 3800 engine and I will keep on enjoying it for many more years.