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Clint Bowyer Crew Chief Billy Scott Wins Career-First MOOG 'Problem Solver' Award

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Be Wary of the Fall Maintenance Slowdown

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How to Test Drive a Car to Check for Problems

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Identifix Celebrates 50,000 Direct-Hit Subscribers with 50K Giveaway Contest

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Liquid Tools: Choose Your Maintenance Chemicals Based On The Application

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Snap-on Franchisee Conference Draws Record Crowd

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Home Engine Servicing GM’s 3800 V6 Engines

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The Buick 231 cu. in. 3.8L V6 engine has had a production run lasting more than 30 years. Like the small block Chevy V8, this engine has undergone many changes over the years to keep it abreast of changing consumer expectations and emissions regulations.

The first Buick 3.8L was offered in the 1975 model year Skyhawk, Apollo, Century and Regal. The engine was based on an earlier 198 cu. in. V6 that Buick introduced back in 1962. The 3.8L engine shared the same 3.8” bore size as the Buick 350 V8. It also had an “odd-fire” crankshaft, which produced some idle shake and vibration.

Over the years various improvements were made to upgrade engine performance. Here are some of those changes:

1977 — Buick changed to an “even-fire” offset-pin crankshaft to smooth out the V6 engine.

1978 — Turbocharged version of the 3.8L V6 offered in the Buick Regal and LeSabre.

1979 — The engine gained some horsepower with improved cylinder heads (larger valves and ports).

1980 — Larger 4.1L version of 3.8L engine offered with bigger 3.965” pistons.

1981 — Stronger connecting rods and a revised harmonic balancer and flywheel were added.

1982 — 180 hp version of the turbocharged 3.8L V6 offered in Regal T-Types and Grand National. Also, a smaller displacement 3.0L version of the 3.8L V6 with a shorter stroke crankshaft was built for GM FWD cars.

1984 — Direct fire distributorless ignition and electronic multiport fuel injection were added. Also a new camshaft with a larger base circle and 0.015” shorter pushrods were added. This was also the first year for a front-wheel drive (FWD) version of the 3.8L V6.

1985 — The engine was refitted with a single serpentine belt to drive its accessories. The number of bolts on the oil pan was also increased from 14 to 20 to reduce oil leaks. The head bolts also changed to non-reusable torque-to-yield bolts.

1986 — The flat tappet lifters were upgraded to roller lifters to reduce internal engine friction, and sequential fuel injection was also added for improved performance, fuel economy and emissions. The deck height of the block was also reduced 0.035” to accommodate thicker composition-style head gaskets. Some FWD versions of the 3.8L V6 (VIN 3) were offered with roller lifters. FWD versions also got new cylinder heads with pedestal-style rocker arms, and a needle bearing thrust washer for the camshaft.

1988 — Buick now dubbed the engine the 3800. The block casting was revised and a balance shaft added to dampen vibrations. The cast iron camshaft was replaced with a steel camshaft, thinner, low-tension piston rings were added to reduce friction even more, and the mechanical EGR valve was replaced with an electronic digital EGR valve to reduce NOx emissions.

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Larry Carley

Larry Carley has more than 30 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket, including experience as an ASE-certified technician, and has won numerous awards for his articles. He has written 12 automotive-related books and developed automotive training software, available at www.carleysoftware.com.
  • Chris

    I have a 2002 Buick Park Avenue that gets warm (doesn’t overheat) and stalls when idling. It won’t start again until it cools down. This started 10 months ago and now occurs after only 15 miles or so of driving. A good dose of water in the area of the coil pack/crankshaft helped and so I replaced the ignition module with no effect (it needed the new grease). Based on other’s experiences, it seems the crank sensor is a likely culprit, so I bought AC Delco part 10456161 and replaced it. The car then would crank but not even start. That part was sent back and the same part was purchased elsewhere, with the same results. Both times, the original part was reinstalled and the car started. I know there’s a system variation learn procedure that you’re supposed to have done (some folks say they skip it), but it has to be done after the car is running and the temperature is up to 158 degrees. Why is the car not starting?

    • Evilcowboy420

      Three things an engine requires to run is spark, fuel and air. But I stand that 4 things are needed as well nowdays it includes the computer. Your crank sensor is bad. You replaced it and the car didn’t start. Thats your computer telling you it needs the relearn procedure done. I would suggest looking that up and doing that but if you don’t want to do that dance then unplug the negative to the battery for 10 minutes after installing your new sensor. This should reset the computer back to defaults then it will have a base line for cranking the engine with the new sensor. You confused it by putting in a working one. The computer accounted all it could for the one failing until the car got worse. So the computer thinks it still has a bad one connected and needs to be accounting for the bad one. By resetting the computer your giving it an opportunity for it to do its thing and relearn it over again.

      The computer makes adjustments slowly over a period of time and values will change until the part that fails craps out and the computer cannot do anything more to help the situation. Hence the no start condition with a new one. When you put the same old one back in it is already calibrated for the crappy one and will start.

      Save yourself a lot of problems and do the relearn after the new one is installed.

      Second as for the overheating issue. Who told you water was good to put on a coil pack? Water is an excellent conductor of electricity never a good idea to mix the two. This brings me to you testing out to make sure the coil pack is still good as well as that can cause your no start as well. They run hot and can fail. So check that out. Overheating issues are caused by several things even if it is a slight overheat it is still rising above normal. With these problems use of a digital multimeter can help rule out coolant temp sensor. Usually you want to start small and cheap replacing stuff until you get the right component. Start with a thermostat if that dont help do the CTS then the water pump and then the intake gaskets. More than likely your gaskets have a leak since it is a very common problem. Replace both lower and upper intake gaskets and have the plastic part checked for warpage and replace if necessary.

      Anyways I speak from experience with this engine both the old and new ones. I got a 2004 lesabre and a 89 bonneville. The 04 Lesabre runs like a top with no check engine lights on. The 89 Bonnie is having it’s engine rebuilt by me. So I am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to these engines.

      Anyways good luck

      • Odetta McNabb

        my 1995 buick lesabre has a stumble during acceleration high and low speeds,intermittently….3800 v6 f.i. any ideas? tune up and fuel filter and new gas cap no help.

  • buickrepairer

    I was trying to remove the supercharger snout without removing the whole supercharger. I think just my outside bearings are bad. I have loosed/removed all bolts that I can see and still can’t get the plate off in front of the snout that holds the tensioner pulley. Any ideas?

  • dkthree

    I have a 98 Pontiac Grand Prix with the 3.8, great engine. It started leaking after warmup lately, but I can tell where the leak is coming from. No white smoke, so I don’t think it’s the manifold gasket. Not the water pump, no leaks all around. Any ideas?

  • Fred

    Hello. I have a Grand Prix GTP 1999 with 210000 kms. When I accelerate the vehicle starts to shake. I have a feeling it is either the spark plugs or the supercharger. It starts shaking when it just starts to show I have boost. Other than that when I’m just maintaining normal speed without accelerating it drives just fine. Does anyone know anything about this? Thanks

  • John

    I have a 2007 pontiac Grand Prix had a coolent leak so I replaced the two plastic elbows with metal ones problem gone for about 2 weeks then the water pump started leaking so I replaced it worked fine no leaks for about a month then noticed a leak did not no where it was coming from so I replaced the water pump again no leaks for about two weeks now its leaking again not sure from where any ideas

  • Arzola

    I have a 1994 bonneville ssei 3800sc
    First off my car was driving under power :no pickup & you can’t hear the supercharger whine . I was driving home and it sputtered then acted like it was going to die then was fine parked it then it wouldn’t stay started only kept dying no it won’t start.
    I took off the throttle body and cleaned it very well and still at a loss I recently replaced my fuel pressure regulator & fuel filter but that’s all

  • Heith Inghels

    I have the 1989 Oldsmobile delta 88 royale brougham. After market parts are the coil pack, ignition control module, mass air flow sensor. When I did coil pack and ICM, I also replaced spark plugs and wires. As well as put in a new alternator. Engine runs splendidly. I use a full synthetic oil, for the motor and transmission. Engine is passing 226,000 miles.

  • kendall martens

    i have a 2007 grand prix with 3.8 motor…engine light came on and i had it looked at…autozone said it was the #2 cyclinder misfire…put new plug and new wire. also a new ignition coil, also modual…my mechanic said it could be my injector next and that i could probably do that…

    so could it be my injector, and could i do it, and where is it?..
    it runs rough at idle but better at 70 or 80…

    Thank you

  • Sam Summers

    I have a 1994 buick regal GS 3800 and I can not find the ground wire short that keeps the car from getting hot in the summer time

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