2005 Buick Century. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
By Chris Chase; photos courtesy General Motors
Buick Century, 1997-2005
The Century name has a lot of history within General Motors’ Buick division. The first car to wear the name debuted in 1936 as a full-size model and lasted two generations. The Century disappeared after 1959, and wouldn’t return to the Buick lineup until 1973, when it was resurrected as a midsize model.
The next significant change for the Century name came in 1981, when the model was moved onto GM’s front-drive A-body platform, where it would stay until 1997. That’s when the model migrated once again to GM’s W-body platform to live out its final years, before being discontinued in 2005.
Like so many General Motors models, the final-generation Century was powered by a 3.1-litre V6 engine. Power was initially rated at 160 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, numbers that increased to 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque in 2000. As befits this car’s purpose and target market, the Century’s sole transmission option was a four-speed automatic.
2005 Buick Century. Click image to enlarge
Decent fuel consumption has long been a hallmark of General Motors’ V6 engines; the Century’s 3.1-litre unit was rated at 11.9 L/100 km (city) and 7.5 L/100 km (highway) in 1997, according to Natural Resources Canada’s EnerGuide. By 2005, fuel consumption had decreased slightly to 11.6 L/100 km (city) and 7.3 L/100 km (highway).
Thing is, that’s not much better than the ratings for the larger, more powerful 3.8-litre V6 used in the very similar Regal, sold from 1998 to 2004.
Mechanically, the 3.1-litre V6 is quite robust, but watch for the well-known issue of leaking intake manifold gaskets. When this seemingly innocuous component fails, it can allow radiator coolant to leak into the engine crankcase, contaminating the oil and, if not caught soon enough, leading to major engine problems.
Other issues include brake components that wear out, particularly front brake rotors (this affects many mid-sized GM sedans from the same model years) and electrical troubles that aren’t uncommon. Consumer Reports lists the automatic transmission as a trouble spot, too, but these concerns can often be avoided in a car that has been treated and maintained well.
2002 Buick Century. Click image to enlarge
The Century received an “acceptable” crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in that organization’s frontal offset crash test.
From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Century earned four stars for driver protection and three stars for front passenger protection in frontal crash tests; later models with side airbags (they became available in 2000) scored three stars each for side impact protection for front and rear seat occupants. Unfortunately, this was no better than cars without side airbags fared.
Like other GM “midsizers”, the Century suffers from rapid depreciation. Used values, according to Canadian Red Book, range from a low of $3,075 for a 1997 model to a high of just $10,575 for a 2005 version. A great deal could potentially be found in a 2002 or 2003 model. Here, values range from $5,875 to $7,650: find a well-maintained example from these years and you could score a comfortable, affordable car with plenty of life left in it.
The Century has a few reliability skeletons in its closet, but this car can be a good used purchase all the same, providing you take a few precautions before you buy. When shopping, ask to see detailed service records and look for evidence that those pesky intake gaskets have been changed recently, and that the engine oil and transmission fluid have been replaced regularly. Of course, it’s always wise to take your prospective purchase to a trusted mechanic for a once-over for good measure, too.
Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time finding many websites dedicated to Buicks, but there are a couple. BuickForums.com is a place to start, though information on this final generation of Century will only be found with some digging. Also, take a look at W-Body.com, a site that focuses on all of the General Motors built on the popular W-Body platform.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000002; Units affected: 12,032
1997: On certain vehicles, the windshield wipers may stop working, usually after operation under heavy load conditions such as accumulated snow or ice, because of separation between the drive pin and crescent in the crank arm assembly. If this were to occur during driving in adverse weather conditions, driver visibility could be reduced, which could result in a vehicle crash without prior warning. Correction: Dealers will inspect for the presence of a plastic water deflector and, if necessary, replace the wiper motor crank arm, install a park tab reinforcement and install a water deflector. Dealers will also apply additional sealing material to improve water deflection from the crank arm assembly and will install a reinforcement to improve the performance of the wiper park mechanism.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998109; Units affected: 11,662
1997-1998: These vehicles do not comply with CMVSS 108 – Lighting System and Retroreflective Devices. The English owner manuals for the Oldsmobile Intrigue, and the English and French owner manuals for the Buick Regal and Century vehicles, do not contain the required information pertaining to the vehicle headlamp aiming device. Correction: Dealers will place an owner’s manual insert containing the correct information on headlamp horizontal aim in the owner’s manual.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000003; Units affected: 28,495
1998-1999: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 108 – Lighting Equipment and Retroreflective Devices. The vertical vehicle headlamp aiming device (VHAD) may not be calibrated properly. With the vertical VHAD set to zero, the vehicle headlamp may not meet the photometric aim requirements of the standard at several measured locations. Also the VHAD vertical adjustment bubble does not maintain consistent positioning due to thermal instability. Correction: An insert containing instructions for optically aiming the headlamps will be provided for the owner’s manual.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001094; Units affected: 9,274
1998: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 101 – Location and Identification of Controls and Displays. Vehicles exhibit a condition in which the “Oil Warning Light” will not illuminate under low/no oil pressure conditions. Correction: Dealers will reflash the vehicle PCM with new calibration software.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004287; Units affected: 13,553
1999: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 108. Some of these vehicles do not meet the overhead sign illumination requirements in the Standard. Less illumination may reduce the ability of the driver to read overhead signs when driving at night. Correction: Dealers will install new low beam headlamp bulbs in both headlamp assemblies.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998193; Units affected: 828
1999: Note: Vehicles equipped with 3.1 litre v6 engines. These vehicles may be equipped with ignition coil/control module assemblies that were incorrectly manufactured and may result in setting the SES light and causing various driveability problems, including engine misfire. Correction: ignition coil/control module assembly will be inspected for suspect date codes and lot numbers and replaced if necessary.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999136; Units affected: 12,414
1999: Certain vehicles with the key in the “ON” position may exhibit a condition in which the ABS motor shorts to its case and grounds through a flexible brake pipe. This electrical short can cause extreme heating of the flexible brake pipe to the point where it can melt a nearby flexible plastic fuel hose, and could result in an underhood fire. Correction: Dealers will install a ground cable from the electronic brake control module to the engine compartment body rail.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999225; Units affected: 5,227
2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS. 1105 – Evaporative Emissions. Vehicles may have an OBD-II (On Board Diagnostics) calibration that causes a false evaporative emission system code to set under certain conditions, resulting in Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) illumination. Correction: Dealers will reflash the vehicle PCM (Power Control Module) with new calibration software.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000124; Units affected: 996
2000: Certain vehicles equipped with rear drum brakes may exhibit a condition in which the bolt head(s) on the rear spindle rod may separate. There may be a noticeable rattle in the rear suspension. If the remaining portion of the bolt breaks, the wheel can shift, causing rear steering of the vehicle. This could cause the driver to lose control and a crash could occur without prior warning. Correction: Dealers will replace the rear spindle rod bolts on affected vehicles.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000139; Units affected: 7
2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 301 – Fuel System Integrity. The clamp that secures the flexible fuel fill hose to the metal fuel fill tube may be loose and could separate in a crash or rollover. In the presence of an ignition source, a fire could result. Correction: Fuel hose fill neck clamp will be inspected and if necessary, the clamp will be repositioned and tightened.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000196; Units affected: 16,621
2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of C.M.V.S.S. 209 – Seat Belt Assemblies. Vehicles may have seat belt assemblies that will not withstand the force requirements of the standard. In a crash, if the belt buckle fails, there is an increased risk of injury to the occupant. Correction: Suspect buckle assemblies will be replaced.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.