2004 Pontiac Grand Am. Click image to enlarge
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Pontiac Grand Am, 1999-2004
Like many General Motors nameplates, Pontiac’s Grand Am has a fairly long history. The first Grand Am was sold in 1973; it was a V8-powered, rear-drive coupe. The 1985 model year brought with it the first front-wheel drive Grand Am.
The latter was significantly smaller than the car it replaced, and while it never grew to match the size of the original, the last-generation Grand Am – introduced in 1999 – slotted into the small end of the mid-size sedan segment. It was replaced for 2005 by the G6 (though the Grand Am coupe stuck around in showrooms for 2005, while the sedan was available to fleet buyers only).
1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT. Click image to enlarge
The 1999 Pontiac Grand Am shared its underpinnings with the Oldsmobile Alero and Chevrolet Malibu. Initially, it was offered with 2.4-litre four-cylinder (150 hp; 155 lb-ft) and 3.4-litre V6 (175 hp; 200 lb-ft) engines, both matched with a four-speed automatic transmission. In 2000, a five-speed manual was added as the base transmission for four-cylinder models. The Grand Am was sold both in coupe and sedan form, in both basic SE and sportier GT trims.
In 2002, the 2.4-litre engine was replaced by the 2.2-litre Ecotec motor that is still used today in a number of GM’s small cars. It made less power than the 2.4-litre – 140 hp – but was much smoother and more efficient.
A telling fact about the 2.4-litre’s inefficiency was the fact that according to Natural Resources Canada’s EnerGuide, it used more fuel than the V6. In 2001, the early four-cylinder was rated at 11.4 L/100 km (city) and 7.2 L/100 km (highway), while the V6’s ratings were 11.0/6.7 (city/highway). Ratings for the 2002 models were 11.0/7.0 for the 2.2-litre, and 11.1/7.1 for the V6.
Despite the new four-banger’s increased efficiency, there still wasn’t much of a reason not to choose the V6, save for the higher purchase price.
2000 Pontiac Grand Am. Click image to enlarge
Reliability-wise, the Grand Am was below average, according to Consumer Reports’ used vehicle data for the car. In fact, the best part of these cars was the automatic transmission (given how many manual-transmission Grand Ams are around, it’s safe to say CR’s data mostly applies to automatic models). Aside from that, however, the reliability story is a disappointing one.
Like the Alero, the Grand Am’s V6 suffers from the well-documented lower intake manifold gasket failure problem. When these go, engine coolant leaks into the crankcase – where the engine oil lives – contaminating the lubricant and rendering it ineffectual. If you don’t catch this condition in time, the result is ruined bearings and an expensive engine failure.
As if to rub it in, even replacing the gaskets pre-emptively is expensive if you have someone else do it, and a big pain if you do it yourself. This thread at GrandAmGT.com gives an overview of the Grand Am’s cooling system, common trouble spots and how-tos.
2002 Pontiac Grand Am coupe. Click image to enlarge
These cars are also known for cheap brake rotors, which warp easily. Thankfully, these are much less expensive, and easier, to replace.
There are a couple of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) issues, too. The most common is a bad fan motor resistor; this GrandAmGT.com thread details how to replace it.
Other sundry things to look out for are interior niggles like squeaks and rattles and troubles with electronic and power-operated accessories.
As is often the case, North America’s two major crash safety testing organizations each tell a different story about the Grand Am’s collision performance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Grand Am a “poor” rating in its frontal offset crash test, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the car four stars for front-seat occupant protection in its frontal crash test, and three stars in side impact protection (front and rear; the IIHS didn’t test for side impact safety).
2004 Pontiac Grand Am GXP. Click image to enlarge
Chalk the differences up to the IIHS’ frontal offset test being much harder on the car, and, in some ways, more telling about the structural integrity of a car’s safety cage.
Based on what you’re read so far, you might be thinking that you wouldn’t want to have to pay much for a car like the Grand Am, and you’d be right. Used values range from $2,975 for a basic 1999 sedan, to $7,725 for a 2004 GT sedan. Those prices are lower than what many compact imports are worth. At face value, that makes the larger Grand Am look like a good deal, but this car wasn’t blessed with the most advanced packaging, so many compacts will offer as much – or maybe even more – usable interior space.
My advice? If you must have V6 power at a budget price, try something like a Mitsubishi Galant. While less is known about the Galant reliability-wise, what info there is points to it being a solid car for the money.
And if you can live with a smaller car with a four-banger, choose something simple like a Honda Civic or Mazda Protege from the same model years. The price will be about equal to what you’d pay for a Grand Am, and while the car may look smaller, you’ll be getting more for your money by a long shot.
Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) October 2008:
There are a couple of good spots to check out if you’re searching for modern Grand Am information on the web. The Grand Am Owners Club – GAOwnersClub.com – is a solid site with busy forums and lots of information. GrandAmGT.com, despite what the URL suggests, includes information on both the four-cylinder and V6 cars. This site is a little better than the GAOwnersClub for offering a few forum sections dedicated to maintenance and repair topics, topics that are of importance to many used vehicle shoppers.
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Note: most recalls also apply to the Oldsmobile Alero and/or the Chevrolet Malibu
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000123; Units affected: 47,272
1999-2000: OCertain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 201 – Occupant Protection. The console cover does not remain closed when a specified vertical load is applied. During a crash, the console cover could open and the cover or items stored under it could injure an occupant. Correction: Dealers will replace the console latch mechanism.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998248; Units affected: 104
1999: On certain vehicles, the steering wheel could become loose on the steering shaft due to insufficient torque on the steering wheel retaining nut. This could result in loss of steering control and a crash without prior warning. Correction: Dealers will inspect the steering wheel retaining nut for correct torque and tighten as necessary.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999060; Units affected: 989
1999: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 210.1 – Tether Anchorages for Child Restraints. The bolt in the child rear seat tether kit is too long, has insufficient threads to meet proper clamp load, and the spacer in the kit is too short. In the event of a vehicle crash, a child seat may not be properly restrained by the anchor, and injury to the seat occupant could occur. Correction: Dealers will replace any previously installed child seat tether bracket kits.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003217; Units affected: 76,668
2000-2001: On certain vehicles, the hazard warning switch may experience solder joint cracking if subjected to rapid temperature transition. If solder joint cracking occurs and results in an open circuit, the turn signals/hazard lamps become intermittent or inoperative. Correction: Dealers will replace the hazard warning switch.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000275; Units affected: 1,712
2000-2001: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 114 – Locking System. When a driver attempts to shift from 5th gear to reverse, a shift inhibitor causes the transmission to be mechanically in 4th gear even though the shift lever indicates reverse gear. In this situation, the key can be removed from the ignition while the transmission is in a forward gear, which is not permitted by the standard. Correction: Dealers will disable the 5th/Reverse Inhibitor by removing a retaining pin and replace the shifter assembly.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000110; Units affected: 48
2000: On certain vehicles equipped with a manual transmission, the clutch pedal position switch plunger could contact the steering column boot and thereby not be able to extend when the clutch pedal is depressed. In this condition, the vehicle can be started with the transaxle in gear (not in neutral) without the clutch pedal depressed. If the driver is not applying the brake, the vehicle may move unexpectedly and a crash could occur. Correction: Dealers will install a shield to prevent contact between the column boot and the clutch pedal position switch.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001096; Units affected: 99,174
2000: 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 “Generator Low Voltage” indicator light will not illuminate under low voltage conditions. Correction: Dealers will reflash the vehicle PCM with new calibration software.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004391; Units affected: 18,955
2003: On certain vehicles, in hot ambient conditions, the accelerator pedal arm may stick at the attachment to the bracket and not return to the engine idle position when the operator removes the actuating force from the accelerator pedal. If the accelerator pedal does not return to the engine idle position, the throttle valve will not close, which may result in an increased stopping distance. Correction: Dealers will inspect the accelerator pedal arm and, if necessary, replace the accelerator and brake pedal assembly.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004213; Units affected: 166
2004: On certain vehicles, a weld on the fuel tank may be insufficient, resulting in a fuel leak. If this were to occur the operator may notice a strong fuel smell and some dampness on the ground. If a sufficient amount of fuel were to leak out and if an ignition source were present, a vehicle fire could occur. Correction: Dealers will inspect the fuel tank, and replace, if necessary.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005035; Units affected: 737
2005: Certain vehicles were built with rear suspension knuckle bolts that are not to specification and could fracture under high loads that can occur in some driving conditions. If the bolt fractures, the rear suspension linkage could detach from the knuckle and the rear wheel would be able to turn inboard or outboard. Sudden changes could occur in vehicle handling and, particularly at higher speeds, the driver may not be able to control the vehicle and a crash could occur without warning. Correction: Dealers will replace both rear suspension knuckle bolts.
Crash test results
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.
For more Used Vehicle Reviews by Chris Chase,.