1988 Buick Regal Limited 2.8L V6 MPFI from North America
Easy on the eyes and fuel, but get a garage first
All ignition coils were replaced.
Digital instrument cluster had numerous cracked solder points on the circuit board, re-soldered.
MAF sensor failed, aftermarket replacement cost $89.
Replaced the throttle position sensor for a good measure. The original was starting to get flaky.
Crankshaft position sensor started malfunctioning. Found out it was plastic & cracking, replaced with Napa lifetime warranty part because it is difficult to reach.
Turn signal switch has been a recurrent problem.
Fuel injectors started shorting out when hot, which led to computer problems.
Original front rotors were warped of course.
Oil pressure sensor started leaking, replaced with Napa part that incorrectly indicated low pressure at idle.
Headliner cloth fell down.
Air conditioning compressor failed, replaced with a junkyard unit on which the clutch coil failed a week later. Old compressor's coil was incompatible, replaced with a new part.
Air intake flex pipe cracked/tore at throttle body.
Alternator wore out.
2 water pumps.
Driver's seat foam is decaying. Same problem on all GMs of that era. I removed the seat and added a generic encased seat pad from the bottom. It was bearable enough for 2-hour trips.
Stock steel wheels on W-bodies are of poor quality. I highly recommend upgrading to 15" alloys from upscale models.
Original enamel paint looked like new. It was a base model car with manual interior controls, but top-of-the-line paint option. Can't get enamel paint anymore since the 90s; too bad.
Huge doors are heavy and look exotic by modern standards, with flush vertical door handles on the window frame, so the main part of the door looks clean.
Dash pad held up well considering it is completely exposed to sunlight. Underneath the dashboard, the plastic foam was separating and curling up, so I kept trimming it.
Door glass rails must be lubricated regularly, otherwise they drag because it's a single-point unbalanced lift system, not a scissor type. Funny how this platform spent many years in development hell, but a lot of that was to cheapen the design wherever possible. Even funnier is the staggering amount of trim panels. Front bumper has trim covered by trim, as does the instrument panel.
Turn signal switch - replaced it a total of 3 times. It's a poor toy-like plastic design that was used from 1988 to 1994, then they went back to the old style. Original one didn't return to neutral position of course, and didn't blink at full switch in one direction.
Replacement switches from O'Reilly Auto Parts have a 1 year warranty and have lasted 8-10 months each. It's not a difficult procedure, but lengthy. Usual warning sign is failure to signal either at "lane change" or full switch position.
Headliner fabric is not very difficult to fix. The panel comes out through the passenger door. Just make sure to scrape off all of the decomposed foam before re-gluing.
Injectors redone twice, junkyard computer once. Recommendation: buy only brand new injectors with lifetime warranty.
Integrated micro-switches on the A/C compressor are terrible. I installed an old-style cycling switch on the drier canister and adjusted it for r134. After much recurrent work, I enjoyed the A/C for a year until sold.
The car got excellent MPG: approx. 30 highway, more if not speeding, and 26 on average.
Acceleration is not very strong - this engine needs to downshift 2 ratios to go fast. By comparison the later 3.1L MPFI has a noticeably beefier power band between 2000-3500 RPM due to longer stroke, and the same fuel mileage (I had a '91 sedan before). This car is aerodynamic, so it rolls up to high speeds easily. I've always used cruise control, but at times when first engaged it would take off. I think the vacuum unit/modulator needed replacing. I've only replaced the speed controller box under the dash; didn't help.
My car had THM-440 transaxle with hydro-mechanical shift action. Later years (~1992+) had electronic controls. From what I've read they have mixed reviews. Mine worked great.
When I first purchased the car I installed a 180°F thermostat as cheap insurance against head gasket problems. I always do that on 1st-gen bi-metal engines. They weren't designed by computers after all, so you have to take every possible precaution. Later when fixing the injectors I found a note on the underside of the intake that the head gaskets were replaced in 2009 at 40k miles ;-)
I guess that's when they replaced the original water pump. The one I replaced shortly before selling was aftermarket with a cheap stamped-steel impeller. In fact all aftermarket pumps are like that and are imported from China. That's a major no-no! The factory impeller is a cast wheel with many hydro-dynamic vanes. You have to order a re-manufactured part to get it. They are hard to find now compared to 2008-9. I found mine at O'Reilly Auto Parts. It only has a 1-year warranty, but that's better than a silly stamped-steel paddle wheel. Heater output was improved somewhat, though never actually "hot" like in Suburbans or Dodge Shadow for example (with the same cooler thermostats).
The comfort of this car is the biggest give-and-take. The sole reason I've sold it is the road noise. It's a unibody without a thick tar coat like on Benzes, so it's very loud on worn pavement. Forget about going over rough pavement because the transverse monoleaf rear suspension is going to destroy you. It's supposed to be a Corvette-inspired sporty design, but with a steel spring it's much too stiff. All W-bodies had a variable-gauge steel spring for minimal cost, whereas Seville/Toronado/Riviera had fiberglass with air struts. I owned a 1988 Seville that had the same loud road noise, but much better rear absorption.
Rear struts have some "sticktion" because the rod is pre-loaded sideways (they started using normal spring/strut assemblies on later W-2 platform).
I treated these problems by loading the trunk and keeping a full tank of fuel. It was bearable then.
Front suspension on the Regal is fine. It has cartridge struts that are easy to replace at home. They drop in from the top of the strut towers.
Left leg room is lacking; same as in all cab-forward designs.
I've never had a non-Pontiac GM car with a comfortable seat and this one is no exception. No lumbar support. The seat is wide but there is only one particular spot where it doesn't feel like it's slanting and doing a number on my spine. Excellent elbow room by the door though.
I actually found a Grand Prix on a junkyard with comfy leather buckets, but decided against having a center console. Saving grace of the Regal's split bucket seat is the ability to exit from the passenger door when parking downtown. The "center seating position" only fits a small child. The hood on this car is a lot longer than it seems from inside the car, so it's important to keep way behind in crawling traffic.
I went cruising on the freeways in this car aplenty. It ran so straight that it was easy to space out into the music. Sound system is not that loud - it's optimized for medium volume classical music. There's plenty of bass as long as you are on fresh pavement, otherwise road noise drowns out half the sound and interrupts your daydream. Installing new tires helped a little.
Windshield optics are excellent; much better than the glass on my Dodge Shadow or Grand Caravan. Clear, sharp, with low-glare optical tint. I didn't even realise how bad/unsafe the Chrysler glass is at night until I re-experienced GM SoftRay.
Overall I'd say this is a medium-maintenance car. Whereas it has mostly solid-state non-adjustable engine controls, many engine-attached electronics fail.
BTW better than stock oil filter is AC-52. It is longer and is the same as used on later models. Beware of the low-cost narrow aftermarket air filters. They don't work well. The normal one has about 1.5" thick ring. On the air filter lid, to supplement the poor-sealing circumferential gasket I applied plenty of grease. It is important because outside diameter is the engine intake air. Center of filter is the inlet.
On later years with the warped rectangular air filter box, you can use small screws to seal the corners.
Buy this car if you find it cheap and don't care about interior noise levels. They do last 300k+ miles with frequent maintenance and regular repairs.
All in all, among the GM FWD unibody cars, the full-size Park Av Electra/Olds 88-98/Bonneville/Deville are much superior. Regal/Cutlass Supreme/Lumina/Grand Prix/Seville are definitely "poor man's luxury".
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 27th November, 2014