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Buick Rescue - 1995 LeSabre


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Well, I purchased another Buick I thought needed rescuing. This one is a 1995 LeSabre. An older lady contacted Pete Phillips (she lived nearby and knew Pete had an interest in cars) and asked if he wanted to buy it from her. Pete, knowing my obsession with rescuing Buicks, contacted me and told me what he knew about it. It has 251,000 miles on it, the 3800 engine runs very poorly, the drivers side window has been stuck down for a while (protected by a plastic bag simply pulled down over the top of the door), the headliner is completely gone, and the dark blue paint has turned to surface rust on most of the horizontal surfaces. Sounds great, right?

The lady told Pete she only wanted $300 for it because that's what a salvage yard would give her. Pete gave her my phone number and she called me. After talking to her I felt obligated to at least go see it. She was practically begging someone to buy it. She had had it for 5 years and was still sentimental, I guess. So I drove the 1.5 hours to look at it, having no intention to buy it, but just to get her off my back. Everything Pete said was true. But what he didn't say was that it had been parked under a tree since October and was absolutely filthy from the leaves, tree sap, etc. I noticed the exhaust hung very low, almost dragging the muffler. Also, I discovered the entire carpet was damp. I initially thought it was due to the drivers window being down, but it seemed to be the most wet in the passenger back seat area. And the owner smoked, so you can imagine the smell from the cigarettes and dampness. And we had to jump start it because the battery wouldn't start it on its own. Not going too good so far.

When we finally got it started, the engine had a definite bad miss, causing 3800 engine to rock. It was a rhythmic rock though, indicating some of the cylinders were not firing. The lady told me she had been driving it like that for a few months, getting up to a top speed of 30 MPH. Now, anyone familiar with these engines knows that they have 3 coils, with each coil responsible for 2 cylinders. I started pulling plug wires from the coil and discovered that one coil was not producing any spark, which was causing two of the 6 cylinders to not fire. The diagnostic characteristic in me took over and I told the lady I thought a coil was bad. When she asked how much that would cost to replace, I told her probably under $50. In fact, if she could wait, I'll go buy one and replace it for her. I don't know what made me say that, but the next thing I know I'm headed to the local auto parts store and purchasing a coil for $38. Within a few minutes I had it replaced (think goodness they are easy to replace). A miracle happened. The car ran great. Nice and smooth and quite, like a 3800 engine should. I cannot described the smile and excitement on her face. I could tell she was happy to see it running good again.

At that point I told her if she wanted to keep the car, that I would throw in the part for free and just head back home. She thought about it for a while and said, honestly, she just needed the money. Then she told me a story about her son being involved in a recent wreck and went on and on about all the problems he has had since then. My heart went out to her, and I told her I would consider buying it. After a test drive of about 2 miles, I committed to buying it. What was I thinking? I guess I just felt sad for her and just wanted to help her out. So, I drove back to town and found an ATM. Of course, I couldn't drive two cars at once. So I told her I would have to come back next weekend to get it. On the 1.5 hour drive home, I kept thinking of ways to tell my wife what I had done. However, once she heard the story, she understood why I did it. It's just something I do, and she can put up with another Buick in the driveway for a while.

The next weekend I headed back with my wife, loaded with jumper cables, a gas can, an air tank, a gallon of anti-freeze, and all the tools I thought I might need. We had to jump it off again, and when we did it this time the engine raced too what seemed like 6,000 RPM and wouldn't come down. We finally turn it off, jumped it again, and it ran fine after that. That was odd. At that time I noticed the inspection sticker was out and kind of made a comment about it. She said she could get it inspected in about 15 minutes. You see, she knows someone. I thought if I could get it inspected now, why not? So I followed her back to town to a private mechanic and he greeted her warmly. Apparently he was familiar with the car, and put an inspection sticker on it without doing anything except charge me $14.50 (the standard inspection cost) for it. Then I followed her home. I thought if she could drive it to town and back, why can't I drive it another 80 miles back to my house? After a brief stop at her house, I emptied the gas can in the car and headed home with my wife behind me.

The only surprise driving it back (other than the actual fact that it made it the 80 miles back home), was that it would sputter badly on acceleration. Once I got it up to speed (75 MPH at one time) it ran fine. I thought it is probably dirty fuel injectors. I was happy to get it home, and happy to help out a lady in need. Now what.

I thought the first thing that needed my attention was the drivers window. It was stuck down. Within a few minutes, I diagnosed the problem was in the master switch, located in the arm rest. I disassembled it, found a wiring diagram online, and jumpered the switch. The window went up and down like it should. OK, $25 for a new switch ought to fix that. That was a relief So far so good.

The battery seems like it is holding a charge, so the thought of buying a new battery went away for now. More good news.

The next thing was to clean it. I started with wiping down the door panels and dash. Those cleaned up petty good. But the carpet was a different story. I initially thought I could just dry it and clean it. Uhh, no. The more I examined it, the worse it got. Not only was the carpet wet all over, but the mat was, too. I started by vacuuming it out. You wouldn't believe all of the trash I pulled out from under the seats. Cigarette boxes, cigarette butts, lottery tickets, candy wrappers, plastic shopping bags, leaves and more leaves. All of which were damp from the carpet being wet. Can you say 'Yuck!'. It wasn't long before I stopped vacuuming and decided to just get this carpet out of here.

It was a pretty easy task to remove the front seats. Except for the smell of a dirty swamp, only a few bolts holds the seats to the floor. Once I got the seats out, another 15 minutes was needed to just rip everything out that attaches to the floor. By the looks of things buried under the carpet, it has been wet for a very long time.

That's where I am right now. I am fully committed to get this car cleaned up and running well enough to pass on to another person in need of transportation. I'm not intending to make a profit, just finding a good home for it.

Anyone have any suggestions on where to buy carpet for it? I think I can use the padded insulation again once it dries out, but I would like a molded, one piece carpet that I could just put down with little cutting required.

The pictures I have are too big to post now, but I will get them smaller and post them here soon.

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Good luck with your car!

Please keep in mind I'm in a RUST BELT so may or may not have any bearing with your car. I have owned two LeSabres and they both performed well for us (excluding a pesky crank position sensor that would kill the engine at 60 mph on occasion). My son also bought one. All three had rad cradle rust issues of varying degrees but my son's had other rust issues to this degree....

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Again, not sure you have this degree of rust concerns there but wanted to put this out there.

Had he been another two minutes down the road and on the expressway like he was planning, who knows???? He lost all control of the steering and came to rest against a curb instead of crossing the center line .......

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John, I had the same thoughts but haven't checked the heater core yet, but I suspect it might be the case. If you notice in the picture with the drivers door open, you will see some wires and stuff hanging down from under the passenger dash, where the heater core is. That tells me someone has been under there investigating something. All I know at this time is the wires are from the ECU box which has been taken down and just stuck under the dash behind the glove box. I don't know why.

I am aware of the HVAC drainage issue, too. I had a 1991 Roadmaster Estate Wagon that suddenly had a puddle of water in the rear passenger floor. I thought it was very strange to have water in the rear floor. It took a while before I realized what was happening with the drain. I will look at that, too.

Thanks for the input.

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This was under the carpet. The amount of corrosion indicates the carpet has been wet for a long time. It looks important so I better try to clean it

SDM better known as the air bag module.

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If you still have your option lable ( in the trunk on the spare tire cover) toward the bottom of the 3 digit option codes will be one that ends in I ( example 98I or 67I ) this will be your interior color code.

Edit- GM didn't get fancy with interior color names, its just blue

Gm interior colors, light gray or gray, charcoal, blue, black, white, red.

Edited by Rp1967 (see edit history)
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The item in post #7 is the DERM. Diagnostic Energy Reserve Module. It is part of the SIR or Supplemental Inflatable Restraint system also known as the Air Bag system. It also incorporates an inertia switch to deploy the Air Bags. Read the manual before touching this sensor. You can cause the bags to deploy causing damage to the vehicle and possible injury to yourself. I witnessed this when I worked as a mechanic The mechanic working on the car was stunned but uninjured. When the bags deployed the instrument panel was damaged and the windshield was broken. It happened when he moved the DERM with the ignition on (so he could listen to the Cubs game). The SIR components incorporate gold connectors to last forever. Due to liability issues the SIR must function regardless of the condition or age of the vehicle. That is also why diagnostics and history data are part of the SIR.

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Thanks rick60. That is definitely good information. I knew it had something to do with the air bags because it said 'Air Bag' on it, but I didn't realize it was that complicated. I disconnected the battery (took off the ground cable) before I started removing the carpet. I knew I would be unplugging other connectors and I wanted to leave the doors open for a while to let it dry out in there. There is no danger with the battery disconnected, is there?

I will be ordering a shop manual before I get too much further along. I always feel like I'm guessing too much without a shop manual to show me what to do.

Roy

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As rick60 stated it is a diagnostic ENERGY RESERVE module.

it can retain energy after the battery is removed so if power is interupted during a crash it can still deploy the air bags.

I identified it as an SDM module in an earlier post but that is a later version airbag module with energy reserve and crash memory capabilities.

The module can only retain energy for a short time after the battery is disconnected.

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I didn't get much done on Saturday concerning this car. Not only was it Valentine's Day but it was also the day of our local chapter meeting. This month we drove 1.5 hours to visit Pete Philips at his restoration shop. But I did manage to do a little more cleaning and fix a headlight. Here are some more pictures of the Air Bag Controller box cleaned up and the broken headlight. Auto parts stores wanted upwards of $75 for a replacement headlight. They don't sell just the glass lens, you have to buy the entire assembly. I was lucky to find a local salvage yard with a 1995 LeSabre that had a good headlight for $30. It was the easiest headlight replacement I have ever done. Just 2 big, easy to turn thumb screws, right on top and easy to get to. Loosen those and all of the bulbs pop out with a simple twist. I had it replaced in 2 minutes.

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When I took the carpet out I noticed this box hanging loose behind the glove box. I took the glove box out and saw a bracket for it. I don't know why it was loose, but I disconnected it, put it back where it belongs, and reconnected the 3 plugs with lots of wires. Secure and out of sight.

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This seems to be a common problem with the mid 1990's Buicks of this style (Park Avenues and LeSabres). I see the faded paint in the same patterns on the trunk lids and top quite often here in Texas. I guess the paint on these surfaces doesn't hold up to the Texas heat. I went to O'Reilly's Auto Parts to see about getting a can of touch-up paint and they told me if I told them the paint code they could mix a spray can with the exact color for $15. All of the trim stickers I have found are too faded to see the official paint code. Does anyone know what paint code this is?

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When I took the carpet out I noticed this box hanging loose behind the glove box. I took the glove box out and saw a bracket for it. I don't know why it was loose, but I disconnected it, put it back where it belongs, and reconnected the 3 plugs with lots of wires. Secure and out of sight.

Looks like the ECM.

Ben

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When I took the carpet out I noticed this box hanging loose behind the glove box. I took the glove box out and saw a bracket for it. I don't know why it was loose, but I disconnected it, put it back where it belongs, and reconnected the 3 plugs with lots of wires. Secure and out of sight.

ECM

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Yeah, I figured the box with all the wires was the ECM, although it didn't say it on the box. There was hand writing on it that said '1995 LeSabre' so the previous owners might have changed it out for some reason. I don't think they would write that on it with a marker at the factory, but I could be wrong.

Anyone know the official paint code for this dark blue paint color?

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Roy,

There should be a Service Parts Identification Label (also known as an RPO Code Label) glued to the underside of the spare tire cover in the trunk. At the very bottom of the label, there will be a series of letters and numbers left to right. The first set on the left will most likely be BC/CC = Base Coat/Clear Coat. Next will be a "WA-L"(L=Lower) with four numbers and "WA-U"(U=Upper) with the same four numbers...the numbers being the paint code color. There's more numbers to the right but are not important as to what you're looking for.

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This seems to be a common problem with the mid 1990's Buicks of this style (Park Avenues and LeSabres). I see the faded paint in the same patterns on the trunk lids and top quite often here in Texas. I guess the paint on these surfaces doesn't hold up to the Texas heat. I went to O'Reilly's Auto Parts to see about getting a can of touch-up paint and they told me if I told them the paint code they could mix a spray can with the exact color for $15. All of the trim stickers I have found are too faded to see the official paint code. Does anyone know what paint code this is?

Roy,

Sorry I can't help you on the paint code (car went to the scraper) but can state that GM had trouble with paint (heard it was primer issues?) during this time period. I especially noticed it on Chev & GMC truck hoods.

Here is a shot of my son's Buick showing the same paint problems. I know that everything is bigger and better in Texas but it's not just your Texas Heat see - ha ha. Otherwise from the looks of rest of the car (other than being in the rust belt) you would not think it had the problems it did.

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Personally I loved my two LeSabre's but this one should never have passed the safety inspection and not sure how I will react if I ever meet the guy again.......

I wish you many enjoyable trouble free miles from yours.

Knowing you are out west cars fare far better body wise but still wanted to put it out there because people from all over read these postings and just might want to be aware of potential issues.

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Dship, thanks for the information regarding the paint code. I found the sticker you refer to. It is stuck on the spare tire cover. But it is very faded and I cannot make out the numbers with my poor eyesight. Perhaps I can take a picture and magnify it. I was hoping someone would know the code from looking at the pictures.

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Dship, thanks a lot. That looks like what I needed. The web site directed me to Medium Adriatic Blue, code WA9907. I think I can see 9907 as the paint code on the faded sticker now. This should help me. After looking at the car closer, I'm not sure now if a spray can of touch-up paint will do any good. I don't want to spend a lot of money getting it repainted because I want to keep it affordable for the next buyer. I guess I can try a can for $15 and see how it goes from there. I can't make it any worse than it already is.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Last Saturday was a beautiful day and I was able to spend a lot of time on the car. There is some good news and some bad news.

Good news. You know I had taken out the interior. Saturday I cleaned the seats using Tuff Stuff. The seats turned out very good. There are no rips in the fabric and they are back to looking almost brand new.

Good news. I got a front license plate holder from a local wrecking yard for $10. I straightened the front license plate, which looked like it had hit every curb in town, so everything looks good now.

Good news. I took the bent trim piece on the left passenger door off and straightened it out and put it back on. Looks almost as good as new. There was no dent in the door, just the trim piece. I guess it did it's job.

Bad news. The front seat arm rest/console fell apart when I took it out to clean it. I will have to get another one from Brown & Sons in Sunset, TX. It is about an hour drive from my house but they said they had a decent one with the same interior color.

More bad news. I could not clean the carpet. It especially looks bad with the seats, that look real good. So I will have to buy new carpet. I see that Stock Interiors has a molded carpet for it for $133, so that's not too bad. A new carpet will look great in this car.

Some more bad news. I notice a giant oil spot under the engine. It has a bad oil leak somewhere that will need to be addressed before I can sell it. I guess I never noticed it before because it was parked on grass. I'll look at it when I do an oil change.

Now the really bad news. I have everything out of the car except the drivers seat. I put the drivers seat back in so I could drive it if I needed to. I was skeptical about putting in the padding and carpet before I knew where all the water was coming from. Well, since it has been raining all day, I went out to check it. There was water everywhere in the floor pan, with most of it in the rear passenger area. I guess the door seals are leaking, or perhaps the rubber weather stripping, I don't know right now. What I do know is that I have to fix the leaks before I attempt to sell it. That means more money and a lot more work. At least I know it is probably not a heater core or plugged A/C drain. At it explains why it was the wettest in the rear passenger floor when I got it. Any suggestions on how to fix water leaks are welcomed. Here are some pictures of the water inside the car.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well, unfortunately, not all rescue missions turn out for the good. It has been raining for several days here in Texas and I just cold not keep the car from filling up with water. There were leaks in all 4 quadrants from all 4 doors. I could see water trails running down into the front floors from behind the dash somewhere, behind the back seat, trunk, etc. The most frustrating part is that the weatherstripping didn't look all that bad. But nothing I did seemed to have any impact on the flooding. I drilled holes in the floors to allow the water to drain. I decided it would take too much effort to fix all of the leaks, and by the time I bought new carpet and padding, and replace the catalytic converter to get it to run better, I would have so much money and effort in it that I couldn't sell it. And I don't know if I would ever be confident that I had all of the leaks fixed. BTW, this seems to be a common problem with the mid-1990s LeSabres. There is a lot of articles on the internet about it. So, the bottom line is that I sold it to a salvage yard for what I had paid for it. He said he would try to fix it and resell it, but I doubt it. Oh, well, I guess I can't save them all. At least I know I helped the lady I bought it from.

Stay tuned for another rescue project. I'm sure I'm stumble across another one soon.

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It is gone, but did you have a chance to check the seals on the windshield and rear window? To repair would be even more expense but that glue generally does not last as long as we like to keep our cars.

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To check for water leaks do the following: Cover the air valves located in the door jambs with masking tape. With the ignition on, engine off, close all of the windows and put the blower motor on high while in the fresh air mode (not recirculation mode). This will pressurize the cabin. You can now pour soapy water over the vehicle. There will be a large amount of bubbles were there are voids in the sealant allowing water to enter. Raise the hood to inspect the cowl area. It is normal for bubbles to be visible around the door handles and along the belt line area near the door glasses. It is a quick way to locate leaks. Good luck with your project.

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My father had one like that ('95) and after a moderate collision at the right front it leaked all over. It appears that some cracks opened up and when water that is always colder than the interior is on the car it is sucked in by the drop in interior pressure. He minimized the leaks by leaving a window cracked when parked and running the fan on high when driving in the rain. The car ended up being sold to a rural mail carrier and is still in service :eek:.

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