The used Opel Vectra C: Self-destructing recycled boxes and cylinder heads

Running gear
Braking system

If the Vectra is not in the “charged” OPC version, the brakes here are relatively simple. In front, floating calipers and not very big discs. At the back, the brakes are also disc, and on the most powerful – also ventilated. The handbrake mechanism is built into the caliper.

No special surprises are expected with the service life and reliability. Original pads last a long time: if the pace of driving is calm, and the car with a cogged gearbox, the front ones can go a hundred thousand. The discs survive 2-3 pad replacements, so even now there’s a good chance of encountering “native” rotors in the front.

Clutches tolerate cold and wet climate not very well, but you can’t call them problematic at all. They serve their 5-10 years before repair with replacement of pins, pistons and rubbers, if there was minimal maintenance. The problems are usually more in the back, where the handbrake mechanism jams and can corrode the caliper housing in the place of installation of the screw drive axle gland, as well as the place of installation of the rear dust cover.

Front Brake Pads

Unfortunately, the list of troubles doesn’t end there. Brake pipes get badly rotten by 10 years: the plastic protective coating begins to peel off, the tubes swell. Also the ABS block on the cars before a restyling quite often breaks, and front ABS sensors are not especially reliable – the connector is often corroded and wire breaks at the place of ring exit. Let’s add here also periodic problems with ABS wiring connectors, both to sensors, and to the unit, and it turns out that the braking system still forces you to invest.

Fortunately, used parts are inexpensive, but front ABS sensors come with a hub assembly, so it’s hard to save money. Sometimes you can swap out new sensors at a Saab hangout, there’s the same hub but with its own sensor on a 9-3 II. Many thrifty Saabists when replacing take a cheaper hub from a Vectra and put the old Saab sensor, so the new Vectra after such repairs lying around unnecessary. The maximum budget solution is buying similar sensor from Fiat Croma of the second generation (for example ABE CCZ1383ABE), which is produced separately from the hub and is compatible with Vectra.

Suspension

Suspension in Vectra C is absolutely typical: McPherson in front and multilever behind – the same as in the predecessor. According to the fashion of the beginning of millenniums a huge angular bearing in a plastic body is applied in front – it does not live long in a dirt. The modernized dust cover, appeared after 2004, does not help either: its service life has increased, but all the same knot is still an expendable part, and the rattle at steering wheel rotation is standard fear of the owner.

The front lever on the Vectra C is now aluminum, with a non-replaceable ball joint. It has a pretty decent life, 100+ thousand kilometers, but the price is pretty high, for 350 euros. Non-original options from FAG or Magnetti Marelli will cost about 3 times cheaper, and the service life will be less, but not critically. But the cheap Chinese replacements will run from 15 to 40 thousand maximum. If you want, you can try to install the replacement ball joint to the old lever, or try to buy in Belarus a set for welding a new mount for the replacement ball joint to the ball joints of Lancer.

The rear suspension also has its weak points. First of all the resource of “boomerang” – sickle-arm, to be exact, its silent blocks is low. Initially, its price was almost as at the front, but over time dropped, even the original costs 60-70 euros, and the non-original – about 25, and the resource is usually acceptable. All the silents of rear suspension arms are now replaceable, and this is a big plus. By a hundred thousand runs, not only “boomerang” rubber bands usually wear out, but also the longitudinal and support arms, so a 15-20 year old Vectra will probably have to invest in it more or less regularly. The average rebuild check is about 200 euros just for the arms and silent blocks, not counting the shock absorbers and springs, which may also need to be replaced.

By Opel standards, the cost of maintaining the running gear of the Vectra C was a bit high. The old-school Opelists, accustomed to the fact that the suspension wears out by the time the body starts to fall apart, and spare parts are given away for free and still pay, were extremely dissatisfied, so that the wave of curses spread throughout the community regularly. Therefore, when reading angry reviews, it is worth keeping this fact in your mind. By today’s standards, the price of maintenance for a car of class D is quite acceptable, especially as prices for details have considerably decreased for the last 10 years.

Steering

Steering in Vectra is rack and pinion, with EGR, except versions OPC and with engine 2,8T where there is usual mechanical pump. Right away the sad part: the original pump for the pre-styling costs 2500 euros, for the restyling – about half the price. The CIM unit discussed in the section “electronics” – about 900 more.

Of course, the typical Russian car service in case of problems (and on cars with mileage 200+ their occurrence is a matter of time) will offer you exactly this budget for repairs. But do not run to sell the kidney, everything can be restored or replaced with used, and new non-original pumps are literally from 150 euros.

How to postpone the “doomsday”? First of all, you should know that the pump needs regular fluid changes, at least once in 30 thousand. With dirty oil the pump slowly dies, and at the same time it is killing the rack, where the inner surface is wearing out. The second typical trouble of the rack is leaking oil seals, but it is not because of dirt, but because of overheating, as OEM radiator is clearly insufficient for proper cooling.

With large runs the electric motor fails as well, there are regular problems with wiring to the pump, and voltage jumps in the onboard network of the car during its operation – all is not very well laid out.

Transmission
General problems

All the trucks are strictly front-wheel-drive, and the solutions in the transmission are very conservative, time-tested. The range of units is wide, but for unknown reason the number of variants of automatic transmissions with low-powered engines is limited – about it in details was in the first part.

Mechanical gearboxes

There are several variants of “mechanics” here. They used old transmission F17 with petrol engines 1.6 and 1.8, with 2.2 engines – 5-speed F23 by Getrag, with 3.2 engines and diesel engines 2.0 and 2.2 – 5-speed F35, with supercharged 2.0 – 6-speed Getrag M32, and with diesels and 2.8T the most powerful gearbox from Opel arsenal – F40. All these transmissions are with a hydraulic lever, which is not cheap, but reliable.

The F17s, which are based on the old F13 box for engines up to 1.6 liters, have the most problems. On the Vectra C, they work with 1.8 motors up to 140 horsepower, and the car itself is heavy – much heavier than all Vectras before that.

Even with the 1.6 engines on the Vectra B, these F17s were dying regularly, and on the Vectra C the chances have become very high. When buying, listen to it on the elevator for the characteristic howling. First of all the front bearing of the secondary shaft (size 47x27x19,5) dies, killing the seat on the shaft at the same time. With time there are also problems with the primary shaft backlash. If nothing is done, the box body gets irreversible damage, and the wear items finish off the differential.

The latter, by the way, can suffer not only because of the bearing – high loads and/or dirty oil are enough for it. At the critical moment the differential breaks out a piece of the box body with the satellites axle.

In theory it is possible to mill the seating of the shaft for bearing of smaller diameter, and if you pick up a quality replacement bearing with good thrust and radial load, the shaft will live yet.

In practice it turns out that the only possible variant of replacement is an industrial bearing of 20x47x18 mm dimension. The shaft should be ground to a diameter more than twice smaller than the factory one. A logical question arises: will the shaft not break from such manipulations? It will definitely break, if the machining of the shaft is done with a violation of technology (which happens all the time).

A similar story with the alternative option – to make a bushing in the housing for the bearing of the original size. In theory it is possible, in practice you need to choose the right material and do everything carefully.

The third option is to buy a second-hand F17, which is also not so easy, considering that the problem is in the design itself. Almost all of them are already “killed”, so you have to rebuild them before installing them anyway. There are reinforced differentials, but they are very expensive, more expensive than the gearbox.

Old-timers will remember that in Vectra B in case of critical wear of F17 they changed it for much stronger F16, which did not have such problems, and it cost a penny. Yes, they had to change actuators and hubs, but it is not so essential. Alas, it is not possible to put the old manual transmission on the “zeshka”, it just rests in the rack. In general, the least problematic variants are two. Either to buy “new” (after factory restoration) gearbox F17 (understanding, that the resource will hardly be more than 120-150 thousand), or… not to mess with small-capacity Vectra C.

Five-step transmission Getrag of F23 series is much stronger, though sometimes die because of bearings wear, but it happens extremely seldom. From the disadvantages one can remember only that the gearshift mechanism is very sensitive to the backlash of the rocker and the complexity to change the oil, which must be poured through the top breather, otherwise the recommended volume will not fit.

The M32 box is also Getragian, it is modern three shaft and very compact, but there are as many problems with it as with the F17. The bearings die the same way, most often – of the secondary shaft. There is a problem with cooling – when driving at high speed it gets hotter than 120 degrees, and it has only natural cooling, by air. In addition, the bearings clearly lack lubrication due to deficiencies in the design of the front cover.

Front hub

As with the F17, it is very easy to kill the differential with the products of bearing wear. Repair is not cheap, but on the plus side it is possible to change bearings without removing the gearbox from the car.

Over time the manufacturer changed the “problematic” front cover M32 for bearings of a larger diameter (62 mm instead of 55) and provided it with channels for lubrication – the problem has lost its urgency.

The F40 series gearbox is also three-shaft and six-speed, but already “own”. There are no questions with the bearings, everything is very reliable and they fail very rarely – you just need to monitor the oil level. But the gears, manufactured by new technology, sometimes are not of high quality. In theory this box keeps 450+ Nm of torque, which is enough for any engine, and in practice this value is even higher, up to 600 Nm. However, sometimes gears are cut in harmless situations, for example, after a shock load. Usually the 3rd and 5th gears suffer, and the box is not a survivor in this case, the repair makes no sense. Used are extremely cheap: for comparison – at a price of a used F17 in 400-600 euros F40 in good condition can be found and for 250.

Automatic transmissions

The Vectra is not lucky with automatics and lucky with it simultaneously. With 2.2, 3.2 and 3-liter diesel engines the car was equipped with quite successful five-speed Aisin AW55-50, and then – its upgraded version AW55-51 under the designation AF23/AF33. The 2.8T engines and 1.9 diesel engines were equipped with a newer six-speed Aisin TF80SC, also successful, under the designation AF40-6. The trouble is that the most mass-produced cars with 1.6 and 1.8 engines were deprived of a normal automatic transmission. The 1.6 had no automatic transmission at all, and the 1.8 was only fitted with the Easytronic robot. In theory, it was available somewhere with a GM VT20 variator, but in practice it is impossible to find such a car in Russia and Europe.

The mechanical part of the robot is based on the F17 transmission with all its disadvantages, with electric clutch actuators and gear selector mechanism. This is a very simple and cheap variant of “automation” of transmission, especially since ABS has no anti rollback function and handbrake drive is only mechanical.

Even being serviceable, Easytronic does not work very well: it has problems with start in an uphill and at jerky rhythm of movement. The box twitches and behaves, as not very skilled driver, but it protects a mechanical part. In terms of the device “automatic” part of the design is as simple as possible, and most of the breakdowns – or burnout power cascade clutch control because of overload, or breakdowns actuator motors (there are three pieces) – most often dies clutch motor. Usually it happens due to wear of brushes or bearing wedge at 120-150 thousand mileage. All is repaired very inexpensively, if you know what to do, and the service is not willing to divorce you for repair.

One more minus – the control unit in under-hood space is not tight even from the factory, and after naughty hands of service it is filled with frightening regularity, literally at every washing of the engine. There’s also poor wiring and the need for regular adjustments so as not to overload the power part of the actuator electronics and improve smooth operation. With mileage over 200, additional selector failures and wear and tear on the mechanics of the shifting mechanism appear.

The Aisin boxes are quite detailed in the reviews of the first-generation S60 and XC90, as well as the second-generation S80. In general, they are very good boxes, which, however, require frequent oil changes (better every 30 or every 45 thousand) and do not like overheating.

True, during the operation of the Vectra C, a serious trouble happened to the five-speed gearboxes: the heat exchanger in Valeo radiators had a defect in design. As a result, the antifreeze got in ATF, quickly bringing death to the gearbox. Later, the radiator was upgraded, having changed the design of rings, and after 2004, this problem didn’t occur any more. The early versions of automatic transmission till 2003 are more capricious, than late 55-51 – at runtimes about 120-150 thousand they had rather a lot of problems with hydroblock, but now you’ll hardly come across such low-mileage early cars. The later Vectras with regular oil changes and no overheating these boxes are very resourceful and can go 350+ miles before the first serious problems, except for the replacement of the torque converter lock liner. Well, to struggle with overheats it is desirable to put an additional radiator and a filter.

More strong 6-speed automatic transmission will be more reliable from the very beginning, even with very powerful motors. The main thing is again to prevent overheats, and in case of 2,8T engine they occur regularly. The oil overheats to 120+ degrees during active driving in the city, causing leakage of hoses of automatic transmission cooling system, wear of the oil pump and accelerated ageing of pistons of a box, and then the pressure leaks. The hydraulic transformer here is more complicated by design, with a locking solenoid vulnerable to dirty oil.

Motors
Common problems

It’s worth admitting that Opel’s failure to compete with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz is not just due to image. It’s just “cheaper” and less thoroughly made, and that’s evident in many things. From the positive points – relative simplicity and maintainability.

As in the case with the body, a lot of problems are caused by the style of operation with economy on everything. Many owners like to pour cheap GM 5W30 oil and to change it once in 15 thousand, and to use the most budgetary components and greases. Considering the “hot” nature of atmospheric engines, the number of failures due to oil and antifreeze leaks is quite high. The first problems started at “vectorers” already by 5 years.

On the other hand, experienced and responsible owners, who understand peculiarities of operation, reduce oil change intervals and engine temperatures, are glad about cheapness and simplicity of such engines operation. But not all of them.

Gasoline engines.

Low-volume, pre-restyle engines.

The 1.6 and 1.8 on the pre-restyle are the Z16XE and Z18XE. These are motors in a very old block – they trace their pedigree as far back as 1982. Its design is literally “nothing extra”. Cast iron block, 16-valve cylinder head, belt driven timing, hydro-compensators, no phase controllers, coaxial oil pump on the crankshaft, simple thermostat, simple crankcase ventilation (GCV) without valves, electronic throttle, ignition module with 4 coils, adjustable intake manifold and roller manifold on the exhaust.

Strangely enough, these engines can’t boast any problems or special service life. The service life of a piston group is 350+ thousand kilometers, rarely more. But the cylinder-head cylinder head has appeared a weak spot: the clearances in the valve guide have quickly grown. Oil consumption in urban operation and original oil change “every 15” began relatively early – at 150 thousand, mainly due to easily coked rings, which obviously do not have enough holes for oil drain.

The latter circumstance added a lot of trouble for owners. Nowadays different compounds for coking are easily available, but in the past the only way to clean the rings was to rebuild them. Many people call it “overhaul”, but in the majority of cases there was no mechanical treatment or even removal of the engine. In a direct sense, the above mentioned cylinder-head with its valve guides adds oil to the fire. Raskokoksovka rings, replacement of guides and lapping of valves usually prolongs life of the engine for 100 thousand, after which the real overhaul with turning the cylinders for the repair size of pistons follows.

In addition to the increased chance of oil appetite, there are problems with breakdowns of the engine control unit – it is located directly on the cylinder head and overheats a lot. And further the owner has a lot of problems, because in Opel all systems tried to tie to a particular car as firmly as possible. As a consequence – certain difficulties with the “rebinding” of used ECUs, although they lost their severity in recent years. Now they have learned to “break” almost everything, but in the “zero” years the owner often had to buy a new block. On other motors Vectra C similar problem also occurs, but much more seldom, and usually nobody bothers to change it.

Petty troubles are met with leaky intake, broken intake geometry flaps, leaks with clogged ECG, failure of DPKV and DRS sensors due to broken wires, inlet coking due to EGR valve, contamination of expansion valve, weak ignition module (it is solid here, as a cassette on Saab, is cheaper, but still expensive) and not very successful wiring. One can also remember leaks in cooling system, not cheap “one-piece” original pipes, deterioration of throttle, cracks of exhaust manifold of simplified shape without “horns”, weak gaskets, delicate exhaust corrugations…

In short, to operate such an engine cheaply at more than 15 years of age, you have to know a lot of nuances. Like: from where and from what old engines what pipe fits, how to transfer “brains”, where they are repaired, what throttle gaskets to change and how to wash them, how to disassemble intake, how to shut off EGR and “cut off” oxygen sensors, etc. Yes, all problems have solutions, often inexpensive and effective. But in “stock” they are just rather capricious and weak engines. Only those who know and know how to “cook” them will enjoy it.

Low-volume post-style engines

The newer 1.6 (Z16XE, 100 hp) and 1.8 (Z18XER, 140 hp) engines formally belong to the same family, and the differences, at first glance, are small – except for phase controllers on intake and exhaust. In fact the engine has changed significantly. The block is a bit different, more reliable cylinder head with channels for phasing regulators and two control valves, oil heat exchanger on the front wall under the catalytic converter and controlled thermostat.

The big pluses are more torque due to phasor regulators, more power, no problems with engine “brains”, successful exhaust manifold and much less inlet coking because there is no EGR and DMRV, wear of which often led to increased fuel consumption. True, in addition the new design has got a lot of disadvantages.

First of all, the trouble is that the temperature of the engine was increased. There is a “hot” controlled thermostat at 106 degrees, and fans switch on even later. And the heater in thermostat dies quite often, in many firmware even the “check” does not light up, except that fans switch on already at 80 degrees at full speed. At such temperatures all rubber and plastic elements wear out very badly. At the end, the cylinder-head cover will be warped, all gaskets flow, intake manifold dies, and the wiring quickly becomes brittle. Almost all of the engine’s woes are related to its high temperature.

An oil heat exchanger is a useful thing in general, but considering the increased temperature of the engine and oil, the gaskets start leaking after two or three years. It is a real trouble, because it is very difficult to find fluorocarbon gaskets, which would stand five-six years of exploitation. Even original ones are obviously made of cheaper materials, and among the non-original there are only “installation batches” – you can not rely even on the expensive ones. The saddest thing is that the antifreeze can go into the oil, but there are enough leaks of oil and antifreeze. Especially if the temperature is low and the engine is not warmed up.

The new ECG system with the PCV valve makes the engine drier, leaks are drastically reduced, but if the valve diaphragm breaks, it bleeds more oil than the old version. But the engine number on the block is laser etched, and it corrodes on a completely dry block – such are the unexpected consequences.

The phasor control system suffers from ingress of products of oil caking in the valve screens at first, the screens should be cleaned, otherwise there are failures. Sometimes the valves themselves fail. And at 150+ miles, you have to change the phasor seals or the gears themselves due to leaks.

Early 2.2 engines.

The next 2.2 engine (Z22SE, 147 hp) belongs to a completely different family, and – good news! – it can be bought with a normal hydromechanical automatic transmission. The engine looks good, but only at first glance and for those who haven’t owned an Opel yet.

There is an aluminum block, cast-iron liners, chain drive of timing, balancer shafts and pumps. With small mileage and dealer service the engine really pleased, it is noticeably livelier than 1,8 (even restyled), and even with automatic transmission the car with it is fast enough and at that economical.

 

At 250+ miles, the 2.2 engines often showed oil appetite as well. It is more often connected not with constructional drawbacks (as with 1,6-1,8), but mostly due to poor quality of original GM oil and inadequately long drain intervals (every 15 thousand). And here we found out the scary thing: there are no repair dimensions, which is a novelty for Opel motors. General Motors company did not offer such unrepairable motors before, and it caused one more wave of rage in the clubs of Opel owners.

Before the appearance of developments on replacement of liners, appearance of non-original pistons, cheapening of timing kits from Cloyes (it is manufacturer of original kits for GM) the engine was considered as extremely unsuccessful for a long time. But the successful attempts to install a normal cast cylinder head from the Z20NET/B207 engines and the cheapening of all components now makes the flaws not so significant.

Late 2.2 motors.

The 2.2 Z22YH 155hp motors are a late version of the Z22SE direct injection motor. Problems with the fuel system for a long time made this engine almost the most demonized, but now there are no particular problems with direct injection. The fuel injector is relatively inexpensive, the injectors are repairable, everything is diagnosable. But it’s still more finicky than engines with simple injection, and there’s no gain in dynamics or economy.

Early versions before 2006 are really not worth buying, and on cars after the restyling it’s quite a workable option if you’re ready for the price of repairs on engines in this family and are willing to look for related Chevrolet engines to buy the original components. After all, with GM leaving our market and selling Opel, original parts have become more expensive and partially gone.

Turbocharged 2.0.

Two-liter 170-horsepower motors Z20NET have another designation – B207E/B207R, with these codes they went to Saab 9-3, but they have an engine number and Opel catalog, so you can put the Swedish engines on German cars without any problems with documentation.

In fact, this is a supercharged version of the motor Z22SE, but there is a cast cylinder head, so it does not have cracks and problems with pins, but like any supercharged engine, it is much more demanding to service, and variants 2007-2008 and also differ in the presence of problems with valve springs. The tuning potential is not very high, up to about 280 horsepower. With the drop in prices for the timing kit, it’s minuses have diminished considerably on the overall backdrop.

Atmospheric V6s.

The 3.2 engine with the code Z32SE exists in two versions. The Vectra C has the engine in the same block as the 2.5, 2.6, and 3.0 on the Vectra B and Omega B, with a belt-driven timing from the V6 54 Degree range. The old motor isn’t bad, although it is voracious and heavy. Cast iron block, 24 valves, no phasing, solid belt, good life and traction. True, it is very large and tightly fitted in the engine compartment, so it is not cheap for maintenance.

The main problem – the oil pump is weak, with mileages over 250 it is necessary to watch for oil pressure in summer, with 5W30 oil it is possible to screw up bushings, so it is better to use more viscous and to put oil pressure gauge at the same time.

Turbocharged V6s

The 2.8T engines belong to the new High Feature family, the LP9 series. The 230-280 horsepower versions are essentially variants of the same motor. The design with the aluminum block, timing chain drive and supercharger is just a treasure trove of expensive and strange solutions. It was developed from the other side of the Earth, in Australia, and it is strongly felt.

It is “disposable” just like the Z22SE, and it has not two but three chains. Plus a lot of funny design nuances like bolt washers. Also, it was often upgraded, not caring to make timing repair kits for older versions. In general, it is another “not for everyone” engine. It has a good potential for tuning, but it is unreasonably expensive and troublesome to repair.

Diesel engines

Opel’s older 2.0 and 2.2 liter Y20DTH/Y20DTL/Y22DTR diesel engines are good mechanically. A cast-iron block, a very reliable timing chain and a reliable oil pump. They categorically can not be overloaded at low rpm, bearings easily wear out under such conditions, and it is possible to overstroke the crankshaft. All other troubles are due to the presence of Bosch VP44 injection pump, which does not like low-quality diesel: its keys overheat, mechanics is worn out, and it costs as much as two Vectras. However, experienced diesel mechanics from the neighboring country repair it all, and take 170 horsepower off the engines.

To take or not to take?

It’s a pity that with all variety of choice essentially the only adequate variant of a second-hand Vectra is a motor 1,8 after a restyling with MCP or turbo-diesel 1,9, which one can take with an automatic transmission. In recent years, cars with 2,2 and 2,0 turbo motors have looked a little better – yes, they have many nuances of the motor, but they at least keep the balance of consumer qualities of the car and service cost. Everything else leaves mixed impression. It would be possible to tell, that it is the car for fans, but it is not clear – fans of what.

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