Cadillac Quality Issues in the 1980s

old cadillac
You can fix your Cadillac!

You may remember the Cadillac quality issues in the 1980s, but this brand has been working hard to revamp its image.

About Cadillac

Founded in 1902, Cadillac is one of the world's oldest car brands. The luxury car nameplate has been part of General Motors since 1909, and over the years, it has seen some dramatic ups and downs in terms of sales and quality. The years after World War II were some of the best for this American car brand, but in the 1980s, quality issues plagued the automaker. Eventually, the cumulative effect of these problems hurt the brand's reputation, and some analysts feel it is still in the process of recovering.

Market Pressure and Design Changes: Luxury Cars in the 1980s

In order to understand Cadillac's quality issues, it's important to have a sense of the luxury car market during the 1980s. During this decade, Cadillac was engaged in a fierce battle with Lincoln, another American luxury car manufacturer. Both car companies were under great pressure to release new models and develop new technologies to gain a larger share of the market.

To add to this pressure, Japanese cars were becoming more popular. For the first time, American car consumers began to turn away from companies like Cadillac, choosing instead to buy a Toyota or a Honda. Although these companies were not yet known for their luxury vehicles, their reliability records were attractive to consumers who were frustrated with quality issues in American cars.

During this period, the United States government issued mandates to carmakers to improve automotive safety and reduce emissions. These regulations required significant revisions to existing technologies, and these changes may have contributed to Cadillac's quality issues.

In the late 1970s, fuel suddenly became very expensive. Shortages of gasoline meant consumers had to wait in line at gas pumps, and car buyers began to consider fuel efficiency when buying a new automobile. Luxury carmakers like Cadillac had to redesign engines and car bodies to accommodate consumer demand.

Common Cadillac Quality Issues in the 1980s

Whatever the reason for the quality issues during the 1980s, consumers had no shortage of complaints. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Many car buyers disliked the new, more fuel-efficient car designs. In general, 1980s Cadillacs were smaller and were under-powered.
  • Cadillac offered a diesel engine in some models during the 1980s. Consumers hated this engine because it was prone to complete failure.
  • Design problems and substandard parts caused many GM engines to fail prematurely during this period of time. Consumers disliked the expense of frequent Cadillac repairs.
  • The fuel-injection system was also plagued with problems, and many consumers found they had to replace head gaskets and other components.
  • In 1981, Cadillac developed the "variable displacement engine," which was notoriously unreliable. Car buyers complained about electronic failures with this design.

The Future of Cadillac

After the quality issues of the 1980s, consumers were wary of these luxury cars. Instead, many turned to Japanese and German counterparts, causing Cadillac to fall to fourth place in the world luxury car market. Throughout the 1990s, the company worked hard to reverse this trend, releasing higher-quality, higher-performing models. The American automaker got in on the trend toward large SUVs in the early 2000s, and it suffered heavy losses once again in the car market collapse of 2008.

Renewing its commitment to producing fuel-efficient vehicles, Cadillac is working to create "green" luxury cars. The hybrid electric Escalade is attracting attention, and it's a popular model with celebrities. Additionally, a plug-in electric vehicle is expected in coming years.


Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Cadillac has been working to live-down its quality problems. Today, Cadillac vehicles are known for being luxurious and a fair value, and coming models will also focus on fuel efficiency. Consumers have long memories, but they may be starting to forget the Cadillac quality issues in the 1980s.

Was this page useful?
Cadillac Quality Issues in the 1980s