What to Look Out for When Buying a Used Cadillac Escalade


2021 Cadillac Escalade

If you want a full-size luxury SUV and you want to buy American, there really is no serious alternative to the legendary Cadillac Escalade. Of course, a brand new Escalade is out of the financial reach of many admirers of this awesome vehicle. But as the mighty Caddy has been around for more than 20 years it means there are plenty of used ones out there to suit all sorts of different budgets. Let’s, therefore, take a look at what you need to look out for when buying a used Cadillac Escalade.

  • Cadillac Escalade history
  • First-generation Escalade
  • Second-generation Escalade
  • Third-generation Escalade
  • Fourth-generation Escalade
  • What’s so special about the Cadillac Escalade?
  • Known Escalade problems to watch out for
  • How much should you pay for a used Cadillac Escalade?
  • Cadillac Escalade rivals
  • Cadillac Escalade FAQs
  • Should you buy a used Cadillac Escalade?

Cadillac Escalade history

The Escalade is a full-size luxury SUV that’s been in production since 1998, and with the 2021 model, this American icon has now entered its fifth-generation. A lot of Escalade model years included both a standard and long-wheelbase version, and between 2008 and 2013 there were even hybrid versions of the Escalade available.

Cadillac has so far rejected the temptation to go down the unibody route with its flagship SUV, so the Escalade remains very much a truck-based, ladder-frame SUV in either rear- or four-wheel-drive formats. It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn the Escalade is closely related to GM stablemates the Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and GMC Yukon XL, but the Escalade really is in a class of its own in terms of luxury, power and presence.

Over the more than two decades the Escalade has been in production, lots of people have declared this big beast of an SUV to be on the verge of extinction. Tastes and fashions have certainly changed over the years since its introduction, but the Cadillac Escalade continues to prove the doubters wrong and there remains a strong appetite for this incredibly politically incorrect vehicle.

If you want to get a used Escalade and other used vehicles for the lowest possible price, government and police auctions are the way to go. You need to know what you’re looking for to buy at auction, but this guide is a great place to find used vehicles at incredible prices.

First-generation (1999-2000)

2000 Cadillac Escalade

If you want a first-generation Escalade for some reason, there isn’t a great deal you need to know as it was only in production for the 1999 and 2000 model years and was only available in one single “base” trim with the option of rear- or four-wheel-drive. Powering Cadillac’s answer to the Lincoln Navigator was a 5.7-liter V-8 engine, but the Escalade’s 255 horsepower was considerably less than the 300 horsepower offered by its Lincoln rival.

When it was new, the first-generation Cadillac Escalade had a starting MSRP of $46,225, which was about $3,000 more than the closely-related GMC Yukon Denali. Although there was only a single trim level, this was still a very seriously well-equipped luxury vehicle at the time and really didn’t want for anything.

Second-generation (2002-2006)

2003 Cadillac Escalade

Although Chevy and GMC launched the second generations of their full-size SUVs for the 2000 model year, Cadillac held back from producing a new Escalade on GM’s GMT820 chassis until the 2002 model year. Although there wasn’t a 2001 model year Escalade, Caddy did continue to produce and sell the first-generation 2000 model until the second-generation Escalade arrived in showrooms as a 2002 model.

The standard engine for this model was a 5.3-liter V-8, but if you want an all-wheel-drive second-gen Escalade you’ll then be getting the high-output Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 that produced 310 horsepower (2002-2003) or 345 horsepower (2004-2006) instead. Whichever engine and drivetrain you have in your second-gen Escalade, you’ll only have a four-speed automatic transmission that certainly dates this version of the Caddy flagship.

This generation of the Escalade benefitted from an interior facelift in 2003, but the exterior remained largely unchanged so the pre-2003 models don’t look dated compared to the refreshed versions.

Third-generation (2007-2014)

2009 Cadillac Escalade ESV

For the 2007 model year, Escalade production was moved to the new GMT900 platform that would be shared with the Silverado, Sierra, Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban and the Yukon. This model went into production in January 2006 at Arlington Assembly, but the most affordable rear-drive version priced from $57,280 didn’t go into production until August. As well as rear and all-wheel-drive versions, this generation of the Cadillac was available in the short-wheelbase standard format as well and long-wheelbase ESV and EXT pickup versions.

Most versions of this generation are powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, but there are also gas/electric hybrid variants based around a 6.0-liter V-8 and two 60 kW electric motors.

This third-gen Escalade is an affordable way to get that full-fat Escalade luxury and presence for a pretty reasonable amount of money, and it’s big, brash, no-compromise styling still holds up pretty well in the current market.

If you want to know which trim levels were available and what features they included for every model year of the third-generation Escalade, here are the brochures from 2010 to download for free:

Fourth-generation (2015-2020)

2019 Cadillac Escalade

At a star-studded event held in New York on October 7th, 2013, Cadillac launched the all-new fourth-generation of the Escalade. The vehicle went into production in January 2014 and went on sale in the April as a 2015 model with a starting MSRP of around $71,000. There were three trim levels available which were the Base, Luxury and the Premium, although to call any Escalade of this generation a “base” model is almost laughable.

All versions of this generation were powered by the same 6.2-liter EcoTec3 L86 V-8 engine, but you don’t need to hanker after something else under the hood when this one already gives you 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque to play with. Early fourth-gen models came with a six-speed automatic transmission, an eight-speed unit was introduced between 2015 and 2017, and a 10-speed automatic came into play from the 2018 model year onwards.

This fourth-generation of the Escalade has an exterior design all of its own that couldn’t really be anything other than Cadillac. If big, brash and bling is your thing then this is the SUV for you, but if you’re the shy and retiring type who likes to stay below the radar it probably isn’t for you.

If you want to know which trim levels were available and what features they included for every model year of the excellent fourth-generation Escalade, here are the brochures from 2015-2020 to download for free:

Fifth-generation

2021 Cadillac Escalade Sport

The Escalade gets a complete redesign for the 2021 model year that makes this luxurious people mover even bigger than it already was and features a roomier third row, more cargo room, and the latest technology such as Super Cruise and up to five screens inside its cabin. The fifth-generation Escalade as gets an independent rear suspension setup, available air suspension, a new diesel engine option, and more safety features than the previous generation.

For full details of trim levels and features, here’s the 2021 brochure for you to download for free:

What’s so special about the Cadillac Escalade?

Earlier in this article, I said this was a politically incorrect vehicle, and it’s hard to think of a better description of why the Escalade is so popular and such a legend in today’s auto market. This is an unashamedly big, brash, aggressive, powerful, no-nonsense vehicle that makes no apologies for what it is and certainly doesn’t compromise in any area. Yes, there was a hybrid option for a time, but even then the gas engine part of its hybrid propulsion system was a 6.0-liter V-8!

Perhaps the only problem for some buyers who might secretly enjoy the un-PC nature of the Escalade is the impression it may give to people who don’t know you. You only have to watch a few movies or TV shows featuring the criminal underworld to see bad guys driving or being driven around in Escalades. If someone in a movie or TV show is driving a Suburban or Tahoe they’re probably a government agent, but if the character has an Escalade they’re probably being pursued by the authorities!

Known Escalade problems to look out for

One of the worst problems reported about the Escalade is easy to avoid as it only really occurred with the 2014 model year. The problem was a bad ride, which although not as serious as something like catastrophic engine failure, isn’t what you want with an $80k luxury SUV. The problem was caused by faulty struts, which led to a ride some owners described as feeling like “being thrown around in a cage.”

The average mileage this problem occurred at was around 35,000 miles, it costs around $1,700 to repair, but thankfully it wasn’t a widespread problem and it was only limited to that model year.

Far more common and widespread issues come from the Escalade’s transmission, which has been known to completely fail with many model years. The bad news is this often means a complete rebuild or replacement running into several thousands of dollars, but the good news is that older used models that have this problem will probably have had it fixed.

According to the Car Complaints website, transmission issues with the Escalade tend to appear on average at about 77,000 miles, so used models with this kind of mileage or more will probably be okay.

Other than those issues, the Escalade doesn’t suffer from any particularly notable or unique issues and the Caddy is as reliable and durable as any similar vehicle.

How much should you pay for a used Escalade?

Prices for used Escalade models range from extremely low to positively eye-watering, depending on age, mileage, condition etc. To give you a rough idea of how much you should expect to pay for a used Cadillac Escalade, here’s a table showing the used price ranges for most model years based on a national search of the Auto Trader website:

Model YearMinimum used priceMaximum used price
1999$2,999$8,995
2000$2,995$7,995
2002$3,200$9,950
2003$3,995$9,995
2004$3,995$10,950
2005$4,250$13,495
2006$4,590$14,995
2007$6,995$21,000
2008$5,795$24,999
2009$7,495$21,900
2010$8,799$27,900
2011$10,912$33,750
2012$10,995$35,895
2013$16,950$45,000
2014$15,900$38,745
2015$25,990$54,995
2016$27,795$58,888
2017$31,998$88,115
2018$38,496$79,888
2019$48,000$87,999
2020$53,883$87,545

Cadillac Escalade rivals

There aren’t too many genuine rivals to the Cadillac Escalade these days. It appears some manufacturers think full-size, truck-based luxury SUVs are not what people want anymore, but if that were the case the Escalade would have been discontinued years ago. You could look straight to the Caddy’s stablemates (Chevy Suburban, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon) as rivals as they’re all based on the same platform and share a lot of components, but they’re not really rivals in terms of luxury and status.

I’d say the only true rival to the Escalade in terms of size, performance and sheer luxury is the Range Rover Vogue, but even then the luxury British off-roader is a unibody model and nowhere near as spacious inside as the Caddy. In all honesty, if you want what a Cadillac Escalade has to offer then nothing else really compares.

Cadillac Escalade FAQs

Is the Cadillac Escalade reliable?

The Escalade is about par for the course in terms of luxury full-size SUVs with a score of 2.5 out of 5 for reliability from the RepairPal website. A score like that might sound pretty bad if you compare it to something like a Toyota, but the Escalade is a big, tech-laden luxury model with more to go wrong.  

Does the escalade expensive to repair?

An average annual repair cost of $1,007 is fairly high, but it’s only high for the market taken as a whole. Once again, it’s not going to cost as much to repair a Toyota RAV4 as it is to repair an Escalade, just as it’s not going to cost as much to repair a Nissan Altima as it costs to repair a Cadillac CTS-V.

The yourmechanic.com website puts the average repair bill for the Escalade at $258, but costs do range from as little as $80 to as much as $4,333.

How long do Cadillac Escalades last?

According to the vehiclehistory.com website, a 2020 Cadillac Escalade is expected to be good for at least 200,000 miles. However, you don’t have to spend long on Auto Trader to come across models from the mid-2000s with considerably more than 250,000 miles on the odometers that are still going strong and being sold for decent money.

What year Cadillac Escalade is the best?

The best year for the Escalade as far as customer satisfaction is concerned is the 2002 model, according to ratings compiled by ranker.com, which gives it an incredible 5.0 out of 5.0. The 1999 model is second-best with 4.9, and in third place, it’s the 2013 model year Escalade with a 4.8 rating.

Is the Cadillac Escalade four-wheel-drive?

In its standard form, the Escalade is rear-wheel-drive but four-wheel-drive is available as an option.

Is the Escalade a good off-roader?

Although the Escalade isn’t anywhere near as off-road capable as the Range Rover Vogue or non-luxury SUVs such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, an Escalade equipped with the available four-wheel-drive system is certainly off-road capable and makes light work of poor driving conditions on-road.

Is the Escalade a safe vehicle?

GM’s big trucks tend to do pretty well in crash tests, and the Escalade comes equipped with a ton of active and passive safety tech. Big, expensive luxury vehicles like the Escalade rarely get crash-tested by the IIHS and NHTSA, but it would probably rate fairly highly if it was tested. Just by its sheer size and weight, the Escalade should be a reasonably safe place to be in a fender-bender.

Is the Escalade good on gas?

No. If fuel economy is an important factor for you when you’re looking to buy a used SUV then this is one to steer clear of. The Caddy is huge, it tows like a truck and its monstrous gas V-8 engine propels it from 0 to 60 mph faster than a lot of family sedans and hatches.

How much can the Cadillac Escalade tow?

The maximum tow ratings for the five generations of Cadillac Escalade are:

Escalade generationMaximum tow rating
First-generation6,600 pounds
Second-generation7,200 pounds
Third-generation7,700 pounds
Fourth-generation8,300 pounds
Fifth-generation8,200 pounds

Should you buy a used Cadillac Escalade?

Interior of Tom Brady’s Escalade

If you want a full-size luxury SUV that can seat up to seven people in consummate luxury and tow like a midsize pickup truck you really can’t go wrong with a used Cadillac Escalade. You won’t win many friends in the environmental lobby and you certainly won’t go unnoticed, but you really won’t find anything else out there that’s quite like the Escalade. It has to be one of the most famous names in the US auto market today, and that’s not bad for a vehicle that’s only been around since 1999.

Of course, you will have to put up with lousy fuel-economy and reasonably expensive running and maintenance costs, but can you really expect anything else with a vehicle as big, powerful, capable, luxurious and tech-laden as an Escalade?

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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