By on June 11, 2013

Joe writes:

Hi Sajeev,

As the resident car enthusiast in family, I’d appreciate your input on the following situation I’ve been asked for my input on.

My parents (in their late 60s) are currently looking to replace one of their two vehicles with a new small crossover. Their current vehicles are as follows:

- 2000 Chrysler 300M w/sport package, 80k miles, virtually all city miles
- 2003 Chevy Impala, 110k miles, virtually all highway miles (my dad was a salesman and bought the car for peanuts after he used it as a company fleet vehicle)

Both cars are in excellent condition and are maintained faithfully by my retired father, including religious fluid changes and twice-yearly waxings. Both garage-kept from new and no rust. As expected with two older vehicles, there have been a few issues over the years:

300M:
- Transmission was replaced early on (20k miles) under warranty after getting stuck in second gear; no further issues with new tranny
- Weak A/C that needs to be recharged yearly to maintain cold air
- Various minor electrical problems that my father addressed himself: window regulators, power seat motor

Impala:
- Something with the steering rack that was replaced by the dealer
- Again, weak A/C that needs to be recharged yearly

The value of both cars is about equal. The car that is kept will likely be kept for quite a while and driven very little by my father who only drives about 2,000 miles per year at this point.

I honestly don’t know which car to recommend they keep. My father wants to keep the 300M because it has lower miles, and it’s much better equipped and nicer to drive than the Impala. However, the lower miles on the 300M have been much harder city miles, and the Impala is three years newer. Plus I feel that any future repairs on the Impala will be cheaper to fix than on the 300M. Quite the quandary.

Would love your opinion on which vehicle would be more reliable for the long haul.

Sajeev answers:

Considering the 300M is a somewhat impressive sports sedan and that Impala is generally a horrid place to do business…AND your Dad will barely use it, the Chrysler 300 is the hands down winner.

(balloon drop, flashing ChryCo message on-screen, audience applause)

I’d change my tune if the 300M had more miles. And if your Dad drove more often.  It’s still a safe bet that the Impala is a far superior value proposition in many other ownership scenarios. Oh, and before I forget, my apologies to that one guy on TTAC who loves him some W-body Chevy.

My parting shot: why punish Mom and Dad with the dark ages of General Motors’ design if, more than likely, the superior Chrysler LH stablemate’s style/design won’t completely fall apart under Dad’s care?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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42 Comments on “Piston Slap: Impala vs. 300?...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    A tranny at 20K miles? Junk the 300 immediately. Keep the Impala, but replace it as soon as possible.

    FWIW, I owned a 2004 Impala for over 8 years, purchased new. It was a great car – no issues at all except rear rotors every couple of years, mostly under warranty.

    Sold it last year and bought a 2012 Impala – a great car, if a bit plain on the inside, but a whole different animal from the 2004.

    The guy who bought the 2004 is a co-worker and I still see the car every few weeks. I regret selling it so soon…

    Right now, I would think twice before buying a Chrysler product, due to past issues and continually ranking near the bottom in many surveys, though I’m not sure why. My gut feeling is that they aren’t that bad anymore, but I’d probably still look elsewhere first.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      Being stuck in second is a symptom of “limp home mode.” There isn’t enough to say, but i could have easily been a solenoid block or other electrical issue that led the tech to erroneously pull the transmission. On the whole the a606 (not the a604) was actually pretty reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Every manufacturer has a few dogs slip through. The bad tranny was replaced, and presumably they don’t typically die at 20k, I imagine we’d have heard about that. I agree with Sajeev, for as little as your dad drives, keep the 300.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      Sajeev took a shot at you, Zman?

      You gonna sit there, and take it?

  • avatar
    danio3834

    We don’t know if the Impala has a 3.4L or 3.8L. No matter in your case though, if your old man likes the 300M more, keep it. They are much nicer cars than the contemporary W-bodies. The 3.5L is a pretty robust engine, and as long as the timing belt and water pump are changed some time in the near future, it will give you good service.

    The transmission was completely replaced at 20k for not going into 2nd? Sounds like the dealer just pounded an assembly at it instead of simply replacing a solenoid or diagnosing a hydraulic leak. These later 42LE transmissions weren’t too bad reliability wise, if it’s been maintained as indicated, at this point, it should make it for the long haul.

    I’ve seen plenty of these 300Ms soldier on past 200k miles. Last year I had an ’07 300 Touring that I sold to a gentleman with an ’01 300M that had 260k miles. He just wanted the latest version of that car he could afford.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually it was getting stuck in second– as in, holding the gear. To me it sounds like the old Chrysler transmission “limp mode” like our ’96 Town & Country used to do when we had it.

      If the 300M has been weeded of the gremlins, I’d have it over the Impala. Sure it might be a tighter fit inside and less than bullet proof, but a clean 300M isn’t unheard of. It’s one of my favorite late ’90′s FWD sedans that’s on my “love, but wouldn’t recommend” list. Regardless, I can see the dilemma since the 300M has city miles, and the GM parts are likely cheaper.

      What Joe might also need to ask himself is, as the family enthusiast who might be stuck with said vehicles himself, which would HE prefer?

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “Actually it was getting stuck in second– as in, holding the gear”. You’re right, reading FTL. Definitely limp mode in which case it could have been any number of OBD failures aside from the transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        msquare

        A 300M is MUCH roomier than an Impala, thanks to the long wheelbase and cab-forward design. Remember Chrysler only cut off the tail end of the Concorde/New Yorker/LHS to make it fit into the export-friendly five-meter template.

        Yes, by this time the 300M has been de-bugged and should be no less reilable than any of its competitors. Defintely a superior car.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I always enjoy these dilemmas, it’s interesting to see different perspectives.

    As for A/C, I wouldn’t worry about that. As long as the compressor (expensive) and the evaporator (not so expensive for the part but big time for labor) are OK then the recharge is probably due to old rubber, a leaky expansion valve or a leaking condensor. A recharge with R-134 is no big deal unlike its environmentally unsound R-12 predecessor.

    I guess this depends on what the owner wants, a nicer car ergonomically speaking or a more reliable ride that won’t cause you much difficulty.

    I have to believe that there are still a heck of a lot of 2000-2005 Impalas on the road and I know for certain that the police variant of that car was surprisingly tough. The Sheriff’s office for the major metro area near where I live is still rife with these old Impalas; admittedly they are pretty mediocre however.

    As for a 2000 Chrysler 300M, fuggetaboutit, I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those or a member of its sister fleet consisting of the New Yorker/LHS/Vision/Intrepid et al.

    The Impala will probably still be going strong for quite awhile and the Chrysler will check out sooner but do it with a bit more style and comfort; just depends on what you are really looking for.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Why does Joe think future repairs on the Chevy will be cheaper then those on the 300M?… A curious statement, anyway, I vote for the 300M because first of all Joe’s father already favors it and secondly, having experienced both cars, I agree with Joe’s father. The 300M is just a more enjoyable car to drive compared to the numbing Impala. How anyone can stay awake driving those is beyond me. With the little use and the good maintenance the 300M receives, it should make an enjoyable second car for years

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    My experience with used Chryslers nearing 100k is decidedly worse than W-Bodies in excess of 100k…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I know there’s an LH and a W-body contingent, and I have to be careful not to irk the ire of either. I’m actually more impressed with the earlier W Impala than the current model, the trouble with the earlier ones IMO was the standard 3400 powertrain, which I meh. The 300M while being more stylish and better equipped has a questionable powertrain and couple it with age and I could see it demanding $2500 repairs over the next few years.

    So my assessment is, determine how much longer your anticipate your father will be able/willing to drive. If the period is say 5 years and he can afford the random high dollar repairs the LH may need, I’d say stick with the Chrysler and sell the Impala outright. If Dad isn’t so secure in his retirement or plans to drive a used car for the next decade, I have to go W-body 3400 or no. Dark ages or not, they are fairly decent cars for the money, and you see them everywhere. How often do you see LH cars at all anymore, and how many of them are 300Ms?

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Interesting as to the guys that don’t “ever see LH vehicles” anymore, in New York I see one around nearly every corner. It must be a location demographic, I’m guessing.

    The transmission issues on the second-gen LH platforms are 95% solenoid pack related. The weakness in the 3.5L / 42LE combo is usually not replacing the timing belt or in those packs – it goes into the “limp mode” where you only get 1st and 2nd gear.

    Having have driven both, I’d go 300M. The Impala is a penalty box interior-wise. Now if this was a different W-body, such as a Grand Prix with the Series II, we may have a different outcome!

    • 0 avatar

      Lets also not forget that while there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of these cars for people, the engine and tranny were still getting around plenty. The Pacifica used them, too, and the 3.5L was going into the LX platforms until the 3.6L replaced it. That 3.5L was a beastly engine in its day. Come on, 250hp/tq (when the HO model) in the mid 1990′s from SOHC? Hell yes! Sure it’s not the cockroach GM 3.8L, but it’s still a nice little mill for the OE output considering where it was coming from at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The first gen LHs were fairly plentiful in the Pittsburgh and Erie regions years ago, probably moreso than the second gen (Eagle Visions must have been free back in the day). I haven’t spent more than a weekend in Erie for the past five years so I can’t say for there, but in Pittsburgh the supply is dwindling. If I had to make a guess, its the cars are kept by first/second owners until something weird starts acting up, resale is nil so they are traded, and end as hoopties courtesy of the local BHPH lots. 300M is a beautiful car but from what I have seen and read its a car which must be maintained properly and cared for, I would assume this of the other LHs as well. Beater Camcord it is not.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Keep the 300.

    It’s only one data point, but I have a friend who has a 2001 300 with > 250K on the clock. Interior quality is amazing, overall fit and finish is quite good. The seats were supremely comfortable, quite unlike the junk that GM made in those years. The interior of his car looks like the day it rolled off the assembly line.

    The only trouble he’s had was with the rocker shafts needing replacement. Do some research to stay ahead of that potential problem, and you should be good to go.

    Just because a tranny failed at 20K is no reason to junk the car. I had a W123 Benz whose first owner had to replace the tranny at 79k, but the replacement lasted another 338,000 miles with no problems. What happened to your pop’s car was probably a statistical fluke.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    My 2000 Impala 3800 was actually a pretty pleasant to live with car overall and went strong up to 171K miles before the pressure solenoid in the transmission started acting up. Literally nothing failed on that car otherwise, even the famous upper and lower intake gasket issue never surfaced, all the window motors and regulators were original, the power moon roof worked flawlessly and that 3800 made enough power and got over 30 MPG highway all day long. The 300 is a more expensive and upscale car but the 3.5 requires timing belt replacement which is a bit tougher due to the engine being literally inches from the front support, gets worse mileage but in return offers smoother and better power overall. The transmission in either car can be a ticking time bomb but I have been able to limp many GM 4T65′s along well past 200k miles with some additives like Trans-X or Lucas when the pressure solenoid starts acting up.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “The 300 is a more expensive and upscale car but the 3.5 requires timing belt replacement which is a bit tougher due to the engine being literally inches from the front support”

      The upper rad support easily unbolts and the cooling module removes for easy access. It’s really not a terrible job, water pump and belt canbe done in under 2 hours without much stress.

      • 0 avatar

        If anything the engine being mounted as is the 300M, it makes it easier. Changing accessory belts on a FWD car (let along a timing belt/chain) just puts you in the gap of the engine and the frame/crumple zone. Even a shallow socket can be light to try and get into some bays.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Thisis too easy. Its all simple numbers. A Zillion Impalas, and W bodies were built. The Impala parts are plentifull and cheap. Mechanics with vast knowledge of Impalas, are plentifull. Maybe not cheap. Good mechanics,never are.

    Dump the 300,keep the Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      Hmmm. Well, a zillion Intrepids, LHSs, and Concordes were built (not to mention minivans and other vehicles utilizing components like engines, brakes and transmissions).

      The parts (and mechanics who’ve worked on LH Mopars) are plentiful as well.

      There’s not going to be a major parts-cost discrepancy here, we aren’t talking Maseratis vs Cavaliers.

      Both are good cars in their own right and relatively inexpensive to own, operate, and repair.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Sorry, I’m with Mikey, here.

        As I said above, I’d still dump the Chrysler. A zillion old Impalas are still on the road. Chryslers? Nope.

        That speaks volumes, literally.

        Not a major cost differential? Purchase price, perhaps, but after a tranny or two for the Chrysler, that’s a different story…

        As much as I liked the 300M in the looks department, Chevy wins.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Yeah…I still see tons of W bodies, but a first gen LH car is an uncommon sight.

          I saw two first gen Intrepids recently and that was the most I’ve seen in a while.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      By that logic sell them and get a Panther if only cheap running matters.

  • avatar
    Power6

    Love questions like these…really you are just asking about the level of prejudice and fanboi-ism in the commenters…

    Reliable and cheap parts = Impala
    Nicer to drive = 300M

    Case closed.

  • avatar
    MK

    This is a different question than the typical “what should i buy”, dad already knows the history and relative merits of the vehicles, It’s not like he’s buying it off a used car lot.
    They’re going to buy another reliable vehicle anyway so if the selection starts costing real money they can always ditch it.
    Personally I wouldn’t want to get stuck driving one of those Impalas but he’s lived with both of them, pick the one he enjoys tooling around in more.

    Put it in perspective, It’s a second car for a retired gentleman not a life or death transport mechanism.
    :)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Put it in perspective, It’s a second car for a retired gentleman not a life or death transport mechanism.”

      That’s the vein I was going for, but you have articulated it better.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    I usually don’t comment, since I’m always late to the party, for various reasons. To me, however, especially being in my 70s, it is a question that did not need to be asked.

    Joe answered the question by stating his dad wanted to keep the 300M. So keep it and quit trying to make a decision he has already made.

  • avatar
    tenperct

    If you have not replaced the timing belt in the 300, please do. 12 years and 80,000 miles is inviting disaster. Why they put belts instead of timing chains is a mystery. Have a 3.8 V6 chrysler with 279,000 miles still going strong, has timing chain!

  • avatar
    That guy

    Considering the situation, 300M all the way. It’s 100X better to drive than the Impala. Besides, at this point reliability is a crap shoot anyways. They’re both old cars and will have old car problems. I’m not convinced that the Impala is a more reliable car, period.

    The fact that the writer’s dad likes the 300M better is also important. He’s an adult, let him make his own decisions.

  • avatar
    That guy

    Another thing, somewhat related, it’s too bad Daimler ruined Chrysler. Their products from the late 1990s were vastly superior to what GM and Ford were putting out.

  • avatar
    slantsixbuzzinaway

    My friend has a 96 LHS w/3.5L with just under 200k miles, still works well for him, but the car did have to have the timing belt replaced after the original snapped. I have a 2000 Impala LS w/3.8L with 207k miles, this car runs and drives very well. I like both, but still lean toward the Impala due to the sheer abundance of parts both new and used. If the Impala is a 3.4L, then Chrysler all the way.


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