By on March 10, 2016

2009 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ, Image: Wikipedia Commons

Long-time TTAC Commentator psarhjinian writes:

I need some communal wisdom.

I have two vehicles: a 2005 Pontiac Montana and a 2005 Toyota Echo.

The Montana in decent shape for its 93,000 miles — some rust, some dings, lots of child abuse (as in gum, stains, melted crayons, etc). It will need winter tires this year and I just had the tie-rod ends and stabilizer links replaced. It’s had its steering system comprehensively replaced, too. We generally only drive it for out-of-town family trips.

The Echo is basically a commuter beater with 162,000 miles. It has some rust on the doors, a loose heat shield and an exhaust hole, is throwing CEL for the evaporative emissions system (charcoal canister, probably). I replaced its clutch at 143,000.

Here’s the problem: the Echo (it’s a manual, by the way) just blew something in its transmission. I don’t know what, but it sounds like a box of rocks and refuses to shift out of gear. It may have been failing for a while, but I didn’t really hear anything because of the exhaust hole. My mechanic priced a new-to-me transmission at $750.

Here’s my dilemma:

The Echo cost me $2,000 plus taxes to buy. The clutch was $500. It needs a bunch of work and it’s a bit rusty. But it does get good fuel mileage, which is its mission, as it eats a 30,000 mile/year commute.

I have the option to buy a car from my workplace; it’s a 2009 Chevrolet Traverse with 110,000 miles owned by a coworker who’s retiring. They’re willing to let it go for $3,000 because it’s an employee sale. It’s had all sorts of work done in its first couple of years, but has been mostly stable since.

Here’s what I was thinking:

  • Fix the Echo: Cheapest option, but it seems like an issue of diminishing returns, given its mileage and condition.
  • Buy the Traverse: Drive either it or the Montana and pay through the nose for gas.
  • Buy the Traverse and try to flip it (or sell the Montana): Get something smaller and more fuel-efficient. Scrap or sell the Echo.

I’m leaning towards the third option, but the Traverse makes me nervous because it’s another big, heavy car, and one with a lot more that could wrong (it’s a loaded model; the Echo and the Montana are fairly barebones).

Sajeev answers:

Boy, do I love it when a reader pitches me a slow meatball.

The Echo isn’t worth fixing and the Traverse sounds like a perfect candidate for used car flipping. Edmunds says a nicely loaded LTZ (you said loaded!) in clean condition retails for low teens. Detail it, then sell it for $9,500-11,500 if the tires are decent. Kinda sounds like a no brainer!

So flip the Traverse, use the proceeds for an Echo replacement, and eventually sell/scrap/trade-in (for scrap, essentially) the Echo, too. I know you are selling two vehicles and buying a whole new set of problems, but the Traverse’s windfall nets enough cash to get a modest daily driver that’s less Echo and more fun. Maybe a low-mile CVPI manual-transmission hatchback with a bit more street cred?

[Image: Wikimedia Commons]

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58 Comments on “Piston Slap: Traversing the Echo of The Epic Windfall?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    if $750 for the trans is parts and labor out the door, I’d think long and hard (giggity) about fixing the Echo.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If it were just the transmission, I would probably do it, but I know I have a bunch of other little gotchas coming up:

      * A fishing expedition for a CEL thrown by the evap system
      * At least two holes in the exhaust, one around the manifold (could be the gasket)
      * Rear brakes

      Plus, this car is a salt-belt commuter. I’ve done what I can, but there’s rust in the sills already. I’m hesitant to throw it’s worth at in parts.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Evap system malfunctions on Echos (and many other Toyotas) are very common. You can often clear them by cleaning-out all the valves and lines around the charcoal canister (black plastic box near gas tank). Most techs with Toyota experience should know this.

        Echo exhaust parts are cheap. The exhaust needs to come off for the transmission job, so you may get a break on labor (your tech would rather put new parts back on than re-installing rusted old parts).

        Rear drums on a Toyota are cheap too.

        • 0 avatar
          EchoChamberJDM

          agreed, simple fixes on the Echo. The tranny, even with the noise, should still be able to move the car. Can you still commute with it? mine went to close to 60k miles with a bad syncro. The 1.5l engine will run forever. You can get a few more years out of it and still sell it for what you paid for it. With a stick it has huge export potential to Central America (where mine went).

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Wrap some electrical tape or duct tape around the evap hose coming from the firewall. If that temporarily fixes it, the replacement hose is about $13 USD. Still, the rust would be an issue for me. Where I live in the US, Scion is having sort of a fire sale with 0% for 60 months. If I was going for a cheap piston engined car for commuting, that’s probably the route I’d take a close look at.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Buy the chevy , drive it for a year, gas is cheap now anyway, see how much money your spending extra on gas and decide if it is worth it, I drive a ton and can relate on fuel cost but man an echo must suck to drive that much, maybe the chevy will be a nice trade off, if i was work I would be pissed if you just flipped the chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The Echo actually isn’t bad to commute in. It isn’t _great_, but with snow tires and a decent stereo it’s okay.

      The exhaust changed that equation. Having it lock up in gear changed it more.

      The concern is really more “Should I keep or flip the Chevy”, I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Agreed on the Chevy – I would not be thrilled to offer a co-worker a great deal just to see them flip it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I agree with Seth. The Traverse sounds like a deal, and it’s time to dump the Echo. Burn some cheap gas for a year, then dump the Traverse or Montana for something smaller.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Bummer, the best reason to own an Echo is cheap, long-lived transportation. A fatal transmission failure well before 200K is disappointing.

    I like Sajeev’s third option. At $2/gal gas, you won’t even be rushed to offload it.

    You don’t comment much anymore, psar.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Looooots of life changes since I posted with more frequency. I still poke about, but don’t have a lot of spare time to post.

      The Echo was bought used. I think it’s prior owner may have been a bit hard on it, given the state the clutch was in.

  • avatar

    The Echo is the commuter vehicle doing 30,000 miles/year, is it worth repairing the transmission and exhaust system? Probably not.

    The Traverse is already well used, going for $3,000 and needing some sort of maintenance to embark on a new career of commuting 30,000 miles per year.

    At the current price of gas its almost a non issue.

    Commuting in a Traverse has to be more pleasant than an Echo.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “At the current price of gas.”

      Which can change in a week with just one international incident, roadside bomb, oil rig fire, or politician’s pen. Then it’s back to $3.95, and you’re stuck with a hefty fuel bill and no option but to sell at a reduced price.

      Not to mention, fuel is artificially low right now due to market manipulation by Saudi Arabia.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Ditch the Montana, replace it with the Traverse, fix the Echo.

    Here is my reasoning: Montanas rust very badly and dangerously. It starts with a little “surface rust” at the door sills, and very soon there is nothing connecting the front and back half of the car. You’ve had a long run with it, but it won’t last. The Traverse is a good replacement.

    As JimZ says, $750 for a transmission job on the Ech is a decent price. You shouldn’t junk it for that, it will cost you almost 5 to 10 times more to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I thought about that. The last time I was under the Montana I didn’t see anything. The rust it does have is, weirdly, on the roof. Probably a stone chip.

      The Montana has really low miles (lower than the Traverse) for it’s age, which is why I’m hesitant to sell it. It gets used for kid-shuttle duty, and since I live in-city that’s not much mileage at all.

      So yeah, that might not be a bad idea. Between the two it would net me a decent amount to put toward another commuting appliance; at least one with a warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        I say go one step beyond. Ditch the Montana, ditch the Echo, keep the Traverse and replace the Echo with something that hasn’t been flogged by the previous owner.
        Not sure why everyone is saying to fix a $2000 beater for nearly half of it’s initial purchase cost. Not sure what a 10 year old econonbox with 160+ on the clock is worth, but I’m presuming it’s not much.
        No mention of budget constraints either. If that’s the case, you should buy an Escalade for the family and a Volt for your commute.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I’d like to thank Sajeev for posting this on short notice, it’s appreciated.

  • avatar
    milletics

    So your co-worker is doing you a solid and offering to sell you a 2009 Traverse for $3000 (worth $9-11k) as a favor, and you are thinking of buying and selling it immediately? Did this co-worker steal your lunch from the breakroom fridge or something? Are you being upfront with said co-worker on your plan. Not very nice bro. At least split the $ with them.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    You have two mutually exclusive issues that should be addressed separately.

    Traverse: Seriously, unless your work involves the movement and handling of exposed hazardous or biohazard materials in an open container setting where they would spill on the interior, the 3k asking price requires only one thought: Cash or check? You can easily flip this for a 5k profit or more and those numbers may come from a dealer on a trade in.

    Echo: I don’t know much about them. The way people on this board speak of Toyota quality I am surprised at the issues with this car. I would surmise some serious abuse for a portion of its life, which would compel me to punt.

    Montana: There is really no market for these rides so unless you really don’t like it and find the Traverse to be substantially more comfortable, I would continue with the rig for the time being.

    You like MT’s apparently. Lots of MT Honda Accords on line with 100k or less miles for that 10k or less figure. Seems like the car that makes the most sense for your commuting situation.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A crucial question: where do you live? You mentioned rust belt, is that northern USA or is it Canada? If Canada then used cars are higher priced than in the US. Insurance is much cheaper, so it should not cost much to temporarily insure 3 vehicles.

    I commuted in a Montana. 250kms. Despite the hate for them I liked it. Decent seats, good visibility and enough weight over the nose that I never ‘white knuckled’ it despite driving one of the most treacherous stretches of highway in Southern Ontario, on all season tires. Averaged 10.8kms per litre (approximately 22 mpg).

    For $750 drive the Echo into the ground. It can’t depreciate any further.
    Buy the Traverse, detail and clean it and put it up for sale.
    Also put up the Montana, just to see what you might get. If it’s worthwhile you can keep the Traverse as your family vehicle.
    Use the money from the sale of the Traverse/Montana to shop for the vehicle that you really want to commute in when the time comes for a replacement.
    And rustproof your family vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “A crucial question: where do you live? You mentioned rust belt, is that northern USA or is it Canada? If Canada then used cars are higher priced than in the US”

      Canada. North-eastern Ontario, specifically. The figures are all miles and US dollars, though, to make it easy.

      Good points–thank you.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    If I remember correctly, you’re East of the GTA, right? So, assuming gas at about $0.90/L (which isn’t to say it’s not going up), 13L/100km for the Traverse, and 7L/100km for the Echo (or similar), at 48k kms per year, you’d spend over $200 more per month on fuel. I don’t think the Traverse will be a significant step up in reliability, so I don’t think I’d be pressing that into commuter duty.

    For that matter, at $200 extra per month, a new car is a feasible option, if you’re willing to run it into the ground.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Maymar,
      How is a $200 dollar amount worth a new car in Canada no less to run into the ground?

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I pay $190 per month (taxes in) on a Mazda2, after beater trade-in and down payment (obviously, 84mo). I’m not saying that’s the right answer, but if the outlay for a new subcompact is equitable to the extra gas cost of a Traverse, the Traverse is absolutely wrong unless you need that space or are irrationally fond of it.

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    One thing that nobody’s mentioning is safety. Nobody ever mentions safety. That 09 Traverse is significantly safer than your Echo or Montana. Its clearly the best choice here for a family shuttle. Safety alone is a good enough reason to buy the Traverse. Real world you’ll get better fuel economy than the Montana delivers. Seriously a crash that could kill you in your Echo or Montana could be a “walk away” in the Traverse.

    At $3000 you are being offered a fantastic vehicle for the money. Don’t flip it; you’ll look like an ass.

    Also repair the Echo; its cheap to fix and mechanically simple. If you intend to keep a vehicle throwing parts at it ins’t a problem as long as the structural integrity is there.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Gotta agree with everything Frylock 350 said, only you can decide if the rust is a major issue, but if $750 buys you 2 more years from the echo and you like it go that way.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Good point re:Safety. And also regarding how flipping the Traverse might appear to your boss/co-workers.

      Currently there are 4 2005 Montana’s listed on Autotrader in Canada. Ranging from about $3,500 to $2,500.

      So if you could get close to $3k for the Montana then you are basically getting the Traverse for free. Rust proof the Traverse and you have a safe and decent car for family trips.

      Put the $750 into the Toyota, drive it into the ground and save like crazy and keep looking until you can get a decent long range commuter.

      Being in North-Eastern Ontario there is a high premium on used Toyotas and Hondas (and Subarus). Probably a GM product like a Cruze or an ex-rental Hyundai.

      And Krown them both!

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        This sounds pretty reasonable. The Montana is in pretty good shape, save for typical minivan foibles (I’m cleaning kid puke out of it later tonight, for example) and might sell for a decent amount. $3K should be possible in this area.

        The Traverse has had all dealer service for it’s life. It hasn’t been super-reliable, according to it’s current owner, but it’s settled down.

        The Echo, well, a lot of people have made mention of the premature failure. I’m rather surprised myself: my mother’s made it to 450k without relative issue before rust utterly consumed it. I’m concerned about what might be next on it.

        Krown kind of goes without saying: the Montana’s had a couple of treatments.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          Exhaust and brakes do not constitute “premature failure.” That’s just regular maintenance. As I mentioned before, the evap malfunction code can probably be cleared by cleaning the purge valve near the carbon canister. It’s a common thing for that generation of Toyota evap systems.

          It all comes down to the general condition of the car, and whether or not you want to keep it.
          Also, keep in mind that any used car you purchase under $10k will probably need at least a thousand in deferred maintenance right off the bat.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          I wonder if the Echo shares the same manual box with the Matrix, as I have heard of issues with the manual trannies in those as well. Definitely un-Toyota-like, but hey, they had their V6 head gasket issues in the early 1990s, and the engine-sludging issues in the late 1990s, so I have no illusions about any automaker being perfect.

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    Here’s the thing.

    You know these vehicles.

    I have a 1997 Escort with 170,000 miles and it has been well-cared for and I know its maintenance history and the time table for the next timing belt (and preventive maintenance change of the water pump). Considering it delivers over 45 mpgs on every tank, I will put money into this car instead of buying a new product (except if the car is totalled).

    As much as I find the Echo to be a mediocre product, you know it and the cost to replace it with something unknown is something you have to consider. Even if you had to put $2k into it to drive it for 2 years, that is still less than $100 a month – far cheaper than a monthly payment on a car that could still have issues.

    As far as the Montana- it will never be a good product. Don’t throw money into that. Drive it until it stops and be thankful you got whatever you got out of it. I was an awful product when new and it doesn’t age like fine wine!

  • avatar
    Rday

    Just get rid of any s**t boxes and get a real toyota. They are all bullet proof reliable. Don’t know about the echo but it is probably ready for the crematorium. Just make sure you are not going to be going along with it on its’ final trip.
    These small cars are death traps and should only be driven by Muslin fundamentalists wanting to get to heaven to find the 76? virgins waiting for them there.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Rday,
      So your suggestion is what, there are plenty of people who drive small cars, now the echo may be a death trap I do not know the safety rating on it, but not everyone needs or can afford a Toyota 4 runner or such, plenty of safe small cars out there. I will leave your other comment alone it is not worth my time.

  • avatar
    andarn83

    Definitely sell the Traverse. Between the major profit potential for selling it and the major problems that could be waiting on you if you keep it, a much safer bet would be to just sell it. Do a quick google search for Traverse/Acadia/Enclave problems and you’ll see plenty. A buddy of mine maintains a fleet of company vehicles, many of which are Traverses. As the original batch of 2009/2010s have started to cycle out of the fleet, they’ve set a rule that the old ones are not to be replaced with new ones because of all the trouble they’ve had out of them. Best of luck with whatever you decide!

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’d go with that third option. You don’t really want the Traverse, but it will net you a nice profit.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’d check with fellow employee on flipping his Traverse, I imagine the cheap sale is because of your Echo situation and he may not appreciate you making 5K or more cash on his goodwill. I also don’t know how titles work where you are but here there will be a time period before you get a new one in your name. Drive the Traverse in the meantime to feel it out, and then advertise it locally for sale to see what comes. I don’t have time to look up the wholesale as I’m getting ready for a trip but 11K sounds rich for an seven and a half to eight year old faux suv/minivan north of 100K, esp “private party” where most deals are cash and financing can be more challenging.

    I’d leave the minivan alone and allow it to continue on its occasional mission. Even if your kids have grown out of it, you seem to want a small car for mileage savings and if you lose the van/run up its use quick you will need something larger to occasionally haul the fam. I don’t think you’d get much for the minivan in any event.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      I agree on the goodwill.

      I gave my wife’s perfect running 1975 Slant-6 Dodge Dart to a fellow worker as he had 4 kids and only one sedan. That way he could drive to work in the Dodge and his wife had the sedan for emergencies and as a backup car. Less than 3 months after the gift, he traded both the sedan and Dart in on a mini-van. I could have received between $500-1,000 (1985 dollars) for the Dart.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Option three!

    Flip Traverse (I don’t like those anyway). Junk/sell Echo. Buy new(er) fuel efficient item like a Fit or Mazda 3.

    Then have at it in your paid-for newery hatchback.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …I have two vehicles: a 2005 Pontiac Montana and a 2005 Toyota Echo…

    My sympathies.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I really dislike the U-bodies. I’d rather have an equivalent Chrysler from the time.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Neither are anything to write home about but we have noticed that the 2003-2005 GM vans seem much better than the earlier variants for engine and trans axle issues. The Chrysler’s are still suspect on trans axles in these years along with A/C and electrical. Both have power door issues and suffer from rust issues. I see both with severe rust issues. The Caravans do have durable 3.3 and 3.8 engines and the seating flexibility and stow N Go is second to none for ease of use.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          One of my biggest issues with the U-Body is the fit and finish – pretty terrible. Very evident that it was from the worst time at GM in recent memory. My grandparents have a very gently used Terraza, and it has little electrical faults as well. I don’t think it’s even at 40k miles.

          The size of the U-Body puts me off as well. It’s smaller than a Dodge option, but not enough of a reduction to make it fun to drive/etc like a Mazda 5. Just small enough to be harder to use and fill with people and stuff.

          *Note my comments are regarding mostly the revised and downsized U-Body.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Everything I read seems to indicate that if you buy a minivan with power sliding doors you should likely come to grips with the fact that they will malfunction well out of warranty and are vastly too expensive to be worth repairing. It really doesn’t matter make, model or year. Once they get a bit out of alignment or the motor starts to get tired, that’s it. Thanks for playing.

          Mine stopped working right after I got rear ended and $534 damage done. Seriously. Insurance carrier refused to fix – they worked perfectly before the love tap. I could spend a couple a hundred a side to get them realigned, but the dealer told me that it would likely last a year at best.

          Fuses pulled – problem solved.

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            Honestly, sliding doors in general are dicey: my ex’s Sienna has problems with _manual_ sliding doors not locking/unlocking being out of alignment.

            The Montana’s still work, but they do have low-grade alignment issues that saw me cut some of the rubber bumpers off.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Here is my two cents – keep the Traverse. I don’t know where you’ll be able to get a solid safe AWD dealer serviced CUV at that price for occasional kid duty. You have the maintenance history, and that’s huge. Plus the co-worker never had to scrimp on that because work picked up the cost. The devil you know and all that. Sell the Pontiac and the Echo. Is the Echo worth something in good running order? If you could touch up the rust, detail the hell out of it, and replace the transmission – perfect car for the grad student. Can you source a transmission on your own? With the Pontiac – you’ll find a family needing that type of a vehicle. After winter – hit up Tirerack for some snow tires on special, rent a steamcleaner and get the interior sorted, see if you can touch up the rust spots, and sell it. Then have some cash on hand to get your better beater.

  • avatar
    86er

    Ah, so that explains all the U-Body vitriol…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      They aren’t great. You can tell GM really phoned it in: they’re taller than they have to be (in terms of floor height) but even in LWB form they’re curiously cramped inside. The seats are not great, the storage spaces poor, they’re kinda pokey and sloppy, only the front windows roll down, the trunk is shallow, etc.

      Mechanically it’s been fairly solid, except for the front end steering rack, but it isn’t a good minivan because it doesn’t do a good job at what a minivan does. The Chryslers aren’t great shakes in terms of reliability, but they’re excellent at their job.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        Yeah, they’re no Panther, that’s for sure… (or should I say B-Body now).

        We had a rental Uplander during our Maritimes trip in ’07 and the only thing I liked about it was the engine. I agree with the assessment about their relative narrowness.

        Anyway, good to hear from ya.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I for sure wouldn’t sink $750.00 bucks into the Echo’s transmission plus another few hundred for the exhaust potentially and who knows how much for the Cel light. Were already probably over a grand when all is said and done on a rusty flimsy noisy Echo. Option 3 makes the most sense.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Junk the Echo.
    Commute in the Traverse until the price of gas goes up.
    Then get rid of the Montana, use the Traverse in its place and find another cheap fuel efficient commuter.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I’d buy the Traverse and keep it for at least a few years. Sell the other two if you don’t actually need to use two vehicles at the same time. The Traverse is simply better than the Montana and the Echo offers nothing but frugality, which a $3000 Traverse has covered.

    Regardless, flipping the Traverse is disrespectful. I would only do that if I despised the co-worker.


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