The Truth About Cars » Protege The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 16:19:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Protege Piston Slap: A Rather Thirsty Escort? Mon, 28 Jul 2014 12:01:32 +0000 20140618_104104

TTAC Commentator Weltron writes:

Hi Sajeev!

The car I am writing about today is my winter beater, which is a 1999 Ford Escort SE sedan which says it has a tick over 155,000 miles. (Pictured above) The problem I’m having with it is it it getting dreadful gas mileage. My average tank is about 19 miles to the gallon (in comparison that is what my twin turbo straight six Volvo gets around town). Over the winter I replaced both of the o2 sensors and got a marginal improvement (about .4 mpg).

And here’s the kicker: the dumb thing runs perfectly. No error codes or anything. Idles smooth and everything (well as far as Escort refinement goes). When I go on the highway (which is fairly often) I can see upward of 21… If I’m lucky.

Help please! I’m debating on whether to sell it or not due to this gas mileage problem for something bigger (thinking an Oldsmobile Eighty Eight/LSS or if I’m feeling lucky … an Aurora if I do end up replacing the Escort.) Thank you in advance for your help.

P.S. Here’s a list of what has been replaced/cleaned since the fall.

Mass air flow sensor cleaned
New air filter
New spark plugs/ plug wires
New o2 sensors (both upstream and downstream)
New muffler
New tires

Sajeev answers:

It’s funny how well-maintained vehicles occasionally have an obvious problem that’s impossible to diagnose.  But going to the beautiful, enjoyable yet expensive and complicated Northstar powered Oldsmobile is the wrong move!

You’ve done the basics, kudos to you.  That makes our job easier. Considering your Volvo drives in the same manner (presumably) there’s certainly a minor problem outside of driver error. And I wouldn’t be so adamant if it didn’t happen to me:

Try changing the fuel filter first, then get new/reconditioned fuel injectors.

That’s it.  I know you’ve slooooowly been losing power and efficiency.  Perhaps you notice a mysterious fuel smell?  The injectors are no longer turning on/shutting off correctly. And when you get ‘em installed, ZOMG SON, note the instant acceleration improvement and the later MPG lift.

So go ahead and keep it, even if the cylinder head might be a problem in the future.

Send your queries to 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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Hammer Time : Pick Your Stick! Sat, 03 May 2014 18:00:31 +0000 stick1

5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand

I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end.

Nobody knows how to drive them except for those folks who are either too middle-aged, too arthritic, or too affluent to buy an older car with a manual transmission.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s five vehicles that have become the equivalent of heavyweight paperweights at my humble abode. The funny thing is I like driving them all… I just wish I wasn’t two stickshifts away from driving a different handshaker every day of the week.

They are….


2007 Toyota Corolla CE – Wholesale 4k, Retail 5k

I gave this Corolla brand new tires, an interior detail, and a new antenna. It has returned the favor with 29 dealer records and… well… have I mentioned the fuel economy yet?

When you buy the premium vehicles in this business, you always get three options;  good, fast, and cheap.

You can pick any two of the three.



A car with good demand will sell fast, but you can’t buy it cheap.


A cheap car can sell fast, but you don’t always get a chance to buy them in good condition and chances are if it is, it’s not a popular car.

This Corolla has officially served as my decoy car. The one that everyone thinks they want to buy until they find something with more options (it’s a base CE), more miles (145k), or, inevitably, an automatic.

I don’t care. With all the in-town driving I do, and with the honor of having 4 police precints within a 5 mile radius of my workplace, I need a car that will keep me out of trouble while having at least some fun until the points on my license go down. This one does the job and yes, I would have rather sold it by now.


2002 Volkswagen Beetle TDI  Wholesale $2500, Retail $3500

Right engine. Right leather seats.

The wrong transmission for everyone’s teenage daughter.


I flipped a 2002 Jetta not too long ago. Ergonomically, the Jetta was about three parsecs ahead of this Beetle. The dashboard on this thing seems to go on forever, or at least three feet of forever. The interior is as cheap as it is kitschy and, well, parts of that interior are the same lime green as the outside.

I should have known better then to buy a lime green Bug. But about a year ago I struck gold with a zonker yellow Beetle. So I thought that a green one could be an acceptable weird color alternative.  It’s not!

Everything works (miracle!), but this one just sits and ponder that decades old VW question,  “To break? Or not to break?”


1999 Toyota Solara – Wholesale $2250, Retail $3000

Now this one hit all of my buttons for my highway travels. Plenty of space. Comfortable for long trips. A V6 / 5-speed combination that effortlessly cruises down the interstate at an 80 mph clip while barely breaking a sweat. It only has one itty-bitty problem. After I took it down to Florida to see family, and up to Detroit to see the auto show, someone hit it. Figures!

The good news was that this  beige on beige Solara wasn’t badly hurt  at all. A tow square from an SUV pierced the plasticized bumper at a red light. The driver had almost blown through the red in front of a cop, and then decided to back up without looking. An act of stupidity that was hopelessly compounded by the cell phone attached to his head.


It actually worked out to my benefit.  The old bumper had  already been scuffed up hard thanks to the errant parking escapades of the prior owner. 1990′s coupes always wind up with those scuff marks on the bumper because the paint was put on wafer thin back then  and never held up.

It’s also an SE model, which in 1990′s Toyota-speak means that it has a cassette player only… no roof… and plastic wheel covers. SE really meant “Subtraction Edition” back in the day.


1997 Honda Civic EX – Wholesale $2000, Retail $3000 130k.

One owner. Sunroof. These Civics were incredibly popular up to a few years ago.

These days they still are here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, but only the automatic versions. This particular one has the usual cosmetic issues. Some paint wear on the hood, flaking,  and a crack on the front bumper.



It’s also owned by my brother-in-law. So if I tell you any more negatives, I’ll quickly find myself outside the “Circle Of Trust”. It’s a good car. Really! Oh, and the battery’s dead.


1994 Mazda Protege – 60k original miles  - bought for $775 two years ago.

This is a bad, bad car. A terrible car. It’s like an ancient venereal disease. A horrific ride of almost Roger Smith-ian proportions.


But I absolutely love it. Why? Because it was the cockroach of compacts.

I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it.  I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners. So naturally, I love this one the most.

But what about you? If you were to handshake your way into the penurious plenitude of older stickshift vehicles, which one would you chose?

Note: The Beetle and Protege sold earlier this week, and I have to confess that my only exposure for these vehicles has been drive-by traffic until recently. I wanted to finance them (well, all but the Protege), but thankfully, I am buying a lot more late model vehicles these days instead of older stuff. If this keeps up I’ll probably continue to chronicle these older rides, but I will be back to my old focus of retailing newer ones.)

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Piston Slap: Throwing (Ignition) Parts at a (Fuel) Problem? Wed, 14 Mar 2012 11:07:20 +0000


Chris writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Long time lurker here.  Since you asked so nice, here’s a problem that I haven’t managed to troubleshoot myself, and so far my own searches & forum postings haven’t nailed an answer. My girlfriend drives a 99 Mazda Protégé.  If driven for an extremely short distance (like from the street into the garage), it will not start the next morning.  It turns over just fine, but doesn’t catch.

I’ve found that I can eventually get it to start by holding the gas pedal to the floor & cranking, followed by easing up on the pedal slightly (maybe 1/2 or 3/4 of the way down) & continuing to crank.  This process takes 5 – 10 minutes, so there’s lots of breaks in there as well.

Almost everything on the spark side has been replaced for different reasons (I was chasing engine codes the wrong way).  So I’m pretty sure it’s not battery, spark plug/wire, or coil pack related.  Simiarly, I’ve changed the MAF, O2 sensors, cat, & the acordian hose that feeds from the intake to the throttle body (the hose being what was actually causing the codes, BTW).  None of these changes seemed to affect this particular problem.

This lead me to believe the problem must be fuel delivery in some way, but now I’m second guessing myself.  The problem seems to happen most often when it’s cold & damp outside (by Georgia standards).

Normally I’d have changed the fuel filter by now, but it’s not a separate unit.  It’s attached to the pump & sits in the tank.  That’s probably going to be my next step.  Before I do that I wanted to run this by you.  Any ideas?  Someone suggested the the charcoal canister could be trapping water vapor (since the engine is never hot), and then forcing that vapor into engine when I try to start it the next morning.  I’ve never played with that before, but if that’s right then shouldn’t there be a hose I could disconnect & see if the car starts?

Anyway, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  This isn’t an urgent problem, but it’s one I’d like to be able to solve.



PS, here’s another write up of the problem, just in case I missed something.  Mine’s the 3rd post.

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for your letter. I like the post on the Mazda Forum, especially since you did my homework for me. And by your own admission, you threw parts at a problem instead of finding the proper diagnostic for the engine codes generated.  Are the codes still present?

Your problem sounds like a lack of fuel, and I seriously doubt that’s a stretch for me to armchair analyze that from my remote vantage point. Check the fuel pressure with the key on, engine off.  Compare the reading on the gauge to what your EFI system needs to run properly.  If you are at the lower end of acceptable (or worse) you have found your problem.

Maybe a bottle of fuel system cleaner in the tank is all you need.  Or maybe a fuel filter.  Or maybe the fuel pump itself. Or maybe the fuel injector’s resistance is out of spec. Or maybe the fuel pressure regulator, or its associated vacuum plumbing. My point is, this is hard to guess from my laptop.

My advice is to start with a fuel pressure tester and buy a filter, maybe a pump after that. Also make sure the vacuum lines to the regulator aren’t fossilized, gooey or cracked. If they aren’t as soft/pliable as the rubber on your shoes, replace them.

Good luck on your hunt, I am sure your girlfriend appreciates your hard work…provided you never, ever throw parts at a problem again.  Never again, son!

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2010 MazdaSpeed3 Wed, 18 Aug 2010 17:53:15 +0000

Most cars today avoid doing anything terribly well so as to avoid doing anything terribly badly. Then there are Mazdas.  I love my Protege5. The agile chassis is a joy around town, BUT refinement and rust prevention were clearly not on the engineers’ to-do list. I love the RX-8 even more. Outstanding handling, surprising utility for a sports car, BUT the rotary is torque free and can drink a Corvette under the table. And then we have the MazdaSpeed3. You already know what I’m going to say about the MazdaSpeed3. But I’m going to say it anyway.

In addition to how it handles, I also love how my Protege5 looks. Though clearly not a 2010 design, the car’s clean, well-proportioned lines will never grow old for me. It’s not a design that grabs the eye, but it delights when studied. The first-generation Mazda3 that replaced it struck me as overly trendy. I liked some aspects of its exterior design, but not others, and the whole lacked coherence. When the time came to redesign the Mazda3, Mazda (gotta love the unavoidable redundancy) carried over the basic shape… but turned it up to 11. Every surface from the big smiley grille rearward aims to grab the eye. While initially off-putting, some of the exaggerated surfaces grew on me over the course of a week. Even the grille has to be admired for the sheer audacity it must have taken to put into production. At least it’s not boring or pointless.

The first-generation Mazda3’s interior was a big step up from the Protege5’s in both style and materials. Though generally clean and purposeful, red details and varied textures added just enough visual interest. The 2010 model’s banzai design philosophy continues inside the car. This is more of a problem than the exterior, because you must look at the interior the entire time you’re driving the car.

A hooded display pod arches across the top of the IP behind the instrument cluster. Though this pod usefully locates the displays near the driver’s line of sight, in other ways continually challenged my sense of logic. The entire left half is blank; the instrument nacelles would obscure anything located there, after all. A compartment for the nav’s memory card occupies the center—they couldn’t locate it somewhere less visible? And the displays for the nav and HVAC/audio are two unequally sized rectangular pegs squeezed into the ride side of the rounded hole. If you’re going to overstyle something, you should at least have someone with some design sense do the dirty deed.

Some materials are good, others are iffy. Upholstered armrests on the doors? Quite good. The red-dotted black fabric and plastic trim specific to the MazdaSpeed3? Iffy.

The interior works better functionally than it does aesthetically. The controls on the center stack are so easy to reach and operate that those for the audio on the steering wheel are truly redundant. Operating the nav exclusively via a cluster of controls on the overpopulated (18 buttons!) steering wheel could have been a usability nightmare, but isn’t. The nav screen is much smaller than most, but in the end I had little problem with it.

Not that all is perfect on the functionality front. The main instruments are so large that I could not position the wheel where I would have liked to without partly obscuring them. With instruments larger is generally better, but only up to a point. They don’t need to be legible from ten feet away. And why does the speedometer read to 180 MPH?

The swoopy exterior styling forces a distant driving position that’s become common in today’s cars. Locating a deeper instrument panel farther away does enhance an interior’s perceived roominess, but also visually distances the driver from both the car, which consequently feels larger, and the road.

The 2010 MazdaSpeed3’s front seats’ bolsters perform well considering their modest size, but in this instance larger would be better. The lumbar support is non-adjustable, and there is a single height adjustment, so cushion tilt cannot be adjusted independently of seat height. That said, front seat comfort is pretty good.

Like the rear bench found in the first-generation Mazda3, the 2010’s back seat is tighter than that in the Protege5. Adults will fit back there, but just barely. The MazdaSpeed3 continues to be offered only in hatchback form, so it’s considerably more practical than a conventional sports car.

With a name like MazdaSpeed3 and a big hood scoop (the better to feed the intercooler with?), enthusiasts are going to expect substantial horsepower. They won’t be disappointed. The turbocharged direct-injected 2.3-liter four is good for 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000. Just not always. In the first three gears and especially when the wheel is turned Mazda restricts the engine’s output to reduce the likelihood of throttle-steering the car into a ditch. It’s strong in those gears regardless, once the tach spins past 2,500, and there’s a thick sweet spot from 3,000 to 5,500. Unlike some turbos these days, this one feels boosted. Not because there’s much lag—there isn’t—but because of the rush as boost kicks in. One puzzle I’d like Mazda to solve: the clutch must be feathered a tad to avoid a momentary stumble right after starting off.

The engine’s sound is dominated by a deep, poppy exhaust that is nice to have when pushing the car hard on an empty road, but is too likely to attract attention otherwise. (No, I wasn’t speeding through the subdivision, it just sounded that way.) In Mazda’s defense, they’ve exercised more restraint with the exhaust than some others, and while always audible, the drone won’t drive you batty on the highway. In other ways, the engine might be too refined for its own good—I prefer a little more intake and valvetrain whir with my exhaust roar.

The shifter’s throws are light and moderate in length, but are a bit notchy and engaging third can be tricky. The oversized brakes feel strong, are easy to modulate, and readily handle any off-track challenges. Fuel economy ranges from mid-teens to mid-twenties, depending quite heavily on how the car is driven. Figure low twenties with a moderate right foot in suburban driving.

Handling has traditionally been a Mazda strength, and the MazdaSpeed3 easily lives up to the brand’s reputation. The electro-hydraulic (not fully electronic) steering provides good feedback through the small, thinly padded wheel. Though not as agile as the Protege5, the MazaSpeed3 has a delicate, lively feel and can be precisely placed in turns. Accelerate through the curve and the car hunkers down, only beginning to lapse into understeer as its high limits are approached. Lift off the throttle and the car quickly rotates into oversteer. While the loose tail end is easy to catch, and can be put to good use at times, a steady foot through turns is generally best. The stability control is effective, unobtrusive, and knows its proper place—you must be driving the car quite fast and hard—or quite stupidly—to trigger it on dry pavement. It’s much easier to trigger the traction control.

The biggest surprise with the MazdaSpeed3: a thoroughly livable ride. Some premium sedans with performance pretensions ride considerably worse than the Speed3. The Mazda’s spring rates are moderate, with good body control achieved through well-tuned damping. Some drivers will mind the slight amount of float and roll in the hardest driving, and will no doubt mod the suspension accordingly. For most enthusiasts though, the ride-handling compromise is nearly ideal.

But all is not perfect with the MS3, and I’ve saved the worst for last. Putting a torquey engine in a conventionally-suspended, front-wheel-drive compact is a recipe for torque steer. While Mazda has selectively reduced engine output to reduce torque steer, this does not eliminate it. I’ve experienced worse, even much worse. But I’ve also experienced none at all, and none at all is much better than some. One mitigating factor: getting on the gas while turning has the effect of steering the car deeper into the turn rather than towards the curb. The torque-sensing limited-slip differential might deserve credit.

Like the Protege5 and RX-8, the MazdaSpeed3 possesses a healthy number of strengths and weaknesses. It’s fairly practical, totally livable, and very fun to drive. But the styling is questionable and the torque steer regrettable. All-wheel-drive is the road not taken. But the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart with all-wheel-drive are more expensive and less fun. The Mitsubishi Evo is as fun, and then some, but it’s far more expensive, less economical, and not as practical. Among front-wheel-drive competitors, the Volkswagen GTI is more tastefully styled and furnished, but doesn’t accelerate or handle as well. So, while the MazdaSpeed3 is clearly not a perfect car, for an enthusiast with a family and modest budget it could well be the best available car. Just look past the silly grin and keep a firm hand on the wheel—there’s serious fun to be had here.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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