The Truth About Cars » rust The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:16:22 +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 » rust General Motors Digest: July 8, 2014 Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:00:22 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In today’s General Motors Digest: Replacement ignition switches are shipping to dealership service bays in boxes that may not reflect the contents inside; GM hands over 2 million documents to the United States House of Representatives; and certain truck owners are on their own as far as rusty brake lines are concerned.

Automotive News reports in a June 24, 2014 memo by the automaker to its 4,300-strong dealership network, GM would be shipping the ignition switches related to the February 2014 recalls in ACDelco boxes “due to the unprecedented volume of parts being shipped and the resulting shortage of GM Parts boxes.” The memo was composed to allay doubts of authenticity that might arise when the shipments arrive. As of June 25, 2014, 296,462 of the 2.6 million vehicles affected by the recall have been repaired, while GM expects to have the parts ready for the majority of the affected by October.

Over in the Beltway, The Detroit News says the automaker has turned over 2 million pages of records in relation to the February 2014 recall to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of the latter’s ongoing investigation. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who is in the early stages of planning an auto safety overhaul bill, states that he wants to wrap up the investigation prior to making such a bill available for consideration. In an interview with WJR-AM, Upton is considering a national registry to easily track recalled vehicles in the repair stage, as well as when affected vehicles pass into the used car market.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that while General Motors has issued recalls left and right, it has not done so with 1.8 million light trucks and SUVs made between 1999 and 2003 affected by rusting brake lines. Further, the automaker says it’s the owner’s responsibility to prevent rusting and, if need be, replace the lines with a $500 MSRP kit. The defect has hit Salt Belt owners the hardest, where failed brake lines make up 43 out of 100,000 units sold, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Piston Slap: The Luxury Sedan Fanboi Fallacy Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:58:13 +0000

Earl writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My wife wants me to sell our pristine, time-capsule 90 Cressida for a 4Runner (or similar) because we live in winter-world. I am looking at used 4Runners and the prices are crazy. Typically a rusted 1996-98 with 350-390,000KM will be asking $5,000 – $6,000CDN. I have seen Lexus LS with half the mileage, far better condition and all services done for that price.

What gives? Are 4Runners that good?

Sajeev answers:

Of course used 4Runners aren’t that good! Well, except they are that good for many folks.

Here’s the deal: you, much like me, have a soft spot for classic luxury (or near luxury) sedans. They are so nice, so affordable and give you so much more than any other road going machine.  And the Cressida isn’t a K-car derived New Yorker, it kinda gives the same thoroughly satisfying experience as a newer near luxury sedan. But for pennies on the dollar. An excellent value proposition that everyone should embrace!

The fallacy?  Nobody’s gonna embrace a cheap alternative to an Avalon under warranty. But everyone outside of Manhattan wants a beater truck (or truck based SUV) to carry shit, safely travel through snow, flash floods, non-KOA campgrounds, etc.  As much as my Lincoln-Mercury fanboi self enjoys the occasional compliment on my cars, I get cash offers on my 5-speed Ranger. On a regular basis: the market has spoken, son!

Is the 4Runner worth the money?  Sure, as they earned a reputation for great quality, excellent performance and even superior fit and finish. And the market reflects those opinions.  But that’s another fallacy: the quality gap at the fully depreciated level really depends more on service records. I’ll take a cherry Explorer/Blazer/Durango with a binder full of receipts over a rust bucket 4Runner with zero service history. Odds are both can be had for the same price.

If you are so frickin’ bad-ass enough to roll a choice Cressida, I don’t peg you as a lemming. The tone of your letter also proved the point. But if the sedan has to go to keep your household in balance, buy something other than a 4Runner.   Because, unless your Fanboi blood runs deep, Toyota SUVs and Trucks (especially Tacomas) can be a poor value for their premium asking price.


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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Piston Slap: In Praise of the 2005 Honda CR-V Tue, 25 Feb 2014 16:00:22 +0000 Chris writes:

Dear Sajeev,

Back in 2005 I purchased a new Honda CR-V. It recently rolled over 200,000 miles. It has never given me any trouble or needed anything but normally scheduled service and the usual wear items (tires, brakes, battery). It has survived the New England winters rust free. Most importantly, it’s paid for.

Is there anything proactive I should do to keep it on the road, maybe even for another 100K? I don’t mind investing now if it will save me major repairs later. As trouble-free as it’s been I can’t see replacing it (nor am I in a position to right now), but given the mileage I feel like I should be waiting for that other shoe to drop!

Sajeev answers:

Wow…recanting Monday’s Piston Slap kinda sounds like a good idea now. The CR-V laughs at our Rust Belt Woes!

Probably the best things you can do (outside of regular servicing) is keeping your ride as pretty (wax/detail at the minimum) and as nice to drive (new shocks/springs) as possible.

The former is obvious: you want a vehicle with decent curb appeal, otherwise you’re driving a mere winter beater year ’round.  Even if that doesn’t bother you, why let it get worse when you don’t have to? Pride in your Ride…Son!

The latter can keep the suspension at its ideal geometry, preventing excess wear as its bones get older.  And new shocks make sure those old bones don’t cycle up/down unnecessarily, in theory.  Plus, it’ll ride and handle like new again. Which is the textbook definition of an “added perk.”  So what else is left that you may never notice until it’s too late?

  • Replace all rubber hoses at your next coolant flush. (even the ones to the heater!)
  • Replace engine serpentine belt.
  • Inspect all vacuum lines for cracks/brittleness/gooey-ness.
  • Upgrade your speakers (with the cheaper side of the aftermarket) so you can hear what you’ve missed, or shall miss.
  • Replace headlight bulbs, odds are the filaments are far from their original efficiency.
  • Lubricate weatherstripping with silicone spray lubricant, slick up door hinges/latches with something the factory recommends.
  • Shampoo carpets.

I’ve probably left plenty on the table for the Best and Brightest…so off we go!


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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Junkyard Find: 1976 Fiat 124 Sport Spider Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:00:42 +0000 06 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSo many Fiat 124 Sport Spiders get junked, and the process has been going on for my entire junkyard-prowling career. In the three years of this series, we’ve seen this ’71, this ’73, this ’75, this ’78, and this ’80, and we might as well add the 124′s little brother, this ’71 850 Sport Spider. I don’t even photograph every 124 Sport Spider I see, because they’re almost as common in wrecking yards as ’85 Camrys. Today’s ’76, however, holds the Junkyard Find record for Scariest California Beach Neighborhood Rust.
13 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinCars that live within a block or two of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California (I found this car in one of my favorite East Bay yards during a recent drive around California in a new Mirage) often rust in a weird top-down pattern. For example, the truly frightening ’84 Toyota Van we saw last October. California cars with bad weatherstripping often rust inside the trunk, as water leaks in and sits for months during the long, rainy winters. This Fiat managed to rot from both types of California rust.
01 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow does this even happen?
17 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car comes from the era of separate emissions requirements for new cars sold in California.
10 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI have quite a collection of these SLOW DOWN lights, which were used to warn of an overheating catalytic converter (presumably the CATALYST indicator light warned of some other cat problem). Ferrari 328s had them, too.
14 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDefinitely not worth restoring, but maybe someone will grab the Twin Cam engine for a nicer Fiat.
IMG_2237Given how cheap these cars are, we see surprisingly few 124 Sport Spiders in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I can think of a couple of Twin Cam-powered examples, and then there’s the Volkswagen TDI-powered Smokey Unit Fiat. This car is pretty quick, but its real advantage in endurance racing is its tremendous range on a tank of diesel.
19 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe last owner of this Fiat was against Proposition 86.

01 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 -1975 Fiat 124 Spider Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 20
Piston Slap: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire? Mon, 24 Feb 2014 13:00:09 +0000

Marshall writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Here’s the situation: I own an 08 Dodge Caravan, 117000KM’s (Canada), bought used at 94000KM’s or so. It’s been good to us…but I have this feeling in my stomach that doom is pending on this van. I keep it well maintained, do my own work on it when I can. I am noticing more and more rust spots (underbody) and oil seepages under the hood (oil levels are good). It’s a base SE, no power doors or lift gate. Last time I did some brake work a bolt broke due to corrosion.

We have 2 kids and love the space of the stow and go’s and such. However, I’m no fool, this van is a liability in my mind. Am I overreacting?

Want to sell and buy a similar vintage Honda CR-V.

Sajeev answers:

Of course you are overreacting, this ain’t no Mazda!

There’s a chance that your average 6-year-old CR-V has less rust than your van.  Or perhaps what you see is a fact of life in places where there’s more salt on the roads than butter in Paula Deen’s kitchen.

Will a similar vintage Honda have less rust?  Maybe.  But, more importantly, will that less-rusty body last long enough to justify this effort?

More to the point, the CR-V’s resale is stronger than any base model Mopar Van: you’re gonna get hosed on this deal.  Are you gonna find a comparable CR-V for less than $1000 over than your van’s market value? Possibly, but vehicles this age all have problems (leaks you mentioned are commonplace) unless the last owner did a ridiculous amount of preventative maintenance, with reams of paperwork as proof.

That said, bolts on any older vehicle get far nastier with winter salt/rust on them.  Now IF you didn’t soak the bolts in penetrating oil and carefully break them free with a TON of patience and a dash of manhandling, well, you are partially to blame. That’s not hate: that’s me remembering the times I snapped bolts, kicking myself for overlooking the obvious.

So anyway…stick with the problems you know and drive the wheels off the Caravan. Literally.


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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Piston Slap: When is the Olds too Old? Tue, 04 Feb 2014 12:53:43 +0000 unnamed

TTAC commentator supremebrougham writes,

For the first time in a long time, I am 100% debt free, and it feels great! It’s so great that I have decided to try and keep my car going for a while yet, instead of trading it for a new one.

Last December I found a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero GL2, with the 3.4 liter V6. The miles weren’t too bad (104k) and the price was right. The previous owner, a girl from what I can tell, had the car for around eight years and while she didn’t drive it far, she didn’t take very good care of it. It was scratched up pretty bad, and she smoked in it and burned parts of the interior. However, the car ran great. Since I got it I have replaced a power window motor, all four struts and tires, both front wheel hubs and bearings, the rear defrost module the O2 sensor, and had it tuned up. I replaced a lot of the interior parts that were burned, and had the paint buffed out.

I love the car, and have so far put almost 12000 miles on it, and have taken it on several long trips. I’m thinking of having some of the rust spots fixed soon. But here’s where my question comes in…with the car now being thirteen years old, and about to roll over 116k, what should I be concerned with as far as any potential problems that might arise, and when should I just call it enough and not invest any more money into it. I really enjoy driving it, and I get lots of compliments on it. Plus, I am LOVING not having a car payment! I took it to a couple of dealers last month just for giggles to see what they thought it was worth. One wouldn’t even make me an offer, said “it’s just an old car”, and the other one said $1500. I could never replace it with something equivalent at that price!

Thanks in advance,


Sajeev answers:

Before I go any further, I’d like to tell everyone that Richard is the broughamiest of Brougham fans:  and his well curated, maturely moderated Facebook page proves it.  Join The Brougham Society now! That said, you’d want to keep the Olds running as long as possible, as the only truly broughamy things you’d replace it with are Panthers, luxury SUVs/trucks or certain South Korean sedans (DAT GRANDEUR) to do a fine job taking the reigns from defunct American brands that you (and I) so truly adore.

Far and away the worst thing that kills high mileage vehicles is rust.  Pouring water in all seams/folds and letting it freeze out the road salt is one idea I do like (in theory) but people have tried other avenues (undercarriage coatings, like used oil) for the same desired effect.

Rust aside, the little things that drive you nuts will eventually make you sick of the car.  Or as I once said to a similar query, do you own the car, or does the car own you?  Read that link for more answers to your query.

Now you are a handy guy, I bet you can procure parts on the cheap and install some of them yourself.  And this isn’t a high mile European car needing minor repairs that cost more than the value of said whip.  But still…there’s a moment when you will want a newer car.

Or need a newer car.

  1. When you have a job that demands a 100% reliable mode of transport, lest you get fired/backstabbed in office politics.
  2. When the time value of money is more valuable than any love of old cars and their quirky habits.
  3. When you meet a great girl, and you don’t want to look like a fool when your hooptie breaks down.
  4. When you have kids and are horrified at the mere thought of being stranded somewhere and helpless.  Even worse, your family being stranded and you aren’t there to help.

All valid reasons to give up, and make that car payment.  Now the Olds is a good car, and it will always do its best for you. At some point, well, that simply won’t be good enough.

Best of luck with that.

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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New or Used: Should I Beat My Hauler? Or Haul My Beater? Mon, 23 Dec 2013 13:00:30 +0000

To The Best & Brightest,

I need advice on my next used car purchase.

99% of the time the vehicle will be a daily commuter (rural highway and very little city traffic / 26 miles round trip). But during the winter when salt keeps my classic pickup off the roads I need the ability to tow my boat and trailer (combined weight of 4500 lbs.)

The towing distance is only 13 miles and the vehicle must either be front wheel drive or AWD/4WD to get the boat out of the water. The ramps are fairly steep on the lower Niagara river and for obvious reasons can be icy in the winter time. Normally just me in the car but have a wife and two teenagers who come along boating occasionally. A three seat pickup would work but most I have seen are too expensive. It’s either by two vehicles or one if it offers the right combination of capabilities and economy. I would like to keep it under 12 grand but would go as high as 15 for a great vehicle. If it won’t get a t least 20 mpg I would likely go the two vehicle route. I have a neighbor who is a great independent mechanic and for reasonable prices will help me keep an older vehicle on the road.

Lastly, is it worth the cost and hassle to travel to a non snow state to find a rust free vehicle to avoid the rust belt effect of vehicles here in the Buffalo area? I thought a used Grand Caravan would be perfect but those are evidently only rated to tow 3500 lbs. Thanks.

Steve Says:

The good news is that you’re hitting the prime part of the used car market as it pertains to value.

There are a ton of older minivans and SUV’s, hundreds of thousands of them, that are molderizing in wholesale auction heaven as we speak. Unpopular vehicles. Orphan brands. You could pretty much start at the near beginning of the alphabet with the Buick Rainier, and work your way nearly all the way down to the Volvo XC90. Both of those vehicles, coincidentally, would easily hit your price quotient and may have older owners who took proper care of those rides.

This brings me to what I think is going to be the big issue with you, the prior owner. You’re not buying a used vehicle these days as much as a prior owner who may or may not have done the right thing. I would keep your list fairly open and wide while attempting to snag that ride that can handle all of your hauling days.

Would I encourage you to buy it outside of the rust-o-sphere that is northern New York? Hell yes. Not only due to the rust, but the fact that the suburbs surrounding the tri-state area are swarming with used SUV’s (and minivans to a lesser extent) that have been garage kept and dealer maintained. I may sound like a complete snob for saying this. But I would prioritize a vehicle that was dealer maintained over one from the rougher parts of town that was not. I used to liquidate vehicles for an auto finance company and  at the time, I visited quite a few wholesale auctions that had more heavy haulers than they knew what to do with. The difference between a well-kept one and an abused one was quite vast.

If you’re asking for that one vehicle, well, I have a bit of a shocker for you. My choice would be the last year of a good generation from an unpopular automaker. A 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited 4WD with all the options. I would definitely opt for the 3.5 Liter with the touring package. As for fuel economy, if you drive with a lighter foot, you’re likely to get about 16 mpg, which is less than the 20 mpg you mentioned. But if you’re only driving it part of the time, say maybe 8,000 miles a year,  you are only looking at a few hundred dollar difference in gas. To me, a better tool for the job and a lower purchase price will more than make up for that cost differential.

If you drive a LOT, then get whatever car interests you for daily commutes… and then get the Montero anyway. The only hauling vehicle with a serious fuel economy edge would be a Touareg TDI, and they are hysterically overpriced. So is the Toyota Highlander.  There is also the SAAB 9-7x with the 5.3 Liter V8.  But most people don’t have the guts to buy an orphan brand. Even though that particular vehicle is composed of the most common of GM engines and the most common of GM platforms, nobody wants em’.

That’s what I recommend. Hit em’ where they ain’t. Opt for a loaded orphaned or unpopular vehicle that was built in the last year of it’s production run.

Good luck!


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Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000

TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:


I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.


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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Piston Slap: Affalterbach’s A-faltering Headlight! (Part II) Fri, 25 Oct 2013 12:00:44 +0000

Martin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I just wanted to follow up the post with the resolution.  I’m not sure if this is important to you all, but I see that it’s an issue with Bimmers sometimes as well.  I switched the bulbs from right to left.  My passenger side light had been flickering off.  When I switched the bulbs, the issue went to the driver’s side, which seemed to narrow down the issue to a bulb problem.  

Both lights would sometimes flicker as a pre courser to the bulb shutting down.  I replaced the Xenon bulbs with new ones, and so far, the problem is gone. I’m not sure why both bulbs flickered simultaneously as a pre courser to the bulb going out, but it did.  This issue is also gone. I hope it helps someone because initially when I took the problem to mechanics I received estimates including the replacement of the entire light, which is around 1200-1300 bucks, or replacing the ballast which is a 400-600 dollar part, and one indy mechanic even told me they had to drop the bumper cover JUST to get to the light, which is really untrue.

Instead the resolution cost me 150 bucks.


Sajeev answers:

Good to hear Martin, sometimes the easiest answer is the right one! And sadly, if one lacks the time and knowledge to seek that easy automotive solution, they’re gonna get hosed.  Hosed for a normal wear item?  How sad.  So let’s consider more wear items that people tend to neglect:

  1. Fuses: they go bad over time, even when they look good at a casual glance.  Even when tested with a voltmeter/continuity tester! Here’s one from my (LH high beam circuit) Sierra that looked okay at first…but when I shined light behind it…a new fuse and freshly cleaned ground wiring fixed a multitude of problems.
  2. Headlights: they are wear items.  They can flicker (as you know well!) and dim over time. The dimming is so gradual that you’d never know, until you replace them.  I’ve seen 2 year old vehicles need new headlights!
  3. Vacuum lines in particular, rubber parts in general:  Anything that uses engine vacuum (less of a concern today) relies on tubing that gets cracked, brittle, gooey, leaky…so replace it.  Lines connected to PCV systems can get gooey/leaky in just a few years…not decades.
  4. Tires: if they are dry rotted, their performance (especially in the wet) is kinda horrible.  Depending on where you live/park, your tires could be history after 5 years, even with fantastic tread depth.
  5. Brake lines: after a decade, especially if you live in the rust belt, look at your brake lines to ensure they won’t go explodey from rusting.
  6. Wiring: lines get brittle-cracked-shorted, connectors get broken/loose and “Ghosts in the Machine” that are seemingly impossible to trace have a very simple solution: replacement.
  7. Weatherstripping (again rubber): however your car’s doors seal to the body, that stuff will shrink, split, etc. no longer making an air (or water!) tight seal.  And don’t forget leaky sunroofs/moonroofs!
  8. Hinges and Latches:  bushings (often brass?) inside door hinges can wear to the point that doors sag, especially on convertibles.  Similarly, door latches wear, become misaligned, and make horrible squeaking sounds sometimes.
  9. Springs and Shocks: sounds logical, but how many people pony up the cash for these new parts after years of metal fatigue on coils and leaky/coagulated cartridges? Not nearly enough.
  10. Copper connections: similar to #6, if there’s an exposed connection on a printed circuit (probably less of a concern today) that can become oxidized…well, it will. I’ve repaired many a flaky module with a pink eraser (not white, they lack the “tooth” to make a clean cut) from the top of a pencil.  It’s funny the things you learn from people on the Internet.
  11. Batteries, Alternators, Terminals+Cables : as cars get more complex, their thirst for fresh batteries shortens the lifespan of these wear items.  Alternators age, even more so when trying to support a weak battery.  And everything can go bad because your battery’s termainals+cables are crusty and corroded.  The moment you hear your car “chugs” and labors at start up compared to a car with a new battery OR the moment the dashboard electrics goes bonkers for no apparent reason…well, that’s the moment you are officially warned of a simple but important charging problem.

Best and Brightest: fill in the gaps I left.  And have a great weekend.

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

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Junkyard Find: 1984 Toyota Van, With Bonus San Francisco Beachfront Rust Tue, 22 Oct 2013 13:00:31 +0000 11 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnless they’re air-cooled Volkswagens, cars in non-mountain California don’t suffer much from the teeth of The Rust Monster. Sure, the rainy winters mean that leaky weatherstripping results in rusty trunk floors (especially in GM cars of the pre-1990s era), but plenty of 50-year-old street-parked California cars have solid sheet metal that leave Michigan residents in awe. However, all this goes out the window if you happen to live within a block or two of the not-so-aptly-named Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. During a trip to California last week, I spotted this victim of Outer Sunset District Rust in an East Bay self-serve yard (with a spectacular Halloween display).
12 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThose of you who imagine California beaches to be warm, sunny places full of movie-star-gorgeous babes in bikinis are getting your imagery from Southern California. Go 400 miles north and you’ll find beaches that feature howling winds coming straight from the Aleutian Islands, gigantic waves, freezing-ass water that will kill you stone dead from hypothermia in minutes (that is, if the Great Whites or rip currents don’t get you first). That’s in August; it gets a lot worse during the winter. Why, it’s enough to make you shoot an OD in your squalid Ocean Beach hotel room right before your struggling band’s album suddenly goes multi-platinum!
05 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSo, with constant salt spray from the gigantic waves crashing into the beach, prevailing winds from the northwest, and heavy morning/evening fog approximately 362 days of the year, cars parked within a few hundred yards of the beach tend to spend their lives bathed in an eternal saline mist. Any nick in the paint, no matter how small, will become a horrible festering hole within a year or two. And, of course, cars parked on the streets of San Francisco get dinged, bumped, key-striped, sideswiped, and otherwise have their paint chipped on a depressingly regular basis (which is one reason my super-patina’d ’65 Impala sedan was such a practical daily driver when I lived there).
18 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou don’t have to go very far east— a half-dozen blocks will do it— to avoid this problem. This residential parking permit is for the northeastern corner of the city, far from the ocean, but there’s no way you get rust like this in North Beach— clearly, 1996 was a brief respite from the joys of oxidation for this Toyota.
13 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBecause important structural components (being protected beneath the car) don’t get rusty, you can keep your 48th Avenue car going for as long as you’re willing to tolerate the ugliness and/or big holes that allow chilly winds inside.
09 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis MasterAce got to 300,000 miles before the rust reduced its value to sub-scrap levels and/or parking tickets totaling more than 150 bucks landed it in the clutches of AutoReturn. These vans were as hard to kill as cockroaches, what with their indifferent-to-abuse pushrod Y engines, so we can assume that it was still a runner at the end.
06 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe interior isn’t so bad for a 300,000-mile, 29-year-old van. Perhaps all the additional ventilation kept mildew from getting to be a problem.
02 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHey, because plastic paneling doesn’t care about salt water, you couldn’t see most of these holes from the inside!

01 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1984 Toyota MasterAce Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 21
Piston Slap: When Does The Car Own…You? Mon, 26 Aug 2013 12:00:14 +0000

Keith writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Longtime lurker on TTAC that’s coming out of the woodwork. Love your columns and thanks for your time. I’ve got a 99 Civic with 199000 km (124000 miles) that needs new rear trailing arm bushings on both sides. I’m looking at about $500 to get them replaced.

Now here’s the rub. I can afford the repair but I can also afford to buy a new car too. But I really like my car. It’s cheap, cheerful, fun to drive and utterly reliable. Even the bushings, from what I gather, were close to the end of their useful life. I’m sure the awful Toronto roads didn’t help though. It has been religiously maintained according Honda’s maintenance schedule and the brakes were done within last year. The other thing you and fellow TTAC readers should know is that there’s a crack in catalytic converter and the fuel & brake lines are rusted & corroded. They are areas of concern but have been so for several years now. I’m not too worried about them but when one of them does go, that’s the absolute end of the car for me.

If I buy, I’m looking at a 2013 Mazda3 hatchback (Yes, I don’t mind the big goofy smile). I know they’re great cars for the money and well within my budget, especially considering dealers ought to blowing them out with the 3rd gen coming to their lots in the next few months.

Is the Civic worth keeping or am I just being a sentimental fool?

Sajeev answers:

I don’t see why a bad catalytic convertor is “the absolute end of the car” for you. The replacement (and installation at a local muffler shop) is a fraction of the cost of a new Mazda’s monthly payment. Ditto brake/fuel lines.  Old cars get old, especially on brutally rough urban streets and salty-cold weather. That’s life.

It is the classic quandary…do you own the car, or does the car own you?

At what point do you go from a warranty-laden, Ain’t Got a Care in the World motoring attitude to…ZOMG WHAT’S BREAKING NEXT AND AM I GETTING HOSED ON THE FIX?  I’ve made quite the name for myself being the latter of that statement, but I understand the frustration.  And the tiring weekends when you could be doing something else.  Anything else: it is, on occasion, a colossal resource hog in one’s life.

Would I have it any other way?  Hell no, but I also have a new(ish) truck with a decent warranty that happily gets me to work.  Taking the Civic’s sentimentality out of the equation (i.e. have you looked at the new Civic?), can you live with one car of moderate reliability? I’d sell when the Ontario winters finally put holes in the Civic’s floorboards, but that’s by no means the right answer.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

And by the way, I’m running low on the Piston Slap reserves of user-submitted questions, so read what’s below and help the TTAC community out.

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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Total Recall Update: Rustectomy Successful But Change Is In The Wind Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:56:16 +0000 Freestar

Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under a recall issued earlier this year. I promised then that, once the repair was completed, I would report back to you on how everything turned out.

As you may remember from that earlier article, the damage to the van was fairly advanced. The area around the seat mounts was encircled with corrosion and, in some places, had rusted to the point that there were actual holes between the wheel well and the interior of the vehicle. The affected area had been concealed under a plastic panel so I had not noticed the issue earlier, but I had noticed the van felt and smelled damp. How the whole piece had stayed in place I have no clue as it seemed to me at the time I could have pulled the seat mount out with my bare hands.

rust 1

As usual, my local Ford dealer was excellent and scheduled the repair as quickly as they could. They took it in after work on Friday night, completed the repair on a Saturday and I had the vehicle back in my garage that night. Once again, Ford deserves accolades for their customer service and I came away quite satisfied with the transaction.

On Sunday morning, I went out to the garage and took a good look at the work done. From the wheel well side I could see where a new piece of sheet metal had been grafted onto the inner fender well. The edges appear to have been carefully caulked and the whole thing covered over with rubberized undercoating. To my eye it looks to be a neat and efficient repair.


Inside the van, I once again removed the plastic panel to examine the backside of the repair. The most obvious thing the Ford techs have done is to totally cut out the rusted area. It appears as though they did the work with a pair of tin snips, nibbling away at the area one bite at a time and leaving a series of sharp metal teeth along the edge of their cut. Several sheet metal screws have been used to affix the panel and a large steel band has also been added to reinforce the seat mount. Besides the sloppy cut, which would have been neater and easier had they used a dremel or a sidewheel cutter, the repair seems to be a good one. Given that it was all done on the company dime and that all the sharp bits are hidden behind a thick plastic panel where they should never come into contact with soft human skin, I am satisfied with the work. Of course, since I am not a body and fender man, I’d be interested in everyone’s comments, too.


To me, however, there is a larger issue brewing. This whole experience of finding massive quantities of hitherto unexpected rust has left me questioning whether or not hanging on to the Freestar for another year is really worth risk. I wonder now just what other parts of the vehicle are suffering similar issues and what the results may be if we have an accident. There are, I note, a few places around the body where rust bubbles are forming and I have over the past year assiduously attacked the red stuff wherever I have found it, in particular along the lower edges of the vehicle’s doors. With my eventual departure from Buffalo now less than a year away, I am thinking it may be time to replace the Gray Lady and I have a pretty good idea what we are going to end up with.

Am I wise to make a move or just worried rat trying to jump a holed ship that isn’t actually sinking? You tell me.

Photo courtesy of

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Total Recall: Ignore At Your Own Peril Sat, 20 Jul 2013 19:43:23 +0000 rust 1

In March Ford announced another recall for their Ford Freestar minivans. The last time this happened I took my Freestar to my local dealership for transmission work and a few weeks later ended up replacing the entire transmission at my own cost when the part suffered an “unrelated problem.” This time Ford tells me that my van may suffer from corrosion in the wheel wells and that the affected areas include the third row seat mount. Presumably, the metal under the seat rusts out which could prevent the seat from latching properly. The condition, they continued, affects about 196,500 vehicle registered in the United States and that the vehicles most at risk are in states where salt is used on the roads to melt snow in the winter. I made note of the recall but then life intervened and my best laid plans to take the van in for a quick repair evaporated.

Apparently the issue is more important than I thought because about two weeks ago my local Ford shop contacted me by letter to remind me about the recall and to encourage me to make an appointment for an inspection. But the cat was in the cradle with the silver spoon and little boy blue and the man on the moon and like so many important things in life, I never got around to doing anything about it. Yesterday, however, I decided to tackle one the van’s other annoying little problems, the malfunctioning rear air conditioning, and that required removing the interior panel that covered both the AC unit and the seat mount. I was utterly shocked by what I found.


As you can see from the photos, the steel wall of the wheel well is almost entirely eaten away around the seat mount and in places the corrosion is so bad I could look through the holes in the body and see the garage floor. Because of the pattern of rust, in a complete circle around the mount, the situation appears to be quite dire in my opinion. I could have easily made a hole big enough to put a basketball through by simply pulling on the affected part with my bare hand. Given the fact that my son rides in that third row almost everyday I’m left a little speechless about what I found. All it would have taken to collapse the rear seat completely was one hard bump.

Naturally, I went to the Ford dealership right away and they scheduled me a time next Friday to come in and get the issue fixed. Until then, we will have to continue to use the van for daily errands, but I’ve told my wife to stay close to home as possible for the next week. Because we only have the two vehicles now, these repairs, which I am told will take about a day to complete, will be pretty inconvenient for us. Loaner cars are not covered under the recall.

Despite the inconvenience, I still have to commend Ford for their repeated efforts to get me to address what they knew to be a legitimate concern rather than just posting the information on their website and letting it languish. I wish now I had been more proactive about solving the problem and I encourage all of you to spread the word to anyone who owns one of the affected vehicles about the severity of this condition. I guess it pays to stay on top of these things. Lesson learned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better make that colonoscopy appointment I have been putting off…

2004 Ford Freestar

2004 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Piston Slap: In God We Rust, Part III Mon, 08 Jul 2013 12:00:25 +0000

TTAC commentator Kovalove writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Long-time lurker on a daily basis for over 5 years now. Not sure if this is a worthy question for Piston Slap but here we go: In about two weeks’ time I’ll make my final payment (0% loan ftw) on my 2008 Mazda3 GT 4-door (‘S Grand Touring’ in US spec) with just over 97,000 km. It has served me well with no at-cost repairs other than routine maintenance (some minor stuff was covered by warranty). I have been looking forward to payment-free living and would happily keep the car for many more years, but one thing has been rattling around in the back of my mind…

I live up in the Great White North in the Toronto area where road salt is used from November through to the end of March. After winter 2012 I noticed some early signs of rusting on the inner lip of the rear wheel openings. I was annoyed but not really surprised as this is a well documented phenomenon with Mazdas. I regularly see ’3s a couple of years older than mine that are rusting badly in numerous areas on the sides and rear end.

Supposedly the 3′s resistance to rusting was improved with the refresh in 2007, but only time will tell for sure. My question is whether there is any financial sense in getting rid of the car now before the rust gets serious, especially given the inflated used car market? For what it’s worth, I will be debt-free with the repayment of this loan. Presumably a badly rusted car would plummet in value despite being otherwise mechanically sound? According to many reports, repairing the rust on these cars is a mostly futile exercise and it comes back quickly. Thanks in advance!

Sajeev answers:

Ah yes, we are revisiting the rusty Mazda problem for the third time in this series. Too bad the 3′s mild redesign didn’t/couldn’t address this problem, and it appears Mazda Canada’s warranty doesn’t cover rust damage.  Did I misread that part with the exclusions?

“Damage or surface corrosion from the environment such as: Acid rain, airborne fallout (chemicals, tree sap, etc.), salt, road hazards, hail, wind storm, lightning, floods and other natural disasters.”

Don’t take my word for it, read your owner’s manual (RFTM) and verify.

Now someone can quickly repair the rust if it’s small/localized (DIY is not impossible, either) and buy more time before the Rust Lord takes over. But will it buy enough to justify ownership to you? And it is worth it to your pocketbook if you can sell it for a price that makes you happy and gets you into a newer car that’ll make you happier? 

Now that’s the real question, me thinks. So what is your threshold for pain? Without supporting photos or a comprehensive underbody inspection, who knows how much pain you got coming?

Take it from the idiot restoring his “rust free” 1983 Lincoln Continental Valentino: once you tear into a rust repair project, you’ll find more of it. Peep the photo below: I thought my Valentino’s decades old, well-known rust hole under the battery was just that!   But oh noooo, the rust seeped down farther, down to the base of the radiator support.

Now is mentioning my Valentino in the same blog post as your Mazda 3 a fair comparo? Absolutely not! 

We all assume that the “young” Mazda won’t be this sinister: at least we assume this. But you know about them people who assume too much!

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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Piston Slap: The Sentra’s Salt Assault Mon, 18 Feb 2013 14:13:14 +0000

TTAC commentator greaseyknight writes:


I have a question that I would like to throw at you and the Best and Brightest. Time is of the essence! In about a month I will be moving from the PNW to Wisconsin. My car is a rust free ’92 Nissan Sentra, and I would like to keep it that way during my stay in that state, which is be at least a couple years.

I really have no idea what precautions I should take being from the PNW, where under car rust is a totally foreign concept. I have heard of various under body treatments like Fluid Film and others, but what should I use? I really enjoy the piston slap articles, keep up the good work!

Sajeev answers:

First, let’s be clear on one thing: rustproofing is pointless for folks who keep their car for 10-ish years. Second, the B13 Sentra is a sweet little machine, totally worth keeping around for the rest of your life. For special cases like you, consider a rust proofing, undercoating spray from a shop that does such things.

If done correctly (i.e. not blocking up drain holes in the body) these sprays are a great idea for an older car with cherry metal.  They probably will not save every nut and bolt from the Rust Devil, but major components will be far better off.  Let’s say that you move to Wisconsin for more than two years: don’t worry, if all else fails you can replace any bolt-on component using the magic power of the Internets and loyal followers of the Sentra (and its Mexican twin, Señor Tsuru) while the spray-on undercoating protects the rest.

Other things I recommend?

  • Mud Flaps installed using the factory holes in the wheel arches…if possible, as that makes future removal far cleaner. If not, drill the holes and PAINT the exposed metal before installing. The Mad Tite stance and golden wheels below are optional, naturally.
  • Slathering the underside with used motor oil, letting it get all thick and coagulated and nasty ‘n shit…stank enough to scare away road salt. Not exactly earth friendly, but it won’t go anywhere once it gets sticky and coated with road grime. So there’s that.
  • Don’t use local car washes with recycled water…as that water already has the salt of previous cars.
  • Pour water over every seam, gap, upstream drain hole (i.e. not the ones at the bottom of the doors) etc. and let Mother Nature freeze these access points shut.  Never park the car in a heated garage (or any place that goes above 32 degrees) and salty water can’t get in!
  • Stop listening to the H-town boy and listen to people who actually deal with road salt for better advice.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.



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Review: 2003 Mazda Protege5 Thu, 14 Feb 2013 18:20:26 +0000

I started contributing car reviews to TTAC back in 2006. Today’s is my last. But which car should I cover in my final TTAC review?

The 2013 Audi S5 I drove last summer in Colorado? Great car, but the reason I didn’t write it up then remains valid: it’s essentially the same car (minus two doors, plus sexier curves) as the 2011 Audi S4 I drove to West Virginia and back. The biggest news is that there isn’t any big news. Despite a change from hydraulic to electric assist, steering feel (or lack thereof) remains much the same.

Why not write the review TTAC founder Robert Farago wouldn’t let me write? RF had a rule against reviewing our personal cars. But my 2003 Mazda Protege5 has been mentioned in quite a few of my reviews, and has been implicit in nearly all of them. RF’s rule went by the wayside some time ago, but the thought of reviewing the P5 didn’t cross my mind again. Until now.

When I bought my Protege5 back in November 2003, it was already at the end of its run. I got a great deal ($18,900 MSRP, paid $13,400) because the new Mazda3 was in transit. So the P5 was designed and engineered back in the mid-nineties. How does it possibly remain relevant today?

The Protege5 remains relevant for the same reasons I still own it. First of all, despite a 2,800-pound curb weight, the car’s reactions to steering inputs are quicker than in any compact hatch I’ve driven since buying it. Though the low-effort steering can have an over-assisted, rubber-band feel at modest lock under light loads (a trait shared by the current Civic Si), both on-center and when you’re tossing the car precisely through a curve the rack and column seem to transmit EVERTYTHING through a relatively thin, minimally padded rim to your fingertips. (The thick, heavily padded steering wheels favored by many people and consequently common on performance-oriented cars block feedback.) A MINI or a 500 should feel as agile and provide communication as plentiful and nuanced, but doesn’t.

By lifting off the Protege5’s throttle as you enter a turn you can coax the rear end out a bit, but in general the car’s chassis is extremely stable. Testing out the car’s handling early on in a snow-covered parking lot, I had to resort to pulling the hand brake to get it to spin. Even without stability control (which was never offered), every ounce of potential can be extracted from this car safely and easily. In subjective terms, the P5 feels so alive and is so much fun, even in daily driving, that it has made nearly every car I’ve reviewed over the past decade seem dull, even boring in comparison. Consider the Mazda Exhibit A in the case that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

Almost ridiculously large windows separated by thin pillars further contribute to driver confidence. If you can’t see something ahead, behind, or to the side of this car, you must be looking in a different direction. As in an NA or NB Miata, I wish I could lower the seat an inch or two. As is, you sit far above the compact instrument panel yet well below the windshield header. You can see the front end just enough to easily place it. (Unless you’re the au pair who once parked by feel, crinkling the front left fender.) To get this driving position in a current vehicle, you have to get a crossover. Even these often have tall, deep instrument panels lately.

The driver seat, though surprisingly supportive and comfortable for one in such an inexpensive car, doesn’t do as much for driver confidence. It might look like it would provide lateral support, but it doesn’t (especially not when upholstered in black leather). Front and rear seat height can be independently manually adjusted. Bean counters have since killed this feature in every compact (most recently in the Chevrolet Cruze).

The Protege5 is smaller than current compact hatches, but has a roomier back seat, perhaps because safety standards were quite a bit lower in the 1990s. My three kids have logged thousands of hours in the back seat of this car. A couple of adults will not only easily fit, but they’ll find better thigh support than in many much larger cars. The Protege5’s cargo area isn’t large—this is the rare wagon that has a significantly shorter rear overhang than the related sedan, such that it’s really a wagon in roofline only—but it has always been large enough for us.

Beyond the handling and driving position, back in 2003 I was smitten with the Protege5s styling, especially the rear quarter view. Mazda really finessed the area around the tail lamps when transforming the Protege sedan into a wagon. A tasteful body kit lends just the right amount of aggressiveness to the car—unlike some, it doesn’t overpromise or make someone in his forties feel ridiculous. Overseas, the car was offered without the body kit, and the car then looks a bit pudgy. Frankly, even with the kit the car appears a bit rotund from some angles. Car styling has gotten much edgier in the years since, and at this point the Protege5 looks its age, even if it will age better in the long-term than either generation of Mazda3. I prefer to think of the exterior as “classic.”

The highly polished, chrome-appearing rims now on the car don’t do it any favors, especially not when paired with red paint. They were on the car from the factory. I had the dealer swap wheels with another car, and credit me the $400 difference. But a few years later the finish peeled off the painted wheels. To replace them under warranty, Mazda shipped the wheels they thought were still on the car. The dealer then balked at replacing them at all, claiming that the flaking wheels were “aftermarket” because the selling dealer (no longer in business) hadn’t reported the swap to Mazda. I persuaded them that this was not my fault, and said I’d be more than happy to have them replace the painted wheels with painted wheels. But there was no way to have Mazda ship painted replacements, so it has worn shiny rims since.

The Mazda’s interior, well the interior is cheap, but honestly cheap. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, and the door panels at least are soft to the touch. The controls are simple and within easy reach. Let’s consider the interior “classic” as well.

I suppose I must mention the P5’s engine, which has never ranked among the reasons I like the car. Under 2,000 rpm it gets the shakes and lugs. Over 4,000 rpm it runs out of breath (130 horsepower allegedly arrive at 6,000, but this isn’t obvious from behind the wheel). Between 2,000 and 4,000, though, it produces a good, solid pull with more character than you’ll find in a Mazda3 mill. Early on I replaced a tall shifter with one that halved the throws. Partly for this reason, the shifter isn’t always the smoothest, but at least you’re pulling and pushing on a rod and not a cable.

Fuel economy started out in the mid-20s, then increased to the high-20s as the engine broke in. Sometimes it tops 30. Thanks to short gearing (nearly 3,500 rpm at 70), highway fuel economy is a little lower than suburban fuel economy. For reasons of economy and noise, I’ve long wished for a sixth cog. (Some people do replace the fifth gear with one from the closely related transmission in the 626.)

Sometimes I fantasize about the powertrain I’d install in my Protege5 if cost weren’t much of an object. It couldn’t be one with much torque. Even the stock engine steers the car under hard acceleration. But a Civic Si powertrain might serve nicely. In reality, the most common significant powertrain mod is a turbo. But for me the Protege5 is about having fun in daily suburban driving, so I’ve never felt an urge for boost, especially as this would likely dull the engine’s responses pre-boost.

The Protege5’s reliability has been excellent, with one big exception. In 115,000 miles I’ve been through a couple sets of pads and rotors, a couple sets of front wheel bearings, front lower control arms, and stabilizer bar end links. Oh, and three sets of headlight bulbs, which are such a PITA to change I pay the dealer to do it.

The exception is rust. Where the roads are salted, small Mazdas predictably start to meld with atmosphere about six months after the five-year rust perforation warranty ends. Each fall I remove what rust I can from the rear wheel openings and shock towers, slap on some rust converter, then paint. I had more thorough rust repair performed once, a couple years ago. The rust has since returned. To thoroughly fix just the rear end a body shop will charge a couple grand, which can’t be rationally justified.

So, why does the auto industry no longer offer a car like this one in North America? Visibility was cast by the wayside due to styling trends. The chassis story is more complicated. The transition to electric power assisted steering (EPAS) for fuel economy reasons hasn’t helped, but even cars with hydraulic steering generally provide far less feedback (e.g. the Audis mentioned earlier, and BMW 5ers recently compared by C&D).

In a word, the reason is refinement. In sharp contrast to a current batting-way-above-its-league Focus, the Protege5 ain’t got none. After driving a Lotus Elise, the Protege5 felt as high, quiet, and cushy as a Lincoln Navigator. Compared to just about anything with four doors, though, the near-classic Mazda is rough and noisy. Wind noise, road noise, engine noise, transmission noise—the entire dyssymphony is present. NVH couldn’t have been much of a consideration when it was engineered. In years past I’ve had my entire five-person family in the car for a 700-mile trip. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. This is not a highway car. For long trips we now have–what else?–a bigger wagon.

But isn’t there space for at least one affordable compact hatch that trades off refinement for responsiveness and feedback? Can’t at least one manufacturer take a chance on the possibility that the hand raisers would actually pull out their checkbooks? Until this happens—and it might never happen—I’ll stick with the Protege5 until rust takes out something essential (my pride if not a strut tower). For better and for worse, the Mazda delivers a visceral connection not only to the road, but to a bygone age.

Fortunately, there are still some car sites willing to trade refinement for responsiveness and feedback. My road at TTAC hasn’t always been straight or smooth, but smooth, straight roads are boring. With TTAC, whether headed by RF, Ed, or BS, there has never been a dull moment. Thanks, guys!

Michael Karesh operates, which covers car reliability, real-world fuel economy, feature-adjusted car price comparisons, and (as of this month) weekly “Why (Not) This Car?” reviews.

P5 rear, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail P5 front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 rear quarter at dealer, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Big wagon little wagon, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 view forward, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 front seats, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 kid, picture courtesy Michael Karesh P5 three kids, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Silver Protege rust, picture courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 102
Piston Slap: An Inappropriate Grab? Mon, 14 Jan 2013 12:32:10 +0000 TTAC Commentator flipper35 writes:

Hi Sajeev,

We have a 2000 Dodge Durango 2WD with rear abs (hub assembly is different than if the front had abs if it matters) and 165k miles.  It has been a pretty good truck with few issues but we do have an annoying one that came up.  The truck isn’t a commuter for me, just for the occasional errand that my wife needs to run or when the whole family goes somewhere so it gets driven a couple times a week just a few miles on the highway into town and back.  The issue is the brakes. 

They work fine but when stopping at highway speeds with constant pressure on the pedal the brakes will suddenly grab more and sometimes it is one side that will grab slightly quicker than the other then the braking is equal again.  These pads have about 8k mile on them and are a ceramic composite pad and were bedded properly when installed but the rotors had some slight grooving and the old one had little life left.  I went with this style because the last set of ceramic composite (NAPA brand) were great with good feel and exceptional performance when hustling on the back roads.  The new ones are from a parts warehouse that supplies parts stores all over the area (dad works there so I got a great discount.  During heavy braking the issue doesn’t show up but it is a little disconcerting to have the truck pull to one side briefly during normal stops.  The brakes will exhibit some fade now when hustling the curvy roads where the old ones did not.  Re-bed or replace pads and rotors?  Rust from sitting a while after the last snow storm and salty roads?

Sajeev answers:

Getting old sucks.  While I am not sure of the exact problem, I betcha it’s one of these:

  • Collapsed brake line (inspect all rubber components)
  • Rusty brake caliper bores (reman replacements are cheap)
  • Crud in the brake caliper’s fluid reservoir (see above)
  • Very, very bad brake fluid (flush the system entirely)
  • Extremely loose ball joint on one side (not likely)

It sounds like you have the brake pad and rotor situation under control, and you drive it enough to make rust a non-starter.  I mean non-stopper.

I think you have an old truck that needs more than a basic brake job. Time to check the calipers, the brake lines and the suspension. Hopefully all you need are a new pair of front calipers: they are about $25 each from Rock Auto. Score.


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

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Piston Slap: Your Body is A Temple? Mon, 07 Jan 2013 12:18:57 +0000

TTAC contributor David Holzman writes:


My brother Tom’s Prius has been suffering neglect: a scraped door here, a tear in the bumper there, and my heavens, enough dirt to coat all the government buildings in the Washington DC metro area, where Tom lives and works, and pretty soon a two year old Prius is looking like a common beater. He has no plans to fix all this ugliness, but if there’s a logical, cost-benefit case to be made, he will definitely be swayed, as will his wife.

Will this cosmetic disrepair affect this fine car’s longevity? Is there any other cost-benefit equation at work that might way on the side of some bodywork? Not to mention a trip to the car wash every now and then? Please give me your thoughts, and then let the multitudes on TTAC provide theirs!

All the best, –David

Sajeev answers:

Cosmetic imperfections are important when you sell a car…or look for a soul mate. If you are doing neither, looks aren’t important to many folks. And that’s cool. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if someone gave my 2011 Ranger a good smack in the front, so I can replace the quasi-tough guy front fascia with that of a 2000-ish Mercury Mountaineer. Then I’d have a Mercury Ranger, or Manger.

Well then! Back on topic: if you don’t care, and don’t care about resale/public perception, a dented door is no biggie. Neither is a plastic bumper in disrepair. Your brother’s current problems are too minor to really worry about. At least for now.

Yes, the door will get worse, rust and eventually get rust holes in multiple places in the door. But the rot stays inside the door and thanks to the beauty of online junkyard databases, it’s no biggie. A new (used) door is in order, 10+ years from now, and all the labor involved in switching window parts, etc. And since white is an easy color to find and easy to match, getting a replacement that needs zero body/paint work is very likely.

If the damage was in another place (quarter panels, floorboards, etc), my tune shall change. But, when you consider the opportunity cost of fixing up a Toyota Prius instead of tackling a home improvement project, college education, hot stock tip, etc instead of the dent repair…well, I’m not gonna judge your brother for caring about other things than his ride.

It’s a Prius, bought (presumably) with his money. Cosmetic issues are just that: cosmetic!

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

To some extent, pouring money into a heavily depreciating asset is kinda stupid. If he’s neglecting an antique (loosely defined) vehicle, oh my damn son, he’d deserve a right thrashing from you. But it’s hard to justify the drama for not adoring a late model Prius.

(photo courtesy: David Holzman) DSC_0004 Well there is that. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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

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How To Buy A Used Car Part Two: The Test Drive Thu, 09 Aug 2012 16:59:50 +0000 Picture Courtesy of

[Editor's note: Part One of Steve Lang's updated guide to used car buying can be found here]

Schedule the test drive for a time when there’s no rush. If it’s bad weather, reschedule.

Take a little notebook, write a quick check list based on this article, and make notes.

When you approach the car’s owner, be friendly, polite and courteous. Do NOT try to “beat them down” to get a better deal on a test drive. Ever. While you have every right to ask direct questions, you have no more right to insult their car than one of their children.



Open the hood and look at five big areas. Oil dipstick, coolant, power steering fluid, radiator cap and brake fluid.

Oil: Golden brown, light tan, a little dark, or even dark brown to light black are fine. The oil is just doing it’s job. A tar color or tar like consistency is not good.

Check the dipstick for level and color. Then check the oil cap on top of the engine (on most models) for anything that resembles milky crud. If it has a thick film of milky crud, that’s engine sludge, you’re done.

Coolant: Check the coolant reservoir for level. Most sellers pay attention to this. But a few don’t. Remove the radiator cap if it’s accessible. If you see crud on the cap, you’re done.

Power Steering and Brake Fluid: Check for the level. In the case of power steering, check for any heavy leakage around the hoses. If the power steering hose is saturated with oil, this could be a sign of a more expensive repair in the times ahead. Make a note of it.


The Tires And Body

Tires: First, check the tires. Pull the steering wheel all the way to the left (and then right later on) so you can see the entire tread. Uneven tire wear– marks on the side or deep grooves in the middle– may indicate suspension issues. And nothing screams “lemon” louder than cheap, bald or strangely worn rubber.

Doors: Next, open and close all the doors several times, including the trunk and hood. This will also give you the opportunity to inspect the seats and floor. On the doors, check for paint on the hinges and black moldings. If a door creaks, it’s usually no big deal. If a door has trouble closing, make a note of it if you later chose to have the vehicle inspected. It can signal anything from a broken hinge to frame damage.

Panel Gaps and Trunk: Have a quick look at the panel gaps, especially the hood and trunk. Unless you’re looking at an old Land Rover, they should all be even. Check for water leakage in the trunk. Damp and/or a mildew smell often indicates problems underneath if you live in an area where rust is an issue. Lift the trunk’s carpet and see if there is any water or damp residue underneath.


The Interior Features And Lights

When you climb aboard, don’t be put off by worn seats or busted radios. Most interior surfaces and parts can be repaired or replaced easily and cheaply.

Windows: Lower each of the windows first while the key is at the ‘on’ position, and fire up the car.

Engine: Do you hear any tapping or pinging sounds, or does it kick over with a smooth ‘vrooom’ and settle into an easy, quiet idle? Start it up again if you aren’t 100% sure.

Buttons: Test all the buttons and switches including the radio stations. Ask for help and have the owner turn on the ‘left’ signal and look at the front and rear to make sure the bulbs work. Repeat with the right.

Exterior Lights:  Then check the headlights along with the brights. Brake lights should be checked in the rear as well as reverse. This may be your only time to verify their proper operation before owning the vehicle. So take the time to do it.

Windshield Wipers and E-Brake: Finally have the fellow spray their windshield and make sure the wipers are in good order. Thank them for helping them you and then test the emergency brake to ensure that it’s operating properly. If you’re driving a stickshift you will want to do this later in the test drive on a steep upward incline.

Air Conditioning: Flip on the A/C. It should kick out cool air within fifteen seconds. With an older vehicle the performance of the A/C system should be one of the more critical concerns. (HVAC repairs can run as high as $500 to $1500.) When you’re on the road, test the heat and the A/C again to make sure the temperature and fan speed are constant.

Power Steering: Finally before going on the road lower your windows and turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and right. The motion should be seamless and silent. If there’s a lot of resistance, or the force required is uneven, the steering system may need anything from power steering fluid (cheap) to a power steering pump assembly (moderate) to a new rack (first born). Make a note of it.


The Drive

Shift: Now put the car in gear. Aside from a few models (older Mercedes in particular), a late or rough shift from park indicates that the car’s transmission may soon give up the ghost. If you experience very rough or late shifting, you’re done.

Brakes: Brake force should be quick and constant. Unless the brakes have been recently replaced (ask), you shouldn’t hear any squeaking sounds. Keep the driver’s window open during the first half of the drive.

Transmission: Drive the car through a variety of traffic conditions, inclines and speeds, for at least fifteen minutes. When going uphill, take your foot off the accelerator for a moment. Coast downhill as well. If the car’s transmission hunts, clunks or has trouble catching, the vehicle probably has a transmission or linkage issue. Make a note of it.

Engine: If you hear a lot of ‘clacking’ or other unusual engine noises on initial acceleration, the engine’s components may need attention. If there’s an oil gauge, keep an eye on it. It should show approximately 25 to 80 psi during acceleration, and 10 to 20 when idling. The coolant temperature gauge should hit a fixed point within ten minutes and never move.


Quick Stop

After about twenty minutes of driving, take the car to a gas station. Keep the engine on.

Gas release: Open the hood and the gas cover release to make sure they’re in proper working order. I also take this time to put $5 of gas in as a goodwill gesture.

Most folks will not have a car buyer as studious as you, and it’s nice to reimburse folks for an expense.

Transmission Fluid: Restart the car. If you know where the transmission dipstick is (and it’s a damn good idea to find out), check the level and color. Does it have bubbles? If the fluid is very dark brown or black, or smells burnt, it could be a sign of future transmission issues.

Final Oil Check: Turn the vehicle off and again, check the oil. If it’s not between the marks (too low or too high), or if the oil cap is milky brown, you’re done. I’ve dealt with more than a few cars that had their oil caps wiped clean before the test drive.


Last Inpsection And First Decision

After leaving the gas station, see if you can find a nice open parking lot or area where you can do a few ‘figure 8’s’.

CV Joints: Lower the windows and turn the steering wheel all the way to the left. Drive very slowly and see whether you have any ‘clicking noises’ near the wheels. If it does, you will likely need to have the CV axle replaced on that side. Now turn it all the way to the right side and repeat. The turns should be ‘click’ and noise free.

Decision Time: By this point, you should have a pretty good idea whether your next step is towards purchase or home sweet home. If you’re blowing it off, thank the owner politely and leave promptly, without engaging in any further discussion whatsoever. (“It’s not what I had in mind.”) Show them the gas receipt as a goodwill gesture and thank them.

If you’re ready to move forward, it’s time to schedule a professional inspection.

[Mr. Lang invites TTAC readers to share theirused car test drive advice below. He can be reached directly at]

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Piston Slap: Preventative Maintenance or Over Medication? Tue, 03 Jul 2012 10:15:34 +0000


TTAC Commentator Silent Ricochet writes:

Hello Sajeev,

You’ve helped me greatly in the past, and I once again turn to you for your knowledge of used cars and reliability.

To refresh your memory, I drive a 2002 Chevy Cavalier Z24. It’s a 5-Speed Manual, with the 2.4L Quad 4 motor in it, not the lifeless 2.2. I’m about to hit 145k and I’ve got a few concerns about the car and what I should exactly do with it.

I’m currently in my third year of college, with another 3-4 ahead of me. So far my Cavy has been the most reliable car I’ve ever owned and it’s been with me through thick and thin, never complains, and even enjoys being tossed around a few corners and some light to light action on the weekends. I’ve maintained everything I could afford on this car (for a full list look here)  And that list is old too, since then I’ve replaced even more, Synchromesh in the gearbox and I’ve switched to ACDelco Oil Filters to name a few. And not those crappy ECore designs either). I might be a little crazy with all the maintenance but at the end of the day, I love my car, and it shows. Always starts, engine is smooth and full of life, the gearbox is smooth but firm, and the ride for a 11 year old sport suspension is predictable. I believe this car has the potential to live well passed 200k at the rate it’s going, but 55,000 miles is a long ways away.

Here’s the problem: The paint, is starting to show signs of it’s age, chips in the hood, clearcoat coming off the roof, little things like that. Furthurmore the paint below the gas cap and near my side skirts is starting to bubble a little. So to make it simple, the rust has begun. Combine this with a mysterious leak of some sort under the car (which I’ve identified through reading as the Water Pump weeping a little, they’re known for that) and a thought of maybe selling this car comes to mind. It’s a tough thought for sure. My step father in my hometown operates and owns a Towing Business and Repair Shop, so any repairs that need to be done, are done by him and at a much discounted cost (buy him lunch and it’s a done deal kinda thing).

But the car is starting to get to that point where, if I gotta replace the water pump, then I might as well replace the timing chain while I’m in there. And while I’m in there, might as well change the head gasket too because it’s literally like 8 more bolts. AllData puts a water pump at almost 8 hours labor. Something tells me that’s not going to be a freebie job. My step dad thinks that I should sell my car this spring, before it’s “unsellable” with the amount of mileage on it and what not. I’m kind of torn.

So this places me in a weird position. In one hand, I think my step dad has a point. In the other, I’ve put so much into this car, it runs so well, and I love it, that I believe that I should keep it. My original plan was to hang onto my Cavy until I get out of college 3-4 years from now, and then buy something much newer / nicer. But who knows what could happen in the 3-4 years between now and then. A thought had crossed my mind earlier this year to get an early 2000′s Camaro (V8 of course, can you tell I’m a Chevy guy yet?), but I decided to stick with my Cavy purely because of love and reliability.

So? What do you think? Any insight?

Thanks in advance!

Sajeev answers:

This series is no replacement for deep diving into the appropriate car forum to find the truth.  I occasionally point that out because my half-assed Googling has a hard time justifying your deep engine dive.  Timing chain?  Head Gasket?

Timing chains rarely have problems, and I am not familiar with any chronic chain problem with the QUAD 4.  (puts on flame suit) And you never, ever touch a 100% functional head gasket on a modern motor…the only time I’ve seen this as (necessary) preventative maintenance is on iron block/aluminum head motors from the early 1990s, when the gasket material changed composition from asbestos to whatever stopgap non-cancer causing material was used immediately after.  These days, head gaskets aren’t a big concern.

Obviously you are a stickler for upkeep.  You love to keep your ride in tip-top shape.  But are you over thinking this time ’round?


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


]]> 36
Piston Slap: In God We Rust, Part II Mon, 25 Jun 2012 11:12:02 +0000

Keith writes:

Hello Sajeev,

My conundrum is as follows: I am a graduate student with another 1.5 years left of school. I commute at least 200-300 miles a week living in rural Maine (so a car is a must for me). My ride for the last 4 years has been a 2002 Mazda Protege5 with manual transmission. Bought in August 2007 with 69,000 miles, now at 143,000 miles. The car has never outright let me down and I love the balance between fuel efficiency, utility of the hatch, and fun to driver factor. What I don’t love is that it keeps rusting away. I have had minor rust repairs performed in the past to get it to keep passing inspections – the rear wheel wells, the floor beneath the rear seats. The rust around the windshield became bad enough that it started to let a little rain water in (though me and a tube of silicone quickly “cured” that). This car is by no means cosmetically perfect anymore, but it still drives great and has been kept up mechanically. Again, grad student – I feel like I am supposed to have a beat up looking car.

This past August, while undergoing the yearly inspection by the trusted family mechanic, I received the news that the rear sub-frame of the car was now approaching a level of rust that would cause it to fail inspection. The mechanic’s thinking was to take a very close look at it this coming summer and judge if it has another year in it or if it has reached a point of structural concern. He told me to be prepared to look for another car, as replacing the rear sub-frame would be prohibitively expensive considering the overall poor condition of the car. The rocker panels are rusted pretty bad and would probably not go another year, and the strut towers are pretty rusty as well. I recognize that this isn’t an overall mint automobile with just a single issue, so throwing money at it isn’t sensible.

If the rest of the car were to be judged to last another two years and thus make the money and effort worth it, what would the replacement of the rear sub-frame cost? The one bonus that I haven’t mentioned (the thing that prevents me from feeling really anxious) is that my brother’s 1998 Chevy Cavalier coupe is available for free, he being away at college. The Cavalier has about 135,000 miles and keeps on chugging. I live at home and it has become the shared household vehicle in order to keep it from sitting. It has been pretty cheap to maintain and barely has any rust. And did I already mention it is free? Honestly, this is a question of heart vs. head. The Cavalier used to be mine. Once I obtained the Protege5, I never looked back.

Would it be pure foolishness to put any significant cash into the Protege5, especially since I have a much cheaper and less rusty option in the Cavalier? My stronger preference for the Mazda clouds my judgement.

Sajeev Answers:

We covered this before, and the answer has not changed. Look, you’re in grad school: your  prime earning years are coming shortly.  With any luck, your career means you’ll purchase a host of fun vehicles in the future. But right now make that future even brighter.  Ditch the 5, drive the Chevy. The Cavalier isn’t known as a chronic rust bucket like these particular Mazdas, and it is free.  Free is quite good.

Moment of Truth: when I was in grad school (i.e. the place where my TTAC career began) I had no idea where my career would take me.  And how much I’d make.  Not that I’m especially wealthy, but things kinda made sense about 5 years after getting my MBA. Your degree will take you far, and you’ll be happier with the money saved in lieu of buying a Cavalier replacement.  Who knows, maybe the extra savings and mundane machinery will land you the ideal lifestyle and loved one to go with it.  It’s amazing where that degree will take you, trust me on that.

So don’t let the cooler car cloud your judgement, says the MBA-clad TTAC veteran who drives a Ford Ranger. Believe that.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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Piston Slap: Honda Fanboi, Beater Enthusiast, Wannabe Racer? Mon, 21 May 2012 11:51:32 +0000


Carleton writes:


I have two essentially unrelated questions but both seemingly require something that I greatly lack: money.  I’m a 22 year old engineering student in New Hampshire and have been around cars my whole life.  Over the past few years, I’ve purchased several older motorcycles on craigslist very inexpensively, sorted the mechanical issues, cleaned them up and sold each on for a solid profit ($500 to $1000 profit per bike).  While this has been fun, cars have always been my real passion.  Working on motorcycles has given me the confidence to tackle a project of a larger scale, so I am seeking advice to realize two long awaited desires.  I am currently working and making around $1000 per month and can play with about $200-$300 every month.  Furthermore, I have access to my grandfather’s a large garage with pretty much every tool needed to do any automotive work.

Since I got my license several years ago, I have wanted to purchase a winter beater.  As I mentioned, I can’t spend more than a few hundred dollars and am therefore not picky about the make, model, year, color, etc (however I will note that I am a Honda fanboy).  All that I want is a vehicle that will be capable even during the worst northeast blizzards to save my daily driver from the obscene amounts of salt and sand that the DOT uses to cover our roads.  I don’t mind something requiring some relatively basic maintenance but nothing major.  I would prefer a car that is either very economical OR able to carry a vast amount of large cargo (ie: mopeds and small motorcycles).  I think we’ve all seen the Top Gear Challenge where the blokes buy cars for less than £100 but I can’t seem to find anything in the Boston/Seacoast of NH that is remotely close to this kind of money in fully usable condition.  I’m constantly trolling craigslist, local newspapers and side roads.  Where is the best place to look for solid and very inexpensive beaters and what should I expect in terms of price and condition?  I am fully aware that rust will be an issue where I live.

My second question is perhaps more difficult to answer.  I’ve read most of Mr. Baruth’s Trackday Diaries pieces and would like to get into competitive racing/track time in the near future.  I am a great proponent of training and licensing but don’t currently have the funds to drop g’s on Skip Barber track days.  I am not a “fan” of racing so I don’t know what types of events clubs like SCCA offer or the cost of entrance.  My daily driver is an 2008 Civic Si Sedan with 46k and stock Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season rubber.  I am open to using this car for some track time but I want to do all that I can to prevent catastrophic failures from occurring and minimize my risk.  I know that this car may not be the best for such duties but I can’t see how it could be the worst.  I want to properly learn track etiquette and safety procedures but am not sure what modifications, training and equipment I would need to be successful.  Are the barriers of entry simply too high for a broke college kid or is participation in the racing scene actually possible?  Thanks for any help you may provide.

Sajeev Answers:

Very well written letter!  Sometimes I feel like an English teacher, so giddy when someone writes such a well thought out query! So let’s do this thing.

Your first question is easy to answer: you covered almost all of the bases.  The only thing left is to go on the offensive, via posting want ads. Start on Craigslist with a want ad for a cheap car.  Find any corkboard for community postings in college, grocery stores, churches, community centers, etc and post a similar message.   Beggars can’t be choosers, but they also can’t wait around for the right whip to show up.  Make it happen, and write it just as well as this letter to me.

Question two:  there are weekend driving courses around the country, but I couldn’t google something relevant for you.  Fear not, I’m just an ignorant Texan, I am sure you can find a place where nearby tracks are rented for weekend driving schools, SCCA club events, Import tuner clubs, etc.  The easiest way to get in the action is to join something like the aforementioned SCCA. You know, to get in the network and start autocrossing.

And this is where Jay Lamm, Nick Pon, Judge Phil, Judge Jonny and countless friends I’ve made in the 24 Hours of LeMons proceed to burn me at the stake!  Or put a stupid hat on me and strap me to a Fairmont station wagon. Which is kinda the same thing.

It’s true!!!  My favorite way to go amateur racing is with LeMons.  Eventually.  You start by joining a team, and cutting the requisite check for the (laughing) honor. (/laughing) Then you get access to the car during test and tune track days, general wrenching, and so forth. While I do not recommend door-to-door racing for a complete greenhorn, you’ll get there soon enough. Your team will help you make that decision. Most importantly, this form of racing is so much cheaper than anything else out there.

And you’ll make many friends along the way to help you. Too bad most of ‘em are completely nuts.  But it’s all good so do yourself a solid, join the LeMons Forum and get rolling. Enjoy the insanity.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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Piston Slap: An Indistinguishable Ball of Rust? Mon, 16 Apr 2012 11:42:23 +0000

Mike writes:

Good morning Sajeev.

Ask (for Piston Slap questions) and you shall receive. You are under no obligation to publish this assuming you receive more interesting material.  Thanks for doing what you do.

You may remember me as one of your fellow Lincoln Mark VIII enthusiasts.  The sway bars rock, and for now, I’m still running the OEM HIDs in my 2nd gen, hoping you find an aftermarket solution you deem adequate, and spread the word when the time comes. Although I do now own a pair of Doug’s delrin adapters, just in case.

But this isn’t about that car.  Oh yes, it’s the Panther!


I am the proud owner of a 1986 Lincoln Town Car, that I bought in 1997 with about 160k miles on it.  It now has 330,000 miles on it and the Minnesota winters have not been kind.  This has been my do-all vehicle, as well as my winter vehicle, for a number of years now.  It is equipped year round with snow tires. I tow with it, I haul lumber in/on it, it takes me canoeing camping, and bicycling.  Or it did until a couple weeks ago, when I blew a brake line.

That in and of itself would not be a big problem, but here is my concern.  Last winter, all of the fuel lines went.  (send, and return.)  they’ve since been replaced.  Everything underneath the car is a large, indistinguishable ball of rust.  The power steering leaks. Badly.  The transmission is reluctant to engage after coming to a stop sign in cold weather (until things warm up.)  I guess I’m just at the point where I wonder if it is time to let this one go.  The mid ’90s Town Cars can be had for 2-4 thousand on craigslist locally, or if I really want to go crazy, I could get a loan and pick up the W12 Phaeton I’ve been eyeing up..

I am leaning strongly toward dropping it off at the shop and let my mechanic so he can at least take a glance at it. We have an understanding.  If he tells me to “run away!”  I will.  If not, I Assume it will be a couple hundred bucks for a new line from front to back. that’s still better than a couple thousand for a new used car with “unknown” problems.  But in the end, I’m still driving a rusty, ’86 Lincoln.  At least when the next thing breaks, I still have my trusty ’72 Jeep Commando as a backup.

Why yes.  Those *are* 8′ 2x4s in that last photo…

And if you ever find yourself in Minnesota, I’ll buy you a beer.

Sajeev answers:

I do quite enjoy talking to a member of the Lincoln brotherhood, so it’s all good. I still need to make my old-to-modern HID conversion adapters. One day I’ll get them machined and ready to sell.  It’ll never make money–which is depressing–but I probably have no other choice. Because these cars were (almost) the first to have HIDs in the USA (a few 7-series BMWs from 1994-ish did have them) I really want to do the conversion for all of us…but there’s no time right now. Damn these labors of love!

Anyway, about the Panther…the indistinguishable ball of rust, as you so eloquently mentioned.

Cars in this situation are ticking time bombs: at some point it will be painfully obvious that it’s time to move on. I am not entirely sure you have reached it.  But you will.  I suspect a large rust hole in the floor board or a failing DOA gearbox (AOD, get it?) is in your future.  Probably not your near future, but it’s gonna happen.

When will your Town Car die a rusty, crusty death? Whenever it does, I will be watching this video and will pour one out for a fallen automotive soldier.


Click here to view the embedded video.

And I’ll do my best to sing “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city” without offending Mr. Bobby Bland. Because this Panther most certainly did you right, son.

IMAG0012.sized IMAG0062 Rusty Love? (courtesy: Mike) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail



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

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Piston Slap: 4.9L Pride at What Cost? Fri, 02 Dec 2011 21:33:55 +0000


TTAC Commentator Cameron Evans writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I am the proud owner of a 1992 F-150, 4×2, regular cab, long box, with power nothing and the Big Six. I love everything about the truck, except for the one concession to my wife, the E4OD gearbox.

Now that the tranny is shot (slip city, followed by violent shifts), I need your advice. The Ford has a lot of new, high quality parts (Michelin’s, o2 sensor, egr valve, coil, water pump, alternator, exhaust, etc), but it’s also rusty as hell from 19 Minnesota winters and the body is beat up from being a municipal truck.

Simple question, drop the cash on a rebuilt tranny or cut my losses?

Thanks in advance!

Sajeev Answers:

Unless the floors are rusting out, I’d keep it. Even then, sheetmetal stock and talented welders are cheap and easy find almost everywhere. A truck is a truck, my friend. There’s a reason why songs are sung, jobs get done, and America is America: the work truck beat to all hell is a symbol of our national pride.

Ok, let’s try to give a technical reason why.  Look at all those new parts!  The exhaust is a big plus. Great choice in tires too.  And if the EEC-IV controlled, 4.9L Big Six was a reasonably attractive woman, I’d marry her on the spot. You know I’m right, son.

Now to the tranny: finding a Ford savvy rebuilder is sometimes a bit tough.  So you’ll have to call around to find one, lest you wind up with an inferior product.  But when you do, and when you drop a decent shift enhancer on it, the E4OD is a great unit. Much like the rest of your parts, spending a good $1000-1500 (not including installation) for a proper rebuild by a proper Ford man is totally worth it.

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



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Piston Slap: The Wheel That Won’t Budge Thu, 22 Sep 2011 16:34:07 +0000

Matt writes:

Hey Sajeev. Looking for your wisdom, or perhaps that of the B&B. I’ve got a 2005 Hyundai Elantra with about 50k miles. Back around 40k, we had new tires put on it at Sears. Now I want to rotate the tires (yes, I know, I should have done this a while ago), but when I got to the very last wheel, I ran into a roadblock. The rear right wheel is fused to the hub! It seems to be rusted on. Poking around a few forums online, I got a couple of ideas:

  • WD-40
  • WD-40 and let it sit a while
  • Solid whack with a rubber mallet on the driving surface of the tire
  • Place some wood over the steel wheel and hit it with a hammer, rotating the wood around the tire so as not to damage the wheel
  • Loosen the lug nuts, drive it back and forth a few feet

None of this worked, and now I’m at a loss for what to do next. I tried those things about a month ago, and haven’t taken any further action. I fear that the good people at Sears may not be equipped to properly address the issue and that said lack may not stop them from trying. I don’t have a mechanic I trust* and don’t have a relationship with the Hyundai dealer. In the meantime, the wheels are back to their original locations so that we don’t get any weird wear or tread issues.

Basically, I’d like some advice: is there another home remedy I can try, should I suck it up and pay the dealer, or give the tire store a shot? If the latter, do I mention it when I drop the vehicle off, or let them “discover” it on their own?


*I had a mechanic I thought I could trust. But after getting charged $400 to replace “stuck” hood hinges which I was later able to loosen up with some PB Blaster, I’ve moved on.

Sajeev answers:

You’ve done your homework, and done the basics. Which makes my job easier and far more entertaining. So remove most of the lug nuts–not all, that’s very important– on the Elantra and get it safely on jack stands, and let’s brainstorm.

Hint #1: Whack the tire tread with a hammer, not a rubber mallet.
Hint #2: No wait, make that a sledge-hammer. The biggest one you can find and safely use, of course.
Hint #3: Lay on your back and kick the tire’s sidewall. A lot. I mean kick the living shit out of that thing, son!
Hint #4: Let the WD-40 dry and get a heating device (i.e. a heat gun) to expand the metal center of the wheel, preferably from the inside and not against the paint (alloy wheels only). Follow up with liberal use of Hint #2.
Hint #5: Drive slowly with all lug nuts SLIGHTLY loose and quickly activate the E-brake.

I’m not especially thrilled to do #5, but then again, it might be better than kicking a tire on a raised vehicle resting on uneven pavement. No matter, this will be a great story to share with your family and friends! Good luck!

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

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