Piston Slap: Neon Nightmare Foreshadows Future Fiatsco

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap neon nightmare foreshadows future fiatsco

Mike writes:

I just thought I’d pass on an ongoing good/bad incident. First the bad: my wife’s 2003 Neon went into the dealer with a mysterious problem that they have determined requires replacement of the cylinder head. In a dramatic departure from my usual luck, the car is still under the 7/70 warranty so the expense will be small.

However the factory has informed them that they do not have a replacement. They are now checking with other dealers. Given that the Neon sold in numbers that Chrysler can only dream about attaining now, I cannot imagine this bodes well for anyone who bought a current Chrysler product.

Now the good news: the dealer loaned us a 2008 Versa to drive while we wait. This happens to be one of the vehicles on my list to replace my 1997 Escort mule when the time comes, so I welcomed the chance for a thorough test drive. So far, I’m favorably impressed. I would like to buy locally, so my options are limited to the domestics, Nissan and Toyota. This combined with my preference for a hatchback or small station wagon limits me to a Versa or a Vibe/Matrix (yes, I’m aware of the Caliber; see above). If the part search continues I may try to wrangle a Vibe for a test.

Sajeev answers:

The implied question here: WTF is up with Chrysler’s supply chain? Neon head gasket failures are common; our very own Jack Baruth (a Neon ACR geek) confirmed the interweb’s numerous incidents. Considering the collateral damage from a poorly designed gasket, it’s no surprise that the cylinder head can crack or warp. But the Neon wasn’t a niche product with unique parts that’ll collect dust on the shelf.

To be fair, Mike’s query was written in mid-March. So I contacted a local Chrysler dealer yesterday. They did not stock the head nor did anyone else in Houston, but they could get it from the factory in three to four business days. So at least the cylinder head does exist outside of the salvage yard, at least on someone’s computer terminal. But is this a case of Chrysler’s supply chain strategically reducing inventory to minimize financial burdens?

And will Mike’s old Escort be superseded by a Versa or Vibe in the not too distant future?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom

Maybe the Neon should leave before the Escort. If inventory is this irregular for the massively-popular Neon, I shudder to think of the post bankruptcy backfires when the (proposed) federally-backed warranties come into play. Not to mention the entirely-theoretical warehousing nightmare of keeping FIAT parts in this system. Epic, epic fail.

[Send your technical queries to sajeev.mehta@thetruthaboutcars.com]

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  • TRL TRL on Apr 24, 2009

    “While Chrysler design had some hits during his tenure (300C, Challenger), and some otherwise solid designs (Charger and the Charger mini-me Avenger) they had some monumental flops. Creed rarely gets mentioned in Chrysler’s decline but the guy signed off on the Caliber, Compass, Sebring, Crossfire, Aspen, Nitro, and Liberty.” Mostly agree but have always liked the look of the Crossfire. It certainly isn't in real turd looks territory like the Caliber IMO. So last weekend I took a Crossfire Convertible out for a test drive. Right now a low mileage 05/06 is around 15k. That's right in second car toy pricing for me. I actually thought it was a nice drive for the price but the dashboard is so horrible it could only be driven with a blindfold on. I can't believe a supposed mid-high end toy like this had a dash center stack covered in nothing but Testor's finest Silver. I had to check and make sure it wasn't some AMT edition or something but have discovered it looked this way for the entire model run. What the hell was anyone thinking? I have not paid much attention to Chrysler in years but that dash completely explains why they deserve to go. Daimler was sure an evil step-father.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Apr 27, 2009

    I have been giving the Chrysler vehicles I see in traffic a really close look lately and have decided that their products aren't THAT bad... The Caliber. Basic shape I really like. It is the chunky details that they added to it that really kills it for me. Looks like a tall Audi wagon plus alot of chunky Lego bits added on. The plain jane hubcaps version really kills the looks. With the aluminum wheels things are much better. Of course that has been a personal problem with most plain jane vehicles - those typically blah hubcaps. Mission accomplished. Make the customer want the better wheels. I would be happier with steel wheels and some decent beauty rings and center caps. The Sebring sedan. Again not bad. It's the details again. The basic shape is not that different from a Maxima or an Accord. It's the details. Saw one a month ago with aftermarket wheels (~16" black spokes, polished lip), tinted windows, and the rest was OEM stock. Looked really nice. Was white which says something good. I have a white car and I swear never again do I want a white car. Blah, blah, blah color... Spent 5 hours doing a road trip in a base model Dodge RAM pickup. Had rubber floor mats and a/c and the Magnum Hemi engine. Towed a 20 ft trailer. Didn't spend much time looking at it but the interior wasn't bad. Seats were fine. Dash was nice enough. Lots of plastic though compared to the Ford F-350 extended van I drove 5 hours down. The engine in the Dodge was really good. The tranny did exactly what it was supposed to. By comparison the Ford had a limited pace b/c if the cruise was set at much over 70 mph with 7 people, luggage, and a 1200 trailer on board it would shift down for every hill. The Dodge was towing a 6K lb trailer and did not shift as much on the same route (return). The Ford sounded winded at anything above 3500 rpm. The Dodge sang up past 4500 rpm. Now if I just had confidence that these vehicles would stay together 200K miles I wouldn't worry so much about owning them... Really - either my taste in vehicles is way different from the rest of America or this hatred for all things Chrysler is just piling on... Seriously. I want them to succeed but it is apparent that they and GM both have put far too many eggs into one basket. Large vehicles. Had they kept refining their small car offerings over the past 20 years they would have products to truly brag about (not just market to the people whose standards are low or just gullible). I rode in a friend's brand new first year Neon 2.0L four door sport (dunno what year) and it really impressed me for a small car. Don't know how well it aged though as I changed employers before he had 25K miles on it. Imagine if GM and Chrysler had put their heart into updating the Saturns and Neons better back in the early 90s instead of letting them whither or at least making it clear that they were letting the design age (see South Africa's Citi-Golf where a person can buy a brand new 80s style VW Golf/Rabbit) with appropriate discounts. South Africa also offered the 80s style Vanagon until a few years ago. So GM and Chrysler used up their customer's good will and now the customers are reluctant to go back to try updated products like the Astra and ??? No Chrysler small vehicle offerings...

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