Piston Slap: Probing the Outer Limits?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap probing the outer limits

MPAVictoria writes:

Hello everyone, thank you for taking the time to read my question. I own a ’97 Ford Probe with around 160–170 thousand kilometres. I am not sure because the odometer quit working about a year and a half ago.

In the last six months I have spent about $2000 replacing the timing belt, alternator, other belts, the exhaust system and the windshield. My mechanic is now telling me that I need another $1,500 in suspension work in the very near future. Plus, my car is now holding revs until it warms up so I think I may need to get that checked out, and I also think it will soon be time to replace the crankshaft ignition sensor for the third time in 4 years, about an 8–9 hundred dollar job. All of these expenses on a 12 year old car have got me thinking about replacing it with something newer.

I am curious about readers’ opinions on this question. Keep it and fix it? Or sell it and look for something new? Also has anyone had any experienced buying formal rental cars? I am looking at some 2008 tauruses (taurusi?) that were previously rental units. They tend to have very low mileage, about 30-40 thousand km, and very attractive prices, about 15–19 thousand depending on the options. Could one of these be a good idea if I do decide to sell my current car? (Note: prices in Canadian dollars.) Thanks in advance.

Sajeev writes:

Probes are a love/hate affair: girls love (loved?) them, which is odd considering the seemingly offensive name. But I digress . . .

Most of the work done sounds normal for a car this age, with that mileage. Exhaust systems rust out and alternators go bad. Belts are standard wear items. Your funny idle could be bad vacuum lines, a call for a tune up (spark plugs, etc.) or possibly an idle-air control solenoid. All are somewhat cheap to fix. The problem with the crank sensor sounds fishy, either the wiring needs attention (it never was the sensor) or the sensor is a cheap replacement. No matter, unless you have a “check engine” light or starting problem, I wouldn’t worry about it: that sensor either works or you’re stranded.

If my only other alternative is a $15,000 Ford Five Hundred/Taurus (which sounds like a lousy price) that’s so rental-grade it Hertz, I’m gonna stick with the Probe. And pocket twelve grand for your retirement. Its a great platform that’s an absolute blast with a fresh suspension and re-tuned motor. The Taurus? Not so much. And your car’s connection to the wacky-insane 1980s Ford concept cars with the same name only make the appeal more intriguing. Or perhaps, probing?

Drive other cars and see if you want to take the plunge. Remember how much money this will cost, too. If driving a Taurus makes you want that Probe out of your head, talk to TTAC’s own Jonny Lieberman. He’ll get your beater a new home and a short, painful life as a participant in the 24 Hours of LeMons. Probes are one of the hot tickets for that event.

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

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  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Apr 08, 2009
    V6 : i have a 20 year old Maxima i havent had to spend any money on. How long have you had that car? 20 years? You must not be the original owner and/or don't drive the car much at all. I called my friend with a 1990 Maxima just to make my point. In the past 10 years he's had to change: 1. alternator 2. motor mounts 3. brakes 4. 3-5 dashboard clocks (and it still doesn't work) 5. window regulators (especially earlier models) 6. exhaust resonator (even in rust free Houston) 7. CV boots and shafts 8. tires, belts, and hoses 9. timing belt (every 60-70k) 10. water pump (some mechanics replace it with the belt) 10. Clutch So yes, you must be the luckiest person in the world.

  • Redwood Redwood on Apr 08, 2009

    I say ditch the Probe before its too late. I sometimes put that much into my 3 series BMW with 157K miles, but it was still solid when it got hit and totaled. I still managed to get $10K out of a 10 year old car though. Something tells me there isn't that much value in the Probe and there's probably a reason I rarely see them on the road now a days. I say look around for another used car. It may be $1500 here, $2k there, then you're still stuck with the old car and still shelling out a lot of money.

  • Dukeisduke In an ideal world, cars would be inspected in the way the MoT in the UK does it, or the TÜV in Germany. But realistically, a lot of people can't afford to keep their cars to such a high standard since they need them for work, and widespread public transit isn't a thing here.I would like the inspections to stick around (I've lived in Texas all my life, and annual inspections have always been a thing), but there's so much cheating going on (and more and more people don't bother to get their cars inspected or registration renewed), so without rigorous enforcement (which is basically a cop noticing your windshield sticker is out of date, or pulling you over for an equipment violation), there's no real point anymore.
  • Zipper69 Arriving in Florida from Europe and finding ZERO inspection procedures I envisioned roads crawling with wrecks held together with baling wire, duct tape and prayer.Such proved NOT to be the case, plenty of 20-30 year old cars and trucks around but clearly "unsafe at any speed" vehicles are few and far between.Could this be because the median age here is 95, so a lot of low mileage vehicles keep entering the market as the owners expire?
  • Zipper69 At the heart of GM’s resistance to improving the safety of its fuel systems was a cost benefit analysis done by Edward Ivey which concluded that it was not cost effective for GM to spend more than $2.20 per vehicle to prevent a fire death. When deposed about his cost benefit analysis, Mr. Ivey was asked whether he could identify a more hazardous location for the fuel tank on a GM pickup than outside the frame. Mr. Ivey responded, “Well yes…You could put in on the front bumper.”
  • 28-Cars-Later I'll offer this, offer a registration for limited use and exempt it from all inspection. The Commonwealth of GFY for the most part is Dante's Inferno for the auto enthusiast however they oddly will allow an antique registration with limited use and complete exemption from their administrative stupidity but it must be 25 years old (which ironically are the cars which probably should be inspected). Given the dystopia being built around us, it should be fairly simply to set a mileage limitation and enforce a mileage check then bin the rest of it if one agrees to the terms of the registration. For the most part odometer data started being stored in the ECU after OBDII, so it should be plug and play to do such a thing - this is literally what they are doing now for their emissions chicanery.
  • Probert For around $15 you can have a professional check important safety areas - seems like a bargain. It pointed to a rear brake problem on my motorcycle. It has probably saved a lot of lives. But, like going to a dentist, no-one could say it is something they look forward to. (Well maybe a few - it takes all kinds...)