Piston Slap: Dodge Neon's Vanilla Twilight

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap dodge neon s vanilla twilight

Robert writes:

My wife has a 2000 neon [not shown] that I bought used 4-5 years ago with 125k. It is just passing 172k and is slowly falling apart:

* The AC no longer blows cold (just an AC flush?)

* Trunk lock broke (We get into the trunk via the back seat now and only store limited/small items there)

* Is burning oil — at 2800 miles since the last oil change I had to add 1.1-1.2 qt to get it to the correct area on the dip stick.

* We have never changed the tranny fluid that I know of, as the mechanic said it does not need it. Checking it, it is still a reddish color.

* The car is starting to rust on the lower left rear door.

Outside of normal wear items & the above, we have had no major problems with the car. The interior still looks great and doesn’t have a single tear or stain. We are trying to decide if we should do some/all of the above fixes or simply get a Mazda 5, the “minivan-which-is-not-a-minivan” that my wife likes.

According to the revised EPA ratings our neon gets 22/28. The mazda5 also gets 22/28 and has a lot more cargo capacity. In real world driving with the above problems we usually get about 35mpg highway at 55-60 and low 20’s city. In the past 2 months we’ve done a 100% highway trip and done 40mpg @ 50-55mpg in the right lane.

Sajeev answers:

It’s always sad to see a good, loyal car fall into a downward spiral of reduced performance (be it oil consumption or a busted trunk lock) and physical deterioration. And if your Neon is part of the family, a trusted friend or a loyal soldier, this is a remarkably painful decision. Well, at least it is for me.

Given the abundance of Neons in the junkyard, you can quickly and cheaply fix the trunk, the rusty door, and get a low mile engine to keep things going strong for many more years. And, without a doubt, anything you possibly forgot in the list above. Use the money you saved (versus the cash outlay on another car) to get the A/C tested and fixed.

But wrenching on weekends is not an option for many, so maybe it’s time to part ways with the Neon. Since this Mopar is worth next to nothing on trade-in, I’d recommend an advertisement on Craigslist, aimed at the 16-year-old kid in dire need of a first car.

With this in mind, there is no wrong move. And most importantly, feel comfortable and happy with your decision.

[Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com]

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2 of 37 comments
  • Russycle Russycle on Oct 12, 2009

    I rented a 5 for a thousand-mile road trip. Got 35 mpg climbing over a couple mountain ranges, handled good for an almost-minivan. Seriously thought about it when we were car shopping, it's a nice package.

  • Carguy622 Carguy622 on Oct 13, 2009

    The Mazda5 is a nice car. It could use a little more zoom-zoom under the hood, but the milage is good. Try to find one lightly used though. As Dave Ramsey says "The worst car accidents happen on the showroom floor." Let someone else take that big depreciation hit.

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