Piston Slap: That One!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap that one

Kiwi writes:

Howdy Sajeev. I’m looking to the general crowd of enthusiasts and experts here to give me some advice. I am most assuredly not a car expert myself.

We have three cars, two of which are a 2000 Toyota Camry (177k miles) and a 2000 Chevy Blazer (78k miles). The Camry is my daily car, and I drive 55 miles round trip to work five days a week (sometimes more as I have night school twice a week). The Blazer is my mother-in-law’s car, and she drives very little, mainly just to pick up my daughter from school a couple of times a week (less than 10 miles round trip), down to the local shops, etc. We are up in the PA/NJ area.

On the face of it, if we were ready to turn one of these in it’d be the Blazer, right? Except that little SUV feels like a total lemon. The door doesn’t fit right, we just had to replace the transmission (our fault, admittedly, because we held off replacing a bad gasket for too long – but now that’s a few thousand dollars invested in it), the gas gauge isn’t working properly, and now the main cabin electrics seem to be acting up. There’ve been other mechanical issues, but these are the most recent.

What my mom-in-law really wants is a Ford Explorer like she used to have. She loathes the Blazer (hand down from my wife when she got a new car a few years later). My wife and I think we could put out about $10k or $12k to go for a used Escape – Explorers at that price point seem to be getting a bit older and/or higher mileage (upwards of 100k).

So, dear experts, what is the recommended course of action? Bin the Blazer before it breaks blatantly and go for an Escape? Hold on to it until it goes really tragic? The Camry (knock on wood) has been very good to me so far, but I don’t know if it’s getting to a point where I can expect seriously expensive repairs. (The timing belt was just replaced again within the past 10k miles, but I was told the water pump was fine – it has been replaced in the past.) And realistically I do not have the skills/knowledge/tools/time to do any maintenance myself, on any of the cars. Remember the Blazer’s main function is to ferry my daughter around as needed. Thanks all!

Sajeev answers:

I google’d your Blazer to make sure it was “that one.” Oh boy. Don’t get me wrong; the first-gen Blazers were crude and cheerful. The later TrailBlazers are well sprung with a great I-6 motor, sporting an absolutely horrid interior. But those? Aside from use as a work rig, they are significantly worse in terms of design and dynamic performance: the original incarnation’s glovebox door doubling as an HVAC register personifies this design’s “asleep at the wheel” attitude.

If the mom-in-law doesn’t like it, also consider the piss-poor IIHS offset crash scores, even compared to the Firestone-fettled deathtrap Explorers of the same era. If you sell it to someone wanting a cheap truck for truck-ish use, everyone will be happy. But you’ll be lucky to get $3500 for it, even if gas prices trend downward. Is a newer Escape worth the extra $8-10 grand?

From a product standpoint, most definitely. The interior is far nicer, performance and economy are worlds apart and safety ratings seem better…ignoring the weight disadvantage of the little CUV. But from a financial standpoint? Going into (extra?) debt isn’t the brightest idea for most in this economy, but I’ll let you decide that on your own.

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

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2 of 52 comments
  • Tedward Tedward on Mar 31, 2011

    I'm not sure just how set she is on SUV's (sounds like she's in love with the idea), but you'd be able to choose between some really economical and reliable vehicles if you could talk her down to cars. For the same money you'd be able to shop vehicles with far better passive safety most importantly (your daughter!). As for active safety, I think that, older drivers especially, are far better drivers when not perched high off the ground and insulated from all sensation of relative speed, not to mention the roll-over on side impact tendencies of older SUV's (sliding into a guardrail for instance). There are plenty of awd and fwd cars out there, and you already have an "expensive to own" vehicle, so you could probably get something spec'd relatively well and still have the same cost of ownership.

  • Colin42 Colin42 on Mar 31, 2011

    Simple sell both buy the MIL an SUV - don't worry about the mpg, look for an unloved model - Mitusbishi Endeavor? Then lease something for yourself - Hyundai Elanta ($1500 down + $169 /month). Swap cars a couple of times a month to balance the milage on the lease (12000 per year)

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