Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1994 Geo Prizm

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
rent lease sell or keep 1994 geo prizm

Jack Baruth thinks that any vehicle can be entertaining to drive. Well he’s never owned one of these. This 5-speed base model is a masterpiece of simplicity… and boredom. I used every trick I know to find happiness with it. Rev it in fifth. Rev it in third. Hypermile it. Even throw in a sound system to replace the chintziest radio this side of a Tercel EZ. Nothing worked. But then again this Prizm has almost nothing that can break in it either. This generation Prizm is arguably the most reliable GM model of the 1990’s (thanks Toyota!). And with only 126k miles and $1500 in the hole I can…

Rent: Sending out a five-speed as a rental is a very tricky business. I always sit with the person during the test drive and give them an Israeli airport screener’s grilling beforehand. If they ‘say’ they can drive a stick, that doesn’t count. Words are cheap, and a lot of folks these days don’t have the recent experience.

One too many stalls or a bad shift and it’s back to the lot. So far all my customers have made the cut and at a $140 weekly rate, the Prizm gets plenty of attention. I also wound up with a spare 5-speed and engine thanks to a finance customer who thought a double yellow line is nothing more than a car suggestion. I can see this car surviving 50 rentals with the spare shifter which would yield quite a return.

Lease: But so would a well-constructed finance deal. $500 down and $50 a week for 15 months. would more than double my profit… or not. Nothing curdles my blood more than someone who takes a car that had been well maintained over a decade and then tears it up. This car could probably take the abuse. But I’m not putting someone’s kid in it. This car can go to a fellow who values it’s fuel economy and low cost of operation.

Sell: If you ask for $2995, the prospective customer will want it at two grand. Put it online for $3500 and you’re still going to attract lowball offers. Why? Because cheap base cars always attract basically cheap customers. The ones who are good at math will tell you about the $500 Ford Tempo they bought five years ago, and, well, if you find another like that, let them know and they will bring the scooter loot. The ones that are bad at math won’t know how to drive a stick at all. Speaking of which…

Keep: My wife would kill me if I made her drive this car. Minimal side safety for the kids. A ton of old buzzes and noises from the powertrain, and of course the ultimate killer. It’s a stick. Of course she could learn. But having to heel/toe it through Atlanta traffic after gymnastics, basketball, and chess club would be bad for the home life. Not to mention my conscience. I can not put my family in something that is one side impact away from the scrapper.

As for me, my 1st gen Insight surprisingly has 4-star front and side safety ratings. Which means that it was designed to be more structurally rigid than the Westboro Baptist Church at a gay biker bar. This Prizm is either 3 or lower. A little rigid for the standards of it’s time. But not Westboro rigid. I’m not keeping it.

But what would you do? Rent it in the hope that the 5-speed tranny’s can survive the brutality of it all? Lease, and trade the rental profits for the security of a good new owner? Sell it to a family of tightwads? Or keep it and hope that you can pull off a ‘Blues Brothers’ if the folks from Westboro ever come to your town. What says you?

Every customer thus far has been over 50 and

High on quality and low on thrills.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Mar 01, 2011

    You have a spare engine and MT? There's another option: race it in LeMons. Talk to Murilee about fielding your own racing team! Think of the boost THAT will give your business, with "Home of Lang Racing Team" emblazoned over your door.

  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Mar 01, 2011

    Why all the hate for the Prizm? It has all of the virtues of the Corolla (bulletproof drivetrain, solid mechanicals) at a cheaper price. I've always been a big bang for the buck kind of guy and a low mileage Prizm is going to be about as cheap transportation for a few years as you are likely to find. It's like buying a Kenmore washing machine on clearance, knowing that you got a great deal on a machine made by Whirlpool. The Prizm rolled off the same NUMMI lines as the Corollas that Toyota sold.

  • Dusterdude When there is a strike the union leadership talk about “brothers and sisters “ . They should give up that charade . Bottom line is they are trying to wring out every last penny they can and could care less ( putting it politely) about the future of the industry 5 - 10 years+ down the road
  • Ronin They all will back off, because the consumer demand is not there. Even now the market is being artificially propped up by gov subsidies.
  • Keith Some of us appreciate sharing these finds. Thank you. I always have liked these. It would a fun work car or just to bomb around in. Easy to keep running. Just get an ignition kill switch and you would have no worries leaving it somewhere. Those OEM size wheels and tires are comical. A Juke has bigger wheels!
  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.