By on September 27, 2011

Dave writes:

Hello Sajeev and Steve,

First time writer, long time reader; I must say, TTAC and Piston Slap rocks.

My wife and I are in a bit of a quandary. We currently own outright a 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo 3.1L LS with 197k miles and counting as well as a 2003 Chevy S-10 Blazer LS with 145k on the clock. Lately, we have been sinking money into the Blazer for everything from brakes, to shift solenoids, thermostat, intake manifold gasket and crankshaft position sensor (soon to be O2 sensor). I have been driving the Monte since senior year in high school (2004) and it has also had its share of problems, namely Dex-Cool and the ensuing broken conn-rod. The engine was replaced with a rebuilt Jasper at 117k. The dash is lit up like a Christmas tree, but I change the oil religiously and watch the other liquids and wear parts.

Our dilemma is such; the Blazer does not get good mileage but we have it for my wife. She grew up in Jersey and the 4×4 is nice for these upstate NY winters. We snowboard so we routinely travel a couple of hours round trip in bad weather; we also make an annual pilgrimage to VT for the slopes. Her family is still in NJ and mine is north of Niagara Falls NY. We travel to each frequently; the Blazer has its needs. The Monte is a great car, still strong, so comfortable, so smooth, so quiet, much better mileage; especially compared to the Blazer. It even handles the snow well; FWD with good tires is all any upstate New Yorker needs. Alas, it is tiring and it is only a matter of time before the transmission goes or some other catastrophic failure.

I live close enough to work to get there in a 25 minute walk; for the summer, I have my motorcycle. Since my wife’s current commute is longer than mine, I would love for my wife to have a good, reliable vehicle which is good on gas; she grew up driving a 1996 BMW M3 sedan around suburban NJ so she would love a manual with similar handling.

Do we drive the Monte until she goes onto greener pastures? Do I inherit the Blazer when this happens and get her something newer and better? Do we sell the Blazer now and cut our losses? Do we sell both and downsize to one vehicle?

Is there anything you, Steve and the B&B would recommend for our situation? I appreciate the help…

Steve answers:

I would not downsize only because you don’t know what the future holds.

What I would do is cut down on your insurance so that your rates are more affordable. A lot of insurance companies provide discounts for limited driving. Some offer it at less than 5,000 miles a year. Others offer it for less than 2,500 miles a year.

I would drive both vehicles until they croak. The key to making GM vehicles last is taking care of their fluids and making sure you keep up with replacing the Dex-cool in particular. Some would say that I may be excessive recommending annual changes for the Dex-cool. But my experience has been that by doing so, your vehicle will last much longer.

Buy a Mityvac. Suck out the old stuff. Put in the new stuff… and repeat once a year. That may seem extreme to a lot of folks here. But its cheap insurance and that should help you guys lower your operating costs to the bare minimum.

Sajeev answers:

Even though my man Lang is, like, 100 billion percent right, agreeing with him is like shooting fish in a barrel. And I can hear TTAC’s own Zackman saying, “W bodies are perfect for your needs, keep on driving the Monte Carlo and get another one…don’t listen to Sajeev because he’ll ruin your life with Panther Love!” And they both give valid points, even if I completely made up that last part. But they are both wrong.

Sell both hoopties and get something smaller. Maybe that E36 M3 you spoke of. Sure, the fuel economy is pretty bad and the maintenance to keep it running will crush your manhood, but I will not agree with Steve Lang this time. No sir, not at all! You could embrace Panther Love and go from downsizing to “awesome sizing” your next ride, but then again, there’s no stick shift option. And that powertrain conversion isn’t for everyone. So what’s a reliable car that’s affordable and comes with a stick?

BAM SON: a Toyota Corolla in XRS trim level. Sure it’s ugly and/or boring with a lousy interior, but the XRS has a meaty engine, real brakes and a stick! Plus, it’s probably just as reliable as any other Corolla, with resale value that makes selling it a breeze.

Who could ask for anything more?

Not me and certainly not you.


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20 Comments on “New or Used: Common Sense or Uncommon Downsizing?...”

  • avatar

    Steve probably has it right (though you don’t state how many miles per year you and your wife currently drive per year nor do you state your financial or kid situation). In any case, try parking the Monte and walk as much as you can. If you want to make a vehicle last, don’t drive it as much. You’ll save $$$ on the insurance and maintenance/repairs. Also, being a one car family even with kids is not as hard as we’ve been told. I know. That may the a good option for you when one of your cars finally bites it.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    …..I’d listen to Steve on this one, but, as a compromise, drive your 2 daily drivers into the ground, and THEN buy Sajeev’s hot rod Corolla. But be careful even there……I’m not sure he realizes just how much snow you encounter in the Adirondacks….. A Corolla with wide low profile tires will be no prize in a blizzard. Even one of his cherished panthers (properly shod) would be far better on those chilly ski weekends. Don’t see many State Troopers stuck, do you?

  • avatar

    Camry is on sale now.

  • avatar

    Sajeev nailed that! But Steve’s advice is good, too.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Keep the cars as long as they drive. Why sink all that money into these cars so that someone else can benefit from your maintenance investment in them?
    Most of these wear and tear parts replacements are unrelated so hopefully you have passed the worst. Watch out for the transmissions. Do you replace the fluid?
    Low mileage insurance is a good idea.
    Many people just seem to get bored with their existing cars and want a different one.

  • avatar

    Count me in the drive-’em-into-the-ground camp as well, if they are meeting your needs. Decision time will come as you have stated when a tranny goes out or something similar. Transmission fluid changes are easy with the Mityvac Fluid Evacuator (around $60 online) as well.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, I don’t care how reliable they are, I would rather walk than own a modern Corolla. Life is just too short. I can barely tolerate those turds as rentals.

    Sounds like you have run your current cars into the ground. Ditch the aging GM junk, and buy a used Subaru or two with a stickshift. Reliable enough, not too spendy, and if you MUST have AWD they are good at it.

    And I will point out that bought carefully, the maintenance on an E36 M3 will be less than the depreciation on a new $20K car. Though of course, you don’t have to write a check for depreciation. At least not for a while.

  • avatar

    I would keep one vehicle and drive it till death, but not two. But the bigger issue is that you won’t get much out of either…maybe a few grand, tops.

    Keep the 4×4 for your winter driving, motorcycle for your summer driving. The Blazer is a good utility vehicle, and there shouldn’t be much left to replace.

    You mentioned the size of an E36 BMW, which is probably close to a current compact. I’d suggest a Cruze (turbo, manual) or the 2012 Impreza (manual). Both are much better than a Corolla. Imprezas are available for pre-order right now, and I think they’ll be an excellent buy. It’s on my list.

  • avatar

    While Steve certainly has a good point, this is one of those times when having one reliable car that gets you where you need to be is gold. I agree that you should keep one car and use it as little as possible. The other can be sold though. With the prices of used cars, I would simply wait until the new Subaru Impreza comes in. The old base model with a stick should be had for a song, still be reliable, get 25 mpg, and be useful in wagon form. All the wrx/sti parts you need to firm up the handling are just a few dollars away and most can be had for a song from some 20 year old for a song who insists on putting more aftermarket suspension on the car than his driving skills or conditions could ever beg for.

  • avatar

    Wow Dave, I lived in nothern NJ for 50 years, Englewood, Bergenfield, Oradell and West Milford. My son graduated HS in 2004 and he went to Niagara U, graduated in 2009. He is driving a 2000 Accord with 187,000 miles. Small world.

    On your car situation, it’s a tough call. I think I would look to dump the Blazer and get your wife into something newer like a 2005-7 Subaru with a stick. My wife drives a 2008 Forester Sport 5-speed, 60K miles and no problems. Good gas mileage, great in the snow and fun to drive. Honda CRV would work also. Both of those would work well for your winter ski trips.

    As far as the Monte, I would not continue to put money into it. Sell it also and look to get into a 2002-2004 used Toyonda or GM(Century/GP). I don’t have to tell you that you don’t want to be walking 25 minutes to work then back in Niagara Falls/northern NY winter storms even if you like to ski.

    Alot depends on your financial situation and your goals 5-10 years down the road.

  • avatar

    I would go with Steve too. Buying an XRS Corolla with the bigger engine and stick would mean going back to the previous 2002-2008 rental car version, a total lack of modern day features such as a USB port or hands free Blue tooth for starters. The current 09 to present Corolla is only offered with the basic 1.8 and the XRS version isn’t even showing up on Toyota’s site. If a new car purchase is to be recommended look no further than the Hyundai Elantra which blows the Corolla out of the water in so many ways or even a Chevy Cruze. Don’t want to buy new then check out a year end clearance leftover 2011. But all in all I would keep what you have and keep up on the service.

    • 0 avatar

      I dont know if they still called it an XRS, but there was some type of “sporty Corolla” available in 2010 with the new body style and the bigger 2.5L engine from the Matrix. It actually looked good too, had 17″ rims and body kit from the Matrix too, and an all black interior with sport seats, and a stick was available (though impossible to find here in the god-forsaken Southeast Toyota Distributorship region!) He should have more luck in upstate NY where people can actually buy a Toyota from Toyota.

      The previous generation XRS had the Celica GTS engine, wasnt exactly bigger, just more powerful (but peaky too).

  • avatar

    Clean up and dump the GM junk, with this kind of mileage your costs can only go up.
    Buy a 2005-09 Subaru Outback 3.0R wagon (not 2.5 or Turbo). This will cover all your needs. All-weather, wagon for utility, extremely reliable, durable and comfortable on long drives, and with very little maintenance needs (speaking from my own experience).
    And with the kind of use you say you have, I would also not even look at those undersized wheelbarrows (Corivicantra3 bunch).

  • avatar

    Hey, that’s my car. I like the XRS, good engine, decent mileage, takes regular gas, comfortable on cruise at 80mph, decent stick shift, room in the back seat, good enough stereo, skirts look good.

    Of course no car is perfect: The seats are only one thousand times better than the prior gen, which means that they are barely adequate. Also the gas tank is on the small side, and the cabin could be quieter per competition. 4/5.

  • avatar

    Drive ’em both until they need a major repair. Then decide if you want to fix them or replace them with a new (not new) vehicle. Maybe a ~5 year old Civic or similar, maybe a CR-V/Forester/RAV-4 if the Blazer buys it first.

    But absolutely do not do anything until you’re faced with a major repair bill. Even a couple grand in repairs a year is cheaper than buying a new/newer car.

    For what it’s worth, I just dumped my 1-year-old Mustang and started driving my decade-old beater Civic full-time. Besides the 5-figure check I got from Carmax, I’m saving around 400 a month between the payments and extra insurance I no longer have to pay. The Civic needs some work done on it, but it’s a drop in the bucket overall. Sure, it’d be nice to have a newer, “better” car, especially since I drive 400 miles a week. But if I have problems with the car, I’ll deal with them as they happen. In the meantime, the luxury of having substantially higher financial security outweighs having a newer, let a lone “fun” car.

  • avatar

    Sell the Blazer and buy a good used 4 wheel drive of your choice. You need one truly reliable and presentable car, and its best your wife not be the one with the problems. That will cover her, winter conditions, and the need for reliable transport to the mountains (only a few more months to ski season – yay!). Keep the Monte – you might be surprised at how much more life you can get out of it. You have your bike so the Monte may not see too much mileage. You might give a try to darkening that Christmas Tree dash…you may find that fixing the problems may be easier than you think. And a modest set of struts will make driving much more pleasurable. One last thing, consider eliminating the Dex Death entirely. I did so on our family’s only GM product after the gasket screwing, though we suffered no engine damage…

  • avatar

    Just to be clear, the XRS in that video is a 2005-2006 XRS with the 2ZZ-GE engine that red lines at 8200 RPM. The 2ZZ engine is amazing but it doesn’t really sound like your type of engine just based on your prior vehicles.

    It sounds like Sajeev is recommending the 2009-2010 XRS with the 2.4L engine from the Camry. The 09-10 XRS is a much different car than the 2005-2006 XRS. With the 2009-2010 XRS you get a car with a useable amount of low end torque, runs on regular gasoline, respectable mpg and alot less shifting required while crusing on the highway. The 09-10 XRS will get you to 0-60 in a hair under 8 seconds and about 16 second 1/4 mile if you opt for the stick. It’s not a performance car by any measure but it’s a world of difference compared to a regular corolla. You should be able to pick up a 09 XRS as a certified used with little difficulty because they should be coming back in to dealerships off their 2 year leases.

    If you are interested in an 05-06 Corolla XRS I can give you some advice since I own one. They are rare so you’ll need to stake out online car listings and drive a couple 100 miles to test drive one. The factory clutch is garbage and will typically go at about 50-70K miles. If a seller has already changed the clutch that’s a good thing and not necessarily an indication of abuse. If the seller hasn’t changed the clutch, then budget about $500 extra for when it does go. Aside from the clutch I have had 94,000 trouble free miles. The XRS also requires 91 octane or better gasoline. You’ll get about 25 mpg city and 34-36 MPG highway. When you test drive the car you’ll want to take the car to redline through 3rd to 4th gear to see if it shifts smoothly as 3rd and 4th gears aren’t very robust on the C60 transmission. Maintaince on the XRS is nearly identacle to a regular corolla so it’s dirt cheap to service. Another bonus is that many insurance companies don’t even list the XRS so you’ll pay the same insurance as a regular Corolla. There is also a great community over at with very helpful and knowledgeable members.

    However, the real reason to buy the XRS is because with basic modifications (intake, exhaust, headers) the 2ZZ becomes a monster of an engine that you can use everyday. Toyota also beefed up the handling and chassis so it corners flat and relatively neutral for a FWD car. But you get this car because it is a sleeper: . You also have some crazy after market support if you wanted to move beyond the stock internals while keeping the car naturally aspirated:

  • avatar

    Maybe, keep the Monte Carlo a little longer until it dies. Give your wife a used Toyota 4Runner. It is a great car with 4×4, both the V6 and V8 engines are powerful and the millage is surprisingly good.

  • avatar

    I think it doesn’t matter which, but dump one. Nothing spells uncertainty like an old GM product with high miles. If it were my call I would think anything 4wd and japanese or korean for the wife. Then hold on to whichever I felt more comfortable with for a winter car only. Half a year you don’t need a car. The bike is a good alternative unless you know it’s going to rain.

    I live in the south so the reality of the north lives in 40year old memories of ct. and newfoundland. My VW got me everywhere and I think a fwd is just as good. If that would be dangerous for your wifes driving conditions you know better than I . Some folks are pessimist and wear both belts and suspenders. If you think a front wheel drive is adequate you will generally save a lot on wear and tear and gas.

    Anyway, if you are a biker, whicheve car you choose should sit a lot.

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