Piston Slap: 4DSC Goes to Infiniti and Beyond?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

T.J. writes:

Hey guys,

The day I knew was coming but hoped would never arrive is here. I have to decide whether its time to replace my trusty ride, a 1996 Infiniti I30 with estimated 235k miles (odo was broken years ago, repaired, and reset to a mileage amount we now think is low. actual miles is probably around 250-260k). The issue is an oil leak.

It’s now leaking at the rate of about 5 quarts every 3000 miles. I’ve been content to keep topping off the oil, but now the leak is causing other problems; specfically, the a/c and alternator belt will not stay on because the pulley is soaked in oil. Fixing the leak would be over $1000, and this would the third or so leak that we’ve plugged, only to have another pop up, so I’m convinced that if I was to fix it, a new engine is the way to go. I have an estimate from my mechanic (a very reasonable, trustworthy independent shop) for $2200 or so ($850 for a used local engine with 90k miles, $200 in other parts, and 13 hours labor).

That estimate will probably go up to around $3k (my guess) as I told him I’d also want to replace the transmission (original, never been rebuilt), and engine mounts (needed to be replaced years ago). The book says to remove the engine from the bottom, so since all those pieces are coming out anyway, he said there wouldn’t be additional labor, only parts. I’ve sunk almost $2k into this car this year for new shocks, a new harmonic balancer, and 3 new tires less than 3 weeks ago. A/C was replaced only 1-2 years ago, radiator, I’d say roughly 50-60k miles ago. Nonessential functions are a mess, though. Cruise control and radio don’t work (I have a 45 minute highway commute, so those aren’t luxuries), and I can’t use the trunk due to being rear-ended by an uninsured driver, which caused about $1200 in damage to my rear bumper and trunk lid, which has never been repaired. I have more than enough saved to do this repair, and at my current savings rate, it would take me about 3-4 months to recoup the $3k. I’m now driving about 15k miles a year. If I was to replace the car, I would not be getting rid of it. Due to its condition, its worthless to anyone else except me. Plus, this is the only car I’ve ever had. I’m almost 28, and I’ve had this car since I got my license at 16 and put almost all the mileage on it (it had 42k miles when we got it), so it feels like a high school sweetheart I ended up marrying.

My plan if I was to replace it now would be to park it until I had sufficient funds in a few years to get it fixed up and running again. If I do replace it, I’d likely be waiting for a couple more months and driving an extra family car my parents are willing to loan me till then (I recently started a new job and probably won’t be off new hire probation for 2-3 more months and do not want to be buying a car till then). Thanks for the advice.

Sajeev Answers:

Since you will keep this car forever (I LOVE HEARING THAT!) do not fix this motor, instead grab a low mile motor from an auto recycler, put fresh gaskets on it, and install. The extra cost incurred is totally worth it, as you’ll get a ton of extra life.

This is also a good time to consider LS4-FTW, but that’s because I haven’t said that in a long, long time.

Restomodding is the name of this game: I was in your shoes when I was 23, with a similar car…a fairly undesirable Fox Body Mercury Cougar XR-7. Now, almost 12 years later, the Cougar is a bit of a cult classic, and everyone seems (pretends?) to love mine. Sure, it isn’t a daily driver anymore, but it was at one point and I saved a ton of money driving it. I call it “my soldier” as it always stood behind me and always impresses bystanders. Hell, I drove it for weeks while waiting for my new 2011 Ford Ranger to arrive, even though it needs a lot of work. It never did me wrong, and I love it for that reason.

Screwball Restomods are insane amounts of fun. And since the Infiniti I30 is just a Maxima in nice threads, you can do the same. My Cougar woke up quickly with 5.0 Mustang parts, among other items from the Ford parts bin. Your Infiniti can be a real 4DSC with a lot of Maxima.org forum searching and patience from both yourself and your mechanic: suspension upgrades, 5-speed stick, etc. It’s all in the palm of your hands. Ask stupid questions with respect. Read the posts of smart people on the forum. Absorb everything.

Buy a newer vehicle whenever you need it…but keep it cheap. You, by your own admission, are married the Infiniti. So don’t let any schmuck stop you from keeping your I30.

Listen to the madman typing behind the scenes on this webpage, you will NEVER regret this.

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

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Dec 22, 2011

    WOW! Looks like I screwed the pooch. Or not. I was in TJ's position back in 1999. Almost everyone was against my resto-mod Cougar plan, but these days I get a lot of love for my oversized Fox Body Mercury. It was worth it. And I'd do it all over again. Matter of fact, I am. But that's a whole 'nother story, for another Fox Body.

    • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Dec 22, 2011

      More to the point: misery enjoys company. He'll buy a second vehicle for his non-hobby activities. He's gonna be just fine.

  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Dec 23, 2011

    Hey I was the LW here, so first up thanks everyone for your help. Couple things changed since I originally wrote in. My probation at work ended earlier than expected, and then I found out I was actually getting a promotion in January that will see my annual income go up by at least $10k. The Infiniti has been replaced, as some of you may have seen in other comments here, by a 2004 BMW 330i zhp. Car was in excellent shape with good maintenance history and documentation, and I should be able to pay off the car and save up for a downpayment on a house (my other major financial goal) within a year (and that's not counting all the work I've been doing at the occasional part time job I have). I did keep the I30 though. My grandparents have about 6 acres of property and they and their neighbors already have multiple vehicles (jet skis, boats, cars, trucks, tractors) strewn about, and the I30 is probably the nicest one in the group. In a few years I'll throw it on a trailer, drag it to my mechanic and sink and ungodly amount of unecessary $ into gettting it running again, so It'll be a nice second car to the Bimmer (or third car if my sports car cravings don't put a first gen Miata or MR2 in the driveway first). Since I know this get's mentioned on here, esp when dealing with people in my age group, GF's, wives, kids/howler monkeys, and families are not anything I have to worry about anytime soon. Oh, and since I got Sajeev in a lot of trouble , I'll publicly make his day by stating that there was a Panther in all this, and it was part of the solution to the problem (are they ever anything else?_. The loaner car from my parents that I drove for a couple months was my mom's 1996 Lincoln Town Car Cartier.

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