Piston Slap: Junker or Diamante in the Rough?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap junker or diamante in the rough

Pat writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My fiance drives an ’02 Mitsubishi Diamante, which, despite the bad rap Mitsus get on this site, is actually a pretty nice driving car. The V6 runs strong and the car soaks up the highway miles with ease (24mpg at 75). It has 172,000 on it and it’s her commuter car (20 miles a day, round trip). We also take it on the occasional 500-1000 mile road trip, but its got a few issues: The transmission flares a bit on the 2-3 upshift and is generally kind of jerky. It’s already been rebuilt once (~50k ago) by a family friend mechanic, on the cheap. Also, there is an intermittent burning smell, like oil dripping on a hot exhaust manifold, but I haven’t been able to track down a leak or notice significant oil loss between changes. The service engine soon light has been coming on with more frequency, but always goes away after a few days. My question is this: is this car worth putting money into to fix, or should we drive it as is until the transmission ****s itself or the engine catches fire? We’re both broke graduate students and we’re planing a wedding so we really don’t have any extra money, but could probably scrounge up $500 for preventative maintenance on the tranny / burning smell.

Like I said, the car is otherwise in very nice shape, new Goodyears and the engine purrs like a kitten. What should we do?

PS. You’ll be happy to know that MY car is an ’07 Mazda B2300 with 32k. This puppy is staying in the family until I can see road through the floorboards.

Thanks for your help!

Sajeev answers:

Oh heck yeah, son! My (now not-so-new) Ranger broke 10,000 miles recently, and I know exactly how you feel. It’ll never replace my Lincoln-Mercury fanboi rides, but how did I live without a little four-banger Ranger?

Anyway…the Diamante is a respectable vehicle if you bought it for CamCord money and giggle whenever you remember this was supposed to be a Flagship vehicle. That’s the right state of mind when considering this car’s charms and faults. Odds are the oil leak is the cam-cover (valve cover) gasket, which shouldn’t be too pricey…if its only leaking on the front cover. The rear cover looks like it’d be a significant PITA to replace: gotta love V6 engines in wrong-wheel drive configurations.

The check engine light? Most parts stores check codes for free, so just do it. Maybe all you need are new spark plugs and other tune-up bits. Do that and a lot of labor replacing the cam cover gaskets is included. Fingers crossed on that wild-ass guess!

I am seriously torn. Part of me says the above paragraph is both likely and cost effective, but this is a Mitsubishi Diamante! So who knows? At least we both know the B2300 is a sure thing.

What say you, Best and Brightest?

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

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2 of 31 comments
  • Lilpoindexter Lilpoindexter on Oct 17, 2012

    Start a new car fund for the inevitable day when this car's tranny blows up...but other than that, just drive it, and don't spend a dime on it...unless it's something simple like a valve cover gasket.

  • Chicagoland Chicagoland on Oct 17, 2012

    Don't put big $ into it. Maintain it as best as possible for a year. Don't try to fix the oil leak, sounds like motor would have to get pulled. But, for a 50 mile commute, have a good cell phone and towing insurance.

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