By on October 17, 2012


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?


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31 Comments on “Piston Slap: Junker or Diamante in the Rough?...”

  • avatar

    It’s a keeper.

    What would you expect in repair probability from any car that has a 172,000 miles in the clock?

    If the young lady involved still enjoys its comfort and security, and has a friend mechanic, you’d be surprised at how long vehicles can be made to last. As long as it isn’t rusted out — writer didn’t say where where he is located.

    Look at that salesman guy in NYC with the Volvo that has 3,000,000 miles on it. By comparison, I feel embarrassed that I turned in my 1974 Dodge PU at “only” 225,000 miles. Still miss it.


  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I agree with Sajeev – see what codes the engine throws and change the plugs along with the cam cover gaskets. The transmission is the big question. See if you feel comfortable changing the fluid and go from there. An uncle got about 280,000 mi on a Diamante before it died. His transmission had issues starting at ~150,000 mi and he never did anything to fix it FWIW.

    At any rate, $500 is only 2-3 months of a car payment. Diamantes don’t have good resale value and I don’t think you’d get much out of it in the used market. Drive it until something catastrophic happens then reassess the situation. If it lasts another year, you’re already ahead and won’t be starting your new life together with extra debt.

  • avatar

    I’ll speak with some authority here, as I had an ’02 VRX Diamante from 20,000 miles until 120,000 miles (great trade vodder for my ’11 300C). It really is a great car for commuting. Of all the Japanese boxes to be trapped in, it’s one of the best from that era.

    That said, repairs can get surprisingly costly. When my HVAC went, the Mitsu TSB indicated a plastic bit on the automatic vent controls were knwon to fail. I ordered the part ($15 / 2 weeks fropm Japan). Mitsu dealer quoted me $1.600 to replace it; claimed they needed 16 hours to tear apart the dash, replace, and reinsert the dash. Granted my local trusty mechanic did ot in 2 hours / $180, but you see where this gets pricey if you HAVE to use dealer services. Even the timing belt changes are god awful expensive at my independent mechanic, and everything I read says they MUST get done every 60,000 or suffer the wrath of blown engines.

    With your car hitting 180,000 soon, it’;s probably due for timing belt, water pump, new filters / fluids, and could probably use new suspension bits. If you live in an emissions required state, it’s only going to get harder each year to pass emissions.

    With new tires, good driveability, and the ability to get the check engine light off; plus cheap financing (I know, banks are evil, debt is the devil blah blah blah; tell that to my 5 year / 1.9% credit union loan), now’s the time to trade it in. You can pick up a new end of year special deal on whatever floats her boat (outgoing ’12 Fusion is a rocking great car of similar proportion and better design), still get good value on the trade, and walk away knowing the new car is safer, more efficient, and has all the latest tech tools.

    Or anxiously worry for the next 2 years awaiting the blown transmissions / engine / emissions.

  • avatar

    Do yourself a favor and dump this car. It is due for some costly repairs. I would probably say keep it if it were a stripped Galant but not a Diamante.

  • avatar

    In addition to the valve cover gaskets, check the cam seals in the back of the engine (or side). Those leaked a little on my 98 TL and would drip onto the exhaust manifold. Not a cheap repair.

    You’re getting close to the point of diminishing returns on repairs.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to make a strictly financial case against driving a fully depreciated car. Your Diamante only has a trade-in value of around $600.00 according to Edmunds.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say she would be willing to drive a smaller, more efficient car as a replacement. If she gets 24 mpg highway, I’m guessing she gets about 20 MPG overall. At @4.00/gallon, fuel cost alone for the next 100,000 miles (5,000 gallons) for the Diamante would be $20,000. Let’s say she bought a 2007 Honda Civic for $10,000 with 75,000 miles and drove it 100,000 miles – to get to roughly the same odometer rating she has on the Mitsubishi. At 30 MPG, the Honda would use 3333 gallons, which, at $4.00/gallon would cost $13333. The difference between the Mitsubishi’s fuel cost and the Honda is $6,667, which is still $3,333 shy of recouping your investment in the Civic. (Granted, at the end of the period the Civic will probably be worth more than the Diamante is now, but I’m also not figuring sales tax, difference in registration fees and insurance, etc.)

    I say do the inexpensive maintenance, fluid changes, etc. Put off the big stuff. Make a car payment to yourself every month to use for its replacement, Drive the Mitsubishi until there is an expensive failure, sell it for scrap and get another car.

  • avatar

    Hello all — original poster here,

    Thanks to Sajeev and the B & B for your sage advice. The Diamonte is still with us and running strong at 186,000 mi. My wife (we married in August) and I have moved to CA and she’s upped her daily commute to 50 miles round trip. The oil leak remains small and the tranny hasn’t gotten any worse either… The timing belt has me a bit concerned so I’ll definitely look into that as well as get any CEL codes read at a parts store. Luckily we have another year on the Oregon tags before we have to worry about passing CA emissions. The car is totally rust free and the leather interior is in great shape. We’re gonna try and keep it for at least another year.

    I love this site! Keep the advice rolling in


    • 0 avatar

      It took Sajeev 14,000 miles to post your question? :)

      Sajeev is duly popular, but even more popular than I thought!

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      Pat – Congratulations on the wedding! If you are both still in school, you may qualify for $500 from the state towards repairs if the Diamante fails an emissions check —

      What the “Bureau of Automotive Repairs” actually does and how it operates is lost on this mid-westerner…good luck!

    • 0 avatar

      “Luckily we have another year on the Oregon tags before we have to worry about passing CA emissions”

      IIRC you must register your car in CA within either 30 or 60 days of being a resident of CA.

      It happend to me in SF. I moved there, shipped my car from MA. Still with MA plates, cop pulls me over, asks how long I’ve been in CA- I say a few months, he tows my car.

      • 0 avatar

        IAWTP. If you get pulled over, remember to say you just got there, and ask how long you have before you have to register. I did this with a Pasadena cop and got away with a warning to hurry up and get my car in compliance (I think it was 30 days).

        In my experience, transplants from Illinois seem to keep their out-of-state plates the longest; I used to park in a monthly pay lot at work, and the same car was there every day with IL plates for well over a year. I don’t know if it’s because IL drivers are just brazen scofflaws or they fork over some $$$ here and there to get out of tickets. Some of them have to be paying someone back home for up-to-date registration stickers.

  • avatar

    Cool choice. I always kinda liked those. Congrats on it lasting this long.
    So, you’re planing a wedding and you really don’t have any extra money?…Hmmm. If you only do ONE practical thing during you’re whole married life, do this: get married at city hall and skip the whole big wedding party thing. Speaking from experience, my wife and I got married at city hall, took the dozens of thousands of dollars that would have been spent on one big stupid party (that no one really enjoys anyway,) paid off our debt and used the rest as a down payment on a house. We’ve been married for 12 years now and NEVER regretted it. You’ll have a leg up on your finances that most of your friends wont. Pay your bills, fix your car, save your money, but DO NOT waste it on a big stupid party that lasts 4 or 5 hours that people can’t wait to leave so they can go home, get out of their dressy clothes, relax, and discuss how it sucked.

  • avatar

    It’s a drive-to-the-grounder for the simple reason that you can’t unload this turd on the used car market. Nobody would buy it.

  • avatar

    The timing belt is not a fun job and would probably cost a pretty penny from your local shop. You should be replacing the water pump, Timing Tensioner, Belt and various pulleys.

    You might have an SOHC model that did not have an interference engine. I don’t know if that generation had that option. You ever change the belt?

  • avatar

    The leaking valve cover gasket could be the cause of the CEL. With my 540, leaking valve covers can lead to oil in the spark plug wells and damaged ignition coils/plugs. The labor on these repairs overlaps and could care of both problems. Certainly get the codes checked anyway though.

  • avatar

    My guess that what ultimately decides it’s fate will be when it fails an emissions test.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you just won at Piston Slap.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I’ve passed an OBD-II emissions test by taking a long highway trip to clear the CEL code and then driving very carefully to the inspection station. A friend of mine got a beater Dodge to pass an OBD-I dyno test by running the car on a mostly alcohol mixture. Less hydrocarbons in means less unburned hydrocarbon out. Found an unused emissions recall on another old car and got Ford to put a free new catalytic converter on a car with 140k miles. Sometimes it’s possible to get past the emissions test for one more year without throwing money at the problem.

  • avatar

    A Diamante that’s 10 years old with nearly 200k miles and transmission issues is worth next to nothing. I’d advise against putting any real money into it unless you have some sort of emotional attachment, just change the oil and drive it into the ground.

    If you want to look at all car decisions purely through an “spreadsheet” lens, you can almost always make the argument that repairs are cheaper than the depreciation of a new (or newer) car. The sales tax alone on a different car would probably pay for a new transmission.

    That being said, I have an issue with putting a few thousand dollars into a car that on a good day is worth $1,800, even if it does make financial sense compared to a different car.

    I’m at the point in my life where restoring a late model car that’s basically an appliance is just not worth my time and effort, I’d prefer to just cut my losses and move on. Especially since a transmission is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

    • 0 avatar


      “unless you have some sort of emotional attachment”… What? Of course it’s emotional. Did you ever buy a car because it looked bad but came out right on a spreadsheet?

      Old reliable, faithful vehicles are family members. They get names. They get talked to every morning, to ask how their night was. Sometimes they get patted on their noses. When I start their engines, I feel their life and their renewed friendship, and ask them if they are ready to go.

      For any one of them, I hate it when it’s time to “put it down”. It just gives me that look of betrayal as it’s towed away…

      Yeah, I know. Somebody else suggested that I get a dog instead…. (^_^)..


      • 0 avatar

        I’ve had emotional attachment with cars, but I would have about as much emotional attachment with a 2002 Diamante as I would with my dishwasher if it was on its last legs.

        But hey, different strokes.

      • 0 avatar

        When I got rid of my ’88 Caprice, I was sad to see it go. Despite bellowing black smoke, it was the car I learned to drive on. Didn’t know for 10 years till I drove my first furrin’ JapONese car that floaty suspension wasn’t normal

        The ’88 Sierra, drove it into the ground screaming (literally, the rear end fell out driving on the Garden State Parkway at 225,000 miles). Put a new tranny in it at 190,000 because it was ma truck man!

        The ’96 T-Bird, still pine for that car, miss it to this day. Should’ve paid for a parking spot just to keep it.

        The ’03 Ranger, kick myself every day for getting rid of the best damn truck I drove.

        The ’03 Bonneville, emotional in a different way (GM shafted me and I have a sincere desire for wrathful vengeneance towards General Motors. May God smite the RenCen and salt the lands surrounding it…. well halfway there anyway)

        The ’11 300C. Love it. Feel great driving it. Nearly asploded when I saw some jackhole had hit it in a parking lot and felt naked for 2 weeks while the body shop fixed it.

        The ’02 VRX Diamante. Clear headed cold hearted analysis that the coming 120,000 mile service (timing belt, water pump, leaky radiator, new tires needed, some side scrape damage) wasn’t worth fixing on a $2,000 car that could still have a bad tranny or engine. Coldly sold it for CarMax value without shedding a tear or giving it a thought.

        My friends with CamCords have a similar logic: not the cool furrin’ cars like the RX-7, Supra, TL, or old time Frontier owners I know, just the appliance level cars. Apprently building an appliance may be profitable, but engenders no love or loyalty or any type of emotion.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this is the wrong calculus to use. It does not matter what the car is “worth”, what matters is what it will cost to replace. Spending $2500 on a car that is “worthless” makes perfect sense if you end up with a car that will be in good shape and reliable for a couple years or more. If there is no rust, and the car looks good inside and out spend the money. Unless you just plain want a different car, in which case sell it privately and go shopping.

      I also think that trade-in value is REALLY the wrong thing to be concerned with. You are going to get screwed trading in any older or oddball car. A car like this in nice condition with a perfect interior is going to be a $2500-3K or more car private sale in my neck of the woods, easily, even with a Mitsubishi badge on it. But a dealer is just going to send it to Steve Lang’s auction to get rid of it, because they will not want to deal with it.

      • 0 avatar

        Like I said earlier, if you want to look at through a purely financial lens, it makes sense. By that metric though, I should still be driving the same clunker I did in High School. Seeing how this is a car enthusiast blog, most people don’t make all car decisions purely from a cost benefit analysis.

        Would you buy a Diamante with 200k miles that needed a new transmission, leaked oil,and had the check engine light glowing? I wouldn’t, even if I could make the case that I would have a reliable 10 year old Diamante after the substantial investment. If someone GAVE me the car, I still wouldn’t make the investment, I would just part it out and take it to the scrap yard because it’s not worth the hassle.

        If it needs a new transmission, new oil seals, plugs, sensors that’s at least $2k-$3k if you’re not doing the work yourself. It’s probably also going to need to have the suspension completely replaced at 200k miles if it hasn’t already (CV joints, struts, strut mounts, tie rods, sway links, various bushings etc.) which is easily another $2,000 if you’re not doing the work yourself. And the head gaskets will probably be needing replaced in the near future, another $1,500 or so.

        Not worth the headache in my opinion, but it’s of course a lot cheaper than a new car.

  • avatar

    +1 on NMGOM. I have an irrational attachment to my current daily driver, a purchased-new ’99 TL with 214+ thousand miles. It’s still solid as a rock, but I know that one day, its time will come. And I’ll miss it.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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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