New Or Used: The MPV For The M.Ed. Edition

new or used the mpv for the m ed edition

I’m finishing up a Masters in Biomedical Engineering and moving out to the Midwest, hopefully job offer in hand. My parents are graciously handing me down our old family car: a well worn 1998 Mazda MPV Allsport 4wd which I have maintained with my brother since we’ve had it.

Most recently, I learned how to replace a staked in u joint and balance a driveshaft using a pair of hose clamps (works like a charm). The car’s got 142k miles on it, and seems to constantly need minor repairs, nothing that would leave me stranded yet, but I’m OCD about every accessory on my car working and that it be kept in tip top shape cosmetically. To this end, I’ve been fighting the losing battle against rust, undercoating the car with oil, and I’ve welded patch panels on the front fender bottoms and rocker panels.

Additionally, parts tend to be hard to find and expensive for this car, everything has to be ordered from OEM suppliers. This spring I’m going to replace the A/C drier (there’s excessive moisture in the system) and apply POR15 to the underside. The car’s a fantastic highway cruiser, with a perfect seating position, I can drive 10 hours and not be fatigued. At the same time, highway fuel economy is only in the 19-20 mpg range, city driving is 15. The interior is cavernous, and that’ll be useful when I move all my things out.

My question: Do I fix it up one more time and sell it? Then buy another used car (open to suggestions) with better fuel economy and with less to go wrong (all the 4wd hardware, dual A/C system, moonroof, etc)? Or do I keep the car, living with the subpar fuel economy and the potential for things going wrong without me having a garage to work on them (will probably live in an apartment).


Steve Says:

The 1st gen MPV’s suffered from slipshod transmissions, excessive lifter noise, abysmal fuel economy, 1980’s era aerodynamics, and overmatched engines.

Sounds like the perfect beater to me!

Seriously, you need to get an extra pair of eyes to look at this vehicle and see if you missed any big gaping holes or fluid leakage. If I remember right, these models like to leave puddle on the ground a bit once they get right around the 10 year mark.

Is everything sorta kinda good? Then keep it.

You may want to sell it if you find that your biggest deduction from your new paycheck turns out to be all things automotive. But let’s face facts here. You have no job security at the moment. None. So why the heck would you buy something else?

I would keep the MPV for a long while. If your commute is short, I would even keep it until it croaks. Or at least the point where the cost of repairs exceeds the price of another one just like it. These things have even less demand than the other boxy rear-wheel-drive vans of that era. The Astro was a great work vehicle. The Aerostar was great because it is primarily made up of parts from the Ford surplus bin.

The MPV was…long lived.

I will offer one compliment. Your van is probably the closest thing to a Volvo 240 wagon Mazda will ever make. It’s an underpowered RWD vehicle… but without the hip factor. It’s great because they are cheap to buy and if you know how to fix em’, you can keep em’. Which is what a beater should be all about.

Good luck!

Sajeev says:

You got a free car that you can fix yourself. Yeah, you need to keep this thing until it either dies or until you are sure you have a good job with the prospect of being paid long enough to stomach a long-term car payment.

Why? Because I don’t see a Mazda MPV in this condition being worth much more than scrap to anyone, running or not.

Start thinking about what is a reasonable budget for your next ride, and dream about it until the MPV kicks the bucket.

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3 of 32 comments
  • Mark_Miata Mark_Miata on Dec 19, 2012

    My experience from years of driving crap cars as a graduate student is that the solution is to have more than one vehicle available in case you have to be someplace. Your MPV sounds more like a hobby car than something to rely on long-term, but if you like it (and since you know its history), having another vehicle around just in case it does not run makes sense. That backup car can be something fun - I used a 1977 Triumph Spitfire for years as a backup car, and then as a daily driver after I did some mechanical upgrades. If you have a car you've always wanted, and you have somewhere to park it, two beater cars can be a good solution that is cheaper than one new reliable car.

    • Gtem Gtem on Dec 20, 2012

      The 'backup beater' occured to me, I was thinking a hooptie GM A-body (Cutlass Ciera and its ilk), but then I realized that I don't want to make auto mechanics a part time job! And for long trips it just makes it less nerve racking to not be going down the highway in a state of paranoia listening for new noises and imagining vibrations and smells. From what I understand, most decent apartment complexes frown upon tenants wrenching on their rides in the parking lot... however the run down craphole my brother was living in for a while was totally fine with him doing some serious engine work (pulling a head) right outside.

  • AMC_MatadorX AMC_MatadorX on Dec 21, 2012

    gtemnykh, Hopefully you read this...I own basically the same vehicle, mine is a 96 4wd LX,(No factory leveler air-shocks so much stiffer/taller rear springs!)and although it does require its maintenance, I LOVE the van. Mine is also a family hand down (grandmother bought it new), and honestly, I can't see EVER getting rid of it. Anyone that tells you these vans are junk/you should sell it/give up on repairs is an idiot. Barring the eventual failure of the tranny, there is no reason you should give up on your van. Even then, throw down $1500 for a rebuild and keep going. WAY cheaper than another car! These things are INCREDIBLY resilient, ours was run in east coast winters for 8 straight years and developed ZERO surface rust. With NOTHING but timing belt/fluid changes/preventative maintenance items we made it all the way to 217k. I just hit 229,000 today on mine, and she runs strong, original drive-shaft/tranny/engine and all! I hope you know about the forums, I am a member there (username timoboy)and am always around to answer any questions that come up with these vans..I know them very well at this point. Please feel free to PM me there for any help you may need with your van/where to get cheap parts, etc. I have access to pick a parts FULL of MPVs, anything you cannot find I should be able! I note people complaining that these vehicles at the 10-14 year old point become maintenance intensive...I am sorry what planet are they living on that most vehicles are not...esp minivans which rarely get the treatment they deserve. The MPV has an engine that while may tick (just a sign that the oil system is actually too good!) will run FOREVER..200k..300k..400k..450k all have been done! The MAIN key with these things is the timing belts, they need to be done regularly, 60K means 60K. You need to replace ALL pulleys, belt, cam seals every change, and the hydraulic tensioner and tensioner pulley bushing every second change. That $6 bushing (At the Mazda dealer) is THE MOST important part of the belt change. Do not neglect it, or your new belt will be in shreds within 20k as it grinds against the block! That said, this is such a resilient engine that of course, it is NON interference, so forget to change the belt, all that happens is you are stuck. New belt and she will spring back to life! My other main tip for you would be to purchase a new distributor if you have not already replaced yours. 97-98 MPVs have a habit of killing their distributors at 150-175k. Throw a spare in the back with a 12mm, you will be happy to have it when it inevitably dies far from home, and you find it is a special order part from parts stores or $700 from the dealer! Takes 5 mins tops to change out. Keep your PV alive man, ours came VERY close to getting taken by cash for clunkers for want of a timing belt, they are fast fading cars that everyone seems to write off a POS vans. NO ONE seems to grasp that they were the first reliable minivans that paved the way for the utility vehicles we take for granted today. In 1996 if you wanted a minivan, you had a choice between domestic JUNK that would barely make 80k (Crycrap vans, ford tranny eaters, GMs brand engineered spacevans) the overpriced and somewhat problematic Previa (working on an engine inside the car?!?! and the MPV, a vehicle that from 96-98 models has a BULLETPROOF engine, tranny that lasts well over 200k as I can personally attest, and is packaged to look like a SUV but function like a van, all while providing EIGHT inches of ground clearance and great off road capabilities in 4wd trim. What is not to love!

  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.
  • Dlc65688410 Please stop, we can't take anymore of this. Think about doing something on the Spanish Pegaso.
  • MaintenanceCosts A few bits of context largely missing from this article:(1) For complicated historical reasons, the feds already end up paying much of the cost of buying new transit buses of all types. It is easier legally and politically to put capital funds than operating funds into the federal budget, so the model that has developed in most US agencies is that operational costs are raised from a combination of local taxes and fares while the feds pick up much of the agencies' capital needs. So this is not really new spending but a new direction for spending that's been going on for a long time.(2) Current electric buses are range-challenged. Depending on type of service they can realistically do 100-150 miles on a charge. That's just fine for commuter service where the buses typically do one or two trips in the morning, park through the midday, and do one or two trips in the evening. It doesn't work well for all-day service. Instead of having one bus that can stay out from early in the morning until late at night (with a driver change or two) you need to bring the bus back to the garage once or twice during the day. That means you need quite a few more buses and also increases operating costs. Many agencies are saying for political reasons that they are going to go electric in this replacement cycle but the more realistic outcome is that half the buses can go electric while the other half need one more replacement cycle for battery density to improve. Once the buses can go 300 miles in all weather they will be fine for the vast majority of service.(3) With all that said, the transition to electric will be very good. Moving from straight diesel to hybrid already cut down substantially on emissions, but even reduced diesel emissions cause real public health damage in city settings. Transitioning both these buses and much of the urban truck fleet to electric will have measurable and meaningful impacts on public health.