By on September 3, 2015

electric car. Shutterstock user Guteksk7

Tony writes:


My new wife brought to the marriage her ’07 fleet-queen Taurus. She’s not a car pamperer by any means, but she does change her oil. This car got flogged like a racehorse in its previous life. Its body tightness is well-nigh gone, it unpredictably emits a strange unidentifiable groan from the depths of the dashboard center on moderate acceleration, the dime-size floormats are practically ground into dust, and the trunk barely agrees to open even when unlatched.

But the heart of the problem is in the engine bay. At 130k, the engine light has been chronically on for the past year-plus and the car flunks smog tests. A couple of good independent mechanics have variously identified the problem as being the catalyst or other things; I’ve read the PVC system is a typical offender in aging Vulcans, and these guys were smart enough to check it. Each of the last two test intervals, the mechanic coaxed the car through the test to keep it legal for another two years.

For all that, the car doesn’t drive badly, and it’s quit over the road only once as she’s continued to rack up the miles. It’s also got enough visible wounds outside and inside that it’s virtually worthless in resale. I know the typical answer in this situation would be “drive it until it drops dead.”

But one thing that gives me pause is that stranding incident — a year ago the engine sprang a leak and starting puking its coolant all over the ground, prompting an emergency service. I don’t remember which gasket it was (head?), but I heard it was endemic to that engine and set her back about a thousand bucks.

I’ve got my wife pegged as a dream customer for a 3-year-old Prius, since she’s born for its combination of stratospheric gas mileage, eternal reliability and utter void of driving entertainment. I’m not made of money, but I suspect the price of these will jump back to its old higher level when the price of gas does. She doesn’t mind the Taurus a bit unless it fails.

Keep flogging the old bull? Try to outguess the Reaper? Thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

ZOMFG SON, if I met a woman with such a sweet ride, I would totally marry her so I can do this to her Vulcan Taurus.


While an Eaton M90 blower fixes everything on your wife’s sweet ride, the sad reality is that neither of us could make it happen. How sad!

I heard the last Vulcans had a cylinder head defect leading to OBD-II trouble codes, and I reckon yours is in the same boat. So yes, it’s a case of run it ’til it dies. If the Taurus is still a decent runner and it’s worth more to you than anyone else, I wouldn’t scoff at replacing the long block with a low mile junkyard unit. That might get you another relatively trouble free 80-100,000 miles in an otherwise reliable vehicle. Maybe. If that’s what you really want.

That said, as gas prices continue to spiral down, I suspect a used Prius (or Nissan Leaf) on the cheap is in your future.

[Image: Shutterstock user Guteksk7]

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24 Comments on “Piston Slap: Mad Vulcan Powah? (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    Sajeev nailed it. Don’t ‘invest’ another penny in fixing the Taurus, just run it ’til it fails. Or, if you can afford it, dump it before it craps out again, which could be any day now. Some idiot will give you several hundred bucks for it if it runs.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is that the car is driven by his wife, and the failure is all too likely to happen to her while alone and at a most inopportune moment. If she’s like most women I know, car failure (usually described as “blowing up”) is a near-existential dread. The car needs to be either stabilized or replaced.

  • avatar

    we just bought 3 prii’s – 2c’s & a V.
    the c’s are easier to maintain with slightly (55+) better milage.
    The V is much closer carwise to a Taurus.

  • avatar

    Used C-Max’s are pretty cheap and nice.

  • avatar

    I’d say throw the car up on craigslist and you’ll get $1-2k for a runner with working air conditioning, but you’ll also be dealing with the dregs of society selling a car like that. So perhaps simply trading it in for whatever pittance the dealer may negotiate is the more rational option. You are right on the money with the used Prius recommendation for your wife, especially now while their value is at an all time low with cheap gas. I assure you it will age much more gracefully than FoMoCo’s “finest.”

  • avatar

    sell the ford on C list buy the gas miser of your choice, c max, leaf, prius of your choice, my only concern is does the wife want that small of a car?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    If you live in Canada running the Taurus until its body rots out may be the better option.

    In the Toronto area the asking price for used Prius (Priuses?) with 100km (60,000 miles) is just over $11,000. The owner of one with 335kms is asking over $6k.

    Lower mileage/newer models are around the $14k to $15k mark. You can buy a new Elantra for around the same price.

    One of my daughters has tried just about every vehicle in the fleet of the car sharing organization that we belong to and the only one that she will not drive again is the Prius.

  • avatar

    Prius or go home.

  • avatar

    It’s worthless, it flunks smog, and you’re concerned about a stranding incident. It’s an 8 year old Taurus. “Drive it until it’s dead?” IT’S ALREADY A WALKING ZOMBIE.

    You’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it (or perhaps not) a long time ago. Abandon it before it causes you further stress and see-I-told-you-so’s. It’s just not worth the extra pennies you get for driving it until it strands her. Dump it now, and breathe a sigh of relief as you settle into something good on gas that you can get another 7-10 years out of.

    • 0 avatar

      So an eight year old Taurus is on borrowed time? So, what does that make my 95? Never mind, I know the answer: a good reliable car that gets decent mileage with a decent combination of ride and handling that is extremely cheap to repair.

      There are lots of people who have much older and much higher mileage examples than the op’s, yet they continue to drive them.

      New floor mats and some other minor tlc required? DUMP IT! Throw it away and get something the internet approves of! House needs a new roof? Buldoze it and build a new house. Dog has fleas? Put him down and get a new one. Oh, first world problems are the worst!

  • avatar

    I know what my father would say.

    Son, they use to shoot horses…

  • avatar

    so its got a recent head gasket, needs floor mats and a shot of lithium grease on the hinges? without knowing what the OBD codes areits hard to know what else is needed. even a brittle gas cap gasket would trigger a code

  • avatar

    New Prius C, dirt-cheap financing by Toyota. I recently thought about buying my mom a used Prius (non-C). Prices in my area were so high that I would have had to go down to 7- or 8-year-old units with close to 100,000 miles to make it more attractive than a new Prius C when likely refurb/maintenance costs and the appeal of no crushed seat cushions full of farts were taken into account. (In the end she decided to stay car-free.)

    The dealers around here are selling Prius C Twos for $16k. They’re hateful little cars for people who care about driving, but for those who just don’t give a crap they are functional and harder than cockroaches to kill.

  • avatar

    Since you’ve already dumped some money into it, it should be reliable enough to get you through the next failed inspection. But have your Prius picked out ahead of time.

    Too bad that smog rules are going to send another functional car to the crusher.

  • avatar

    The car will never be worth more than it is today. Unfortunately it isn’t worth that much now so driving it until it quits is still on the table in my opinion because the difference between the dead and alive values are pretty low. So it may cost you $500-$1000 in depreciation to drive it for several more years.

    The big things to consider are the condition/age of the tires, battery and brakes. Other than the on sale cheapest brake pads installed yourself you shouldn’t spend money on those things unless it is a battery from the wrecking yard or a single tire from the used tire store.

    By the way blowing a hose or gasket in that era Taurus and most Fords past ~2000 is not a reason to have the car towed. They are equipped with fail safe cooling and continuing to drive it unless you are flogging it at WOT in 100 + degree temps is perfectly fine. Yes it will be down on power as it alternates which half of the cylinders are firing but it will get you off the freeway, on to side streets and either home or to a repair shop.

  • avatar

    Unless you really want a hatch, why go for a Prius over the Camry Hybrid LE? Even if you don’t care about the driving experience at all the Camry seems like the better vehicle.

    The Camry hybrid is only about $1200 more OTD and even at $4/gal and 12000 miles traveled a year the Prius only saves $200 from its higher fuel economy ratings.

  • avatar

    My friend who recently moved to Orlando texted me earlier telling me she bought an MY15 Prius for $21K. They gave her $5K off because of year end clearance, $2500 for her Nissan which I estimated to be worth $1500, but she had to put 999 down and finance through them. That’s really not bad considering how screwed up new car market pricing has become.

  • avatar

    If it is just a cat. issue, have a universal cat welded or clamped on. They’re very affordable. There are ways around cat efficiency codes, but are illegal or “for track” applications only.

    Run it ’till it dies!

  • avatar

    I think Sajeev is right. I would run it until something expensive breaks (because low CTO, yo), and *then* dump it for the Prius.

  • avatar

    You don’t say what you drive but there is an alternative if your concern is her being stranded. Swap cars and find the problem. 130k is just broken in. I normally put my wife in something newish and drive the olds ones myself.

  • avatar

    We bought a 2007 Prius Touring 2 years ago with 112K with new tires and brakes courtesy of the selling dealer for $10K. We’ve since put another 50K on it with no expenses but gas, oil changes and a pair of tires. I expect it’ll go another 100K with little trouble if we are willing. Soulless machines, but bullet proof.

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