Piston Slap: Traversing the Echo of The Epic Windfall?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap traversing the echo of the epic windfall

Long-time TTAC Commentator psarhjinian writes:

I need some communal wisdom.

I have two vehicles: a 2005 Pontiac Montana and a 2005 Toyota Echo.

The Montana in decent shape for its 93,000 miles — some rust, some dings, lots of child abuse (as in gum, stains, melted crayons, etc). It will need winter tires this year and I just had the tie-rod ends and stabilizer links replaced. It’s had its steering system comprehensively replaced, too. We generally only drive it for out-of-town family trips.

The Echo is basically a commuter beater with 162,000 miles. It has some rust on the doors, a loose heat shield and an exhaust hole, is throwing CEL for the evaporative emissions system (charcoal canister, probably). I replaced its clutch at 143,000.

Here’s the problem: the Echo (it’s a manual, by the way) just blew something in its transmission. I don’t know what, but it sounds like a box of rocks and refuses to shift out of gear. It may have been failing for a while, but I didn’t really hear anything because of the exhaust hole. My mechanic priced a new-to-me transmission at $750.

Here’s my dilemma:

The Echo cost me $2,000 plus taxes to buy. The clutch was $500. It needs a bunch of work and it’s a bit rusty. But it does get good fuel mileage, which is its mission, as it eats a 30,000 mile/year commute.

I have the option to buy a car from my workplace; it’s a 2009 Chevrolet Traverse with 110,000 miles owned by a coworker who’s retiring. They’re willing to let it go for $3,000 because it’s an employee sale. It’s had all sorts of work done in its first couple of years, but has been mostly stable since.

Here’s what I was thinking:

  • Fix the Echo: Cheapest option, but it seems like an issue of diminishing returns, given its mileage and condition.
  • Buy the Traverse: Drive either it or the Montana and pay through the nose for gas.
  • Buy the Traverse and try to flip it (or sell the Montana): Get something smaller and more fuel-efficient. Scrap or sell the Echo.

I’m leaning towards the third option, but the Traverse makes me nervous because it’s another big, heavy car, and one with a lot more that could wrong (it’s a loaded model; the Echo and the Montana are fairly barebones).

Sajeev answers:

Boy, do I love it when a reader pitches me a slow meatball.

The Echo isn’t worth fixing and the Traverse sounds like a perfect candidate for used car flipping. Edmunds says a nicely loaded LTZ (you said loaded!) in clean condition retails for low teens. Detail it, then sell it for $9,500-11,500 if the tires are decent. Kinda sounds like a no brainer!

So flip the Traverse, use the proceeds for an Echo replacement, and eventually sell/scrap/trade-in (for scrap, essentially) the Echo, too. I know you are selling two vehicles and buying a whole new set of problems, but the Traverse’s windfall nets enough cash to get a modest daily driver that’s less Echo and more fun. Maybe a [s]low-mile CVPI[/s] manual-transmission hatchback with a bit more street cred?

[Image: Chevrolet]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 58 comments
  • Scottcom36 Scottcom36 on Mar 10, 2016

    Junk the Echo. Commute in the Traverse until the price of gas goes up. Then get rid of the Montana, use the Traverse in its place and find another cheap fuel efficient commuter.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Mar 11, 2016

    I'd buy the Traverse and keep it for at least a few years. Sell the other two if you don't actually need to use two vehicles at the same time. The Traverse is simply better than the Montana and the Echo offers nothing but frugality, which a $3000 Traverse has covered. Regardless, flipping the Traverse is disrespectful. I would only do that if I despised the co-worker.

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