Piston Slap: Keeping the Principal In the Right Car?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap keeping the principal in the right car

Lou writes:

Hi, Sajeev:

Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve bounced between leasing/buying cars in my two-car family. Because of a severe case of always wanting what I don’t have (thankfully, this only happens with cars and bicycles), I’ve owned quite a few cars over this time period. Sometimes I think I want to own long-term and take pride in my ride of choice (2006 Mazda 6 wagon, for example), and other times I get fed up with issues, such as a $4,000 transmission replacement bill for said wagon, and I then decide I want the security and added features of a newer ride (just finished a three-year lease of a 2015 Outback 2.5 Limited).

So, with my car shopping neurosis briefly explained, what type of car should I be looking for, and what type of preventative maintenance should I undertake, if I decide to buy and keep? I don’t necessarily mean a specific make and model. What I mean is, since I do make quite a few short trips of about a mile throughout the day (I live and work in the same town), and the car barely has a chance to warm up in the morning, is there a specific engine specification I should look for? Whether the car was purchased or leased, I’ve always taken it easy in the bitter cold, and I’d even drive a bit out of my way to get the car closer to operating temperature before reaching my school.

Also, before the B&B tells me to ride my bicycle or walk, I’m a K-5 Principal with other duties that can take me away from my school at any moment, so I don’t want to ride my bike around town when I have to see the Superintendent, or when I visit the high school to conduct bullying investigations. I also pick up my kids’ friends in the morning, and their parents reciprocate as well, so any car I have for the foreseeable future will have to perform many short trips.

Many thanks, and keep up the good work!

Sajeev answers:

Please pardon my instant connection to that guy from The Simpsons, as I truly appreciate your candor and detail! I reckon it makes you quite the excellent principal. But you didn’t mention your mechanical skills/interest: are you a pro, or not the shade tree mechanic type? Or a work in progress like yours truly?

The answer depends on your skills: perhaps leasing is best to address the”shopping neurosis” without getting screwed by a crippling repair bill. And a missed meeting with the Superintendent?

No matter, let’s address your questions:

What type of car should I be looking for? After the last person ( IRL, not here) ignored my sound advice, I know human nature in purchase decisions is anything but easy to advise for most (not all), and there’s a financing plan to make the passion fit your budget. The Best and Brightest can speculate, but I ask that you avoid European machines with their specialized technicians/repair techniques and expensive parts. Or just lease whatever you want.

Screw it, I think you need a 2011 Lincoln Town Car. Because why not Panther Love?

What type of preventative maintenance should I undertake? Assuming you are buying new from the get-go, this is mostly a matter of RTFM. Also, switch to synthetic oil (if not already mandatory) and do regular transmission servicing. The latter depends on fluid condition, your unique driving conditions, and if there’s a dipstick to check: if you aren’t so lucky, I’m guessing any vehicle you choose for your specific commute could benefit from changing it every 75,000-ish miles.

Also, join a message board for your new ride to learn its quirks and trouble spots. Combined with a factory shop manual (if you DIY) or a trusty repair shop, that’s how you stay ahead of the curve after the warranty expires.

Specific engine specification I should look for? Sadly, I lost my crystal ball years ago. I doubt anyone outside of an OEM engineering facility predicted the problems with Toyota/ VW oil sludging, Chrysler Pentastar head cracking, etc, nor is such information (readily?) available at the time of purchase. All you can do is buy, keep service records handy and do what’s needed to ensure a goodwill replacement if you-know-what hits the fan.

Your thoughts, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Zachary Hoover]

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.

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3 of 53 comments
  • LectroByte LectroByte on May 11, 2018

    The Prius I owned was really great about a quick warm up (it pumped the hot antifreeze into a container when the engine was shut off to keep it hot for the next start), so a used Prius or Prius V might be just the thing for you, or one of the other hybrids, I assume they all probably have a similar technology. Even though you only mention short trips, I'm ruling out a pure electric since if it is your only car, you may want a vacation trip capability down the road.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on May 12, 2018

    Buy a pickup..... Resistance is futile!

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.