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Something old, nothing new, something borrowed, something blue

No, I’m not getting married. I’ve just borrowed this car for a couple of days.


It’s old. It’s borrowed. It’s blue. It’s also for sale.

I did something on Thursday (no idea what) to stress my ankle. Now I realize I was overly optimistic about strolling to town three or four times a week so soon after breaking it.

The car is a 1993 Geo Prizm with 219,000 miles on it. Sounds awful on at least two counts, doesn’t it? Maybe three. Until you realize it’s actually a Toyota Corolla in disguise. Online reviews sing its praises — troublefree! cheap to own!

Still … risky to buy such an aged thing, I fear. OTOH, it had extensive maintenance less than 30k miles ago (including a timing belt and new water pump), its history is local and well-known, and it comes with a promise that the seller will personally fix anything that goes wrong with it in the first year. Running great so far.

Oh, and it gets nearly double the Xterra’s gas mileage.

Dunno …

Meantime, I have a bunch of boxes to take the the PO and groceries to get. I’ll rollerskate to town in this little thing.


  1. just waiting
    just waiting June 29, 2015 1:15 pm

    You didn’t mention the price, but I’m sending over $50 to start the New Reliable Transport Fund.

  2. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 1:20 pm

    I guess that means you approve? Or maybe it means you think I should collect more money to get something newer?

    Price is $1,000. Which is just what both Kelley Blue Book and Carfax say it should be. Toss in the free fixes for a year and it looks like a heck of a deal.

    And … contributions not needed (though thank you very much). Not for this car, anyhow. Anything fancier and who knows?

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty June 29, 2015 1:35 pm

    I had a Prism, and I just loved it. I would probably still be driving it if my younger son had not wrecked it. Still makes me upset to remember that.

    You will not be sorry, and it sounds like one heck of a good deal. Congratulations. πŸ™‚

  4. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 1:40 pm

    Ah, thanks, ML. That’s a great recommendation. Sorry about yours getting wrecked. πŸ™

    Not quite time for congrats. I haven’t yet committed to buy it. I’ve just borrowed it, run some errands and taken it into the woods (where it handles quite well). Still thinking about a) whether I need any car and b) whether this is a good one for now.

  5. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau June 29, 2015 2:44 pm

    Good basic transport. When the engine finally dies get a junkyard engine and drop it in there for less than you’ve already spent for the Xterra. Ideally you do it under a shade tree in the back yard, using a Chinese hand winch hooked to the tree. Keep the old engine for spare parts.

  6. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau June 29, 2015 2:46 pm

    Maybe the guy will take an Xterra in trade? πŸ™‚

  7. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau June 29, 2015 3:06 pm

    Only craigslist Prism I found that *might* be better is

    Throw in the 1 yr guarantee and you are getting a good deal.

    Funny, they all seem to have 200k+ miles. Saying something…

  8. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 3:20 pm

    “Ideally you do it under a shade tree in the back yard, using a Chinese hand winch hooked to the tree.”

    Ideally, someone else does it while I sit and enjoy a Mai Tai. But I see where you’re coming from. I hear Japanese engines are plentiful and cheap because of the crazy laws they have requiring engines to be swapped out.

  9. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 3:21 pm

    “Maybe the guy will take an Xterra in trade? :-)”

    Believe me, I’ve thought about it.

    It’ll be a few months yet before I’m willing to accept that the X is down to that kind of value.

  10. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 3:27 pm

    “Only craigslist Prism I found that *might* be better is …”

    Yeah, I think the $1,000 + a year’s fixing beats that. The Prizm sitting in my driveway is also an LSi, the upgraded model. “Upgraded” is a laugh, though; this car is blessedly basic even when compared to something like the Xterra. That’s a plus as far as I’m concerned. But amazingly it has an air conditioner that works perfectly.

    I just spent an hour and a half vacuuming, washing, and Armor-Alling the interior. I did it mainly as a way to make a closer evaluation (do those stains come out, does that vent work, are there any suspicious moldy smells underneath the reek of stale cigarette smoke, is there anything loose or broken that’s not obvious?). But by damn if it didn’t get me feeling like I owned the thing.

    I listened more closely to the engine and checked the fluids, too. Nope, there wasn’t a single unpleasant surprise.

  11. Matt, another
    Matt, another June 29, 2015 4:15 pm

    How many dogs will it hold comfortably? Can it be driven with the windows down without that horrible air pressure thump that hurts the ears? Is it low enough for the dogs to climb in and out with ease?

  12. Pat
    Pat June 29, 2015 4:19 pm

    It looks and sounds like a good deal. Why is it for sale – just because of age?

  13. Shel
    Shel June 29, 2015 4:31 pm

    I guess if you knew any reliable mechanics to check it out, the Xterra would already be fixed. I presume you know the seller or have reason to believe the person is trustworthy.

    In the end, though, if it feels like yours, it probably already is barring a mechanical catastrophe prior to payment.

  14. jesse bogan
    jesse bogan June 29, 2015 4:32 pm

    I have a friend w/ the Toyota version. Same year an all. 330K on it and still sporting along. If it has been maintained and it sounds like it, probably an OK deal.
    Jesse in DC

  15. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 4:44 pm

    jesse bogan — That’s encouraging. As little as I drive, I might be able to leave a functioning vehicle to the dogs when I die. πŸ˜‰

    Matt — Holds sufficient dogs and it’s low enough that even Robbie at least attempts to get in by himself.

    Shel and Pat — Yeah, I keep thinking about getting it checked out by a mechanic. But. Actually, the guy selling it to me is an ex-mechanic, and Pat the reason it’s being sold is making deals on older cars is just one of the things he does. I do know him and trust him. Initially he gave me some (shall we say) slightly funky info. But that was out of forgetfulness, not dishonesty. Eventually we put our heads together with my Carfax report and maintenance records he has from the former owner and figured everything out.

  16. Karen
    Karen June 29, 2015 5:15 pm

    Sounds like things do fall into place when and how they should. Good reviews from the commentariat. Good fortune, good Karma to you.

  17. MJR
    MJR June 29, 2015 7:55 pm

    Hey Claire,

    Good choice on your part. I have a Toyota Corolla with over 327,000 K (203057 + miles) on it. I can tell you that if your car is anything like mine your car is bullet proof. One thing I have learned from experience is to kill it with kindness. After all this time the only issues I have had were a tire inflation sensor that went south and I had disconnected and recently an O2 sensor. OH, and after all this time the car is finally starting to use oil.

  18. Claire
    Claire June 29, 2015 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Karen. We shall see. I’m still not committed to buying it. But I’m looking out the sunroom window at it right now and it’s slowly transforming from a nondescript little sedan into something that makes me want to go Awwwwwww, innit cute?

  19. KiA
    KiA June 29, 2015 8:32 pm

    [baffled] your course of actions regarding the xtera make some sense only when filed under Female.

  20. winston
    winston June 29, 2015 9:20 pm

    thats a good deal even if you only get a year out of it honestly

  21. Alien
    Alien June 30, 2015 3:43 am

    If there’s a weak point on FWD Toyotas it’s the rubber boots on the constant velocity joints. Armor All them frequently. When the boots go the grease “escapes”, the joints dry out, start getting noisy, and you’ll have to replace them in another 50K miles. I’ve seen hand-sewn canvas boot replacements that have worked reasonably well (the boots are cheap, the labor to pull the half shafts to install them isn’t).

    Other than that, average to moderate TLC and the things run forever. Valve guide seal replacement is coming at about 325-350K, new pistons and rings at 400-450K, crank bearings at about 700-800K. Accessories – water pump, alternator, etc. – are unpredictable, but no big deal on those engines.

    Don’t forget to have all fluids drained, flushed and refilled if they haven’t already been, especially the transmission. Regular maintenance items, those. Keep ’em clean and full. The radiator may have a plastic top, can’t remember for sure back to the ’93s. Plastic top rads are known for cracking with age, usually around the top rad hose inlet or the crimped joint between the top and the core. A used radiator shouldn’t be a big deal, though.

    That it comes with a year of included support makes it a deal.

  22. Claire
    Claire June 30, 2015 7:28 am

    “[baffled] your course of actions regarding the xtera make some sense only when filed under Female”

    Then please enlighten my hormonally blighted self, KiA Your Glorious Maleness. Tell me exactly the one right, testosterone-driven course to take with the Xterra. I beg you: save me from my female folly before I succumb to a fatal case of the vapors.

    ETA: It’s true I know very little about the mechanical workings of cars. That is due in part to my conditioning as a female. And I say, “Thank heaven for guys!”

    But now, since femaleness is messing up my entire course of action toward the vehicle, meet my challenge; tell me the one, right, male way to get the Xterra fixed.

  23. Claire
    Claire June 30, 2015 7:33 am

    Alien — Good stuff. I love that you’re thinking about what a vehicle will need at 700-800k miles. I have heard that the alternator may be one unreliable feature. Will make note of all this.

    winston — Kinda thought the same myself.

    If I can get the Xterra fixed, then I can sell one or the other of the vehicles and go back to saving for an Elio (assuming it and the promises made about it are ever more than vaporware).

  24. kevin mullis
    kevin mullis June 30, 2015 7:58 pm

    Sounds like a decent deal but I has a bias and love of econo-beaters.

  25. spacer
    spacer July 1, 2015 9:16 am

    Hey, as long as it works, right? I know the ideal homestead vehicle is a pickup or some other utility type vehicle, but there are plenty of times it’s just a matter of getting your kiester and a few items down the road.

  26. Alien
    Alien July 2, 2015 10:38 am

    Claire, I left out an important maintenance milestone: The timing belt on that engine will need to be replaced every 100K miles/6 years (that’s the Toyota manual specs). I’ve fudged that by 10%on mileage and 25% on time, but that’s living dangerously. Budget for that interval.

    I do not remember if that engine is an interference engine – that means if the timing belt (which actually operates the cam(s)) fails, some of the intake and/or intake valves will remain open and get closed by the pistons. That is much many more bad than it sounds – usually means – in addition to everything else – a new head, which translates to “scrap the engine.”

    If it’s not an interference engine the timing belt can fail without catastrophic damage to pistons, valves and the head. In that case, all that happens is you’re stranded, need a tow, and the garage knows that it has to be fixed before you can drive it again.

    Planned replacemnet, on the other hand, means you’re controlling the process (and, to some extent, the cost), not Wrandy Wrenchbender.

    Sorry I forgot to mention that earlier. Brain fade on my part, and i’ll accept full responsibility for the omission.

  27. Claire
    Claire July 2, 2015 10:48 am

    Alien — Thanks again. I do know about the need to replace the timing belt, and very fortunately the Geo’s was replaced less than 30k miles ago, so I may never need to worry about it.

    I’ve read about the potentially catastrophic difference with timing belt failure in the different types of engines, but I remain very fuzzy on the difference between interference engines and other engines. Ah … off to Wikipedia or StartPage once again …

    You’re great for thinking of all this. I still haven’t decided whether to buy the Geo or not, but I’m leaning that way.

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