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The “something borrowed” blues

Well, I gave back the borrowed Geo Prizm.

I came this close to buying it. In fact, I told the seller yesterday, “If nothing weird happens between now and tomorrow morning, I’ll take it.”

That, of course, was a trigger for all manner of weird. Forgive me if I don’t get into the details. I’m tired of this.

Anyhow, it was a nifty little car. Great fun to drive. Smooth. But despite all the assurances, I don’t think I’d have ever felt completely at ease with a vehicle that old and that high-mileage. Questions about the seller’s mechanical competence tilted the deal in the direction of no.


Now it’s back to going on foot (and sometimes in the cars of friends and neighbors) while I gradually try another thing or two to fix the Xterra. Next thought: siphon out the gas and replace it with non-ethanol fuel.

But once the ankle is working really reliably again, fact is that I don’t need a vehicle as much as most people do.


  1. jed
    jed July 3, 2015 12:11 pm

    Well crap. That sucks. It sure sounded like a good little vehicle deal. Good thing whatever it was happened before you bought it.

    Non-ethanol fuel? Not sure it’s possible to buy that, without going to aviation gas. IIRC, “oxygenation” is mandated by the feddies, and when MTBE became non-correct, ethanol is what is now required. Thanks ADM and Congress! Over here, there are a couple people saying they buy “real” gas at Sinclair (aka Bradley), but I’m dubious, due to the aforementioned regulation.

    Siphoning? Maybe. Whether that will actually get any accumulated water out is … I’m not sure. In an older, carbureted car, disconnected the fuel lines and draining the whole system would be easy. Not sure with fuel injection, as there are high-pressure lines and maybe a return line. I read about that stuff a while back, but haven’t retained all the details. I think people used to get their gas tanks steam cleaned. The heat would prevent any water from the steam remaining in the tank.

    Funny car things: your mention of that listing of interference engines put me to looking up mine. I hadn’t thought to check, and assumed I’d be replacing the timing belt one of these days, just for peace of mind. Turns out, my car has a timing chain. Yay! Also, in reading the owners manual, found out there’s a reset procedure indicated for any time the battery is disconnected, involved idling, idling with the AC on, and a couple other things. Never heard of such a thing. Well I replaced the battery shortly after I bought it. I’m not noticing any big problems, but now I think I need to go do that funny process. Never heard of any such thing needed when replacing a battery. Heck, I’ve disconnected it a couple times since then. Geez.

    Makes me want to find something old, like a Willys Wagon.

  2. jed
    jed July 3, 2015 12:21 pm

    Oh, one thing about AV-gas; used to be that people with old cars liked to use it because it was still leaded. Unleaded gas being bad for older engines without hardened valve seats. And hot rodders like it for the higher octane. I have no idea whether there’s unleaded av-gas. Leaded gas will kill your catalytic converter.

  3. Pat
    Pat July 3, 2015 12:25 pm

    Am not sure what the law says in this State, but non-ethanol gas must be “legal” because there’s one place that sells it in the next county over, and it’s advertised at the top of the pump.

    How is the ankle feeling these days, BTW? Much swelling at the end of the day?

  4. Joel
    Joel July 3, 2015 12:41 pm

    There is no known case of a person who listened to her gut and walked away from a used car purchase regretting it later.

  5. Alien
    Alien July 3, 2015 1:12 pm

    You trusted your gut. Good job, Claire. At $1K it might have been a decent deal. At $1/2K it was probably a very acceptable deal for a +20 year old +200K vehicle (eg., “disposable” if it lasted >6 months). I didn’t go over it, so I don’t know.

    Toyotas and Honda are pretty endurable. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worn, or in need of routine maintenance. Same for <1970 Chevy/Ford/Dodge pickups.

    I wish I could offer a perfect (or, at least "much better" vehicle). I can't. They need to be judged one at a time. The best I can do is "plain jane, old American, basic V-8, mechanical everything, evidence of decent maintenance".

    The best advice I can offer is to find a competent and experienced mechanic who has the integrity (and financial independence) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, everytime he's asked, to look over the vehicle.

    No vehicle lasts forever, it shouldn't be expected to. An honest and reasonable estimate of remaining life and the costs and complications associated with that life span, is the best one can do, and it's not perfect.

    Sorry I can't help more, and good luck.

  6. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 1:31 pm

    Thank you on the gut-checks, guys. I came very close to offering the seller a much smaller amount of money, but both gut and brain said I simply don’t need this car right now, however nice it is to have.

    On non-ethanol gas, we have a source about five miles from here and it’s unleaded. Now I just wish I’d filled up a couple of cans before giving up the Geo (couldn’t have, though, because then I wouldn’t have had any containers to siphon the current tankload into). Jed, you’re probably right that emptying the tank via some other method might be more thorough, especially since water sinks to the bottom. But I’ve read about successes with siphoning and changing fuel and above all right now I’m looking for something I can do without help.

    Pat — Thanks for asking. Ankle’s getting better; just a little residual swelling right around the site of the break. But I pushed too hard thinking I was ready to walk to and from town and I set myself back. Now there’s obvious “bone pain” when I’m over-stressed or tired. Back to resting up (boooooring!) and getting ready for another try.

  7. Seibert
    Seibert July 3, 2015 1:52 pm

    Hmmm. My ignorance is vast when it comes to things automotive, but when I had a problem with a little water in the tank of my Corolla, I remember using some fuel-tank additives that promised to get the moisture out. I believe they’re related to the stuff that helps prevent fuel-line freeze in the winter, a problem where I live. You might want to check it out; it’s a relatively cheap experiment.

    If I recall correctly– this was maybe twelve years ago– the engine finally quit that water related stalling and chugging as I was driving up a steep hill. Perhaps the increased heat of the climb helped along with the additives.

  8. Bob Adkinson
    Bob Adkinson July 3, 2015 1:57 pm

    claire, you just never know about a deal until you do it and it either works or it doesn’t. You did the right thing. Now. Go find one of those computers, put it in or have someone put it in, and drive the xterra till it hollers uncle. You know everything about the xterra except what’s wrong with it. It’s all about cost per mile. Another thing. Cars don’t have souls, I know that. But if one owner drives a car for 200k, and then sells it, the next owner will not drive the same way, so the car craps out at 230k. If the original owner had kept the car it would have gone another 100k. I don’t know why – just one of those things.

  9. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 1:57 pm

    Hi, Seibert. Are you talking about Heet? Very good product, generally, but not if the water accumulation has really gotten out of hand. I did try some Heet a few weeks ago with no result.

    I don’t know that water is the Xterra’s problem at all; it’s just a guess and a relatively inexpensive thing to tackle. It’s something I can do on my own. I do know that there’s at least a little water in the tank and that between our damp climate and the fact that ethanol gas attracts and holds water, it can be a problem around here.

  10. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 2:01 pm

    “Go find one of those computers, put it in or have someone put it in, and drive the xterra till it hollers uncle.”

    🙂 Second thing I plan to try, right after non-ethanol gas. Only I’m probably going to send the Xterra’s existing ECM off to be rebuilt and reprogramed. Several people have pointed this idea out to me and it can be tried very reasonably (under $200).

    Good point about the different ways people drive, Bob. I also admit that though it seems superstitious, I feel jinxed at the moment — as if anything I try with autos is likely to produce some ghastly result. Best to back off for a while. After all, it’s summer. Fine time to walk — and regroup.

  11. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 2:05 pm

    Just to add: If my own fixes don’t work, I do have a highly recommended mechanic in the wings. But I’ve told him it’ll probably be September or October before I’m ready for another potentially costly, head-banging try at diagnosing and solving the mystery problem.

  12. jed
    jed July 3, 2015 2:27 pm

  13. Bob Adkinson
    Bob Adkinson July 3, 2015 2:30 pm

    I have not heard of rebuilding an ECM. Doesn’t mean a thing, though. May the ECM gods smile on you when you try that. One thing, though. If you replace anything electronic yourself, first thing is to disconnect the battery. Cost me a lot of money to learn that. Air bag almost knocked me out. 🙂

  14. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 2:39 pm

    “Air bag almost knocked me out. :-)”

    Owwwwwwwwwwch! Um … you didn’t get that on video by any chance, did you?

    I’ll definitely be careful.

  15. jed
    jed July 3, 2015 3:08 pm

    From what that site is saying, it’s a quota. Wonder how they enforce that? But certainly, it’s easier for the retailers to just say screw it, and sell only the ethanol stuff.

    Air bag systems also have a capacitor. Depending on whom you want to believe, it takes some minutes for it to discharge after you’ve either disconnected the battery or pulled the air bag fuse.

  16. Seibert
    Seibert July 3, 2015 3:33 pm

    Hi Claire– I’m not sure I used Heet; I think it was something made by STP. But sounds like you tried that route. Um, another possible cheapo fix: Fuel filters get clogged and they can be relatively easy to switch out (at least it was on the Corolla. Great car). I bought the replacement filter then looked around the engine to find the old one, figured out how to take out the old & replace it.

    Cars are a pain but so very useful.

  17. Shel
    Shel July 3, 2015 4:19 pm

    I’m glad, like the others, that you went with your gut.

    There are numerous relatively inexpensive siphoning devices available. If you try to just suck on a tube, though, move quick, as it becomes quite unpleasant quite rapidly.

    If you simply search for “ethanol free gas,” a number of sites pop up. Here’s one: just in case you need to look for another place.

  18. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 4:29 pm

    Shel — Thanks. Yep, I decided from the start to avoid the sucking on a tube business. Gasoline does not sound tasty to me. I have a siphon tube where you squeeze a bulb to create the vacuum.

    Thanks for the list. There’s only one place I can realistically get to and I wish I’d planned things better so that I could have done that already. But I’ll figure it out.

  19. Claire
    Claire July 3, 2015 4:30 pm

    BTW, though I’ve said thanks privately for the gasoline idea, I’ll say it again here. Thanks, K.

  20. Bob Adkinson
    Bob Adkinson July 3, 2015 5:24 pm

    “Air bag almost knocked me out. :-)”

    Owwwwwwwwwwch! Um … you didn’t get that on video by any chance, did you?

    It kind of took me by surprise. 🙂

    IIRC, Heet is alcohol. I have motorcycles, and I put some alcohol in the tank occasionally. In my imagination, it mixes with whatever water is in there, and then gets burned up. Makes me feel better even if it does no good whatsoever.

  21. R.L. Wurdack
    R.L. Wurdack July 4, 2015 6:54 am

    The chemistry is correct. Water and alcohol are miscible. Alcohol and Gasoline are as well. Water and gasoline are not. The idea is that once the alcohol cuddles with the water then they can both cuddle with the gasoline. (This cuddling has been approved by SCOTUS.)

    The system can be overwhelmed by water though.

    I go with the idea that there is crud in the system. You may require draconian means to eliminate the crud. i.e really flush out the tank. A postmortem on the fuel filter may give a clue.

  22. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau July 4, 2015 7:42 am

    Often you can tell by looking at the fuel filter (provided it is transparent, or there is some glass fuel bowel) if there is water in the gas. At least I think so; maybe I am just imagining things (it’s happened before).

    But yeah, water in fuel sounds like something to look at. It’s not too good for cars to sit a long time as the fuel can go bad, and if you fill at stations that don’t get a lot of traffic, you can get water from that as well. Of course, that probably describes almost every non-ethanol gas station!

    Good luck siphoning. It will be hard to tell if you are actually picking up from the bottom of the tank…

  23. KiA
    KiA July 4, 2015 9:16 am

    for long term storage i’ve switched to a non-alcohol based product named ethanol defense by bell performance. treating an alcohol (ethanol) issue by adding more alcohol did not make sense to me — not saying it’s incorrect.

    based on their marketing videos it also has better ability to disperse and suspend water after phase separation has occurred. so does the BG product apparently.

    i believe ethanol-free gas is usually hi-octane “race-gas”. expect to pay 3-4x per gallon.

  24. Clark
    Clark July 4, 2015 1:17 pm

    Some cars have a fuel filter in or near the tank. If I were you I’d positively determine if it had such a filter and if it did I’d replace it.

  25. Claire
    Claire July 4, 2015 2:15 pm

    Clark — Thanks. This was suggested a while back, also, but because I had changed the “regular” fuel filter and because I thought it was necessary to drop the gas tank to do anything with that “other” filter it’s one of the few original possibilities that I haven’t checked.

    I just did a bit of preliminary research that indicates that yes, the Xterra probably has such a thing and on these older-model Xterras it may be reachable without having to drop the tank.

    More work to do (and another trip to my confusing shop manual needed). But this is definitely something to look into.

  26. Claire
    Claire July 5, 2015 12:28 pm

    KiA — First of all, sorry. Your comment went into spam and I didn’t notice it for 24 hours. Apologies!

    Fortunately, the ethanol-free gas we can get around here is only a little bit more than the regular gas — maybe averaging 10% higher. I think it’s mainly used in boats and such, though I so see people filling up their cars at that station. Sometimes older cars. Sometimes just the newer cars of people who think the older type of gas is better. (And I’m sure they’re right; only question is, is it enough better to matter?)

  27. kevin mullis
    kevin mullis July 6, 2015 2:54 pm

    To totally empty gas tank without taking the tank off the vehicle. Unhook fuel line at the first junction past the fuel tank. Put a hose on line and hose into a container to catch the gas. Take a air line from a compressor or air tank and push air into fuel filler neck [where you put the gas in] while making a seal around air hose with rags and your hand. Should push all the old gas out. Put 2 gallons of gas in and repeat into another clean container. Inspect the first bunch you pushed out and compare to the 2nd batch. I had an old truck and you would not believe how cruddy the 1st. batch looked. Might make a difference might not but it will eliminate ONE of the variables.

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