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The gods and their damnable senses of humor

I have this longstanding superstition. I’ll never put a new music player in an older car. I’m sure the moment I commit to some nice little luxury like that the vehicle will come down with a dreaded car illness — beyond repair.

The CD player in the Xterra never worked properly, but never got replaced in the five or six years I owned it because … doom.

Old Blue doesn’t even have a CD player, just a radio that jumps randomly every few seconds from NPR to heavy metal to Mexican oompah music. So I never use it. I’ve missed having pleasant sounds in the car, but I’ve MUST follow my no new music systems rule. OR … doom.

After Blue’s December breakdown, I got to casually pricing low-end Hondas and Toyotas. Fits and Yarises. Used ones, five or six years old. And I was pretty shocked at the prices you have to pay these days for “older but reliable.” I ended up telling myself, “That’s it. I’m keeping Old Blue as long as I can, and I’ll pay whatever it takes to get her fixed when she breaks — unless maybe the engine blows up or the transmission fails. Then I’ll go on foot. Done it before; can do it again.”

Old Blue’s been running really well since December, though. Like she’s going to last forever. And you know, I thought, if I’m keeping her I sure would like some music.

Yeah. I broke my rule. I defied my superstition. I bought a Kenwood CD player on eBay. Older model, but still with Bluetooth and USB and other good stuff. It arrived late last week.

My mechanic texted me just now with his diagnosis of the mystery problem Old Blue developed during my travels: transmission’s failing.

I know the gods find this sort of thing absolutely knee-slappingly hilarious. But I am not amused.

I guess by the standards of gods, I’m now supposed to be grateful that at least it’s just a dying transmission, not a dying transmission plus surgery. I’ll try to work up my gratitude for that. Later.


  1. Pat
    Pat February 10, 2017 2:37 pm

    I don’t know how you’ve lived so long without music. My car is 13 years old and it came with both CD and tape. The sound is now getting scratchy and the volume fluctuates at will, but I NEVER listen to the radio in the car so if it wears out I’d have to get another radio/CD player immediately. (My tapes have all worn out, so wouldn’t need a cassette player anyway.)

    If you need another car, you wouldn’t be trading this one, would you? Couldn’t you take the radio out?

  2. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 2:45 pm

    Good luck with that, Pat. Maybe my superstition won’t apply to your car.

    As to Old Blue and the new music system, the system is still in the box. It hasn’t been installed yet. But I’m not sure it’s returnable, and I have to keep it, there’s no reason to believe I’d ever find another use for it.

    I’m not likely to be getting another car. If I did, there’s no telling whether this player would fit it or need it.

  3. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 2:50 pm

    BTW, I’ve just gotten the “best-case” estimate: $750. Told the mechanic I’d think about it overnight.

  4. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 3:14 pm

    Good grief, Comrade X. I never knew. Guess I can be glad that, whatever else happens, I’ll never be hired by Gillette.

  5. jed
    jed February 10, 2017 3:32 pm

    In terms of bang for the buck, the Ford Focus does pretty well. They’re not in demand the way Toyota and Honda are. Avoid the SPI engine, as it’s a buzzy monster. The ZX3 with a Duratec engine should be quite reliable, and it’s a hatchback. Knock on wood, I’m on my 2nd Focus, and I’d likely still be driving the 1st one if it hadn’t gotten rear-ended and totaled.

    Bummer on the car stereo. Well, you can always sell it. And who knows; if you get another vehicle, maybe the stereo in it will be crapped out too. I replaced the factory stereo on my current vehicle shortly after I bought it. In terms of fitting, that’s a little more problematic in newer cars, as they have controls on the steering wheel, and infotainment crap mixed in with the radio. But there are kits for just about everything. I used a kit in the Focus, which was mostly just an insert for the opening, as the factory radio is taller than the usual aftermarket model. So the insert has a spot for the stereo, and a cubby underneath.

  6. Shel
    Shel February 10, 2017 4:50 pm

    I think if the transmission is go-ing, then you might be able to drive it a little more. If you can, I believe it worthwhile to do so to learn if you really are losing oil from the engine, whether by leaking or burning. It would be uncool to get the transmission fixed only to learn your engine wasn’t doing well at all.

    Don’t know what are the best deals on other cars, but Jed’s comments on the Focus certainly are believable. I have a Mercury Grand Marquis with about 355k on it and it runs like new (just doesn’t look like much) and probably is the best car I ever had. I wouldn’t shy away from a car just because it’s American (or made by Ford).

  7. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 4:58 pm

    jed, I just checked Kelley Blue Book and prices on the Focus are very close to those of the Fit and the Yaris. (I chose 2012 as the year, with no special options). They’re all in the $7-8,000 range or higher. I don’t know much about the Focus; maybe it was a higher-end vehicle to begin with. But that price is far out of my range, especially when my main priority is still to fix the foundation on the house.

    It’s dilemma. Pay $750 or more to fix a car I paid $700 for (and just put about $500 into in the last two months) or get another car in the $1000 to $2,000 price range, and end up with something else that’s going to need a lot of repairs sooner, rather than later. That’s why I’m thinking about either fixing Old Blue or going without a vehicle. Don’t want to be on that merry-go-round.

    You know, if it were possible to get a good, but very stripped down new vehicle — or one or two year old vehicle — for $7,000 or so, that might be worth it. But the price of “good” used cars is absolutely astronomical — and not worth it.

  8. jed
    jed February 10, 2017 5:41 pm

    My Foci were/are 2003 and 2005, respectively. Around $5K each. Bought them almost 2 years apart. My criteria included manual transmission, and there was nothing else close to that price. Well, markets differ too, and possibly the newer models are holding their value better.

    I understand the ‘not likely’ part, but try the nearest large metro area listings on craigslist for ‘zx3’ and ‘zx5’ if you’re curious. No, not something as new as 2012.

    But, you know this, your price point of ~2K is going to require getting very lucky in the car market. Not gonna say it can’t happen. I once had a beat up Subaru wagon that I traded a utility trailer for. Once I figured out I needed to disconnect the ‘hill holder’ clutch gizzie, I stopped going through clutch cables, and I had to replace a water pump, which was pretty easy. And it lasted me a couple years, until the transmission crapped out.

    I think the equation for the transmission repair on Blue is how many more years can you reasonably expect to get out of that car. That’s probably difficult to predict.

  9. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 5:51 pm

    Around here there are actually a lot of private party car sales in the $2k range. Kind of a poor area; more old cars than new ones and there are a couple of old shade tree mechanics who specialize in buying beaters, fixing them up, and re-selling them. But of course the vehicles at that price are mostly late 90s or early oughties models and if they’re newer they’re either very high mileage. But that price is do-able around here.

    It’s just that of course you get what you pay for.

    I can walk to most of the places I regularly need to go. Or walk half a mile then catch the bus over to the next town. The only exception is getting to Furrydoc’s. It’s a very long walk and the buses will only take animals in carriers; Ava is too big to carry. When I was carless for 15 months, Furrydoc came out to the house a few times for animal care.

    So a car is great to have but not as essential for me as it is for a lot of people. My #1 priority is staying out of debt; #2 priority is getting the darned house foundation fixed. Car is about third.

    And you’re absolutely right about the equation for transmission repair — and it’s impossible to figure out the value of x in this case.

  10. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 5:55 pm

    Shel — That’s an interesting point about running with the transmission as-is to test for engine-oil use. I’ve known there was a small (I thought) oil leak, but if Old Blue is actually burning oil, then that would make a difference on whether or not the transmission’s worth fixing.

    And the worst of the transmission problem is apparent only at highway speeds, so I might get away with it for a long time around town.

    I admit I’ve always shied away from American cars, reflexively. I’ll bet there aren’t too many Mercury Marquises around still running like new with that kind of mileage on them.

  11. Comrade X
    Comrade X February 10, 2017 7:24 pm

    I think Shel has some good advice, the first thing is to decide whether Ole Blue is worth the investment and if not then when looking for another car spending $50 to get it checked out before buying may also save you from investing into a loser, of course to be at a reasonable price does means the car may have some issues but new tranny’s & engines should be a bridge too far.

    Old shade tree mechanics can be good if they will stand by their product and give you a discount for future work you may need, but even then I would have a second pair of eyes check it out.

  12. Shel
    Shel February 10, 2017 7:55 pm

    AARGH!! Typo!! My car has 255k on it. Unless TEOTWAWKI intervenes, I’ll try to remember to give an update at 355k. My Merc is an ’08, with a flexfuel engine. I’ve been told that with regular oil changes (which I’ve had done) longevity is expected. Several years ago (I can’t find a link about it) Ford did a torture test on one of their flexfuel engines. They put it in multiple vehicles, ran it fast – in Baja I think – and even used it to tow. After a lot of miles they broke it down in public and checked it for wear, which turned out to be minimal or non-existent. And there are a lot of Police Interceptor LTD’s running around as taxis.

    OTOH, a different friend went to a dealer and bought a replacement Honda Accord without test driving it, because the previous one had been so good. It was nothing but trouble, starting with a glove compartment door before even getting out of the parking lot. Taking it back to the dealer, my friend was told by the salesman the problem was that it was made in America. They went around the lot and found a couple that had been made in Japan. My friend got one of those and never had a moment’s trouble.

  13. Deb in SD
    Deb in SD February 10, 2017 8:44 pm

    Best car I ever had was a Toyota Corolla. Bought it certified used when it was 2 yrs old, drove it for 17 years, and then passed it on to a young person who drove it for several more years. Other than tires and routine maintenance it never cost me a dime. I replaced it with a Tacoma due to needing 4 wheel drive, also good, but a gas sucker. I too believe in the negative karma of upgrades. Best of luck with your search.

  14. jed
    jed February 10, 2017 8:47 pm

    @Shel: That reminds me of VolksWagen. IIRC, there were some models/years where you wanted the German-made, and not the American-made (assembled, I assume). Easy to tell, as the U.S. ones had rectangular headlights, vs. round on the ones from Germany. I think that was for the Golf – maybe the Jetta too.

    I’ve had couple of $500 cars that lasted as long as I needed them to. A ’67 Toronado and a ’68 Olds 98. Cost me a lot in gas though.

    Favorite cheap car was the $800 Volvo 740 Turbo. It started having intermittent rough running that the mechanics couldn’t figure out. I should’ve tried one other shop, but I decided to give up on it. Sigh.

  15. Desertrat
    Desertrat February 10, 2017 9:19 pm

    After over 50 years of wrench-bending, I’m a firm believer in any Toyota with a manual transmission and the 22-R 4-banger.

    As long as the water in the radiator was not somewhat alkaline, the cylinder head won’t erode into the cylinder–and even that is fixable. As long as the compression is at 140 psi or better, it’s good for another 100K miles.

    Music? I gave $30 at Wally’s for a “baby boom box” that does AM/FM, cassette and CD. Portable. I could use a cigar-lighter plug-in line for 12v if the batteries fade.

  16. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 9:28 pm

    I’m quite fond of Toyota Corollas myself. In fact Old Blue is a Toyota Corolla — albeit one that’s got a Geo Prizm label slapped on it for marketing purposes. That’s part of the reason I was (and maybe still am) counting on it running forever.

    I’m also glad I’m not the only one who’s superstitious about little upgrades. 🙁

  17. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 9:46 pm

    “As long as the water in the radiator was not somewhat alkaline, the cylinder head won’t erode into the cylinder–and even that is fixable. As long as the compression is at 140 psi or better, it’s good for another 100K miles.”

    Desertrat — You got me there. What does all that mean and how does that relate to my faltering transmission?

  18. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry February 10, 2017 10:28 pm

    What you need, IMO, is simple. You need a Toyota Tacoma/Hilux. With a manual gearbox, they’re basically un-kill-able. Besides normal truck stuff, these are the nigh-indestructable chassis of choice for every bad-news improvised SPAAG, mortar carrier, troop transport and MLRS in the world. I’ve even seen one with a refitted BMP turret- not only did the suspension hold out under the weight of the turret, but even when the 73mm gun fired! Short of taking it apart and mailing the bits to random friends, there’s not a whole lot that’ll stop a Hilux, new stereos included.

    Top Gear spent two episodes trying to kill a Hilux. It was rammed into a tree, set on fire, smashed with a wrecking ball, dropped off an old building (as the building was demolished by implosion), had a caravan dropped on it, and lost in the Bristol Channel for 18hrs after being submerged at high tide. That last one almost killed it, but after a complete engine pull-apart and cleanout, it fired right back up.

    $2k should get you into a decent one, though no gaurantees on creature comforts at that price.

  19. Claire
    Claire February 10, 2017 11:15 pm

    I am up at this ridiculous hour exchanging emails with my mechanic. He nixes the idea of driving Old Blue around town for any reason, saying:

    There is one portion of your e-mail which is clearly not an option, and that is “limping” the car around with a trans on the way out- my diagnostic included putting the car on jack stands and running the car in drive while observing the underside and listening with a stethescope, and the thing that immediately jumped out at me was one of the drive shafts wobbling a significant amount where it entered the transmission- this along with the accompanying noise very strongly suggests that it is the “output shaft bearings” that have failed in the trans., most likely due to loss of gear lubricant at some point in the past. I was pretty uncomfortable with the “growl” that was coming outof the trans as I [drove the car to my shop] and I really dont think it is long for this world.

    Point taken. His advice is a “tepid endorsement” of fixing the transmission, though he also acknowledges that there are simply no really good options as long as I can’t spring for a newer vehicle. He also brings up the fact that it is a Toyota Corolla under its Geo label and that means not only reliability but an easy and inexpensive supply of spare parts.

  20. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry February 11, 2017 1:30 am

    Yikes! That one’s a for-real collector’s item here in the US, due to the original Japanese engine. As with most “proper” versions of foreign cars (and guns) they have to be neutered before entering the States. A US-spec Tacoma/Hilux is still nearly indestructible, and $2-3k is doable. Not always easy, but doable. currently lists 13 Tacomas below 3k- that’s nationwide, but it’s not a horrible number, especially given their reputation.

  21. FishOrMan
    FishOrMan February 11, 2017 3:12 am

    Claire, I use to supply my mom with my extra vehicles when she was in need, now I feel like giving you one. I actually have two Toyotas, (one pickup and one old 4-runner), both with that never-die 22-RE engine and manual transmission. With less than $300-$400 in work, (tires, battery and one needs new alternator), I would be unafraid to drive either across the country. Love you Claire. I miss my mom.

  22. Shel
    Shel February 11, 2017 4:29 am

    I’m at a loss. Wish I knew more what to suggest. Perhaps make sure your mechanic didn’t see any evidence of engine oil leaks. It does sort of sound like that other mechanic simply (and understandably) wanted to avoid a can of worms.

  23. Claire
    Claire February 11, 2017 6:36 am

    Oh my goodness, FishOrMan. You would do that? I’ve always wanted a Toyota 4-runner, but love Toyota pickups, as well. That’s a very big offer, leaving me speechless once again.

    I told my mechanic I wanted to sleep on the idea of the transmission repair, but I woke up to find I was no closer to a decision. Then I read your message. I’ll email you.

    Not a day goes by that I don’t think about your mom dying suddenly on Christmas. I still can’t imagine the pain of that.

  24. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran February 11, 2017 6:56 am

    I’ve driven old cars (my brother in law refers to them as shit boxes) most of my life as I couldn’t afford anything better. Now that the kids are out on their own, we decided to treat ourselves and lease a new vehicle. The lease wasn’t much more that the payments we were making on our 2006 Chrysler Town and Country and we got a Mazda CX-5 compact SUV, where everything is covered under warranty for the lease period. It has AWD which is nice for WNY winters and is very sporty and the engine has a lot of pep.

    WNY winters and the rock salt that is used on the roads, rot out cars like you wouldn’t believe! By the time a car is 5 years old, the usual length for a new car loan, cars are already showing the effects of the rock salt, not only on the body of a car, but it affects parts as well and the Town and Country that I bought at 5 years old needed a lot of maintenance for part failure, well over $2,000 for the 5 years we owned it. My wife and I talked it over and we didn’t want to chance a “rinse and repeat” with another 5 year old car and looked into leasing a car and it made it affordable for us to move into a new car. We figure we’re always going to have a car payment and with the lease, we turn our current vehicle in for a new one, every three years, one that’s covered completely by warranty. It’s piece of mind for me as I’m not stressing about the car breaking down unexpectedly and when I can least afford to pay for repairs.

  25. Jim B.
    Jim B. February 11, 2017 7:02 am

    I’ve had various used cars(never new) over the years. I’ve come to believe that whenever you can, get a car you won’t mind sinking money into. Preferably something that is either known to be reliable or at least something that would be decent or enjoyable. In my case, I would choose something like a Mustang(if you enjoy them), Miatas, Jeeps, or a Pick-up truck. Although if I were to buy something new and potentially reliable and fun, I would consider getting the Toyota GT-86 but it’s still a young car so the history of that has not been established.

    If you can, If I needed to get something now, I would get a Tacoma like others have said, preferably with a cap(for the dogs) and keep it til it dies(if done right, it’ll probably outlive you).

    That said, I have always believed that the first thing to go in a car is the stereo. Murphy’s Law, especially when it comes to cars. For some reason, I believe it’s actually the canary in the coal mine of cars. Indication that you’re about to have trouble with the car. Although it would usually be a while before the car develops problems after the stereo conks out. Most used cars I’ve had, usually the stereo don’t work.

  26. Shel
    Shel February 11, 2017 8:55 am

    I don’t know the circumstances and I’m definitely not asking for a rehash, but I believe in general, so long as the person doesn’t have major unfinished business, the faster someone passes is better for that person and worse for the survivors. The more slowly it happens, it is better for the survivors in that they can emotionally prepare themselves and worse for the person with the prolonged suffering. The two good things in this case are the passing came in the correct genealogical order and there is something wonderful to miss. I never shed a tear for either of my parents. If in fact if I feel myself getting emotional about something – like animals or the hardships of soldiers – and I need to cut it off because I’m in public for example, I can do it easily if I switch my thoughts to my parents.

  27. Desertrat
    Desertrat February 11, 2017 9:48 am

    Claire, just a general comment about Toyotas. I didn’t realize that Old Blue was a Toy.

    Alkaline water and an aluminum alloy cylinder head is slower “rot” than Drano in an aluminum sauce pan, but the end result is the same. 🙂 Best to use distilled water in radiators and batteries.

    From what your mechanic said, it sounds like the input shaft bearing is going toes up. A common cause is driving slowly in an upper gear. That puts a lot of load on the bearing.

  28. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran February 11, 2017 12:51 pm

    Shel posted: “I never shed a tear for either of my parents. If in fact if I feel myself getting emotional about something – like animals or the hardships of soldiers – and I need to cut it off because I’m in public for example, I can do it easily if I switch my thoughts to my parents.”

    My mom died when I was 2 1/2 and I remember it. We lived at my grandparent’s house at the time as my mom was sick from cancer. On the day that she died, I remember sitting at the top of the steps, overlooking the front room and living room and it was full of adults and everyone was crying. Mom was a beauty, both outside and within, and her death was tragic at 32 years of age. As a result, my dad, brother, sister and my lives changed and it wasn’t for the good for the most part. It wasn’t until I joined the USAF after graduating from HS, that I was able to get away from it all and lead my own life.

    With that said, when our dog, K-ci, died in 2013, it tore us all up. He was such a good boy and we mourn his passing more so than most of the people in my family. K-ci loved us unconditionally.

  29. Shel
    Shel February 11, 2017 1:50 pm

    There is one dog whose death shredded me in ways I never could have imagined; despite the passage of many years, it does it still. I have posted these links before, but I’m so impressed by them I believe they’re worth posting again.

    Louis Awerbuck had an intense affection of his own:

    And Kipling understood it all so perfectly:

    If it works out with a Toyota from FishOrMan, which wonderfully for all it seems like it may, then Old Blue, being a Toyota, may be worth keeping for spare parts such as the drive train and electrics. If that turns out to be the case, “Old Blue on Blocks” has its own poetic alliteration and its implementation would add ambience.

  30. Jim B.
    Jim B. February 11, 2017 2:27 pm

    I just remembered. You can get Japanese engines from Japan. They have a much stricter engine requirements where people aren’t allow to let their engines get too old. They run those engine up to a certain runtime/mileage.

    You can find out more if you search these links. There are others, you just have to search for them.

    Also with some companies, they also have used transmissions as well.

  31. trying2b-amused
    trying2b-amused February 11, 2017 3:13 pm

    Claire: WRT Old Blue:
    — Automatic or manual transmission?
    — At non-highway speeds, is there now noise which wasn’t apparent before the highway speeds problem occurred?
    — Don’t “fix” the transmission until you have priced replacing it. I suspect that for not much more than $750 you could get a factory remanufactured unit installed.

    In the event that FishOrMan’s generous offer doesn’t work out, I’ll elaborate.

  32. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson February 12, 2017 6:02 am

    Six years ago my son called me at work to say the Subaru was “jumping”. Further questioning was futile, so I left work, met him along the side of the road, and tried the car for myself. It felt exactly how my son described it. I knew it was the tranny.

    The Sube was 10 years old, it had been in a couple of accidents, and rust was beginning to bubble the paint where there had been repairs. I figured it was time to let her go, so I did some checking around and found that a 10 year old Subaru Outback was still worth about $8,000, so even if I replaced it was a similar car, my out of pocket would be pretty pricey, and there was no guarantee the replacement vehicle wouldn’t need major repairs too. The repair shop said they could replace or rebuild the tranny for $4000. Taking it all together, I chose to do the repair.

    It’s six years later and the car is still running. Best $4000 I ever spent.

    My advice is to find out what else is wrong with Old Blue, total it all up, and compare the cost of repairing versus the cost of replacing. We all like newer cars (they sure smell better) but for dollars and cents, it usually pays to fix what you’ve got.

    Of course, a free car is a complete deal-changer. Hard to pass up on that one.

  33. Claire
    Claire February 12, 2017 6:41 am

    trying2b — Automatic transmission. And yes, there are now noises at non-highway speeds that weren’t there before and those non-highway noises are increasing (but are still less than the highway noises).

    I got Old Blue back from the mechanic yesterday and am planning to drive it occasionally to the post office or the grocery store, but no farther than that — except that I’ll probably take it to another mechanic for a second opinion.

    The first mechanic planned to get a transmission from a wrecking yard. I’d love to think I could get a factory remanufactured transmission installed for $750, but my impression is that it would be much more than that. Please do elaborate.

    I had a wonderful email exchange with FishOrMan yesterday. His offer is a real blessing. But at this point nobody can be sure it’ll really happen. Only that he and his family seem quite determined to make it possible. 🙂

  34. Ruth
    Ruth February 12, 2017 6:45 am

    Honda’s cost. But I’ll say that between me and my parents I only know of one Honda that wasn’t worth the money spent on it. And in that case I highly suspect that the former owner was in a fender bender he neglected to report (it would explain every single issue with the car). They cost, but they last. I live where the salt put on the roads does hell on cars. But my parents bought a ’91 Civic new, gave it to me when I graduated from college. I drove it till it was 16yrs old, when (due to my lack of upkeep) the timing belt went and did $1000 in parts worth of damage to the engine. Sold it to the brother of a friend, who did the repair work himself, and drove it for several more years after that. Not cheap, but they hold up big time. Since it sounds like you live where road salt might be less of an issue I’ll bet you could find a 10+yr old Honda that’s still running and worth a couple grand easy.

  35. Claire
    Claire February 12, 2017 6:46 am

    Jim B. — Thanks! Yes, I knew about Japanese engines and Japan’s crazy laws requiring replacement at low mileage. When my 1991 Toyota truck blew its engine (around 2006, 2007) a replacement, installed, would have cost around $2,000.

  36. Claire
    Claire February 12, 2017 6:52 am

    Ron Johnson — Ouch! But I can see why you made that decision and it sounds like a good one in your case.

    I can see the virtue of fixing up a good older car, even if in some cases the repairs outstrip the car’s value. In my case, I need also to balance the practical value of the car (that is, it’s value to my life) against the greater practical value of fixing the house foundation. I’ve been saving foundation money since last summer’s fundraiser but holding off on starting the work because I wasn’t sure how much all the medical nonsense was going to cost. Now it appears (oh, thank heaven) that the med expenses are over and I’m thinking about taking on the foundation again.

    If it comes down to it, I have to prioritize the foundation over any major car expenses. Yet another reason why FishOrMan’s offer was so amazing. But really, if it came down to it, I could walk and take local buses.

  37. Claire
    Claire February 12, 2017 6:56 am

    Desertrat — Technically Old Blue is a Geo Prizm LSi. But yes, that’s a Toyota Corolla.

    Thanks for the elaboration on the radiator business. As to driving slowly in an upper gear, this particular vehicle is an automatic, so the car itself decides that issue. The mechanic who diagnosed the problem thought that at some point in the past the transmission got insufficient lubrication.

    I prefer manual transmissions for sure.

  38. Claire
    Claire February 12, 2017 8:10 am

    Ruth — Absolutely agreed on Hondas. I had a Civic Hatchback once that was a dream. Never gave me an instant’s trouble. Of course, that was back in the day when I still bought new cars. Loved that Honda, but eventually traded it in when I needed a pickup truck and 4WD.

    When I started looking at cars again recently, Toyotas, Hondas, and Subarus were the only brands I thought about. I don’t doubt that there are other makes and models that are reliable, but with those three you can nearly always count on it.

  39. Comrade X
    Comrade X February 12, 2017 10:44 am

    I remember a time when driving across country in my $500 VW van that which kept me from being stranded was this simple book;

  40. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran February 12, 2017 10:50 am

    Comrade X, I still have that book packed away and used it to keep my VW Bug in the road when I was stationed in Germany and also to help a friend pull the engine and replace the cylinders in his VW bus. Useful and humorous book, brings back a lot of memories!

  41. Shel
    Shel February 12, 2017 11:38 am

    My favorite vehicle was a VW “Thing,” which I ultimately – sob – sold due to body rust. I took it across country & back. It caught fire (because I had failed to fix leaky fuel lines) outside a bar in Salem, Oregon. A Good Samaritan truck driver with a fire extinguisher stopped and prevented further damage. Then the bar gave me a free sandwich. During that same trip I drove it through a mountain pass while leaving westward out of Death Valley. I really, really didn’t want to come down.

  42. trying2b-amused
    trying2b-amused February 12, 2017 10:44 pm

    It looks like I was too optimistic on the transmission price. My guess was based on a quick search, which showed prices $600 – $800, but looking closer that was for used units. It might still be worth it to go with something like that rather than a junkyard, as most offer warranties and some are run tested.

    Definitely a good idea to get a second opinion. From your description of the diagnostic procedure, I think it’s possible that it might not be the transmission at all, but a drive shaft / CV joint problem, which I also think is more likely to happen suddenly than something in the transmission which would cause the “drive shaft wobbling”. With the car only up on jack stands, it could be difficult to see the difference between the CV joint and the shaft out of the transmission. I wouldn’t be too worried about driving it a little, as long as you keep the speed down and don’t go anywhere it would be dangerous to be stranded. I asked about auto / manual because at first I thought it might make some difference whether you would want to keep driving it but with some more thought and info I don’t think it matters much.

    WRT the oil leak: get a piece of cardboard and park the car on it, and after it’s been parked for awhile see where the oil stains, if any, are located. This can help figure out where the leak is. It might not be directly from the engine itself, so use a big enough piece(s) to cover the whole area from the firewall forward.

  43. Claire
    Claire February 13, 2017 3:57 am

    Thank you, trying2b. That gives me some new things to take a look at.

    I did do that oil test when I first got the car, but I should probably do it again. The loss of oil on last week’s trip was alarming and that would help me know whether the small leak is now a big leak or the car is actually burning oil.

    It would be nice if it were a CV-joint or drive shaft problem rather than the transmission itself. Much simpler! I’m not seeing any steering/pulling problems, though. Mostly noises (sometimes whining, sometimes grinding) on acceleration or deceleration. So probably not CV joint, but possibly drive shaft (according to my vast automotive knowledge gained in 15 minutes of looking stuff up after reading your thoughts).

    I’ll definitely take Old Blue in for a second opinion this week. Despite it leaking rainwater and being largely held together with Gorilla Tape, I’ve been quite impressed with that little car.

  44. rochesterveteran
    rochesterveteran February 13, 2017 6:19 am

    Shel wrote: “During that same trip I drove it through a mountain pass while leaving westward out of Death Valley. I really, really didn’t want to come down.”

    After I got out of the service in 1979, I drifted around out west until I was offered a security job at a Las Vegas casino. In August of that year, I took a day trip to Death Valley and wow, was it hot there, over 120 in the lowest part! I remember seeing heat waves coming off the alkaline flats that must have been 50 feet high! I drove out of the Valley through a 10,000 foot pass and my engine overheated part way up. Living in the desert, I always brought water with me and when the radiator cooled down, I just added some water to it and was able to drive out. For some reason, I was hankering for a chocolate milkshake and stopped at the first diner I came upon and got one! 🙂

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