A Reader Asks….

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A reader sent in the following questions (along with a generous donation – thank you!) which I decided to re-post here, along with my answers. I hope “the regulars” here will chime in, too:questions pic

* What cars/trucks would you recommend if I had $3-4k to drop on a used vehicle? Which would you recommend if I had $8-10k? I just want something reliable, decent mileage and something I could learn to work on myself.

In both cases, make/model (and year and so on) are much less important than the primary consideration when shopping for any used car: The condition of the specific used car you’re looking at.

An excellent car when it was new – in terms of its design, the quality of its assembly, materials used and so on – can become a terrible car after a few years of abuse/neglect. On the other hand, a car that was not a top pick, reliability/quality-wise, when new but which was meticulously maintained and treated gently by its previous owner could be a great bet – and a great deal, too.

This isn’t to say that make/model don’t matter – they do. Some makes (Toyotas, for example) have a generally better track record for being problem-free than other makes (Mitsubishi, for example). But the thing to bear in mind with used cars is that they are each – unlike new cars – individuals.

A given make/model new car is identical (beyond superficial things like color and trim and options) to however many others just like it rolled off the line. You don’t have to worry that this one may have a worn out transmission while that one is good to go. They’re new – and they’re fully factory warranted. With used cars, there is history – how the car was driven and serviced (or not). Which determines its condition. I always go by that as my starting point – and recommend you do, too.tiredcar

How to find a good used car – and more importantly, avoid a bad one? A careful, thorough inspection – and test drive – of the candidate by someone who knows cars and – ideally – is very familiar with that particular type of car is a very good way to reduce the chances of ending up with a lemon.

If you’re not qualified or feel uneasy, find a qualified person to do this inspection for you. A trusted mechanic is ideal – someone who has no interest in whether you buy the car or not. But who does have an interest in his reputation. Spending $75-$100 for an hour of a qualified technician’s time – to have him put the car on the rack, give it a close inspection, take it for a drive, etc. – is some of the best money you’ll ever spend. Always make an inspection by a third party of your choosing (assuming you don’t do it yourself) a precondition of any deal. If the seller balks, if he shows reluctance to let you (or your designated inspector) check the car out, it’s a clue. Thank him for for his time – and move on.

Specific makes/models I personally like (in general – bearing the above comments about condition in mind):

Lexus and Toyota models made from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s. The early Lexus models like the original LS and ES sedans and the RX crossover are legendary for being bulletproof. They were over-engineered specifically to make Mercedes’ stuff look bad in comparison (which it did). Some of these – the early 2000s stuff – is very affordable, well within both of your price ranges. The 1990s-era to current Corolla is another blue chip car; hard to go wrong with this one. The four-cylinder Nissan Frontier made from circa mid-late ’90s through 2004 is a personal favorite (I own two). The Toyota Tacoma is another truck with a good rep. Recent vintage Hyundais and Kias have proved to be great cars, in general.

Be leery of pre-Fiat buyout (“cab forward” era) Chryslers, VWs built before the about 2010 (with the exception of diesel Beetles and Jettas, which are excellent), Land Rovers, Jaguars and Mitsubishis.Crashing dollar Stay away from older Kias and Hyundais – stuff built before about model year 2005.

* Is the cheapest insurance available a liability-only policy? Approximately how much per month would that cost?

In general, yes. Because liability only means in the event of an accident that’s determined to be your fault, your insurance company will not pay anything to repair (or replace) your vehicle. You will have to pay for repairs (or a new vehicle) yourself, out of pocket. Also be aware that while damages to the other car (and injuries to people) will be covered – the coverage is not unlimited. If the damages exceed the maximums stated by the policy, you will be obligated to cover the difference. However, this would probably only be a concern in the event of a catastrophic accident involving a very high dollar vehicle (over $100k, the typical maximum of a liability only policy) and/or medical bills incurred as a result of serious personal injury.

For an older, paid-for vehicle with a low retail value, a liability-only policy can make good financial sense because most polices will “total” a car – declare it economically unfixable – if the estimated cost to repair it approaches or exceeds 50 percent of its retail value (in undamaged condition). In a modern car with air bags and plastic bumpers and crumple zones, it is very easy to incur several thousand dollars in physical damage to the car in a fairly minor accident. In general, if the car is not worth more than $8,000 or so, a liability-only policy is probably your best bet. Put the money you save in the bank for “just in case.”collectible car

Assuming you have an accident-free (and DWI/reckless driving free) DMV record, a liability-only policy should not cost you more than $400 or so per year; however, rates vary considerably by state – and your personal history will be a bug factor. You can obtain quotes from most insurers via the Internet, or just give them a call.

In some states, by the way, there is another option: An “uninsured motorist fee” that allows you to drive legally without any insurance coverage at all. However, the fee – which is paid to the state – is typically higher than you’d pay to get a decent liability-only policy, which will will at least take care of damages to the other guy’s car in the event you cause an accident.

* What would you recommend I do for driving practice in a largely urbanize area? I saw you mentioned Bondurant in a comment.Bondurant pic

The Bob Bondurant (and Skip Barber) schools teach both basic and advanced (high-performance) driving and car control techniques. I highly recommend either.They’re not inexpensive, but if they impart skills that help you avoid a major accident, the cost will have been well worth it.

You may also want to look into courses offered locally. These are often offered at local race tracks, an ideal location because it’s a controlled environment, there are no  worries about traffic, kids running into the road – or cops running radar.  When I lived in the DC area, such classes were held fairly regularly at Summit Point Raceway. A quick Google search for venues (and courses) in your area should get you started and headed in the right direction.

Hope this helps!

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. The problem with used cars these days is that everyone assumes they just need the “basics” until stuff just starts wearing out around the 100k mark (closer to 150k on 5-10 year old cars).

    50+% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck. They beat their cars into the ground while driving them non-stop to the moon and back. When a clover has to replace tires, brakes and other items around the 60-100k mark, sub-par Chinese replacement parts get used. They are installed incorrectly by half-retard grease monkeys earning $7/hr and are on the verge of breakdown at any moment. These parts usually are used to limp the vehicle back onto the road until the clover is ready to trade it in for a new car.

    When looking for a used car you aren’t looking for a clean used car. You are buying a good service history. Look at the receipts to see if quality OEM parts have been used. If a vehicle has a clean Autocheck history, (superior to carfax in every way) been dealer serviced religiously and has no accidents buy it IMMEDIATELY. Even if the price is over your budget it will pay off in the end. Screw the mileage, color, options ect.

    • Good points, Pedro.

      Especially as regards the financial constraints most people face when it comes to maintaining their vehicle.

      The only portion of your statement I’d qualify is the one about dealer service. By no means is that a sure bet (or even a good bet) that the car has been well-maintained. Some dealers are egregiously corrupt – and incompetent, to boot.

      Recently, we had a guy post here about what happened to his late-model Mercedes after he left the Mercedes dealership following routine service. The dipstick who worked on the car left the wheel lug nuts loose – and a wheel came off the car at speed.

      I personally witnessed a dealer charge a customer full price for brand-new replacement body panels following an accident – and these turned out to be junkyard parts that were body-filled, sanded and re-sprayed to match.

      This is why it is so important to inspect the car closely – yourself, if you’re able to, or someone else, if you’re not.

  2. The letter asks “learn to work on?” so I assume his skill set and tools are minimal. If it is a single purchase I would stay with the higher dollar/ newer/ lower mileage car. The older they get the more “TLC” they require in parts , troubleshooting and maintenance that newer ones don’t.

    That said, if you can afford the down time (wheels off to get to bearings , brakes R&R radiator etc.), tools, books and learning curve then get the cheaper one. Preferably from the little old lady who only drove it to church and the kids house on Sundays and took good care of it. 🙂

  3. When I was young and hard pressed for cash I bought old pickup trucks. The trick was to get something that wasn’t quite a collector, yet. There was a point where a vehicle depreciated as much as it ever would. Then, because of age and rarity they would reverse course and begin to appreciate.

    I could drive the vehicle put some miles on it and actually sell it for a profit.

    Truck buyers aren’t as picky about paint and what not and old trucks are easy to work on. No complicated electronics.

    Stick to manual transmissions because automatics can be expensive.

    Stay pre pollution.

    Small block Chevy parts are by far the cheapest and most plentiful. Lots of after market stuff for them.

    You might be surprsed that, depending on model and year, every single part for an old truck is available through aftermarket mfgs.

    The same can be done with cars but more knowledge of the market is needed.

    Hemmings.com is a good place to follow old vehicle trends and prices.

    • Ooo, I liked that comment, Clik.

      Trucks are tools, more-so than cars or bikes. Motorized wheel barrows!

      Heh, Clik, it’s market timing. From what I can tell, it’s a heck of a lot easier with trucks than it is with stocks and what-not.

      Anyway, I’m glad I’ve never seen a pink truck. (Not that I don’t like pink, or, PINK, or “pink”.)

      And, mang, I wished I had a barn so I could buy mikeLL’s truck. I think he’s going to let it get away from him.

      I posted a link on EPA from YotaTech once about a guy who had Never worked on a car before and he did the timing chain change bit. He said he’d probably Never do it again, but I imagine it did worlds of wonder to his self-confidence and such that it was worth the bloody knuckles.

      I’d post the link, but I feel lazy.And, what’s the point, mikeLL seems to have made up his mind already. It seems he’s going to make someone else very very happy.

      • Indeed.

        The truck sounds good overall – and probably just needs a weekend of wrench turning to get it right again.

        A friend of mine once scored a bike for a couple hundred bucks that was worth about $3,000. The bike (a used Honda Goldwing) looked great, the engine was tight… but the carbs were completely out of synch and it wouldn’t do much more than hold an erratic idle. The owner – who did not understand machinery and wasn’t interested in understanding it – was so frustrated with the bike he just wanted it gone.

        I kind of felt bad for the guy – but there was no trickery involved in my friend’s acquisition. The former owner was just sick of the bike and didn’t care anymore.

        I wish that would happen to me sometime!

    • Right you are, Clik!

      Even recent vintage trucks hold their value startlingly well – especially if they are compact and 4WD (which you can’t find anymore new).

      I’ve mentioned this before, but the Nissan Frontier regular cab 4WD/5-speed I bought ten years ago for about $7,200 is still worth about $4,000 today.

  4. Eric – I’m in the process of looking for a replacement for the lemon Civic. But at a higher price point than the OP was looking for ($12k-16k)

    Last weekend I took a look at 3 different Toyota 4Runners. One was very clean, but had a broken 4WD system and non-OEM brake discs. Plus mismatched tires (not a good idea on a full-time 4WD/AWD system).

    On the 2nd one, everything worked, and it looked & drive great. The problem was underneath – it was originally a Michigan/Wisconsin truck, and it had moderate rust on everything. Given that rust never sleeps (according to Neil Young), it was only a matter of time until the frame rotted out. Pass.

    Last one was cheap … for a reason. 201k miles, spare tire had a 4″x6″ hole blown in the sidewall, it had been in a front-end accident (hood didn’t close all the way), and the engine that had a knock that got louder as it warmed up.

    So it’s worth looking carefully at a potential purpose. But even so it’s possible to miss something.

    Chip H.

  5. I strongly recommend buying comprehensive coverage to go with liability. The extra cost isn’t normally that much. Comprehensive is what covers fire, theft, flood, animal damage (hit a deer), windshield damage from road debris, and the like. Most carriers will even let you get it with no deductable, though $50 is pretty standard.

    If the damage wasn’t your fault, why pay to fix it or replace the vehicle out of pocket? Carry comprehensive.

    Collision insurance is a different story. This is what pays to fix your own car if the damage is your fault. That coverage can get expensive. On an older car it often isn’t worth it. Not having collision encourages more responsible driving, too.

    Also get all the liability insurance you can afford. Bumping to $100,000 single/$300,000 multi coverage usually doesn’t cost much more than the state liability minimum. You get found at fault after damage to a new Porsche or big rig, you’ll understand why more coverage is better… Easy these days. Today even decidedly “modest” new rides cost well over $25,000 or whatever your state’s single-vehicle minimum liability requirement is.

    • I second the recommendation of comprehensive — I hit a moose in my 2007 Yaris, and it was covered under the “comprehensive” section of my policy, which paid me $9200. And I think I pay $26/year for the coverage.

          • Dang, no shit! I just looked at mine and it’s $17.90 (2010 Yaris) for six months! My bad Darien! I think I got my collision and comprehensive flip flopped.

            • Ditto that.

              I’ve not had a wreck (I prefer that term to “accident”) in decades – and that one caused no harm to anyone else’s property (or their person). I think, for myself, that it is a prudent/reasonable risk to go without insurance – but I am denied that choice because of Clovers whose “concern” trumps my rights (and yours, too).

          • Just to clarify my own position (not that I suspect anybody thinks otherwise, but still, for the sake of form): I am of course 100% opposed to compulsory “insurance.” In the specific case of “comprehensive” coverage, this is a relatively inexpensive policy that covers things that are generally considered “out of the driver’s control,” and, as such, is pretty much what insurance would be like absent government mandates. Not perfectly so, but not too bad. I have no philosophical objections to it.

            In terms of practical objections, I also have none. Don’t get it if your car is worth like $500, of course; insuring that is a bit silly, yes? But if you have a reasonably new car with a significant “book value,” then I do recommend it.

            As Eric implies, of course, do your own research and evaluate your own circumstances. Think for yourself, as it were. Take my recommendation as exactly that — a recommendation from an equal, not a mandate from an authority. 😀

          • Mandatory insurance is part of enslavement. Property taxes and no interest on savings. Make up the other two major points. Being unable to make a steady nearly risk free return on savings plus the burn rate of mandatory insurance, namely so-called “health insurance” but auto as well, makes it practically impossible even for most disciplined saver to get off the corporate employment treadmill.

            It seems that clovers want to be slaves and want everyone around them to be slaves too.

  6. The pre-purchase mechanic’s inspection makes a lot of sense.

    But from a seller’s perspective, I would feel very uncomfortable seeing someone drive off with my vehicle for a “mechanic’s inspection” that could take several hours. A brief test drive by the buyer is no problem, because I could always ride along.

    What is the best way for a seller to allow such an inspection while having some kind of assurance that after an extended absence, the car really is going to come back?

    • When I sold my old Scrambler, a prospective buyer left the keys and title to his RAV4 while getting it inspected. Seemed good enough for me, and he did return with my Scrambler.

      • Yup – a deposit works, too.

        If both buyer and seller are serious and not just kicking tires, this shouldn’t be a problem for either.

    • MikePizzo asked, “What is the best way for a seller to allow such an inspection while having some kind of assurance that after an extended absence, the car really is going to come back?”

      Imho, “The best way” is to go with them.

    • Hi Mike,

      When I’ve sold vehicles, I’ve only allowed test drives if the person seems legitimate and serious about buying; not just a tire kicker (or worse). A lot of this is done by gut. But you can ask them to provide a driver’s license and proof of insurance – and a cash deposit. You can also insist on coming along, both for the drive and the inspection. These are not unreasonable conditions for you to insist on and a prospective buyer who is reasonable, serious – and not up to something – ought not to object or have a problem with any of it.

      I do have a different approach with bikes: The test ride only happens if the would-be buyer leaves me with the entirety of the asking price in cash as security deposit – refundable if the bike is returned undamaged and he does not wish to buy it.

    • “What is the best way for a seller to allow such an inspection while having some kind of assurance that after an extended absence, the car really is going to come back?”

      I have always insisted upon copying their Driver’s License (using a standard home Printer/Fax/Copier) and then snap their picture on my phone or digital camera.

      When the car comes back I give them the copy of their DL and delete the picture – haven’t had a problem in 12 years of flipping cars.

      Oh yeah and a well placed joke about having to hunt them down and kill them generally grabs their attention….in a “nice” way of course!

  7. I have always had good luck with Subarus, which I’ve driven exclusively since 2001. My 2003 Outback Limited has 130K+ on it and still runs great. It’s a perfect snow day car with its heated seats, mirrors and wipers, and it has dual moon roofs for those sunny days. They’re hella popular in snowy and hilly Western PA, too. I still see a lot of cars like mine on the road.

    I spent $2000 last year on a huge service that involved replacing every single fluid and filter, replacing the timing belt, timing idlers and water pump, spark plugs and valve cover gaskets. It’s a lot cheaper than a car payment, that’s for sure!

    My wife’s ’03 Beetle has one of those “zero maintenance” automatic transmissions…I went nuts looking for the dipstick until I Googled for instructions and found that out.

  8. As well as Land Rover and Jaguar, stay away from most European luxury brands. BMW in particular uses a lot of plastic that does a poor job of withstanding heat and many have a “zero maintenance” automatic transmission (i.e. never change the fluid) – not something that seems destined to be around for a long time. In addition you will be paying a premium for parts, and may have to wait for the parts to arrive.

    On the other hand any mass produced popular Japanese car or truck (Nissan, Toyota, Honda) typically have low cost new parts and have parts readily available at your local junk yard. Quality is typically above average and maintenance is easy, even for a novice – there are tons of on-line forums and videos, downloadable (and often free) factory service manuals, as well as Chiltons-style manuals available at your local parts store. Very few special tools are needed either – most tools you’ll need can be had at Harbor Freight or using a parts store’s “Free Tool Loan” facility (i.e. pay for the tool and get your money back when you return it).

  9. Pan and Eric,
    I should have added another detail: the tranny, a 5 spd, needs an overhaul as well. I got an estimate starting at $1100 from a different mechanic who said that rebuilt trannies can be dubious and a new one starts at $2000 and takes weeks to disassemble, source new parts, and install. For the time being the truck is drivable with a stiff third gear, and I’ve been living with it for a while, but add this to the head gasket issues and you can see why I’m not too keen on putting any more cash into this ride. My mechanic, whom I trust for many reasons, knew about the tranny which is why he suggested the stop leak solution for the head gasket despite the possible downsides of gummy up the truck’s guts. It’s done, he figured.

    And this is the thing about old cars. You think you get a deal up front but over time the costs start to pile up and you’ll be forced back to the market, looking for a new used car. It sucks.

    • Mike – As Panarchist said, if you’ve got the time, do the head work yourself. If it’s just the head gasket, the price quoted was mostly labor. Even if it’s a cracked head, find a wrecked truck in a junk yard with the same engine and with as few as miles as you can.

      For the transmission, check and change the fluid and drive it until it’s nearly undriveable – broke is broke. Then look for a used one. I’ve put 10 years on a differential I was told could fail at any time. And when it finally did fail, it was completely my fault (busted it changing out the springs).

    • mikeLL, I’m guessing you meant that it takes weeks to “disassemble, source new parts, and install” when you rebuild the tranny? And – not – when you replace it with a new or different one.

      I know guys who swap those out in an afternoon, just for the fun of it.

      But yeah, you got hosed.

      And, as an old farmer once told me, “chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.”

      Next time, take it to a mechanic before you buy. There are a lot of great deals out there, especially from old people who baby their cars.

      The sad thing is, if you junked it, someone is likely going to strip it for parts (sending 1/2 to Africa and the other 1/2 to a 4X4 parts company in Oregon) and make a good chunk of change doing so.

      Myself, I like those trucks a lot. If the frame is good and the rust is minimal, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to install a new motor and a new tranny (or even better, rebuild them with performance parts) and get another 300,000 miles out of it. Provided of course you change the timing chain every 100,000 miles or so. Cheaper than buying a new car, and probably better than a new car, too.Mostly because, unlike with a new car, you wouldn’t cry if it got keyed up or scratched some how, and the bastard car thieves would likely pass it by.

      • Hi Panarch,

        Yup – swapping in a new transmission is pretty easy, especially in a RWD car or 2WD truck. Drop the driveshaft, support the transmission with a floor jack and some boards, remove the bellhousing to transmission bolts, torque converter to flywheel bolts (and shifter linkage, cables, etc.) Ease it back gently, then down and out. Don’t let the converter flop out! Reverse to reinstall.

        Couple hours, maybe, if you’re not in a big rush.

        What Mike needs is a friend to be there/walk him through it. I posted earlier that most of this stuff is not as hard as it looks – and that people are generally surprised (in a good way) at just how much they can do for themselves… if they give it a try….

    • Haha, Michael and Pan,
      If you had seen the disaster I made of dinner last night with only 4 steps in the recipe, you’d understand why anything like a head gasket job is just way way out of my league! I would lose my mind trying to trouble-shoot my work. Forget it.

      • Hi Mike,

        You might be surprised by how much you’re capable of, provided you give yourself enough time.

        Get a shop manual, get the tools you’ll need. Then start, one step at a time. If you get hung up, stop – have a beer/cup of coffee. Think about it some. Ask someone. Think some more, then try again. Don’t force anything. Don’t get mad.

        If you don’t put a “must have it back together by” date on the project – and have a garage or carport where you can work (and where the vehicle can stay while you work) – you’ll get it done… eventually.

        It’s not rocket science. It just takes the ability to follow directions (and get help when you’re stumped by directions), the right tools… and determination!

  10. I haven’t been to YodaTech in awhile, whoa, they got a cool assed video on their webpage – it seems slightly anti-war – even… (eric you might like the music?). Minus the one photo with the geoengineered skies, after watching that, I feel a bit… uplifted.

  11. Also, mikeLL. I should have mentioned this, if you do decide to fix it, yotatech.com is, Da Bomb.

    I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t fix it.


  12. Twenty months ago I bought a 1994 Toyota regular cab pickup with 179K miles. I paid $2600 for it which included all the spare parts that the owner had accumulated. The owner was very knowledgable about vehicles, which led me to believe that he had taken good care of it. He pointed out many repairs he had recently made to keep the truck running in good condition. The bed/box was a bit rough but the front end had been partially restored and repainted. The interior was impeccable for a vehicle with such high miles on it. I fell for it nearly immediately. Big mistake.

    Now, less than 5,000 miles after purchase, the truck is starting to run hot. My mechanic ran a dye test in the radiator to test for oil mixing with antifreeze. It flunked the dye test. This result means that it either has a blown head gasket or, worse, a cracked cylinder head. If it’s the HG then the low end price to repair is at least $1500 and probably more. If it’s the cylinder head, it’s even higher. It doesn’t matter; even the low end is too much for me.

    The mechanic recommended using a gasket sealer off the shelf to try to plug the gasket. You never know, he said, it might work. So far it’s not looking good. The truck still runs hot and I’m still poor so I’ll probably lose the vehicle pretty soon. Although this is not a daily driver, it is my work truck for around the property and for running errands in the countryside. The is a major loss for me.

    I did not have a mechanic check out this vehicle prior to purchase. If I had, would a mechanic have done the dye test? Maybe he would have, but who knows if the gasket was even an issue at the time of purchase? The truck ran fine up until last month. When he did some work on it about 10 months ago the mechanic was impressed by its condition so maybe he would have been fooled as well.

    I probably would not buy such a high miles vehicle again unless it was dirt cheap. I was fooled by the cosmetic condition of the truck. Hopefully I won’t make this mistake again. Buyer beware.

    • mikeLL asked, “would a mechanic have done the dye test?”

      Maybe so, but imho that would have been a bit of a waste. He likely would just lift up the valve cover and see what kind of condition the timing chain & cover were in. From what I can tell, it’s about the most common problem on those types of trucks. Then maybe said mechanic – might – do a compression test.
      Just because it failed a dye test does Not mean it’s the head gasket or a cracked cylinder head. [A cracked cylinder head seems very very unlikely, imho. But I’m just some guy who only knows ‘some’ things, but it’s possible.]

      At 100.00 miles, and again at around 200,000 miles, from what I know, a timing chain replacement is a given, maybe a head gasket too. Some guys go all out and clean up the fuel injectors while they are at it.

      It’s likely not worth your m-o-n-e-y to pay someone else to do it? I guess it depends upon how much they charge. [Some guys are out there hoping you’ll sell it, ‘as is’. They can’t wait to get their hands on it, esp if it has a pristine interior.] The thing you have to consider is, how much does it costs to get something to replace it with?
      Rebuild it and you know what condition it is in. With something you buy next,…?

      If you have a garage that you can park it in for awhile, a floor lift jack, a BFH (Big Fuckin’ Hammer) and a bit of elbow grease to spare, it’s not that too terrible of a job to do. …Or, it might be the most challenging thing you’ve ever done? There’s lots of detailed instructions of doing the job online. It might cost you $400 if you’ve got wrenches and a floor jack already.

      {Some guy on Craigslist might do it for $400, too?]

      Myself, at $2600, even if I paid someone else to do it for two grand, I’d probably do it because you’d likely be good for another 100,000 miles.

      Yeah, I’d feel like ‘sucker’ was plastered on my forehead, too. He probably knew the timing chain was going bad. But don’t feel bad, it happens. The important thing is, Live and Learn.

      At the very least, I’d say get a new mechanic.

      It’s quite possible you could sell it for $1500, so you won’t come out that far behind. Worst case, sell it for $1000.

      Anyway, as far as Mr. ‘A Reader Asks’ in the main article goes, I’d say get a five hundred Dollar beater and learn with that. Get a bomber of a vehicle like a huge assed Buick or something as eric has written about previously. Or maybe a Chevy or Ford truck with a V-8 with the horsepower to make up for your errors if you don’t take that defensive driving class he recommends. [Spend the rest on some gold or silver?]

      I’ve read that it’s a good idea to get a vehicle that is plentiful in the junk yards near you so you can get parts. But from what I’ve seen lately, all the junk yards are turning their inventory over pretty quick like. So it seems to me that’s not really a gauge to go by. Of course, YMMV.

      I’m in a bit of pain right now, i hope that made sense. It was kind of fun thinking about it all, though. I guess I owe you all.?

    • Hi Mike,

      Very sorry to hear about this.

      I assume the truck has the V-6?

      A head gasket issue is fairly easily diagnosed by a compression test, checking for bubbles (and oil) in the coolant. Pulling – and examining – the spark plugs.

      Vacuum tests can tell you a lot about the basic soundness of an engine, too.

      Your mechanic was probably advising a radiator/cooling system sealer. I’m very leery about this stuff as it is designed to clog things up (to stop leaks) and that’s – in my opinion – probably not a good idea.

      • If you 94 Yota is a V-6 I can almost promise the head gasket is blown and probably the head is cracked as well.

        these were toyota;s first V-6 engine ever, and they had a design flaw that caused the drivers side head gasket to blow almost always between the 2nd and 3rd cylinder ,
        look close you;ll see the exhaust pipe from the pass enger side comes around the back of the engine, joins the manifold on the drivers side at the very back, then the exhaust pipe running to the rear of the car, exits from the center of the manifold,

        this causes the rear cylinder to overheat & blow the gasket and 9 times out of 10 crack the aluminum head.

        if it needs a new engine AND a new trans, Id just sell it for whatever you can get

        unless you can find someone that will swap in the 96 & newer 3.4 V-6, they are bulletproof & last forever.

        the 4 cylinder Toyota engine in the 95 & older models is a great engine.
        but the 88-95 V-6 is a lemon.

        • Yep, I’ve heard the exact same thing when I was researching for my 4Runner. I ended up getting the last year of the square-ish body style (2002). I’ve got around 130k on the clock and it’s still solid. I did a full tune-up and timing belt a while back. Wasn’t too bad!

          • I’ll second Justin’s motion on fixing it if it’s a four-banger; those were great engines. I’ve has several friends that had them over the years and generally those engines were bullet proof. I had a ’69 Corolla wagon when I was a teenager. It was my first car and boy was it a beater! My dad gave it to me after he’d worn it out. It blew the head gasket on my way home one night. The next day, I had my mother take me to the parts store and drop me off on the side of the road with parts and tools. A few hours later I’d changed the head gasket and was on my way. Heck, they’d probably arrest you for doing that these days.

            OTH, I had an ’87 Toyota 4X4 pickup (the little one) with a 3.0 V6. It was the first year they came out with the V6 and it ran great, until… At about 120K miles (shortly after I made the last payment) it started emitting a lot of steam from the exhaust; the head gasket had failed as described above. You had to have a special tool to hold the timing belt sprockets when removing the cams. The Toyota dealer told me they couldn’t order that tool, even though it was Toyota part number. What they really meant was they wanted me to bring it in so they could charge me an ungodly sum of money to do the work. So I made the tool and did the job. In a word, it was a bitch; I found out why they wanted $1500 to do it at the dealer. I got the truck running and immediately sold it.

          • You’ve got to have the tool to hold the timing belt sprockets when removing the cams on the 4cyl. as well. It’s relatively cheap, though.

            And, yeah, they’d probably arrest you for doing that these days, Boothe.



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