2001 Chevy Prizm: Repair or Replace?

As my 2001 Chevy Prizm and I prepare to enter our sixth year together, I’m forced to confront the fact that, to be honest, my car has a lot of problems that, added up, might cost more to fix than it’s worth.

1. Oil consumption, which for years hovered around 1 quart every other full tank of gas, has recently shot up to two quarts after every tank of gas. My mechanic said that it’s a sign that my car is getting old and tired. I’ve only got 124,000 miles-- is this normal?

2. My exhaust system needs to be replaced, and sooner rather than later.

3. My windshield has lately developed a large crack right down the center, and will need to be replaced.

I really like my car, but also have a daily commute and need something reliable. I’d appreciate any input on this matter.

That seem like awfully high oil consumption for that car for 124,000 miles, but if you drive all local it’d make sense. I’m going to assume that your mechanic knows the overall condition of the vehicle and is being honest, but you may want to ask about the PCV valve. It’s a cheap part that might help. Your oil usage is exttreme, so it’s worth trying.

As extreme as your oil usage is, you might even consider doing a “flush” of the oil system. There are additives at the parts store to do this. Just follow the directions on the bottle. If your rings are gummed up, a flush could make a big difference.

Sincere best.

#1 is most serious. First I would check/replace the PCV. Secondly, the mechanic should run a compression test to determine what condition the engine is in. Has he done that? He may be right, but we have no evidence of any testing at this point. A used engine might prolong the car’s life if it is in otherwise good shape.

#2 (price replacement at an independent muffler shop) and #3 (price at auto glass repair shop – do you have comprehensive insurance?) are not very expensive.

By comparison my 94 Prizm went to over 250K miles with proper maintenance. It is still on the road today, just not in my family anymore. Apparently you have had oil consumption problems for some time, based on your oil consumption comments. I don’t view that level of oil consumption at that mileage as normal.

Repairing machinery is almost always more cost effective than hauling away and replacing it.

'01 isn’t that old and 124k isn’t that many miles. Prizms are good cars (just corollas).

Find out why, exactly, your car is sucking down so much oil. The rest of that stuff can wait.

The Prizm is a very reliable car. Only item 1 might be related to reliability; the other 2 are wear and tear. If you get rid of the car as-is, you will end up paying for the exhaust and window repair in the form of a lower sales price. The same goes for the oil consumption. If you have the base model with 3 speed auto, cruise, power door locks, and upgraded radio/cd you car is worth about $2500 to another buyer if it is in clean condition. Find out what it will cost to fix the engine after the compression test and then decide. If it’s nearly $2500, get at least 2 more estimates.

Do you have Comprehensive auto insurance? Your glass may be replaced under your policy with no deductible. Check with your agent.

As an '01 Prizm owner myself, the oil problem is well known for that year. No recall, or any apparent remedy is available. Toyota won’t fix it,and Chevy denies any knowledge they ever made a Prizm. Only the laid-off alcoholics at NUMMI know and they ain’t talking. One repair shop told me my car’s engine was “tired”, and should be replaced soon.
Get the other items fixed as cheaply as possible, buy oil in bulk at Wal-Mart, and pray for a direct meteor hit.

The exhaust and windshield problems are not that serious. The issue is the engine oil consumption.

The engine should not be “tired” at 124k miles but you state this is your 6th year together so this means you bought it used. This in turn means that the previous owner could have neglected the car maintenance-wise; especially so if the car was originally a lease vehicle that someone had no intention of taking care of from the get-go.

Your mechanic should run a compression test on the engine and then make the determination whether to fix anything at all. The numbers you’re looking for are in the 180 and up PSI range. If they’re down in the 150s, etc. then the engine likely has ring problems and this means a new engine. A compression or leakdown test is not always 100% definitive but there is no other option short of actually tearing the engine apart.
Valve seals could also cause oil useage problems but there is no test for valve seals, unfortunately. Hope that helps.

Its a shame you cant remove the 1ZZ series all aluminum engine, and transplant it with a 4A-FE or 7A-FE series iron block engine that was in the previous generation.

I found this interesting post in regards to oil consumption on the 1ZZ engine http://www.toyotanation.com/forum/showthread.php?t=353286

It looks like a engine rebuild with new pistons will resolved the piston oil runways under the oil control rings from clogging up

I actually just performed an oil change on my gf’s daughter’s 98 Corolla, which has the same engine your Prism has in it.

What shocked me was that when I did the oil change, I only got about 1 and 1/3 quarts of oil out of the motor. I double checked everything I did to make sure there wasn’t more oil hidden somewhere, and then asked the daughter if she has had to add oil to the car. She had added a quart about 2 weeks prior to my oil change.

Next step was internet research.
That lead me to find out that these engines are “known” for burning oil at alarming rates, even early on in their lifespan. Some lucky people who were persistent with their dealers got their engines replaced under warranty. So I got the gf’s daughter to promise to check the oil level every week or two, and let me know how much oil she needs to add to it.

Third and final step was to perform a compression test on the car.
I decided to mark the cylinders 1,2,3,4, from the passenger’s side to the driver’s side, as that’s the way I look at the engine, while standing in front of it.

So my compression test gave me these numbers:
175, 155, 182, 176

Reran the test on the low cylinder, and it dropped down to 145.

Added oil to the cylinder, and it then jumped up to 235, and 230, on the next two tests.

Her can has 173k miles on it, and just came into her possession a couple of months ago.
I’m going to check the valve clearance the next time she comes back, which hopefully is in the next couple of weeks, and will try some decarboning chemicals, too. Maybe we will get lucky. If not, then we’ll figure something else out.

But, if someone had asked me if Corolla’s and Prisms had a history of burning oil before Saturday, I would have said no, and thought you were a crazy person.


After it stalled out in the drive way and wouldn’t start for two days, I got “Ned” to begrudgingly fire up one last time, drove it twenty miles to a used lot where I got $500 for a trade in on an older Honda Accord. Prizms USED to be good cars. Not from '99 to '02 though.