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A Musician is Stuck!

I suppose at the beginning, you’ll say you wish YOU had this problem. But WAIT, there’s more:

I have a 2001 Saturn SW2, LOADED (i.e. it has nearly every option Saturm made for that model except auto transmission, and I MUCH prefer a 5-speed stick!) It has about 128,000 miles and it still runs like a top, mostly, but it’s using oil at the rate of about 1-1/2 qts per oil change, every 3000 miles. On a recent long-distance trip, I measured the gas mileage at over 40 MPG, and I routinely get better than 30 MPG overall! There are lots of minor problems, like a loose headliner, and a broken armrest cover over the console between the front seats. Mostly, I can live with these problems, but they are an inconvenience, and I can’t get parts to fix this kind of stuff: Saturn no longer makes them, and their aftermarket parts guys don’t either.

Now for the real problem (s)

I NEED a car JUST like this. You see, I play bass viol in a symphony orchestra. It’s sorta like a 6 ft 8 inch tall violin, and I need a car that is big enough to get the thing in and out easily, yet still gives me great mileage. Several years ago, when I was shopping for that Saturn, all the salesmen said that with the rear seats folded down, there’s PLENTY of room for the bass in a sedan or coupe. This is true, but the problem isn’t the number of cubic inches so much as access for the instrument. It’s worth MUCH more that the cost of a new car, and it’s DELICATE. Access to cargo space thru the trunk door just isn’t big enough, and horsing it into place thru a door too small

to fit could easily damage the instrument, because among other things, the bridge (the part of the instrument that holds the strings up) is held in place by friction. If I hit it wrong, it costs a couple hundred bucks to put it back and I’d be out of work for the time it takes to make the repair. Of course, something like that would only happen when I’m on my way to the concert hall!

Fixing the engine will cost a little less than $3,000. A USED engine with 60,000 to 80,000 miles on it would cost over $2,000. In trade, the car is worth maybe $1,200 to 1,500.

I haven’t been able to find a car that will get me over 30 MPG overall and is big enough to handle my beloved bass. The best I can do is either a Chevy HHR, a Saturn Astra, or a Hyundai Elantra Touring. They get pretty good gas mileage compared to, say, a GMC Suburban, but NOTHING like my old, beloved Saturn.

DO you think it’s worth it to spend up to $3,000 to fix a car worth much less than half of that, and for which I can’t get repair parts any more? Is there another new car out there that will meet my needs?


Is that a 3/4 bass viol? Could you go down (up?) to a 1/2 viol? What the heck is a 4/4 viol?
Oil usage of 1 1/2 quarts per 3,000 miles isn’t considered excessive.
The engine needs needs checks for a better determination of where the oil may be going. I don’t think that has been done, yet.
A proper compression check will check the piston rings. Not every (:many?) mechanics can do it properly.
A proper check with a vacuum test gauge will reveal useful information, also.
It’s possible that valve stem seals are leaking. Valve stem seals can be replaced for a couple hundred $$.
Examine the spark plugs. They have a tale to tell about what has been going on in the combustion chamber for the past ex years.
This is minor problem. Drive on.

You need something atleast 7 feet long inside to hold the violin. There isn’t many cars today that have that much room and get good fuel mileage.
While you’re out car shopping, take your violin with you to determine if it’ll fit or not.
Though, the cheapest solution would be to keep the car and fix it. Check a salvage yard to find the parts to fix your interior. Can you find a good running car for $3000 that you know will fit your violin in?

String bass players and harpists are confined to station wagons. In the chamber orchestra that I manage and play in the horn section, I have to bring the string bass players. I have a minivan, but the mileage won’t be the same as your Saturn. I’m surprised that the Chevrolet HHR wouldn’t obtain as good or better than the mileage on your Saturn. It seems to me that the rating system was changed so that the sticker more actually reflects the actual gasoline mileage since your Saturn was built.

If your engine is only using 1 1/2 quarts between oil changes and otherwise runs well, I don’t think that this is a major engine problem. A used engine may consume just as much oil. Just be sure to check the oil regulary. I would make sure that the car is safe to drive so that you don’t have an accident and damage the string bass and see if you can squeeze another couple years from the car. I’ve purchased plastic screws at auto parts stores that hold the headliner up. The cost is under $10 and solved the problem.

I used to drive to gigs to play horn in my 15 year old 1947 Pontiac. It consumed about a quart every 150-200 miles. My pay for the performance barely covered my expenses for the motor oil.

Nope. Your Saturn has served you well. Time to move forward.

Have you looked at things like the Cube and the Scion?

How about a 2006 Focus wagon?

My 80 year old dad fits his 1955 Epiphone doghouse bass in his 07 Focus zx4 ( 4 door hatchback ). He’ll tote it from Texas to Ohio again this year for a reunion of his little jazz band he played in back in the 50s 60s & 70s.
With the seats folded down, neck toward the front, body toward the rear, he gets his personal gear in there too with acceptable effort. Remember he’s 80 and this setup doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

I could not see spending 3 grand on the engine at all.
A quart and a half of oil per 3k miles is not good, but it’s also not anywhere near being atrociously bad.

My recommendation is step up the weight of the oil being used to something heavier, check the oil level every other tank of gas and top off as necessary, and drive the car until it dies.
The car could easily go another 100k miles like this with no increase in oil consumption and even an additive such as CD2 or Rislone could possibly help.

Or take up another instrument such as the harp.(not the stringed version) Chunk it in the glove box when done.

 Thanks for the suggestions about the compression and vacuum checks.  Actually, I've had those done, at the dealership.  I assume they are pretty good at things like that, and they're the ones who gave me the estimates on engine repair or replacement.
 My ax is a 3/4 size, pretty much the standard.  I have an extension on the E string that makes it possible to play down to a B natural, which 
 a.  Makes it possible to play the notes I need during, say, a Rachmininov concerto, and
 b.  Makes the instrument longer.

Your recopmmendation is to keep driving and check the oik at every other gas fill up? Not too bad an idea. However, getting other parts is a problem. What if I all of a sudden need a tale-light lens? Used parts from a junkyard? Maybe, but a difficult proposition.
Thanks, anyway, though.

I always bring my instrument when I go car shopping! Otherwise, it would be a waste of time. I agree that the least expensive solution in the short run would be to fix the car and keep it. However, what happens the next time something goes bad, and maybe I can’t find parts? Of course a junkyard is always an option, but a difficult one. Thanks, for your well-thought out response, though.

That’s good you bring it with you, not everyone does, and they wind up getting something too small.
If you have to get a replacement, look at a Pontiac Vibe. The front passenger seat folds down, so you get a good deal of flat space inside.

Don’t waste $3000 on this car.

All Saturns I know of taken care or not taken care of have owners with a case of oil the back seat. Some brand new $70k cars consume 1.5 quarts per 3000 miles and the car makers consider that normal. Don’t even think that this minor oil consumption is anything worth dealing with except topping with engine oil every few fuel fillups.

I would suggest trying to find a used recent Ford Focus Wagon for test drive, they are really decent cars if you want something newer.

Fixing it would be best if you could get it done. Sometimes the quality of the work isn’t good enough.

On the bright side, thicker oil will slow down the leaks or the oil burning. After all, when a car gets old, it’s yours to mess with in any way you want to do it. So try the 15W40 truck oil like Shell makes. Any automotive upholsterer will fix the interior problems. They can deal with the headliner.

Quit the bass and play a Game Boy, it plays the music for you. I was going to suggest learning the piano, playing the symphonies for the left hand (or whatever it’s called) and gesturing at me with the right. Then I cleverly remembered that the piano is rather large also.

It’s good that I thought it through before writing anything dumb.