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Bad Car Juju - should I stay or should I go, says my Mazda tribute

After my 2002 Land Rover Freelander crapped the bed last summer, I sadly made another bad car decision and purchased a 2003 Mazda Tribute. At the time it seemed like the perfect vehicle for newly weds with two dogs and hopes of a baby… Within four months, the transmission went. Thankfully we had an extended warranty, so we had a new one installed. Not long after that, it started driving a little rough and the check engine light came on. My husband replaced four of six cylinders and all the spark plugs. It drove great for a day… But the light popped back on and it began driving super sluggish. It was the catalytic converter/exhaust manifold. When my mechanic told me the job would run over $1000, we researched after market parts in hopes of doing the work ourselves, but every mechanic we know said that wasn’t the best idea. With my track record of poor choices, I’m willing to agree.

The question now is should we go ahead and have a mechanic fix the darn thing - especially since we’ve put a decent amount of money and work into it already - or do we get out now before we have to remortgage the house? Sadly, our credit is somewhat in disrepute, so a brand new car is out of the question. The dealer where we bought the car is willing to work with us to either repair it, or get us into something else. It’s got just over 130,000 miles, new windshield, good tires, and all the new work I described above. Any sound advice? Many thanks.

You say . “My husband replaced four of six cylinders and all the spark plugs. It drove great for a day.” Just how did he “replace 4 cylinders”?.. I am afraid you are sitting ducks when it comes to getting your cars fixed. You do know that thing is built by Ford, don’t you?

Sorry, EllyEllis… My car talk is rudimentary! By cylinder I meant coil packs. There are six of them; the check engine codes came back indicating they were the problem. So we replaced them. He went ahead and did the spark plugs while he was in there. A couple weeks later my newborn and I were cruising along the highway when a hideous hissing sound and smell filled the cabin while the speedometer dropped like a brick. Exhaust manifold. Expensive and quirky. Great.

Built by ford… Yup. I thought that was at least a better decision than my previous choice of a land rover… Clearly not.

The first step in checking out a car before the purchase is to make sure the engine is good and the transmission also. A thorough inspection does not guarantee you a problem free ride but it can increase the odds into your favor quite a bit.

My feeling is that the Mazda is not necessarily a bad car as one that was neglected. The problems surface and the bills come due on any neglected vehicle at some point.

Neglected spark plugs can lead to failed coil packs which can lead to failed converters…
See where this is going?

There’s not enough info known to be able to tell you how to proceed on this but I will say that if the vehicle was running fine one minute and barely the next, that you should take a converter and/or exhaust manifold diagnosis leading to poor running with a grain of salt. A clogged converter can cause sluggish running but it is not something that crops up suddenly; it happens over an extended period of time.

A wild stab in the dark (assuming no codes are present) about the poor performance might be an intermittently failing fuel pump.

What is wrong with the exhaust manifold? I had a similar experience on a van in 2003. The dealer said the exhaust recirculation ports were clogged with carbon and cleaned them out. This happened twice more within about 8 months. After the 3rd time, they suggested replacing the exhaust manifold. I asked why that should work. If the ports ere clean, it shouldn’t matter if the manifold is new or old. It would still clog up. I was met with a blank stare. Clearly, they had no idea what was going on.

Did they explain why the new exhaust manifold would fix the problem? If not, you should get an explanation. If you are uncomfortable discussing it with the mechanic, maybe your husband should do it. It sounds like he has some experience repairing cars. If they can’t tell you why, maybe you need a second opinion.

Lastly, I wouldn’t say that Fords are lousy cars or trucks. More likely, the previous owner did not take car of it. Ge a prepurchase inspection before you buy your next vehicle. It could cost $100 or so, but it is money well spent.

I’d replace the 2 coils and plugs that were not yet done. The cat converter shouldn’t be too hard to fix, the Tribute is the same vehicle as the Ford Escape. Generally these are pretty good vehicles so I think you should go for the fix and keep driving.

“Lastly, I wouldn’t say that Fords are lousy cars or trucks. More likely, the previous owner did not take car of it. Ge a prepurchase inspection before you buy your next vehicle. It could cost $100 or so, but it is money well spent.”

The OP apparently went from a Land Rover, with all of its known issues, to another vehicle without doing sufficient due diligence (getting full maintenance records and having it inspected by a mechanic of his/her own choosing) prior to purchase of that vehicle.

More than likely, the OP just wound up buying a poorly-maintained vehicle, and is now suffering the effects of lack of due diligence on a poorly-maintained vehicle.

Thanks for the comments folks! VDCdriver: I brought this vehicle to my own mechanic before purchasing it and got a thumbs up. Believe me, I learned my lesson after my land rover (which I had for over 6 years I might add) needed a new engine. I spent plenty of time researching the Tribute. In fact, the Tribute’s owner reviews were what encouraged us to seek this vehicle out.

So actually I’m comfortable saying I did due diligence in respect to this vehicle. I imagine that not all cars reveal their entire future during a pre purchase inspection. Perhaps I should acquire a crystal ball before my next purchase.

@Heather_C, most people don’t know, as you do, that a prepurchase inspection is important. Maybe it’s just that the truck has 130,000 miles on it. At that mileage, these repairs are really just maintenance. And you can expect more maintenance expenses as the suspension and brakes wear out. If you want to avoid high maintenance expenses, find a vehicle with less than 100,000 miles.

jtsanders, I believe the mechanic thinks the catalytic converter portion of the exhaust manifold is the problem.
That’s the only reason I can come up with.

As far as purchasing cars goes, here’s what I did.

I had my heart set on a particular used car. I checked out consumer reports, and the reliability was supposedly excellent for the 2005 model year which I was condidering.
Well, that wasn’t enough for me.
I paid about $20 to log onto the manufacturer’s technical information website.
I looked up ALL the technical service bulletins, recalls, etc. for the car I was interested in.
I read all of them.
There were 2 engines offered. 4-cylinder and V6.
Well, it turns out that the 4-cylinder had SERIOUS mechanical problems.
I’m saying this because the manufacturer published technical service bulletins to that effect.
And this was their bread and butter engine, used in several different models, for several years.
The V6 had no such issues.
So I bought the car with the V6.
And since then, I’ve come across several postings on Google about guys with the 4-cylinder complaining what a bunch of UNEXPECTED mechanical problems they’re having, on a car that was supposed to have excellent reliability.

Anyone is allowed to log onto those websites, as long as you pay. Prices are usually about $20-$25 for one day of access.
I’m glad I spent the $20 and avoided buying the car with the POS engine.

This might be a good additional step for used car purchasers who want to know what the manufacturer knows and is “withholding”

Heather C You said the exhaust manifold went bad. Surely it was the intake manifold. A car will run WITHOUT an exhaust manifold.
Hey guys, how do you get those names highlited in blue, when you want to address someone explititly?


how do you get those names highlited in blue

Type the @ symbol before the name.