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Geo prizm: fix it?

After taking my 97 Geo Prizm with 120,000 miles in for an oil change, I was told that the vehicle needs $1800 worth of repairs. Specifically, the brake pads need replacing, the transmission fluid needs flushing, the coolant needs flushing, the water pump, timing belt, and seals need replacing, and the exhaust manifold is cracked and needs to be fixed/replaced. (I think that’s all that needs work, but I might be missing something…) Is it worth fixing the car? If it would survive without any other major needs for another 20,000-30,000 miles, then I’d be home free. Some mechanics have told me to fix it, while others say not to. What do you all think?


most of that, except for exhaust manifold, is routine service that you may need anyway. dig out your owners manual and compare the list with what the manufacturer recommends.

Do you have maintenance records? is so, see when the timing belt was last replaced and see if it is due. If it breaks you could have major engine damage, depending upon engine type. When you change the timing belt, you normally change the water pump. Ditto on the transmission and radiator fluids.

Easy to check if you need brake pads. Also dangerous if you need them and don’t replace. You can check the transmission fluid by noting its color. Coolant, if you don’t change it, you could plug up the radiator and lead to overheating. But you can take that chance.

What specifically to do is your choice. Which mechanic do you trust? Do the ones that say don’t fix it say to junk it, or that the repairs are not needed?

Bottom line, any car need periodic maintenance.

I pretty much agree with Bill, however I’m curious as to the overall condition of the rest of the vehicle. It sounds like it hasn’t been maintained very well. Has it?

Shop around independent shops. Those prices sound like dealer prices. Are those chemical fluid flushes? Only fluid replacements are necessary. These would be much cheaper than questionable flushes.

If the water pump/timing belt has never been done then that is an absolute necessity. Do that, unless you want to roll the dice and hope it holds together for the next 20-30k miles. It may or may not.
You can simply replace the brake pads only without replacing or machining the brake rotors. This is not the recommended procedure and could possibly lead to some brake noise or shudder but it’s a possibility if you want to go that route.

If the trans and coolant has made it this far and you’re only looking for 20-30k more then that could be shunted aside.
If the crack on the exhaust manifold is accessible you might consider having a welding shop look at it. A cast iron crack can be easily welded and should be good for the duration. This would be far cheaper than spending money on a new exhaust manifold. JMHO anyway.

You make it seem like you are trying to keep from buying another car until you have this one paid for. Keep in mind that if you change for a new or newer car at this point and have to pay for collision and comprehensive insurance, those costs will be a lot higher.

Which seals need replacing? Can you do any of this work yourself? Simply doing a coolant change yourself is pretty easy.

The body will determine it for me. If tranny and egine are sound, fix it if the body will remain inspectable over the next several years. We got 250K plus on Corollas. Wheel well , running boards, and door bottoms. Squirt some motor oil into the drain and access plugs in those areas and you’re good for two more years at least. Trunk lid too.

Body work costs that you can’t do yourself make mechanical fixes look pretty cheap.

If it was a Toyota Corolla with the same problems in otherwise good shape, would you ask us the same question? Wait a minute! It is a Corolla! You might want a second opinion on the non-maintenance items. Do the maintenance stuff now. Maybe you could spread it out over 3 or 4 months to keep the cost manageable. If you trust the mechanic, try to set up a 4-month plan to fix the emergency stuff now and the other repairs later.

Thanks to all for your input. I am indeed trying to avoid purchasing a new car, but I don’t want to throw good money at this car if it won’t last for a while longer. My family bought the car new, so I am very familiar with its history. We have been good with regular oil changes, although we probably are overdue for the transmission/coolant flushes. The car has had problems with its computer before (now fixed). I was rear-ended a couple of years ago by a Chevy Blazer, so there is some remaining body damage (not that I care). I’m just worried that I’ll throw $1800 at the problem and then I’ll be back at the shop needing to fix something else in a year. The mechanic isn’t too keen on the fluid replacement without the flush; he’d want to do the replacement several times over several months if that’s what I elect to do. Then again, I was told a few years ago that I shouldn’t flush the transmission or it would kill the engine. As to the suggestion that I should do what I can myself, I have absolutely no experience with that sort of thing. Bottom line: I’d be willing to put the money into fixing these things if the car will survive another few years.

“Do the ones that say don’t fix it say to junk it, or that the repairs are not needed?”
No one says the repairs aren’t needed. It’s either fix it or junk it.

I agree that it’s all pretty much routine service. The question is how likely is it that I will need non-routine service (or a tow truck) in the next few years if I put the money into the routine service.

Get a second opinion on that other stuff. Timing belt/water pump needs to be replaced if it’s been 60k or so. 120 grand really isn’t too bad and this car will last you quite a while if you want it to. These little cars are dependable, I used to have one. If you spend the money, you will continue have a reliable car that will last you many more years and many thousands of miles. And you “know what you’ve got”. Really just depends how much you like the car and what kind of shape it’s in otherwise. Good luck.

ALL CARS REQUIRE maintenance. I see pure maintenance items for this vehicle and one repair(manifold) simply due to age.

Do you basically change the oil and put gas in a car? If so dump it and pay $5000 for another car to do that to. Alternatively maintain/repair this car and you will be far ahead.

A tranny flush could cause the tranny to have problems due to metal shavings (normally sitting on the bottom of the pan) being moved into areas where they can jam up things.

Sounds like the only maintenance you have done is oil changes. Which means the timing belt is way overdue. Have you changed the fuel filter? the brake fluid?

My Sister owned a '96 Geo Prism that she bought brand new, until it was killed recently in an accident in Manhattan. She had well over 160k miles on it at the time of the accident, and it was running great, so the answer to your question is YES, it can easily last another 30k miles or more.

What you should do is prioritize the repairs.
Which ones actually NEED to be done?

Brakes NEED to be done.
That’s first and foremost.

If the exhaust manifold is leaking, that NEEDS to be replaced.
Save some money, and buy a used part, and have it installed instead of a brand new part.

The timing belt is an unknown variable of when it will fail.
It can happen tomorrow, or it can not happen for 30 years. You just don’t know.
Save up for this job, and do it when you can afford it.

Water pump - I say have the cooling system pressure tested and see if it is borderline.
Why replace parts that don’t need to be replaced?
The water pump is easy to replace on this engine.

Trans flush.
Don’t bother with the flush, just have the fluid drained and replaced, and don’t let anyone tell you you need to do it several times.
This item can wait, too.


WAIT A MINUTE!!! Water pumps are not routine maintenance. Water pumps are replaced when the impeller is lose, the shaft locks or it leaks. Also seals!!! If they are not leaking, don’t change them unless they have to come off for a different componant.