Keep the Villager or Ride the Vibe?

Greetings Car Talk Community!

Hope you can help me make a decision.

Currently drive a 2001 Mercury Villager with 77K miles on it. The car runs well for being 19 years old, and I’m pretty good at making sure it gets an oil change+ inspection. The van has a good reputation- especially as a joint venture between Ford+Nissan. (Quest Rebadge)

Mechanically I can look forward to:

  • No record of timing belt change, should probably do that (est. $600)
  • Mechanic says a motor mount is showing some wear (Est. 300-$400?)
  • Recharge AC

Recently, my sister offered to sell me her 2004 Pontiac Vibe with 70K miles for a steal at $1800 (well below KBB value). A fairly well praised NUMMi venture between GM+ Toyota (Matrix Redbadge)

She recently had a mechanic inspect the vehicle thoroughly and had some work done including:

  • Front struts replaced
  • Battery replaced
  • Resonator replaced
  • Vacuum switching valve replaced

Living in Brooklyn, most of my driving are short commutes, with the occasional long holiday drive upstate. On average I’m putting on less than 5000-6000 miles per year.

I’m hoping to drive one of these low miles Asian-American collaborations for the next 2 years while saving up money for a new ride.

From a cost savings perspective, do I put more money into the Merc’ so it keeps on rolling, or do I drop $1800 on the Vibe, which I perceive to be a more reliable car (based on its surprisingly large online fandom who claim 250K miles with nothing but oil changes and tires)

My Mechanics advice “19 years old vs. 16 years old- what’s the difference?”

Tough choices!



The biggest problem, I have had friends deal with was a bad head gasket, for same engine different brand. One guy kept adding coolant for a number of years, the other did the head gasket replacement himself. No info on a vibe from personal experience.

That’s exactly how I see it

Sure, the Vibe is 3yrs newer, but it’s also pretty old at this point

Keep driving the Villager and set aside money for that new ride

Do that timing belt now . . . the whole kit, including tensioner, idler, cam- and crank- seals, and anything driven by the timing belt

“Recharge AC” . . . probably means the refrigerant level is low, due to one or more leaking components

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The Vibe might be the better option. With the Villager not only the timing belt, which is overdue because of age, tensioner and water pump should be replaced at the same time.
As far as I know the Vibe has a timing chain which does not need to be replaced.
Both vehicles-check the age of the tires.
Your driving is really ‘severe service’. Oil changes should be done, at a minimum twice a year. That goes for either vehicle.
The major downside is buying it from a relative, sometime no problem, sometimes family fights.


No, you should definitely replace the timing belt, and its tensioners–unless you plan on driving this vehicle until it self-destructs, and then junking it.

Although the Nissan version of this van is known to have an interference engine, the Mercury version is said to be non-interference. If that is correct, then a reasonable person might take the calculated risk to save the $1000 or so that a shop would charge to do the timing belt replacement, and always have funds available to pay for a tow if/when it breaks.

At 77,000 miles, the belt probably will not fail anytime soon, and I personally would only pay to replace it if I knew the engine was an interference design, or if I could not afford the risk of an unplanned breakdown. Otherwise, I would wait until the vehicle has at least 100,000 miles, and re-evaluate at that time.

Timing belts are replaced by miles or time in months . So it may be way past due .

Or, after 19 years of use, it could fail tomorrow…

Correct, that’s a gamble I’ve been taking- about 12 months ago when I began becoming more educated about maintenance, I was terrified that the timing belt was a ticking time bomb, and funds were short

Since learning it was a non interference engine (a oft forgotten fact about this model) and I’m doing a lot of 25mph driving close to home, I’m in less of a hurry to pay the cash to have it changed.

Not best practice- but I’m going to use this borrowed time to find a good mechanic and a good price to make the change in advance of a long drive

Changing oil twice a year “need it or not” has been my best practice


Say for the sake of argument this happens. Other than the cost of a tow, and maybe a few unplanned taxi/Uber rides, how much has he really lost? Since the engine is non-interference, the timing belt job which would cost about $1000 today should cost the same $1000 tomorrow.

Now suppose for the sake of argument the timing belt lasts for the remaining useful life of the van, or that it is destroyed in an accident, or something unrelated and expensive goes out on it (e.g. the transmission or PCM). In that case, the $1000 saved would be money earned.

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