I bought a new-to-me '99 Chevy Prizm auto (Corolla twin) with 120K on it 29 days ago. (Which means, of course, that the far end of the warranty I got from the dealership expires tomorrow.)
Everything seemed fine for awhile. I got the car on a Wednesday, drove it to work Thursday (some brake sounds, and a PO420 check engine trouble code that I had diagnosed at an auto parts store, but it put itself out 70 miles later – and yes, I know that’s the cat), brought it to my mechanic Friday. They checked it out, changed the brake and power steering fluids, asked if I wanted them to machine the rotors and drums so they’d fit together better (and not make noise), but I said no, those were under warranty and I’d take it back to the dealer. Everything else seemed fine.
Took it back to the dealer the following Monday or Tuesday for the brakes. They said they never machine parts, only get new ones, and these were already new. They’re a pop-and-son place with maybe 35 cars from auction or trades at a time. So they adjusted the e-brake, cleaned the non-working cigarette lighter (for GPS), and sent me away.
Two weeks later, I’m at work with a client in the car and the oil pressure light blinks, once, while I’m stopped on an incline. I’ve owned an old Volvo and listened to Car Talk, so I pulled over and there’s no oil on the dipstick…two quarts later, it barely reaches past the min level.
(I know, I know! How could I have owned the car two weeks and never questioned the dipstick? But I’d just had it checked out three times by two different places, and my old Geo Prizm was always so beautifully dry and reliable…)
NEVER any smoke, and NEVER any drips – though now the PO420 codes that have been flicking on and off make a bit of horrifying sense. I drive immediately back to my mechanic. He puts it on the lift, hoping for a giant oil leak – nothing but internal old leaks – and puts some dye in it, tops it off, tells me to drive it a bit and keep checking it and we’ll see where we are in the a.m.
I drove about 100 miles, lost some but not much oil, so the mechanic gave me the go-ahead to take it on a trip I’ve been planning, about 1000 miles round-trip, but to keep my eye on it, obviously. Over the course of the trip, the car requires 3 quarts of oil.
Back to the mechanic, who replaces the gunked-up PCV valve. (But do those ever get gunked unless there’s something bigger wrong?) Back again today, two days later, for the regularly scheduled oil change, because despite pouring 5 quarts down the hole I know the sludge hasn’t come out yet. My mechanic put in an additive he’s hoping will help.
Meanwhile, I put in an email to the dealer that sold it hoping to get an honest reaction of “gee, we want to make this right” in the event the small fix-it solutions don’t work. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m still driving it and hoping for the best.
But barring the best, we’re looking at likely valve stem seals or bad piston rings, right? And for those jobs, my mechanic says I might as well get a new engine. It also seems obvious to me that either of those issues would have been plaguing the car when the dealer sold it to me – which to me means I should get some kind of refund, right?
If the small fixes don’t work, and if the dealer won’t refund or compensate or whatever, how long might I have with this car, if I keep pouring oil down it? SHOULD I get a new engine? Or should I drive it into the ground and look for a new car along the way?
Are there alternatives?