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Replace engine or buy another used car?

Hello fellas…

I am having a really though month with finances, and life in general… and now my car’s engine has died on me. I drive a Mazda Protege 2000 ES with 197,000 miles on it.

The problem started with the water pump failing; I made a post a week or two weeks ago asking for opinions and decided after that to go fix it. I also decided not to drive the car that much, if at all until I could get it fixed. I always kept an eye for the water and the temp gauge, and I thought it could last a couple of short trips at least. Well today was my appointment with the mechanic, and the belt broke off… The water pump went all lose, and I suddenly felt the steering was starting to fail too. So I decided to pull over… before even reaching the side of the road, the battery indicator was lit, then all the other lights came in, and fumes were coming out from the front.

(Unrelevant, Skip if you wish, just ventilating…)
We also had a problem with the tow truck driver… He drove away with my car because we were hesitating on paying the extra fees for what he called “a wrench” to pull my car up onto the tow truck. We end up paying $265 because he drove off the shop with our car “back to their lot”, while I was calling my insurance agent to ask for the fees he was asking me about. The initial fee was just $50. We called the cops, and they said it is not their responsibility for civil disagreements. And the insurance said they didn’t know we needed a wrench… So I don’t get it, don’t you call the tow trucks because your car is stuck anyways? I paid the insurance to get me a tow truck, said clearly that we didn’t have to pay anything else and now we ended up paying $265 to get my dead car back. I know this part is unrelevant to my problem but I am a bit frustrated right now and wanted some sort of advice since this is my first time dealing with towing companies. My mechanics laughed at me because I didn’t took my car to the shop before it was too late. I didn’t had $800 on my pocket that moment. Now they laughed at me because my car is dead and that I had to pay $265 to get back a car with a dead engine. (The end)

In the shop my mechanic tried starting the car and said that the compression was lost and that the engine was dead. I actually don’t want to see the car go… And everyone think it is stupid, but what I am thinking is… All I can afford right now is another $2000 car, which will mean that I might need to fix a bunch of stuff again anyways. So why not just replace the engine? The engine is what basically makes a car… a car. The rest of the car seems fine, and I never thought it would die all suddenly (kinda…)

What do you guys think? Is it worth saving a 16 year old vehicle? or should I just sell it as mechanic special or just dump it in a junkyard? If buying another car, should I go with Toyotas as suggested by my mechanic? He really hates Mazdas and American cars, saying they are all unreliable.

Thanks in advanced and sorry for the long post.

The compression will be gone if the timing belt is broken. Without the valves opening and closing it’s impossible to do a compression test.

And a failing water pump usually means leakage around the shaft and a wobbly shaft and that’ll cause premature timing belt failure.

I don’t understand the “wrench” bit. Tow trucks can drag total wrecks up onto the bed, so the “wrench needed” would need more clarification for me. But, it being irrelevant to the final answer, I can understand if you prefer not to further discuss that part.

Since you didn’t hear knocking sounds when the belt broke, I’ll assume it isn’t an interference engine and there should be no internal damage. I’d need to know more via testing, but it doesn’t sound to me like you need a new engine. A new belt, tensioner, water pump, and probably front main seal should get you back on the road. Yeah, that’ll run somewhere around $600-$800. But if the car is otherwise in good shape (and that’s a capital IF) it sounds like the best option.

If the mechanics were truly laughing at you… you may want to consider going elsewhere. Any mechanic hat laughs at his customer… frankly, any mechanic that tries to do a compression check on an engine with a busted timing belt… might be best avoided.

Well you might be able to buy a similar Protege for $2000, link below. You will spend similar money to get a used engine. Even though the mechanic does not like Mazdas talk to them about a new engine. For $2k you will not get much of a car, you know the car you have now and a new engine may be what gets you going at the lowest price.

Ref the towing, consider AAA with the upgraded towing coverage.[MAZDA[PROTE[]][]]&listingId=422781815&Log=0

@the same mountainbike He said that the “wrench” was necessary because the car had to be pull onto the truck, from a difficult spot. I was like what difficult spot? it was on the side of the freeway! Sure the car won’t start but isn’t that the sole reason why I am requesting a tow truck? So my reaction to it and the need for clarification from my insurance agent was expected and perfectly normal. He then got pissed because I didn’t wanted to pay him and towed the truck to their lot. And of course! now I had to pay even more…

Everyone in the shop, including the mechanics suggested me to call the cops and not pay, but the cops said this was not of their concern and they couldn’t do anything. Oh well…

As for the belts… There were no belts. The mechanic wanted me to start the engine, while he poured water onto the radiator. He then told me that the engine was dead because water was coming out from the radiator cap, which mean compression is lost.

I don’t know if its me being paranoic or what, but now that you mentioned this part about him starting the engine with broken belts; I am now starting to think he wants me to replace the whole engine when I don’t need it.

I suffer from aspergers so I have trouble understanding other people’s emotions sometimes, but they were really laughing, and I felt by the way they were talking to me that I was stupid for everything that happened to me.

I will consider AAA, thanks… Progressive is worthless. They were not much of a help at all.
My car is way better than this… I bought mine for 2000 and it wasn’t all rusted. The clutch feels right, the AC blows cold. Sure I replaced the worn struts but every car has to have these fixed. Looking at the vehicle’s history and repairs, it has only being one time for repairs and it was the oxygen sensor.

OKAY, now things are becoming clearer.

  1. The tow truck driver needed to WINCH the car, because it was (in his estimation) broken down somewhere too dangerous to be mucking about in traffic, hooking up tow straps, et. al.
  2. The tow truck driver took exception to being told “hold on 10 minutes, while I call my insurer.” (Which, again, is understandable, especially if being told to wait in a hazardous location.)
  3. As for towing the car away w/o authorization–if that’s the whole story, yes, I’d have a big problem with it.
I don't know if its me being paranoic or what, but now that you mentioned this part about him starting the engine with broken belts; I am now starting to think he wants me to replace the whole engine when I don't need it.
Ah, yes. Everybody's out to get you. I don't know how OP handles this mess, but I bet you, if whatever OP does doesn't work out 100%--it'll be Somebody Else's Fault that things went wrong!

Hopefully you can find a decent used engine to replace yours but the total cost in doing that may exceed your funds. You might have to get a small personal loan to cover the extra costs, if your credit is good.

meanjoe apparently figured out the terminology misunderstanding

For reasons I’m not going to explain, I have 100% sympathy for OP’s asperberger situation

Even if he may have trouble recognizing people’s “true” meaning when they’re talking . . . laughing is laughing. And it sounds as if the mechanics at the shop acted unprofessionally

Even if at an earlier visit they told him he should pay $800 for additional repairs, and he declined, for whatever reason, there is no excuse WHATSOEVER to laugh at him when whatever he declined does break down and cause even more problems

There have been times in my life when I wouldn’t have been able to come up with $800. It’s really no laughing matter. Thankfully those days are long over, but I know what it’s like to be in a bad financial situation. As do many of the other regulars.

“He really hates Mazdas and American cars, saying they are all unreliable.”

Sounds like it’s time for another mechanic. With that kind of attitude, I don’t know if we should expect a proper diagnosis and repair

I’m not entirely sure, but I believe OP’s engine is a freewheeler. I believe it is driven by the timing belt, and if it failed, then the engine will be “out of time” and won’t run. I am of the opinion that a complete timing belt job, along with a water pump, might get the engine back into proper operating condition

It goes without saying that a compression test is less than useless on an engine with a presumably broken timing belt.

If the car is truly in decent shape, except for the presumably broken timing belt and water pump, I’d throw a timing belt and water pump at it and hope for the best . . . versus installing a used engine (which might need a water pump and timing belt very soon, anyways), or spending $2000 on a used car. A $2000 car can be a real gamble

First of all, it might help for you to understand insurance. I don’t believe Progressive offers road coverage. Insurance under Progressive insurance is for accidents, not for breakdowns. AAA coverage is for towing and roadside assistance when no accident is involved.

Both accidents and breakdowns are civil issues. The only involvement of the cops is to document the accident, establish liability (usually they’ll issue a citation to do this), and to keep the site of the accident or breakdown safe until the car(s) can be cleared away. Unless there are criminal issues involved such as drunk driving or road rage, they don’t get involved beyond these functions.

As regards the engine, I’m terribly confused at this point. My original understanding was clearly way off. I’ll wait for others to interpret the details in the hope that I can better understand and perhaps offer some help.

As regards payment, the tow truck driver knew your auto insurance wouldn’t pay for the work, and apparently could not get the car on the tow truck in a safe manner without a different type of tow setup, and needs to be paid. Your refusal to pay, and your asking him to wait while you tried to get your auto insurance to pay for the tow, could be expected to result in his leaving. You have to pay for his services and then try to figure it out. You cannot refuse to pay for his services and expect him to provide them anyway. Life doesn’t work that way.

I didn’t refused to pay, In fact… my wife had the wallet out ready to hand him the money. But I told him to give me a sec to call the insurance and ask about the extra charges. I am in serious need of money right now, being also the first time using a tow service and having a major car breakdown, I felt the need to understand the why’s for the unexpected fees.

Also when I requested the tow truck, my insurance told me that there were no extra charges at all. Very clearly… I paid the insurance company over the phone to send me a truck. It was my wife’s idea.

When I called my insurance from the shop because of all the mess with the extra fees, even the insurance agent asked: why do you even need a winch service? My mechanic also asked me if my car was trapped or something, but NO… my car was just on the shoulder of the road, not stuck in mud.

While on the phone, the driver was revving the engine and threatening to leave. He also refused to talk to my insurance agent. Not even know what a “winch service” was, altogether with his pushy attitude, I felt like he was trying to pull off a scam or something. He eventually drove off and this left me with no other choice than calling the cops.

As for the engine… I heard something snapped off from the front end but nothing else. Suddenly my steering wheel felt like it was about to lock. After that, the car was just losing power and all the lights were lit. I revved the engine lightly, I switched gears, but it wouldn’t go. The temp gauge was fine so I never thought that the engine would overheat. I pulled the car on the shoulder and then noticed the fumes coming out. At the shop, we tried cranking it up… nothing. I saw the engine… there were no belts, but the mechanic told me that there was no compression and that the engine was dead.

I’m not entirely clear why your mechanic thinks the engine is toast. Are they saying the timing belt is working ok, verified the valves are doing their thing, but during cranking, coolant shoots out the top of the radiator unexpectedly when cranking w/the radiator cap is off? Like Old Faithful? And that, the mechanic thinks, means the compression stroke is leaking compressed air and fuel into the cooling jacket? If so, that could be the case. Coolant doesn’t shoot out the top of the radiator cap like a geyser during cranking on any of my cars anyway. But that symptom wouldn’t necessarily mean the engine is toast; more likely just the head gasket is toast. In that case a head gasket replacement procedure is probably your best bet. They’ll have to do more than just replace the head gasket probably, but it should still be in the under $2000 range.

If the mechanic is saying he’s done plenty of tests and he knows for sure the cylinders, pistons, and valves are shot, well, that’s different. Then you would need a replacement engine. In that case – you say it is 16 years old, 197K miles, M Protégé eh? — hmm , well, were I in that situation I’d probably do what you mechanic says, purchase another car, and recycle this one. Someone may actually buy it from the recycler as-is, fix it, and return it to the road, but that’s irrelevant. You don’t have the time or budget for all that, and even if you did, you can’t tolerate the schedule risk of not having a car for an unknown and lengthy period.

So in that event, I think your mechanic is right, buy another car, and this time choose one that is a best-seller and highly rated as reliable, as obtaining parts, repairing it, everything will all be easier.

If the water pump was failing I would suspect the alternator/water pump belt broke and not the timing belt.

After severe overheating and refilling the cooling system if the water shoots out of the radiator when cranking the engine it is a good indicator that engine damage has occurred. Engine damage well beyond a failed head gasket, the cylinder is likely beyond repair.

How much is the additional fee for winching the car up vs driving it? I don’t know why the insurance company would be the people to explain this.

If your belt(s) break the power steering, alternator and water pump no longer are driven. Your engine overheats, the [ower steerind gets stiff and the battery light comes on. That is all normal.

Every insurance company I have had offers roadside assistance as an optional extra. Towing because of an accident is not extra.

I had an electrical issue on my trans wiring and tow company would not drive onto flatbed. Had to winch it. Company policy. Even tho car drove fine. I don’t think low air dams and winch cables like each other but I had no damage.

Well, first off, if the mechanic was literally laughing at you, then you need a new mechanic. Anyone who’s sociopathic enough to be unable to empathize with someone who doesn’t have much money is sociopathic enough to screw you 6 ways from Sunday on the repair work, including perhaps recommending a very expensive engine replacement when one is not necessary. You can’t trust this guy.

Second, for the record, if your car was on the side of the paved road and not stuck in the mud or snow or you crashed it down an embankment or into a river or something, then you’re right - the tow driver was scamming you, you didn’t need a “winch service,” and he figured he’d have you over a barrel if he hooked your car and then demanded extortion money.

In future when such things happen, hand them a credit card. Then file a chargeback once you have your car safely back in your possession.

I agree with the others on whether or not you need a new engine. If it turns out you do, I would buy a different car - one that’s a lot more common such as a Honda Civic, because parts for those things are all over the place.

If it turns out you don’t, that’s just more evidence that you need a new mechanic.

The entire car has nearly 200K on it. Time to buy another car.

I’d have to agree that you need a new mechanic as well as an other car. Based on its mileage and history, you are going to throw good money after bad.


To hear OP tell it, his mechanics are unfeeling louts…who probably are ripping him off; the tow truck driver is probably ripping him off; the cops can’t be bothered to get involved; and the insurance company is unreasonable.

While I suppose it’s POSSIBLE things played out that way, it seems a lot simpler to assume the common problem is OP–that either the misdeeds are all in his head, or–if he was in fact mistreated–there is something innate to him that leads to this as a common response. (I dunno, frequently mistrusting others and implicitly accusing them of fraud might do the trick!)

Remember Occam’s Razor: “The simplest solution, that explains the condition, is most likely to be correct.” It’s simpler to assume ONE problem, than four, disconnected problems coming together for no reason.

If this is all true ( doubtful ) there is gross misunderstanding by all parties. The sad fact is that the collective here might arrive at reasonable suggestions but still not help the OP. We can only hope there is someone , relative or friend that provide actual help.

@meanjoe75fan That’s why I qualified my comment with something to the effect of “if this is really true.”

If it’s not really true then as you say, we can’t help. We have to take what we’re told at face value until evidence is presented that shows it to be false, because a board full of people saying “BS, you’re lying and so I’m not gonna help you” would not be a helpful place to go.