CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Worth repairing 96 Geo Prizm?

I have a '96 Geo Prizm Lsi, and I’m wondering whether it’s worth it to put in some repairs. My mechanic thinks I need these things:



- engine mounts, to stop the engine from vibrating and putting strain on the transmission, $650

- transmission fluid, because it’s dirty, $70

- belts, because they’re cracked, $140

- Coolant flush and new thermostat, because the heater doesn’t work very well and the coolant is dirty, $190

- Brake fluid change, because it’s dirty, $55



Should I put in all this work on a '96 Prizm? I think I should just do the minimum and ride it out until the car dies. My mechanic says that in that case, the only things worth doing are the transmission fluid and the fan belts. Is that the right way to go?



Thanks everyone!

You need a primer on the cost of car ownership. Buying a car is like buying a house; it involves a long period of doing maintenance and necessary repairs.

A 96 Prism is a good car and not that old. The transmission fluid and filter change, the belts, coolant flush and brake work are all NORMAL maintenance requirements you will find in the OWNER’S MANUAL and are required to keep the warranty valid.

The reason your coolant flush costs so much is likely you did not flush it every 4 years, in which case the heater core would not have been plugged.

If the rest of the car is good you could drive it many more years, but all the items indicated should be done.

I disagree with you mechanic, since I would not sell a car knowing that the heater would not work and the could overheat anytime. The regulars on this forum will not ever give out “used car tricks” to enable you to sell a defective vehicle.

Your Prizm is a rebadged Toyota Corolla so it’s worth keeping. I agree with Docnick…you can get a lot more miles out of this vehicle for the money.

Hi,

Thanks so much for the reply.

For the record, my mechanic and I weren’t considering selling the car when it needed repairs. As I said in the original post, the idea was for me to just keep the car until it gave out.

Thanks again!

Everything in your list is routine preventative maintenance except the tranny mounts. Did you have any symptoms? Did he show you the bad mount(s)?

“I think I should just do the minimum and ride it out until the car dies. My mechanic says that in that case, the only things worth doing are the transmission fluid and the fan belts. Is that the right way to go?”

I don’t know about you, but being able to stop my car is very high on my list of priorities–right up there with breathing. As a result, I would add the brake fluid change to the list of minimum essentials.

A broken belt or a failed transmission will strand you, but failure to be able to stop the car will change your life–and not in a good way.

Yes, the whole car vibrates when it idles. It sounds a little like a plane revving up.

Are you the first owner?
How many miles on your Prizm/Corolla ?
Have any of the items recomended by the mechanic been done before…ever?
Have you had your timing belt service done ?

Prisms could have severe rust problems. Mileage means nothing compared to body integrity. If you have complete confidence the body will safely out last the repairs, I vote go for it.

Hi,

First owner, 150K. I’ve done the fluids and belts, but never the mounts. I haven’t had timing belt service.

What do you think?

Thanks!

  • AR

I doubt that the warranty is a concern on a 96. Most used cars I have purchased have come without the owners manual.

I would hope this diagnosis of motor mounts is correct because an engine miss (minor due to an ignition fault,etc.) could also very easily be caused by a cylinder going down; a.k.a. serious engine work. This can cause a severe engine vibration at idle that may smooth out when the engine is revved up.

Dirty transmission fluid may or may not be something to worry about. If it’s very brown or blackened and has an odd smell then the transmission may be on the way out.

If the car were mine, I would verify that an engine problem does not exist before doing anything. A compression test, which is easily done, would be in order.

“First owner, 150K. I’ve done the fluids and belts, but never the mounts. I haven’t had timing belt service.”

That belt should have been replaced…about 7 years ago, meaning that it is now due for its second timing belt change.

Luckily for you, neither of the engines available for that car are interference engines, but when that belt snaps (not IF it snaps), it could put you in a very bad situation. Imagine that you are passing a bunch of 18 wheelers when you suddenly lose all engine power and your power steering. Or, imagine that you are crossing a busy highway when the traffic light changes. Or, imagine being stranded in the not-so-good part of town. Any of those scenarios could ruin your day for sure.

What do I think ?
I think that you’ve been VERY LUCKY so far. That timing belt of yours at 15 years old and 150k miles is probably just about to snap. I would not push my luck with it anymore…You are now on borrowed time, BIG TIME !!!
The timing belt on your car has to be changed every 60k miles or 72 months-whichever comes first.

The scenarios in VDC’s reply above are very REAL…and terribly scary. Do not jeopardize your life by driving this car in this condition any more.

Call around and enquire about a “timing belt package” for your car. This package includes: new timing belt, new water pump, new accessories belts (for the A/C, power steering, and alternator), a couple of engine seals, and new coolant. I don’t know what an independent shop would charge, but the Toyota dealers (as already mentioned, your car is in fact a Toyota Corolla with different sheetmetal) in my area are charging $500-$600 for this package. You should do this service BEFORE anything else that your mechanic has recommended. Besides, you’ll get your belts changed anyway with this “Timing belt package”.

Good luck.

My reason for stating this was to remind OP that all this is a normal requirement when you buy a new car.

Thanks, everyone, for the advice. Looking at my old records, I saw that I did the timing belt at 92K. I went ahead with the other work and will probably do the timing belt too.

So that you don’t have to go through many, many pages of invoices in order to see what was done to your car, and when it was done, I suggest that you do as I do. Constuct a grid chart that allows you to enter each service procedure by date and odometer mileage.

Each time that my car is serviced, I update the chart (and of course, I keep the invoice in the same file folder). This way, if I want to know when I last replaced the spark plugs, or the last time that the radiator was flushed, or the last time that the brake fluid was changed, I only have to look at one piece of paper, rather than paging through 40 or 50 pages of invoices. Doesn’t that make sense?

If the body is in good shape, the car is worth keeping up. You just got a little behind on normal maintenance. I have four older cars (three of them with over 200k mi) and I figure that if my monthly credit card bill does not have at least $100 on it that I spent on line buying parts, I am neglecting the cars. It is much cheaper than car payments.

Most of the costs you cite above are labor costs, and they sound a little high. I suspect that you could save a couple of hundred dollars at a different mechanic, and about $600 if you did the work yourself. None of this stuff looks too tricky. Messy maybe, but not difficult. Just be vary careful if you try to do the engine mounts yourself. On some cars, you can loose a finger doing that job if you don’t support the engine securely.