Author Topic: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops  (Read 3909 times)


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94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« on: May 11, 2015, 08:35:53 PM »
Hello all,

I have a base model manual transmission 94 Geo Prism with 250,000 miles on it. I am not experienced with auto repairs and I do not have a place where i can do them so anything remotely complicated will be taken to a shop. It is telling me that there is something wrong (overheated recently and making weird noises, possibly going through oil a bit fast, the clutch is noisy in the lower gears, the brakes are making noise).  It is also due for a new timing belt.  I am trying to decide whether it is worth spending money on it beyond the brakes.

As much as this car has served my needs, I would like something with better safety features, air conditioning, and a nicer interior. I am not in a position to buy a car which is new enough for side curtain airbags, so my ideal would be to get another year or two out of this one. I am not sure that is worth a new timing belt plus whatever it is that is wrong with it though.

The pros
This car has never given me any problems other then the small cosmetic deteriorations that go along with driving a 21 year old vehicle.  It has been driven cautiously and every time it has gone in for tires or oil or what have you the mechanics remark on how well maintained it is and the skill of the driver(s). The car has been in one family it's entire life.

The cons
 It has actually had a pretty spotty maintenance record. I had a new timing belt and a couple of other things put in it in 2008, but do not remember what all was done and don't have the receipt any more. I do not know the specifics of it's repair/maintenance prior to 2007, but it would have been subject to approximately the same benign neglect I have put it through. The oil has been changed somewhat regularly but not on a perfect schedule. It sat for a month or so at a time repeatedly between 2010 and 2013.  It was used daily on an extremely rugged road for ~4-5 years of it's life. It squeaks a lot. Two messy families with small kids and large dogs plus a college kid who didn't care about cars, barely drove half the year, treated it like a truck when she did drive, and lived in a really wet climate made for a pretty trashed interior.

Also, I may have run the oil down too low last week. One liter of oil brought the fill level back to 1/3 of the way between low and full so I do not think so, but it was off the stick and that was the trip the engine overheated. I figured I should mention it.

« Last Edit: May 11, 2015, 08:42:48 PM by learning »


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2015, 09:39:49 PM »
If it's running and you didn't get the oil pressure light, the oil being low probably didn't hurt anything.

If it's overheating, the first thing you should do is replace the thermostat.  They go bad and stop opening all the way in most cars (some truck thermostats fail wide open, which is nice, but that's not very common).

Do you know anyone who does car work that could help with the minor repairs?  There's not very much to those cars.


  • Bristles
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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2015, 10:37:21 PM »
Drive it until it just stops and won't move anymore. Then push it off to the side of the road, remove all your personal stuff including the plates, and walk away. Let the road scavengers tow it away...


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2015, 03:23:31 AM »
I think the big issue with its longevity is the oil issue.

I had a car that overheated and continued to burn oil after the head was replaced. The mechanics I took it to said it was likely to be the piston rings.

If it is, then drive it until it stops. It'll cost more than it's worth to fix it.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2015, 04:22:24 AM »
From your description, it sounds lovely, LOL. I would clearly identify the brake issue and have it repaired, keep an eye on the oil level, and the overheating, and drive it until it's got nothing left to give, which many be this afternoon, or two years from now.

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2015, 12:07:29 PM »
94 Geo Prizm is roughly equivalent to the 94 Toyota Corolla, built at NUMI Motors in Fremont, CA in a time when quality was GREAT.  They learned to stop the assembly line to fix problems before finishing the car (as is done in Japan) for better quality cars overall, lower costs, etc. Learn to replace brake pads yourself, and visually inspect the rotors for wear. Replace the thermostat.  Watch for blown head gaskets in that model engine. Otherwise, drive it into the ground.  You should be good for 350K+ miles. 
(my 88 went for 360K before the head gasket blew + 20K more before I gave up on the loss-of-power after the head gasket fix).


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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2015, 01:25:21 PM »
I have a '95 Corolla, which is basically the same car.  I'm within spitting distance of 200k miles.  I'm probably a bit more mechanically inclined than you, as I do (almost) all my own car maintenance and repair.  My car is actually due for a timing belt as well--I just have to find an open Saturday to work on it.  All that being said, here are my thoughts:

1)  Get in the habit of checking the oil every time you fill it with gas.  Figure out exactly how much oil it's burning.  Do the same for your transmission fluid.  You're not doing anything else while the gas pump is running, so you might as well, right?
2)  Syonyk is probably right on the thermostat--I replaced mine within the past year or so.  It's actually an easy fix--just a couple of bolts in a mildly tight spot--and the part is cheap.  Like <$10.
3)  Brakes are a normal maintenance item, and getting a new-to-you car won't help you avoid that cost. (it might delay it a bit)
4)  Squeaks and rattles are normal in an old car.  Mine does it as well.  I have a folded-up napkin wedged between the dash and the windshield to stop a buzz there, I have a penny wedged between the dash and the A pillar to stop another buzz, and the rear-view mirror rattles too, although it's genuinely broken.  Oh, and one of the front reflectors rattles around inside the bumper.

How willing are you to learn how to do car maintenance and repair?  In my opinion, it's a lot simpler than it at first appears.  If I were in your shoes, I would:
1)  keep the oil topped off (and check at each fuel stop)
2)  change the gear oil in your transmission
3)  get new brakes (Not too hard to DIY--harder than the thermostat)
4)  do the timing belt yourself, or not at all.  It's not worth paying a mechanic to do it for a car of that age.  It's a time-consuming job to DIY. If you don't want to pay for it, just drive it 'till it goes boom.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2015, 01:35:09 PM by zolotiyeruki »


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Re: 94 Prism, repair or drive till it stops
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2015, 07:31:00 PM »
Thanks for the replies, advice, and lists of things to watch for/possibilities.

In the long run I am willing to learn some of my own repairs and I am handy in many other areas of my life, but in addition to not having a place to do them I am in the midst of a steep learning curve with my work (likely to continue most of the summer) and I do not have the brain space to add more.  I will be bringing it into a shop on my next day off, and going from there.  For now, it is running fine, and I hope it stays that way.  It has been a great car.  It's hard to beat 38+ mpg and basically no issues for 250,000+ miles.