Used Car Diary


Check Engine Light, Oh My!

February 28

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It’s never a good thing when the Check Engine light starts to shine, but on a vehicle with over 200,000 miles, it could be time to panic.

She (my 2007 Toyota Yaris, aka “the Bunny”) had sat for a few weeks with occasional starts while I test drove a succession of vehicles. Check out my Reviews section.

I took it to O’Reilly Auto Parts to get an assessment—it took multiple tries since evening staff seemed less enthusiastic about having to go outside— and was told that three cylinders weren’t firing properly. Oddly, the Yaris seemed to run smoothly although she did lack a bit of pep. With an inspection on the horizon, I opted to take her to the nearest Charles Maund Toyota dealership for an assessment. I’ve done so before because they offer shuttles to and from the dealership and I deal with a specific associate, Walter Ortiz. This may not be the most affordable option but I give points for customer service.

After several days of testing, including a weekend, thankfully I had a test vehicle to drive, I was told that the problem was bad gas and that the fuel lines would need to be cleaned. Total cost was $750 but after a 15 percent discount it came to $634.12. Is that a lot? Most of the fee was for labor costs. It also included a tune-up and free car wash. According to my neighbor, Auto Zone or O’Reilly could have done it for much less.

Used Cars and Repairs

January 4

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It’s generally understood that buying a used car carries some risk, but for many, it’s the most affordable option. Tools like CARFAX that tell a buyer what repairs have been made on a certain vehicle can help as well as the car’s total mileage (10,000 miles per year is recommended). Some even spend money to take a the car to a mechanic to give it a good once over. I didn’t do that, nor did I remember to request the CARFAX on the 2007 Toyota Yaris, a.k.a. the Bunny, that I eventually bought. I knew the mileage was high and the tires would need replacing but it drove well and seemed solid, so I bought it.

Six months later it was indeed equipped with four new tires, but on the way back from work, luckily less than three miles from home, I noticed that the hot engine light came on. When I got home, I checked under the hood and found that liquid had spilled inside the engine compartment and on the floor of the garage. What could it be? I had no clue but I knew I couldn’t drive it.

One thing I did invest in as a used car owner was roadside assistance, namely AAA. I knew the Bunny needed to see a mechanic but also that a car this old may need to go to the source to get a proper diagnosis as well as parts, so after I called AAA to get the Bunny towed, I also set up an appointment with Charles Maund Toyota. It may cost more to get your car serviced at a dealership, even with the 10 percent discount they offer and free shuttle to and from the dealership, but I saw it as an investment in my peace of mind.

It took less than an hour to find out that the water pump had broken. After replacing that and the drive belt—I was told that it might start slipping since it had gotten wet—and the rear wiper blade—I thought I’d throw that in for good measure—I was out $481.96.

No car repair is welcome news but as a used car owner, it helps to have a back-up plan, e.g. mechanic and insurance, that makes the process a little less painful. For now, I’m sticking with AAA and Charles Maund Toyota.

Recalls Made Simple

September 25

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When buying a used vehicle, there’s always a little anxiety about its past history. Recalls are a way of finding out what may have gone wrong from the get-go with the good news that a fix is available at no cost to the new owner, well, except for sacrificing a little time.

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The Takata airbag recall has been felt industry wide, affecting 19 manufacturers and an estimated 34 million vehicles in the United States alone. Kudos to Toyota for its persistent search for me and my 2007 Yaris, a.k.a. the Bunny. I was sent several letters and notices and received multiple phone calls and when Toyota did connect with me, they made it easy as pie, contacting a local dealership and setting up the appointment. I’m lucky to have a dealership like Charles Maund Toyota that offered a free shuttle service to take me to and from work and a waiting room in the service center with free WiFi, coffee, and donuts (while they lasted) that allowed me to stay onsite while I waited for an assessment from service advisor Walter Ortiz.

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Charles Maund Toyota service advisor Walter Ortiz.

I was there for an airbag recall, but Ortiz did his due diligence and found three other recalls—there was a fourth on the power window switch but the Bunny has manual crank handles so it didn’t apply. The total process took one day—I opted to take a shuttle back to the office so no loss of work time—and at the end left me with a safer vehicle than when I bought it.

Recalls are essential, common, and free so there’s no excuse for avoiding them. When a manufacturer does its due diligence to make things right, it’s a gift and we should all respond in kind. Putting a safer vehicle on the road is best for you and other drivers who could be affected by a faulty part on your vehicle. Thanks to Toyota and Charles Maund for making my Bunny a safer vehicle, eleven years after rolling off the assembly line.

Tires and AAA

On the road in Bertam, TX with the Bunny.

August 23

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So, I get in my two-week-old (since purchased) used 2007 Toyota Yaris and begin to back out of my driveway when I immediately sensed something was wrong. I bought the car knowing I needed to replace two tires—I splurged on Uniroyals—the week before at Sears (because I have a Sears credit card). They put the new Uniroyals in the back and the old Pirelli’s in the front—I ‘ve always understood that’s how it should be done.

But now, I felt that harsh wobble of a flat and before I made it to the street, I rolled back into the garage to check. Sure enough, the front right Pirelli was flat. Dangit!

So, what’s a girl to do? When buying a used car, I knew I wanted a little extra protection beyond liability insurance. I’ve always thought about buying AAA and as it happened, I had recently received an offer in the mail from AAA and its partner, Sprint. As a Sprint user, I was not only offered an annual membership for $54, but two free memberships for friends or family. Next year, as part of the deal, Sprint will renew the membership for me. Sweet! I sent my check. Meanwhile, I was given a temporary membership card until the permanent card arrived so with fingers crossed, I called AAA and wonder of wonders, they already had my membership on file and immediately sent someone to fix the flat—within two hours!

When he, Bariq Aljalawi, arrived, he informed me that I should have put the new tires in front because they get more wear on a front-wheel-drive car. Hmm. Dude worked fast, and put the spare, or Tonka tire, on with a warning that I needed to go directly to the tire store and not to accelerate above 40 mph. He did a great job. Thanks AAA!

Quick change artist, Bariq. Gracias!

Next where to buy tires? Since getting a flat so quickly after buying tires from Sears, I was in no hurry to buy more tires from them. Almost EVERYONE I spoke to recommended Discount Tire Co., so that’s where I headed. Once there, Christian informed me that actually, I was right all along. The new tires should go to the back for better traction. Truthfully, when I bought the Yaris the Pirellis were at the back and they did fishtail a bit in the rain.

I had planned to buy only one tire but after a little negotiating, I got two for a $100 down from $140—I’m an expert at squeezing pennies—so now the Yaris aka the Bunny, has four brand new tires. I may be cheap, out of necessity, but I’d rather be safe. The Uniroyals have a 75K warranty and the GT Radials have 55K so I put them in the back since the Uniroyals can take the wear a little better.

While I have AAA, I still need the safest car I can afford and with all new tires, I feel more confident taking short road trips. Plus, the Bunny handles much better now; the steering wheel no longer wobbles and it’s less noisy. While I hadn’t planned to spend so much so soon on repairs for the Yaris, it was worth it.

So, lessons learned: don’t scrimp on tires and AAA is well worth the cost for added confidence, convenience, and security.

P.S. While Bariq could not find the culprit for the flat, Christian did find a puncture in the tire, though without a nail or anything else to explain the cause. Hmm.

Used Car Diary

After nearly 20 years of not owning one, I just purchased this little 2007 Toyota Yaris on Aug. 2, 2018. This is only the second car I’ve ever owned and the first used car I’ve ever bought. My first vehicle was a 1988 Nissan Sentra but it was killed in 1999 by a Chevy Silverado. It occurred to me that perhaps my readers might benefit from my real-world experience with a used car as well as the new cars I test each week, so here goes. I’d love to hear from you too!

August 2, 2018
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I just drove off the lot with my first used car, a 2007 Toyota Yaris, with a five-speed manual transmission and CD player, of course! This is the first car I’ve owned in nearly 20 years and I’m hoping we have a long and happy relationship–even though she’s eleven years old–just like I had with the 1988 Nissan Sentra I owned for about 12 years.

The Yaris was the fifth car I tested and though she is high on mileage, she was ten years younger than the other cars I found on Craigslist. Limited to a budget of $1,000–$1,500, I had very slim pickins and most were 20 years old or more, e.g. 1997 Honda Accord, 1999 Subaru Legacy. My only requirement was that it had a manual transmission, for two reasons:

• a manual is simpler than an automatic (150 parts vs 1500, according to a mechanic I spoke to) so there’s less to break down, plus on small cars, it makes them more peppy.

• cars with manual transmissions have fewer prospective buyers so I figured I’d get a better deal. The sale price, including tax, license, and title was just over $2,000. The asking price was $2,800.

Thanks to friends and family for rides and car loans while I conducted my search. Thanks also to Patty and Isabella Enriquez (left) at #BellsAutoSales for best car buying experience ever!