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Dodge/Plymouth Neon



  • Ok, so after buying my 97 Neon in Minnesota 2 weeks ago, I finally drove it back out here to DC and I absolutely love it. It just purrs. The whole process has not been without its headaches, though (literally a migrane in Ohio). Here's my story:

    I bought a 97 Neon with 65K at a Toyota dealership in Minnesota two weeks ago and it was giving me a Service Engine code of 32 as soon as I drove it off the lot. I took it back to the dealer and they took it to a garage down the street to "clear the code" for me. I kept talking about fixing it, they kept talking about clearing the code--I was worried. I live in Washington DC now so I flew back on Friday, picked it up at the dealership and headed East, back to DC. All was well until 400 miles later, just east of Chicago, the light comes back on again and it gives me the same code. Now I'm pissed. The salesman isn't at work, the mechanic isn't at the shop, so I press on. 300 miles (and a migrane-induced 2 hour nap at a rest stop)later, as I'm crossing Pennsylvania, I look down and the light is off again. I pulled into DC last night and all seems to be fine. The invoice from the auto shop is in the glove box and it reads:

    **Check Engine Light On, Inspect and Advise***



    PARTS TOTAL: 0.00
    LABOR TOTAL: 55.00
    INVOICE TOTAL: 60.65

    So it doesn't look to me like they "fixed" anything as much as they just tried to make the light go off. I suspected this beforehand since the dealership will spend as little money as possible to fix it once I've bought it, despite the 30 day/1,000 mile warranty that came with it. It ran perfectly all the way to DC, except I noticed some water leakage on the ground under the reservoire twice when I got gas. Should I complain to the dealership? Take it to a Dodge dealer or a regular mechanic out here and send them the bill, or just drive it and hope the light stays off? What gives?

    Anyway, it's in fantastic shape and I love to drive it. I'm definitely happy I did my homework and it doesn't appear that the EGR failure is anything major, so I'm a happy camper, all told.

    Good luck with the 02's. They sound sweet.

  • Were you using the A/C? I've never seen as much condensation drip from an A/C system as puddles underneath mine. That's a good thing, it's nice and cold. As long as it's just clear water and not green you should be fine.
  • Also remember that you don't have to turn on the A/C for the system to run it anyway. The A/C runs in defrost mode as well, I disabled it on my 98 to only run when you push the blue button, I hate cars that think to much for you, I also set the fog lights to be able to be turned on any time the key was on. Both things only took about 1/2 an hour to do. The A/C requires removal of the climate controll panel and drilling out the circut board line from the derfost to the a/c, the fog lights required poping off the button which also includes the rear window defroster and using the power supply line from the defroster for the fog lights as well. I used the defroster a lot in Montana and always ran with the fogs on (like DTR lamps) and never had a problem with the fuse. I even had 55 watt bulbs in there.
  • vocusvocus Posts: 7,777
    I tell ya, leave for a little bit then come back only to be getting flamed. :) That's cool, I can handle it. I am eating crow among a couple friends of mine, because I always nagged about their "unreliable" Cavaliers and Neons, and now I have myself in a little trouble. Serves me right I guess. I am really disappointed in this new Protege. Wish it was like my old one, but I guess that's long gone. Guess that will teach me to shut my mouth in the future. :)

    Seriously, I guess I have to eat my words now about the Neon. I know my ex-roommate hasn't had any trouble lately from his. His daughter did wreck her 1996 though. Slid into a guard rail in the rain. Must be a pretty safe car, because she walked away from the crash. So anyway, apologizing for all the flaming posts about the Neon. Guess they aren't half-bad after all.

    And let prayers be with everyone after yesterday's terrible tragedies in the US. God bless everyone involved in that, and their families, co-workers, and friends too. People here in the MD/DC area have been driving around with their headlights on to show support for the victims affected. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
  • buoyantbuoyant Posts: 128
    Vocus, I don't recall torching you. Even if you might deserve it - this IS the Neon board after all, and a lot of Neon owners here (I do not own one - I just like them) feel the same way about their cars as you do about your Protege.

    My "nasty" comments were said in jest, even though - admittedly - written sarcasm isn't exactly the easiest thing on earth to decipher (particularly when it's authored by someone you don't know personally).

    Not to sound hokey, but I think a lot of people (and virtually everyone who takes the time to post to auto boards) see their choice of automobile as a reflection of their personality. Picking out a car isn't like buying toilet paper - it's an exercise in personal expression (yes, I have a degree in marketing). This is why I TRY (sometimes I don't always succeed) to tread cautiously when I express my opinion of cars I do not like.

    I think EVERY car has its strengths and weaknessess. Even the Chevrolet Cavalier, a car I personally dislike, has some undeniable strong suits: price, long-term dependability (ever heard of anyone whose had engine or transmission problems with their Cavalier?), and a very extensive dealer network. For someone who values these strengths more than others, I can see how it could be a very appealing car.

    Personally my small car faves are the beautifully appointed VW products. I can't help but be smitten by their extremely tasteful, upscale interiors. Unfortunately, I can't ever see myself justifying the high purchase and maintenance costs of a VW.

    To me, the Neon is not only a very appealing car (it's stylish, roomy, and even the low-end models are a blast to drive with the stick), but it's also a great value.
  • vocusvocus Posts: 7,777
    Regarding what you said about the Cavalier, my best friend bought a new 1996 Cavalier 2.2/3 speed auto back in May 1996. He has just over 110,000 miles now, and he just had to replace the transmission. It literally fell OUT of the bottom of the car, along with all the fluid. Cost him $1300. So I have heard of someone with at least one engine problem in a Cavalier.

    I can't aruge that the Neon is a good value. I guess my ex-roommate just got a bad one, like I got a bad Protege. Things happen though. Also, I would love to have a Jetta 1.8T. Didn't get one because I heard about reliability problems. Five people who work in my office have Jettas (all VR6 and 2.0s though), and not one of them has had a problem. Go figure. Guess next car I get will be what I want exactly, and I will stop listening to Consumer Reports on everything.
  • buoyantbuoyant Posts: 128
    Well, anything can happen. I can tell you that the 3-spd unit GM put in your friend's Cavalier is one of the most reliable transmissions on earth. But, poop happens.

    I believe Honda and Toyota build some very high quality automobiles, but rest assured, their service departments do more than just oil changes too.

    All told, I think vehicle longevity is 50% engineering/build quality and 50% owner maintenance. I'm currently driving a 1991 Chrysler New Yorker 5th Ave. with 175,000 miles on it and it's in mint condition (the original owner was - of course - an old fart and the car was babied). I was planning on driving it till the wheels fell off, but that hasn't happened yet (and the way things are going, it might not happen 'til 2008).

    I bought this car no more than a month after looking at a 1993 Honda Accord 5spd EX with 105,000 on the clock - exactly what I thought I was looking for at the time. Despite Honda's reputation for long-term dependability though, this car was SHOT at 105K.

    I recall the test drive vividly. The driver's seat rocked back and forth, the brakes made a horrendous sound and every time they were applied the vehicle pulled strongly to one side, a radio button was missing and the fan knob was cracked in two, the clutch was worn-out and the car vibrated so bad at idle I thought the doors were going to fall off. And these are only the items I can still recall from 3 years ago. Rudy Luther's Hopkins Honda asking price BTW, $9500. No joke.

    Apparently, it had been owned by one of these idiots who believe the mantra: just buy oil changes and gas and your Honda will last forever.

    My current car is the most reliable car I've ever owned and I bought it with 140K on the odo.

    The most unreliable car I've ever owned: a 1991 Isuzu Stylus XS I got NEW and crashed at 60k. Interestingly, it was a Japanese car BUILT in Japan. Just goes to show that Japanese and high quality are not always synonomous.

    As far as Consumer Reports is concerned, recall that it was this same magazine that RECOMMENDED the 1995 Neon six years ago in their annual auto issue. I worked with a guy who bought a 1995 Neon for this reason and has bad-mouthed Consumer Reports from that day on.

    Now Chrysler is building solid, reliable Neons (that seem to come in high in every quality indicator except those of CR) and Consumer Reports can't find enough bad things to say about them. Go figure indeed.

    I agree with you, Vocus. Next time I buy new (or used for that matter) I'm getting what I want and I don't give a flying damn how CR rates it. It seems the more "flavor" a car has, the less they tend to like it. Of course, they are engineers, not automobile afficionados. Well, no Toyota Corolla for me, thank you anyway.
  • vocusvocus Posts: 7,777
    I am really mad though. I am having all this trouble with my trusty Protege (according to CR), and I could have gotten the Jetta I wanted and maybe been luckier. Oh well, guess I will learn next time.

    My Pro's in the shop right now, with a funny squeak in the transmission on the 3-2 downshift (among other things), and they told me they can't find it. They hear it, but don't know how to fix it. That's real nice to hear. I told them they better act right and put a new tranny in there, because I am not about to drive a car with a known problem in it, so I can be stranded. I ain't havin' it.
  • The article outlining this swap is in the October 2000 issue of Mopar Action. This swap is doable but not without it's problems. First you have to convert to manual steering. The 2.4 is an inch taller from the crank centerline to the deck so a custom right side mount is required to drop it down for hood clearance. Neon gauges are fed from the engine computer, others from a body computer which the Neon does not have. So there are electrical issues as well. The source for this conversion is CNNP Racing in Davie, FL. They're on the web at
  • dweezildweezil Posts: 271
    when it gives out? That's hardly an indicator of an 'engine' problem or a bad transmission.that's probably 2 to 3 times what many Ultra matic 4 speed trans have gone before blowing.
    Neons are great don't get me wrong, but cars are not refrigerators.They don't go for 20 years without something wearing out. Given the infinite #s of driving and maintenance habits, it's amazing they last as long as they DO! :)
    C/R people are hardly "engineers", but I doubt they interpret their own reader data without bias against domestic vehicles.I think they're elitists more than anything else.
    I don't own a Neon but I really believe a lot of people go into a domestic vehicle LOOKING for things to go wrong so they can prove their assumptions.The bad mouthing was so great about the Neon that I crossed it off my list.Unfortunately that wasn't very fair.
    Was glad to read the post re: the Cavalier. It does reflect what I like in a car re: the engine and trans. It's so yestertech, if they keep it in production as is any longer,it'll be retro!22,000 miles and no problems and I like it's simplicity. It's straight forward like my 63 Valiant which I've owned for 20 years- I know where everything is under the hood, parts are cheap and I can identify everything and even possibly replace things myself if I have to.
    The prices for a new Neon are great. I imagine a lot of them will be sold as a hedge against potential oil shortages in the coming months and hope it makes a whole new group of fans for D/C.
  • Now that I think about it, the puddles under the car were clear and quite cool and only occured after the two times I used the AC. It must have been condensation and that makes me feel better. The code 32, however, has returned and I'm taking it in soon. Anyone know a decent mechanic in the DC area who won't rip me off?
  • buoyantbuoyant Posts: 128
    Actually, the people testing and writing articles about cars for CR are indeed engineers. If you doubt me, check their creds. It's easy to verify this if you read the articles carefully too. There's never any flowery prose or humorous metaphors like you'll find in a true automobile magazine, and mass appeal (read: BLANDNESS) is actually considered a virtue by Consumer Reports.

    And you might be interested to know that it is widely believed that the Ultradrive unit in my 1991 New Yorker with 175K on the odometer is completely original. I had it inspected before I purchased it and once by the guys at Aamco (it still operates with the fine precision of an Armitron watch) and the consensus is that it's not a rebuild. I'm thinking of contacting Chrysler to see if they're interested in placing it in a museum. Just think, I could be driving the longest-lasting Ultradrive on the planet.

    On a different note...

    Good luck finding a decent, honest mechanic in DC, Zapatista. And if you do, constantly shower him with gifts and praise so that you may never lose him. I have been living in the Twin Cities area all my life, and I've never found a truly competent mechanic or a shop I can really say I've trusted.

    So before you decide to fix your car, consider the complexity of the problem, its effect on the life of the vehicle and how much it bothers you personally. If it's anything more complicated than a brake job, alternator replacement or muffler installation and you don't believe it will adversely affect the life of a major mechanical component if it's not attended to, consider living with it. Warning lights can be covered with opaque adhesive tape and strange sounds can easily be masked by a stronger amplifier and more powerful speakers. There are usually other options than repair.

    After giving it some serious thought, if you still decide to fix the car at this point, do some research and try to find the shop most likely to be able to actually fix the problem you're having. For example, while places like Car-X may have the best deals on the "easy fixes", anything more complicated than a wiper-blade replacement can easily baffle their crack team of experts and end up costing you more money in the long run (not to mention the loss of your time). A shop that spends half its time advertising low prices is NOT the place to take your car if you actually need a problem troubleshooted (or is it troubleshot?). So save the $10 off coupon at Precision Tune for the next time you really know you need new spark plugs.

    Try to get a referral from a friend who has lived in the area for a while and if no one is of help there, pull out the phone book and pray for the best. I will give you this piece of advice in the event the inevitable happens though. Document EVERYTHING!

    It may not be in your power to keep auto repairs from being a major headache in your life, but you can make sure you avoid letting them become financial nightmares.

    Before you go in the shop, take out a clean sheet of paper and write down the problem you're having in the finest detail possible (e.g., if it only happens after the car has been driven at freeway speeds for 6 hours or if the moon is in its final phase, WRITE THAT DOWN). Then make two copies (one for your records, one for the shop). I know it seems completely anal, but you'll be happy you did this after you fork over $200, leave the shop and find the problem re-occurring 3 miles down the road. I speak from experience.

    ALWAYS make sure you charge ALL automobile repairs (to your credit, not your debit card). This way, when you find out your car has not been fixed properly (which happens 90% of the time if you wear a size 12 sneaker, drive a big Chrysler and think Depeche Mode still rocks), you have some means of recourse.

    At this time, you can go back to the shop and try to have them resolve the problem. And if they tell you to piss off, write them a letter and produce 3 copies (one for you, one for the credit company and one for the shop). State in it - explicitly - that you are disputing the charge as the services you requested from the shop (and for which you were charged) were never received. Send the letters certified mail.

    Why do this? Because if you pay with cash or write a check, you'll have to take the shop to small claims court if you ever want the problem resolved. When you pay with a credit card, you can dispute the charge and the card issuer will act as a mediator between you and the shop. And until the dispute is resolved, your card company can't charge you interest (so it won't drag-[non-permissible content removed] on the issue).

    About a year ago, I took my car into a less-than-honest shop in Burnsville because it was making an annoying clunk (still is BTW). I wrote the problem out explicitly when I took it in (detailing exactly when it made the sound - even noting that it tended to happen only on hot days when the car had been driven for a long duration). I ONLY authorized repairs that would fix the clunk (i.e., no new muffler, stereo speakers, air conditioner recharge, window tint, etc.). Unfortunately, you have to do this with some shops because it's much easier and more profitable for them to sell you $60 alignments than it is to troubleshoot actual mechanical problems.

    My ordeal began with the "mechanic" (this was an actual repair shop too, not some high-volume franchise muffler shop) replacing a couple suspension bushings and ended with him putting in four new struts (I should mention that the old ones were only a couple years old and were of much better quality) and aligning the car. The total bill for NOT fixing the clunk came to $548 (a staggering sum that I probably will never forget and that almost made me faint when I first heard it).

    And of course, predictably, this same shop that was so interested in fixing my car one week prior wanted nothing to do with me when they realized they had no idea how to actually fix the car. When I told them it was still making the same noise as when I first brought it in, they basically told me "TS". Their work was done, so to speak.

    Well, four months and several well-documented letters later, they apparently waved the white flag. I'm not sure if they ever answered my card issuer's letters (they avoided contact with me like the plague), but Citibank did a charge-back to the repair shop and cleared my account. Buoyant 1, Dishonest Repair Shop 0.

    So...long story short, finding an honest AND competent shop is not always possible. Just use your best judgment and be sure to cover your butt at all times.

    Ideally, your problem will get fixed and you'll go along your merry way. If your luck is anything like mine when dealing with the auto repair industry though, well...I just hope you keep good records and like to argue.

    A side note: my car still makes the clunking noise (I've learned to accept and live with it by properly adjusting the volume on the brilliant-sounding Infinity sound system), b
  • I work in Bethesda with people spread out from Pennsylvania to Fredericksburg. Where in the DC area are you looking? A friend's uncle has a shop in Rockville if that's good for you. If not, where? PG, Fairfax, DC (NW, SE, SW, NE), Loudon? I have a friend with a garage in Leesburg (The Tire Shop) that should treat you right.
  • dweezildweezil Posts: 271
    on the Ultradrive. Sounds like like got a winner.
    I do believe C/R people are engineers....and elitists.I really think they have encouraged people to investigate products to the point of paranoia.And I am not saying I'm immune to it. Just take it with a pound of salt. Dave
  • 71Charger-
    I live and work on the Hill. I'm willing to take it anywhere that I can get back home on the Metro while they work on it. The code it's giving me is a 32--EGR System Failure. Some folks on the board have had the same problem and it seems to be a minor issue that sometimes just goes away (a la Buoyant's approach to auto mechanics) and other times is remedied for a maximum of $200 for a new sensor and labor, or something like that. Some even have decided to block off the EGR system entirely. If you have any suggestions of Metro-accessible shops that are trustworthy, I'd greatly appreciate it.

    Buoyant--Sounds like you and I live by the fate meted out to us by Murphy's law. I blame my Irish grandmother.
  • buoyantbuoyant Posts: 128
    I'd blame mine too, but since she's no longer with us I'll just blame it on the German one. Damn Germans.

    Out of curiousity, is the light coming on red or amber in color? Amber warning lights can usually be ignored (particularly if they come on intermittently) whereas the red ones signal impending doom.

    Personally, I would ignore any orange light signaling a malfunction in the emissions system.

    But if the light REALLY bothers you, invest $3 in an allen wrench, pop off the gauge cover and pull the thing out completely. This way you'll have that fresh finished look (no tape) and then you can take the $197 you saved and blow it on a new 20" Color TV, 120 Steak Chalupas or perhaps a ceramic kitty-cat if you're into that kind of thing.
  • Reed Brothers Dodge on the pike in Rockville, MD has always treated me well (except their body shop manager, but that's not where your problem is). It's a dealer and you'll pay premium prices but they are literally right next to the Shady Grove station on the Red Line. Carmax is right across the the Metro driveway from them. It's as far out as you can get on the Metro but I've never known them to do unnecessary work. I'll ask around at work when I can. These are pretty hectic days and I've been open-endedly (is that a word?) transferred to second shift. I'll see if I can get any other recommendations for you.
  • snowmansnowman Posts: 540
    Indeed We have very good experience with them. Their mechanics are very good.
  • I could blow it in a big way at dollar Bud night at any number of establishments around my office. That reminds me of a funny story about my boss, but back to the car...

    Thanks for the Reed Brothers advice. It's an amber light that comes and goes and I might give it a few more days to see if it goes away again. If not, I think I'll take it up to Rockville and maybe play some pinball at Jillian's at White Flint on the way back (why is it that there are no dart boards or pinball machines in this entire city? The things I miss about Minnesota......)
    Thanks again for the help.

    Open-endedly sounds like a discription of our newest made-for-TV war, "Operation Infinite Justice."
  • Before you spend any money on fixing an amber light it might be an intermittent problem in a wiring connection. At least eyeball your ground connections and make sure they look good. Pull apart and reconnect as many connectors as you can. There may be a small bit of corrosion in there somewhere. As the temperature of the wires rise so does the resistance. At a certain temp point you may be getting to where there is insufficient current flow through a connector giving a false fault reading. Saved me some money doing this when the temp gauge suddenly started going nuts in my Lancer.
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