Last year at this time, you may remember, was my first meeting with Molly, who despite her Irish-sounding name is a Japanese-American hybrid: a Mazda 626 sedan, vintage 1993, built in a place called Flat Rock, Michigan. (Well, she is green.) It wasn't love at first sight, exactly, but there was something compelling about her, enough for me to sign on the dotted line for about twenty percent more than the budget would legitimately have permitted.

After a year and a relatively modest number of miles, it seems I actually made a reasonable buy. I have had only the one unscheduled service stop, and while at $600 it wasn't cheap, well, it was the only one. Routine maintenance, which included changing all the fluids as needed, tire rotation, and replacing a rusted muffler, came to $215, which isn't bad at all. The vehicle she replaced was a little bit cheaper on routine maintenance, but then it was driven less, mostly because it was always in the shop.

One unexpected benefit of life online is that you get to hear all manner of complaints from people, unfiltered and uncensored. And quite a few of those complaints dealt with 626 automatic transmissions. After consulting with what experts on things Mazda I could find, I figured out that while the usual Mazda slushbox is not the sturdiest contraption on earth, it's a paragon of reliability next to the Ford transaxle bolted into the four-cylinder models starting in the '94 model year — and breathed a sigh of relief.

Last fall, I mentioned the sound of the engine at startup, and likened it to a paper shredder. This is apparently the result of teensy hydraulic lifters taking time to get pumped up after a cold start. The experts explained that this was avoidable by using the proper OEM oil filter; it has some sort of trick drainback valve to keep the oil supply and the lifters in closer contact after shutdown. I thought this sounded a trifle far-fetched, but it seemed worth looking into, so I had the dealer do the next oil change, and sure enough, there's only a brief burst of noise at startup, and then everything settles down to relative quiet.

Thirty-six months from now, I'll own this crisp little box free and clear. At the moment, it actually looks like both of us will make it.

The Vent

9 September 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill