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MY 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser

HubCaps

I purchased this car used in 2004 with around 25,000 miles showing on the odometer.

Trailer

This car and trailer combo has hauled up to 16-foot lengths of lumber and 700 pound loads of steel for various projects. That's only a pre-hung door in the trailer this time. The trailer is lower than a pickup, so loading boards from the carts at Lowes is much easier than a pickup. Just line them up and shove the boards onto the trailer.

TAZ

A 3D Taz added to the dash seemed appropriate, and should warn any passenger about my driving style.

Sus1
Sus2

These two shots show the lowering springs I installed. These are only about 1" drop in front and 1-1/2" rear to level things out and improve handling without scraping my bottom on speed bumps. I really don't like it when I scrape my bottom. There rear springs are a piece of cake to install, the fronts require a spring compressor that will work on a strut.

Yep, those front tires are looking a little gone, but this is after four years and at least 105,000 miles! These tires were moved to the front after logging at least 70,000 miles on the back.

A few people with good eyes noticed that the style of wheel cover is slightly different in a few photos. Yep, I switched to a better quality hub cap when two were rattled off by the highway rumble strips. The price for a set is still a lot cheaper than a set of alloy rims.

Hood

These were a great fix for the el-cheapo prop rod the factory provided for the hood. Now my hood stays up by itself like it should. Good instructions came with them, so they were easy to install.

Vac

The extra guage on the left is a vacuum guage. It helps me squeeze out a couple of extra MPG on the road. It only works when TAZ is in remission.

Yep, that steering wheel cover is definitely worn out.

EXHAUST UPGRADE

The factory single exhaust seemed in conflict with the hot rod styling.

My first attempt at a "dual exhaust" was simply adding a second tailpipe that wrapped around the spare tire and tapped into the stock system ahead of the original muffler. I used a small resonator muffler and stainless tips. It looked right but was way too LOUD.

My second attempt was a complete new cat-back system with one glasspack type muffler in the tunnel and two resonator mufflers just in front of the stainless steel tips. The pipes were very large, free-flowing 2-1/2" id. This system was advertised as being "just right" for sound and it was supposed to cure the 3000 RPM resonance of the 4 cylinder engine.

NOT! It was incredibly loud and the two rear resonators did not provide adequate clearance for easily removing and replacing the spare tire.

Exhaust

Finally I found the ideal exhaust solution for my PT. The new system uses a very long muffler in the tunnel and one small resonator muffler next to the fuel tank before the tailpipes split and run out the back with stainless tips. There are no resonators needed so access to the spare tire is better than with the other systems I tried.

The new exhaust system is only slightly louder than the stock system and is very driveable. Finally I can make long trips without earplugs! All of the aftermarket systems made a noticable difference in power, especially towing my utility trailer. With the original exhaust the car would not maintain 65 MPH on cruise control in 5th gear. Hills required a downshift so I had to run in 4th gear to use the cruise control. After installing the new exhaust, the car easily maintains 65 MPH on cruise control in 5th gear unless the trailer is overloaded. The new exhaust system was also good for about 2 MPG improvement.

The pipes are aluminized steel. That kept the price under $300 and should last in Virginia. If we were in one of the more northern areas, stainless steel pipes would be worth the extra cost.

July 2010, this exhaust system is apparently no longer available. I wanted to use the same system for my new project PT-II but an extensive web search came up empty. After some head scratching, I'm going to try the HeartThrob system but will be immediatly replacing the front muffler with the 30" Smithy's No. 737-H3018. See PT-II below.

HUBCAPS

HubCaps

This was another area that I thought missed the bus on styling. The original painted hubcaps were replaced with chrome-plated spoke hubcaps. Alloy rims would have been better, but these hubcaps cost $50 for a set of four. Alloy rims would have cost nearly $1000.

REPAIRS

In June 2007 the odometer was showing over 85,000 miles and EVERYTHING not mentioned above was still original equipment except the tires, fluids, wiper blades and filters. Yes, even things like brakes, battery, hoses, spark plugs, plug wires and O2 sensors!

At that point I decided it MUST be time for a set of plugs so I went ahead and replaced the spark plugs and wires with original equipment Champion plugs and a premium set of wires. The old plugs looked fine and there was no change in performance or gas mileage, but I felt better having new plugs and wires on it.

A few months later, with the odometer showing 95,000 miles, the front tires were getting close and I decided to go ahead and have the timing belt changed.

TIRES

With 95,000 miles showing on the odometer, the Michelin tires on the front were getting close to the treadware indicators. Sadly, all the tires on my wife's car were no better. I do not rotate my tires because it has always seemed foolish to try and make all four tires wear out at the same time.

If I leave my car set up the way most alignment shops set it, the tires will quickly wear the outside edges especially on the front tires. This is usually caused by a combination of aggressive driving, too much positive camber and/or too much toe-in.

Rotating tires does even out treadware, but based on my experience it also seems to INCREASE treadware. My conclusion is that, like a lot of other things, the recommendations for rotating tires are coming from the same people who make lots of money selling more tires. By leaving my tires in the same place, I spot treadwear problems, and simply fix them by tweaking the alignment.

Most alignment shops only adjust to within factory specs. They try to hit somewhere in the acceptable range without regard to your driving style or the type of roads you most frequently use. Most people only get an alignment when they get new tires and in many shops the guy doing the alignment does not even see the old tires that came off your car!

BAD NEWS

The repair shop that was doing all of our major car repairs for the last 10 years is no longer doing quality work.

Some of our recent problems with this shop can be blamed on inferior parts (it took two tries to replace the Camry alternator). But it also took them several days to replace the timing belt on my PT! Then they had to do the job over when the mechanic failed to correctly align the timing marks! That is not even a rookie mistake. There is simply no excuse. When I finally picked it up, the mechanic told me they could not get the bolts loose on the water pump, so the water pump was not changed! Why was I not told about that before they had it all back together for the second time? Now I am driving a car with a ticking time bomb. If the water pump goes, it will ruin the new timing belt, and leave me stranded on the side of the road.

Added to that, the car was not put back together properly. Mmaybe they were in a hurry? The inner fender panels were incorrectly installed and rubbing on the brand new serpentine belt. One radiator hose was incorrectly installed and rubbing on the fan shroud. One hose clamp was loose and leaking. The PCV fitting was loose and leaking oil all over the back of the engine. Oil was also leaking from around the oil pan at the other end of the engine. The top engine cover was only snapped into one of three mounting points. Oily, dirty finger prints were all over everything under the hood. This is not the way the car was when I dropped it off.

I found and corrected a few of the more obvious problems within a couple of days. Then, less than two weeks after the timing belt job, my clutch broke. That may be a coincidence, but I have never had a clutch suddenly break like that. I stepped on the clutch pedal, something snapped, and killed the engine. When I tried to restart the car, the clutch was making grinding noises and would not fully disengage. I cannot prove it, but I believe the shop somehow overextended the clutch slave cylinder. That is the only thing that I believe could break the inside of the clutch assembly the way this one broke.

I decided to tackle replacing the clutch myself. The unforseen benefit of doing the work myself was finding and fixing all the other problems the repair shop created doing the timing belt job. It has now been three months since the clutch replacement and I am beginning to regain some of the confidence in my vehicle.

Parts Removed

This is the pile of parts that had to be removed to replace the clutch. Actually not too bad by today's standards. The hardest part was getting to a couple of bolts. I used every combination of extention bar and flex socket in my box. A set of obstruction wrenches is almost essential and a special tool to take apart the hydraulic clutch line would have been a big help.

OilPCV

This is the loose PCV fitting I discovered. It is a little hard to see this area, (impossible with the battery air box and all the covers in place). No telling how long this would have gone before I figured out where the oil was coming from.

WheelWell

The holes ground in the wheelwell are not supposed to be there. This is what happens when the wheel well parts are incorrectly assembled. the air conditioner pulley ground holes in the plastic. Soon after I reinstalled the panels correctly, my serpentine belt started to slip. Road dirt and trash were getting on the belt through these holes and being slung all over the engine compartment. I made a temporary patch (duct tape) until I can find a new panel. I also discovered that the alternator has a separate belt and it was way too loose.

Hose

This is a good example of how NOT to install a hose clamp. Hard to believe a professional shop actually charged me for this kind of work. Notice everything in the vicinity has been nicely steam-cleaned by the escaping coolant. This was the only clean part of the engine compartment. I had to buy a special cable-operated hose clamp tool to remove and then correctly re-install this clamp. These newer cars are a complete pain to work on, even with special tools.

Shed

This is inside my tractor shed, the only covered place I had to work at that time. The tractor in the background is my 1952 Ford 8N. If you are interested, you can find out more about the tractor by following this link. MY FORD TRACTOR SITE

SHIFT CABLE REPAIR TIP

This one can save you a bunch of money!

A problem that was not related to any previous repair work was my shift cables. The cable ends are metal with a molded plastic bushing. By the time I found the problem, the plastic was completely gone, and there was LOTS of slop in the shifter. Getting into reverse gear had become a real challenge. The only factory fix to repair this condition is to replace the cables. The dealer quoted me a price of around $400 for that job. It was over $200 just to buy the cables. No way! I headed down to the local Lowes Home Improvement Center(R) and bought a handful of fender washers, clips, and nylon bushings in assorted sizes. None of the bushings were the exact outside diameter, but several had the correct hole size, so I simply ground two down until they were a press-fit in the ends of my shift cables. The cable ends are two different sizes, so I had to make two different size bushings. My shifter works better than new and it cost less than five dollars!

If you are not into fabricating your own bushings, there are now several original type sets of bushings available on ebay, or you can buy an improved version here: BUSHINGS.

They have half sets, so if yours have only failed at the transmission, you only need to buy the set for that end of the cables.

Bushings

One very loose cable end is in plain sight, I've circled the location of the other one. It was in equally bad shape. Hard to believe these were working at all. I repaired both of these without removing the base plate for the air box. Try moving the shift levers to get them in a better location, or just go ahead and remove the plate.

A friend just had a similar problem where one of the cables just fell off at the shifter. It was shifting fine one moment and then the shifter just came loose. First time I've heard of that one. The cable ends do just snap on, so it's easy to see how they might work loose. Seems like a no-brainer, if we are in there doing any work, secure them with a clip or piece of stainless steel tie wire.

OUCH !!!

October 2008 - We hit a deer!

Deer

We were on the way home from a family get-together when several deer came running out of a field. There was simply no way to avoid hitting one of them. We were on a two lane country highway and the only other option was going off-road and hitting some trees. The impact bent the left front fender into the tire, broke the headlight, grille, bent the hood, and cracked the radiator.

We coasted to a stop in a gas station about 1/8 mile down the road. Surprisingly, our britches were still clean and after pulling the fender off the tire and tossing two handfulls of broken plastic parts in the trash, the car seemed drivable. Obviously only the right headlight was working, but both fog lights were ok, and the steam from the cracked radiator did not look too bad, so (fingers crossed) we headed home. The car drove fine. It burped out a cloud of steam especially when we stopped, but we made it home without overheating.

It continued to steam after I shut it down in the driveway. The next morning, I found two long cracks in the plastic top tank of the radiator. The coolant level was down about one gallon.

Firing up my computer, I came up with a total of $1200 for parts. That total included paying extra to get pre-painted parts. I was a little hesitant about spending the extra money to get pre-painted parts. I did not know if the color would really match or if it was possible for it to survive shipping. Fixing it myself would also leave me without a vehicle for a couple of weeks. The insurance company would not pay for a rental while I fixed the car myself. So I decided to take it to a body shop.

TIP, How do you temporarily fix a crack in a plastic radiator?

In an emergency, wait till it cools, and try using a soldering iron. Yep, I heated up my soldering iron and traced each crack several times until the plastic melted and fused together. I even moved a little plastic to bridge the crack. Filled it up with water, and drove to the body shop.

They seemed impressed with the repair and even asked if I still wanted the radiator replaced (joking maybe?). Duh, of course I did. No way that radiator can be trusted. The soldering iron repair was ok to get me to the shop, but cracked is cracked.

The shop estimated around $2400 total and, since I only had to pay my deductible, that did not seem to bad. The shop took a week to repair the damage and then sent a revised bill to the insurance company for almost $3500! There was no hidden damage. Everything they replaced was listed on the original estimate. They had changed totals for most of the parts and increased the labor charges! When I tried to find out why the original estimate was not binding, I was told by my insurance company that this was standard proceedure. No wonder our insurance rates keep going up!

TIRE UPDATE - November 2008 - The two Michelins I left on my PT Cruiser one year ago are finally down to the last 1/32 inch of tread above the indicators. This is with 130,000 miles showing on the odometer! That is 4 years and at least 105,000 miles! My preference would be to put a new set of Michelins all the way around, but I put the two Bridgestones on it last year and they still look great. They have a cool-looking directional tread. I found another pair of "like new" Bridgestone Potenza RE 950s that match the first pair for $60. These were obsolete tires, but seem to ride OK. They are definitely not as good as the Michelins.

TIRE UPDATE II - I must have been pyschotic (psychic?). One of the Bridgestones developed a "knot" in the tread on the way home from one of our road trips. Two hours from home we stopped, put the space-saver spare on it, and limped to a town, any town. Our angels were with us as we rolled into a Merchants, they were open, they had two Michelin tires that would fit, the tires were on sale, and there was a good restaurant right next door where we could have dinner!

After that little drama, things settled down for over a year. The car performed flawlessly until June 2010. We were on our way home (another weekend road trip) the light turned green, I let out the clutch, it just went whirrr. No lurch nothing. It had absolutely no go in any forward gear or reverse. The shifter and clutch pedal seemed normal, just no GO. Once again, we were miles from home, only this time it was later in the evening and raining. I opened the door and gave it a shove to get it rolling, traffic allowed me to make the right turn, jimp back in, and pick up some speed rolling down a hill. We coasted to a stop in the parking lot of a vacant business. It looked like a ghost town. We looked at each other and started speculating about out chances of finding a cab or rental car at 8PM on a Saturday night. Slim to none. Once again, the Lord smiled on us. We should never doubt.

We saw a sign.
It was a small sign,
Just down the street.
The light was on,
and the sign said...
"24 hour Towing",

Hallelujah!

There was even a tow truck idling in front!

The ride home in a tow truck with the PT "on the hook" spelled the end of our confidence in this vehicle. This is looking like a major repair, the towing bill alone was over $200, and it does have over 150,000 miles on the odometer. Suddenly we are looking for a newer car. We may still break down, there are no guarantees when it comes to anything mechanical, but something with less miles on it "should" be more reliable.

Looking at our records, even with this latest breakdown, the PT Cruiser has been by far the most reliable vehicle we have ever owned. It required less service and thus cost far less to operate, than any of the other vehicles we have been driving in recent years.

As it turns out, it was only the clutch. This was supposed to be a top-of-the-line LUK(R) replacement clutch. It cost a little more but I thought it would be an upgrade over the factory parts. WRONG! It's only been in there about 20,000 miles. Just long enough to be out of warrranty, of course. It is obviously defective, or a really stupid design. The center hub of the clutch disk appears to have been press-fit. Over time it loosened and eventually spun free which feels about the same as tearing the splines off or snapping the transmission input shaft. Lesson learned, the replacement parts this time will be genuine Mopar OEM replacement parts.

I was relieved to discover it was only the clutch. I can fix that for a little over $200 in parts so this one will have some resale value rather than just being junked. While the repairs were in progress, my wife found (and we bought) a "new" 2008 PT Cruiser at a dealership in North Carolina.

NEW PROJECT - 2008 PT Cruiser

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