My New Curbside Classic: 2003 Mazda Protege 5 – They Shoot Rangers, Don’t They?

Here’s an update on my Curbside Classic, the 1992 Ford Ranger I did back in October 2011. In it, I told of how it was meant to be and how reliable and handsome it was in a straightforward sort of way. But like all good things, they eventually pass and wear out, and thus, the Ranger had reached that point.

As I alluded to in that original post, it was leaking oil and coolant. The oil was disappearing at a rate of two quarts every two weeks. When I had the oil changed in September, it was noted that the cooling system was indeed leaking, but no specifics were mentioned.

As we got through fall, I had to add brake fluid as the brake and/or the ABS lights would sporadically come on ever so briefly, indicating they were low on fluid, but the brakes themselves felt normal otherwise. By January, the power steering was feeling rather raspy when I was manipulating the truck into a parking space one day. Fluid was added to solve that;  it’s not the first time that’s happened, but it appeared to be a very, very slow leak.

Then we had a major winter storm that hit the Puget Sound area. Snow, ice and wind hit the area and the truck soldiered on without complaint or issue. But by that Saturday, another issue reared its ugly head. The engine wouldn’t rev beyond 2000 rpm the entire time I was out running errands, and when it did hit 2000rpm, the throttle would drop to 1000 rpm, only to climb once again until it hit that ceiling; rinse, lather, repeat.

I tried to get the codes (OBD I) and since didn’t have a scanner, I had to rely on the flashing CEL light to tell me the digits to make up the codes, but never was successful with obtaining them accurately so gave up on that.

A trip to Midas, which is just a half block from work revealed the issue – and more. The idle air controller valve had gone bad and thus wasn’t reliable anymore; the radiator was indeed leaking, the timing cover was leaking, and so was the thermostat. The battery and serpentine belt were in need of replacement – and that wasn’t the end of it.The truck also had a loose wheel bearing (left front) and the rear U-Joint was also loose. Essentially, it was dying a slow death: it was now time to move on. But to what?

First, I had to determine my budget. I had hoped to begin saving up a down payment and have better income and replace the truck later in the year. Alas, the truck had other ideas and I was forced to do something, now, as I’d hoped to be able to afford a new Fiat 500. I established a budget using a car-buying calculator, and that was the beginning of my search. Last weekend was supposed to be a reconnaissance mission to see what was out there in my price range/budget.

I ended up test-driving a 2003 Mazda Protege 5 out of curiosity. It just felt right, the right size and shape, the right amount of horsepower, good driving dynamics and had most of the features I was looking for. Those included power windows, door locks, AC, hatchback, etc., but the added bonus was it had the sport shift automatic.

The Protegé had leather too, a nice touch. The only manual I found (and preferred) was a 2008 Mazda5 but it was much too much car and didn’t feel nearly as right as the smaller Protege 5.

Another car I was interested in (KIA Spectra 5 with most of the same features, but a 2006 MY) was already sold. And by this time, I really was feeling pretty warm about the Mazda.

So back I went back to the first car dealer where I found the Mazda, and decided that with all the good stuff they’d already done under the hood, such as the oil, fluids and the timing belt, that it was the right car, and decided to buy it.

I got a fairly hot deal and a decent loan too, despite it  having 110K+ miles on it. I even got $1000 trade on the old truck. I also had $1100 to use as a down payment, thanks to my tax return, and I didn’t have to deal with trying to sell the old truck either, a win, win in my view.

While we sweated out the loan process (finding one that would finance the Mazda), I figured that if it all went through, it was meant to be. And so it was.

[ED: This is John’s actual Protoge 5. And my apologies for taking liberties with the pictures in your post, John, if they’re not to your liking. It’s the kind of thing that can happen when I’m bach’ing it and working late on a Friday night]