Requiem for a Toyota

34 comments on Requiem for a Toyota
4 minutes

Have you ever become irrationally attached to something you owned?

Replacement Matrix

I bought this 2003 Toyota Matrix in 2009 after wrecking my previous car, also a Matrix, on vacation with my sons. My first Matrix had been the base model, but this one was the top-of-the-line XRS with its peppier engine. She’s a blast to drive. I made this photo the day I brought her home from the dealership. Doesn’t she look good?


But after eight years she has rolled over 185,000 hard miles. It’s shocking how badly the paint has worn on this car — it has faded heavily on every horizontal surface, and has chipped off a large portion of the hood. The front ground effects broke off in a mishap, but by then the paint was already in bad shape. I spent the reimbursement check on other things. Her body is scuffed and dented from other minor mishaps, including a low-speed rear-end accident and that time I broke the side mirror while backing out of my garage. Truly, she looks awful.

Systems are failing. I suppose the least of the failures is the windshield-washer motor, but it’s surprising how much you really need it. Yet given her age and condition I didn’t even bother finding out how much it would cost to replace. I just plunked a bottle of Windex into the center console and drove on. More seriously, she’s developed a slow oil leak. And the Check Engine light comes on from time to time to warn me of a problem with the engine’s variable valve timing system. My mechanic’s advice was clear: “Don’t fix it. Not on a car this old. Just keep her oil topped off and drive her gently. She’ll run for a long time like that.” I bought my own OBD II code scanner so I can check for that error code and shut the Check Engine light off.

Key signs your car is a beater: it looks beat up, you are choosing not to fix some of its problems, and you bought your own OBD II code scanner.

When the Check Engine light came on again recently, however, the error code pointed to catalytic-converter failure. And I’d been hearing an ominous clicking sound from the front end when I turned the wheel hard.

You know you’ve gone the distance with an old car when your mechanic calls you by a nickname. “Aw Jimmy,” he said, “I can fix these problems if you want. But it’s gonna cost you big. Two or three times more than this car is worth. You might want to stop and think about whether it makes sense.”

In the end, I let logic prevail over emotion. It’s time to let the car go.

Dog in the wayback

And I’m sad about it. I love this dumb car. I bought it because my first Matrix worked so well for my family. Even though a Matrix is small on the outside, it offers enormous interior room. I could put my two sons, the dog, and a weekend’s worth of luggage in there. We could take on any adventure we wanted in the Matrix.

Wagon Full of Sod

It has been incredibly useful for moving things. Folding down the back seat opens up a giant cavern of cargo space. I’ve moved an assembled gas grill, a dining room table and six chairs, and many loads of sod. When I recently moved into my new home I moved all my boxes in the Matrix in just a handful of trips.

Brick Lincoln Highway

Along the way she was a great road-trip companion, prowling many old alignments with me. Here, she’s on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, Indiana.

Snowy day

Five years ago, as old age began creeping up on my car, I bought a used Ford Focus to be my daily driver and relegated the Matrix to backup duty. I taught my sons to drive in it and let them use it when they needed a car. I used it like a small van to haul house-project supplies home from Lowe’s. And I drove it to church, because then I drove it at least once a week. Though one especially snowy winter I shoveled her in and waited for the thaw. All together I’ve put just 20,000 miles on her since buying the Ford.

I don’t really need her anymore. I haven’t in a few years, really. But I’m sad to see her go just the same.


34 responses to “Requiem for a Toyota”

  1. LittleFears Avatar

    I can relate! My previous motorbike was a tiny-engined 125cc Trackstar. Cute British retro little thing. I did something like 70,000 n her and she never missed a beat. Impressive for such a tiny-engined bike. There were tears the day she died!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Not every vehicle earns such attachment!

  2. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    I understand completely! I have been the same way with more than one car, even when I bought them at advanced age or miles.
    It is sad watching a car you love slowly turn from an object of pride into a heap. The like- new 93 Crown Victoria that I bought from my mother in 2005 with 63k on the odo was like your Matrix (if not worse) by the time I and my 3 kids were done with it about 3 years ago. I felt like an awful person when I sold it for $500.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now my question is what to do with the Matrix. Because I don’t want to feel like an awful person foisting it and its problems off on some next owner.

      My mechanic has offered me $200 for it; he’ll part it out. Frankly, I think it’s worth $500.

      A guy at work has expressed moderate interest, and willingness to pop $500. He even drove it yesterday. He’s now sleeping on it, which may be his kind way of saying “eh, no thanks after all.”

      But I do not want to hassle with selling it on Craigslist. I have enough hassle in my life. So I may end up begrudgingly taking my mechanic’s offer.

      1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

        You can take it to CarMax. They will appraise it and make you an offer good for 7 days. A friend bought my Crown Vic. After he drove it for over a year CarMax paid him $500 for it, so he drove it for the cost of a pair of wiper blades.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Do you think that given its cosmetic condition Carmax would even give me $500 for it? For some reason this is the figure that I’m fixated on. I feel like I want $500 for the thing. I do not understand why I am struggling with that.

          1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

            No idea, but you will at least have a hard cash offer that will give you another data point so as to make your decision. I was surprised that my friend got $500 for the Vic.

  3. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    Your sentiments are completely understandable and definitely shared with others. Does it stem from being a reminder of the brevity of life? Or is it the simple reluctance to turn loose of so many rolling memories? Perhaps those thoughts are too deep for this hour of the morning.

    This is timely as I was thinking similar last night. Yesterday there was a brand new 2018 Impala delivered to where I work. It will be assigned to me; I even got to pick the color. It will likely be with me until I retire and I can only imagine the wear and tear it will see in that time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Retire?! For me, at age 50, I’m assuming I have at least another 15, probably another 20 years to go! Not like my industry issues cars, but if it did, my 2018 car would be turning to dust by the time I retire!!

      1. Jason Shafer Avatar
        Jason Shafer

        Only retiring from my current position! After I’m eligible there’s more financial incentive to retire and go to work elsewhere. Retire as in actual retirement is an enigmatic thought for me.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I totally get this! My ’05 BMW 325i has 86,000 miles on her and I love the car. But I’m sort of at the sweet spot now where she is worth at least a little something on a trade in as opposed to waiting a few years and seeing the old gal only worth a few hundred bucks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh man, those are some low miles! You really are at the pivot point, though: sell now and get max value, or choose to just drive it until it’s essentially worthless. Good luck navigating the emotions around that choice!

  5. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Sniff, I feel this way about all my Toyotas! Been driving Toyotas since the mid-70’s. One Corona (look it up, not around any more), 3 Tercels, and One Scion xB, which I have now. Toyotas (and Hondas) just don’t seem to break like American cars (BTW, not ALL Japanese cars are great this way either, I’ve met a lot of folks with marginal Mazadas and Subarus). My problem has always been, they start wearing out at 180,000+ miles, then you have to decide if you want to start replacing worn out half-shafts and the like, which end up equaling the down payment on a new Toyota! I may find out now tho, with the loss of my job in my 60’s, and my 2005 Scion xB with 164,000 on it, I might have to live cheap, claim early social security, and slowly replace wear-parts to see how long I can keep it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh, I remember the Corona!

      I was staunch Buy American until I got married the first time and my wife brought an ’89 Corolla SR5 coupe into the marriage. Hot damn, was that a great little car. So fun to drive. We got ‘er to 175k before it was time to call it quits. Since then I’ve owned three more Toyotas: a first-genration Sienna minivan and two Matrixes. I love the Matrixes. I’m sort of tempted to sell my Focus and buy another Matrix.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I shoulda knocked on wood! Left the library, went to the post office, and my 2005 xB wouldn’t start! Had to wait two hours for a tow to the Toyota dealership! Turns out it’s a broken starter, no “warning” behavior, just broke, and took the fuse with it (they tell me it always happens that way).

        If there’s any consolation, in 42 years of driving Toyota’s, this in only the second starter I ever replaced (the first was on my ’77 with over 100,000 miles on it), and only the third time I’ve had to get a tow. I’m probably still ahead, but now I have to worry about dependability. When I relocate from Indy to where I want to be, it’s going to be a couple of substantial drives, but then when I get someplace with mass trans, I won’t have to worry so much.

        BTW, the “loaner” car they gave me is a new Corolla, and I can’t stand it! Every time I get in or out of the car, it knocks my hat off, and I can’t figure out the heat/cool without reading the manual. It has a back-up camera, mostly I think, because I can’t turn around and see out the back window. This is making me think I might need to keep my old xB “Box” and just keep replacing the wear parts!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Even Toyotas occasionally break down! This Matrix’s starter failed, too, necessitating a tow. I’ve had it towed 2 or 3 other times, too, for other minor failures.

          The single most expensive repair I’ve ever experienced on a car was on my previous Matrix — the five-speed transmission failed. It cost about $3,000 to replace it.

          My mom just bought a 2015 Nissan Versa Note and it has much the same challenge of your borrowed Corolla — high sills and a nearly useless rear window. It’s maddening. I, too, am not eager to move into the “modern era” of cars when it’s time to part with my 2006 Focus.

  6. Kate (@AnalogPhotoBug) Avatar

    Loved your post….I do think that Toyota has the worst paint quality that I have ever experienced though. My 3 year old 4Runner was all scratched up within a month of regular driving/parking.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now that you mention it, the first Toyota in my life had terrible paint too. Hmm…

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        My ’77 had the worst paint and rust ever; the dealer actually warned me to quit driving it because the frame wasn’t safe anymore! The paint and rust problems got better, and were pretty much gone by my ’93 Tercel; B-U-T, my 2005 Scion xB, sheds paint if you look at it cross-eyed, and a little brush against it will chip paint. Weird thing is, the surface paint comes off, but the primer? Never! Whatever primer they put on is locked on solid, end in a rock hit, but the paint, always falling off!

  7. DougD Avatar

    Well done good and faithful servant. I share your sentiments, I get attached to every car I work on regularly, even if I don’t particularly like the car my labor investment seems to turn into emotional investment.
    I am in the same boat as you, we’ve bought a newer Focus and I have to dispose of my 2001 Focus. We’ve owned it since 2003 and there’s nothing wrong with it other than being 16 years old and having 275,000 km on it. I started the ad at $1500 last week, $1200 this week. No responses. Next week is $900, and so on.
    This may not be true in Indiana, but I figure in Ontario car insurance is so expensive if you’ve got $1000+ per year for insurance you can afford better than a $1000 car.

    How many vehicles is your combined household running now?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Holy wow I’d buy a car like that for $1000.

      Here my insurance on my Focus is probably $350 a year, but I no longer have collision (accident that’s my fault) coverage on it. If I have an at-fault accident, I’m just out. But my insurance does pay for the damage I cause. It also pays if I hit a deer or a tree falls on the car.

      I haven’t disposed of the Matrix yet, and there’s my 06 Focus ZX5 SES (leather and sunroof baby!!), and Margaret’s 10 Focus SE sedan.

      1. DougD Avatar

        Come and get it then :)
        FWIW our 2013 Focus is the hatchback version, the interior space is a bit more Matrix like than our old Focus. The rear seat still has to be flipped forwards though.
        At any rate you probably don’t want three Focii in your family..

  8. Roger Carr Avatar
    Roger Carr

    Know the feeling. You know that objectively, she’s had her day and may one day mess your day up, but taht’s enough of a reason to trade he rin.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah. And given her front-end issues, the nature of the messup could be quite dangerous. Time for her to go.

  9. The Writing Waifu Avatar

    I hear you. I loved my old Saturn and miss it every time I have to drive my new car through the snow. It’s just not the same!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Some cars are just special!

  10. Walter Czyz Avatar
    Walter Czyz

    Years ago I discovered that I can fix lawn mower engines, including mowers and edgers/trimmers. This skill went on to include most mechanical issues on our vehicles. You’d be surprised how easy most repairs on our cars actually are. Once an issue arises, I try to research and fix it soon or you get the dreaded itch for a new car! You ignore one issue and the next thing you know, your car is a “beater”. My upcoming repair will be replacing the front axles/cv joints on our suv. Easily a $1,200+ job which I can complete for the cost of parts totaling around $150! Give it a try, you just might surprise yourself!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a time thing. I don’t have it.

      I’m intrigued by the prospect of wrenching on my own cars. But my life is so packed in and will probably remain that way that I just can’t find the Saturday needed to do any serious car-repair job.

      And this Toyota would be a perfect one to learn on. I don’t need it to get to work. It could stay in a state of disassembly as long as necessary.

  11. Jerry Avatar

    Man what is going on with the hood on that car? lol

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wish I knew. The paint just flaked off.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        My 2005 “old style” Scion xB, has the flat hood. When I got to Indy, I found a lot of people here that back into spaces to leave their cars nose out, I don’t know why, because it’s not safer than nose in to a tight space and back out into a big one. More weirdness here. Anyway, I always used to pull through a space to face out, if the space across me was empty, until I couldn’t figure out why my hood was always scratched? I came out of store one time, and found some hill-jack using my hood for a staging area for his packages while he was loading his trunk! Just dragging them across my paint job! Never saw that is Wisconsin! From that point on, no nose out parking!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I back into spaces ever since I lived in an apartment complex with a lot of walkers. Backing out of the space in front of my apartment, more than once I nearly hit someone. Parking nose out lets me see better.

          Rednecks using your car as a table is just ridiculous.

          My car’s roof has the same abrasion that the hood does, just not as advanced. I just don’t know what caused it.

  12. tbm3fan Avatar

    The hood is interesting. Most times, at least all the times I have seen, the clear coat flakes off the surface like peeling skin after a bad sunburn. That hood looks like a cat thought it was a scratching post.

    Having 10 cars means I need to be able to do almost all the work on them and it also means nothing too new with extensive computer and software. Luckily I can handle things from mechanical, to body work and to paint. You could say I have a oily thumb as opposed to a green thumb. I’m fortunate that everything under my care does well. As for time then mix in 10 cars, time in my office, time seeing patients in nursing homes, one aircraft carrier, a wife and a eight year old son.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Before the paint started coming off the hood felt like someone had taken sandpaper to it. The roof is that way now.

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