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If you're in the market for a used car, you may find that there are few reviews which really cover what it is like to live with a car for a long time. Most people don't bother to write old-car reviews, probably because most reviewers write for the new-car market. It's much harder to make a living as a car reviewer otherwise.
On the other hand, if you just happen to own a car, why not share your experiences?
These reviews only apply to the 1995 models. The first-generation Neon underwent many changes through its life, so that a 1999 model was more refined than the 1995 models, but the 1995 version was faster, with the "hot cam." Much of the character of the car, though, stayed the same, and though improved, some issues continued to be problematic - in particular the confusing ventilation controls, the frameless windows, and, though to a lesser degree, the exhaust "donut." (These issues, except the vent controls, were finally addressed in the 2000 Dodge and Plymouth Neon).
The Neon engine has been excellent except for the head gasket replacement, mostly paid for by Chrysler. Totally leak-free, our SOHC 2.0 has maintained its power and smooth idle for over 100,000 miles, giving us between 30 and 34 mpg (30 city/highway, 34 highway at relatively high speeds with intermittent a/c use). It is still a speed demon when needed, but it is also fairly gentle during routine driving. On the highway, a downshift is needed for good acceleration thanks to the fuel-saving tall fifth gear.
The Neon's engine is quite different from the TBI 2.2/2.5 which preceded it. Those engines were good at the low rpms, but quickly ran out of breath. The 2.0 doesn't start to run until you hit 2500 rpm, and swings rapidly up to redline. On the other hand, the Toyota Corolla's 1.8 engine seems to be nearly as fast, without all that noise. (We suspect that's largely due to Toyota's smarter gearing - a lower first gear helps to get going from a full stop). Those who find the Neon to be underpowered either aren't revving it anywhere near high enough, or are using automatic transmissions.
The suspension is good enough by small-car standards. Our early 1995 model, built in late 1994, sometimes bottoms out with a (very) full load. This can probably be fixed through a TSB, but first we'd need to find a cooperative dealer...! Most of the time the Neon can handle any sort of potholes or obstructions, and it's never scraped a driveway.
There have been no operational problems, aside from the usual Neon culprits:
I can add recent brake pad and hose replacement at about 10 years/96,000 miles (no failure, just thought they were old enough), radiator replacement (I broke it doing the hoses), and a/c failure from the evaporator and compressor.
Despite Consumer Reports' warnings, we have not experienced any rattles, buzzes, or hums from the interior. Everything has held together just fine, thanks.
The frameless windows are a real pain. First, you cannot get people to shut the door by the metal. No way. This knocks the window out of alignment, which makes it impossible to seal the door properly, which means tons of wind noise. Major design flaw - and a foolish decision which has cost Chrysler tons of money in warranty work as well as quite a bit of customer loyalty. (You are not supposed to shut the door by the window on other frameless-window cars, either). However, once properly adjusted and we stopped using them as handles, the windows stay in place for years.
The fabric on the seats has been quite good for us, with our baby. Milk and other potential stains can be wiped right off with some water, even after they have been sitting for a long time. Thanks, 3M, for ScotchGuard (TM).
The handling is still excellent, and the tires and brakes have been holding up well after 83,000 miles and seven years (yes, that's outdated, but they were still goodo when replaced). The Eagle GS-Rs on our Sport our outrageously overpriced, but they do handle very well in both wet and dry weather, and seem good on snow, too. Braking is mediocre, and the ABS comes on too early. (Due to a bulge in one tire, we did replace the Eagle GS-Rs at about 60,000 miles, first with nearly new Goodyear Integritys - which caused much squealing - and then with Yokohama Avid MD-H4s, which restored the excellent characteristics of the GS-Rs for half the price). We replaced the brake pads soon with performance versions, not because the old ones are worn, but to help with the stopping distance.
It may sound like we are very happy with the Neon, and, for the most part, we are. but it would have been good if they had really tested this car well before producing it; I feel like a beta tester. The windows and mouldings are truly annoying, and the wind noise is far too high. Great drivetrain, nice space, lousy windows. (Note that Pomoco Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge sells weatherstrip and mouldings much cheaper than my local dealers!)
The 1996 models were better, but the 1997s were better still, and the 1998s were what the 1995s should have been... and if Chrysler had thought through the frameless windows and other issues, and done a little more quality checking up front, their reputation for quality would be far higher today. (When I drove a 1997 Neon automatic, it was tight as a drum even at over 20,000 miles as a rental, and handled like it was on rails. The transmission was more pleasant than the 1995 Neon automatic, too).
Notes: New spark plugs and wires at 65,000 miles as part of routine maintenance. New seat belts at 68,000 miles - a revised part was issued. One of our seat belt covers had come apart (functionally it was still OK, and yes, we could have glued it back together). This took about half an hour, and included taking the seats out of the car. Fortunately we already had big Allen wrenches! Also had to replace the upstream oxygen sensor though bad gas might have caused that. It did "break" rather suddenly on getting gas at a new station.
We replaced the timing belt at 80,000 miles, but it had already skipped a tooth. The birdbrain mechanic failed to adjust the tensioner but John Auto Tech got that!
Well, I guess I can give a pretty worthwhile report on how the Neon ages. I've owned it since new; and just recently turned 77,777 miles (neat-o :-) [Read on - Rich goes through 110,000 miles via updates; he sold the car at 160,000 miles with no additional repairs!]
The original Neon was marketed as cheap and a blast to drive. I think that both the Good and Bad reflect this. My car was cheap to buy (especially as a leftover :), and cheap to own. It's never failed me in my requests for handling or acceleration (at least when the AC is off). I wish the road noise was a bit less intrusive, and that the windows were thought out better. As far as transportation, the car has been strictly jump in and drive; I feel very confident in the car.
My wife and I bought a 1995 brand new with 67 miles on the odometer (against my better judgement). We now have 221,000 miles on it (I judged wrong). It is a 4 door sport model.
The biggest complaint up to this point has been electrical. I have replaced 3 light switches because of where Dodge placed them. The last switch I cut about 1/2 inch out of the knob and now it sits back in the dash cutout so my kneecap doesn't hit it. I had to replace the turn signal dimmer switch this summer when it melted (literally), seems kind of wrong to run that much power thru the steering column. The dimmer switch should have controlled a relay closer to the headlights.
I had to replace the engine two weeks ago when the headgasket gave out on the first day of vacation in Canada. Went with a used engine simply because of a lack of funds. Planning on rebuilding the old engine. We have replaced the front brake pads twice, front rotors once, back pads once, all four struts once, one O2 sensor, one EGR valve. I had to replace the right fore and aft control rod bracket on the right rear because it cracked from hitting something.
From the first oil change it has run on nothing but Castrol Syntech oil 5W-50, expensive but I think worth it. The only bad thing about its handling is in slush or rolly gravel, the car seems to get real squirrely. Part of it could be the excessive camber in the rear wheels. It was there when the car was new but it seems to have gotten worse with age, and the fact that I have 6 miles of gravel to drive each day doesn't help.
The car has always gotten in the low to mid 30s mpg no matter how hard it is ran or if the A/C on. The "new" 60,000 mile engine doesn't do as well.
All and all the wife and I are very pleased with the service we have gotten out of the car. It goes through rain, snow, mud, asphalt, and the occasional road race with a silly smile plastered on its grill and I plan on running the car until spare parts and ingenuity run out.
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