To be honest, I really didn’t want this car. In the grand scheme of things, it was the logical choice to replace my wife’s aging 2006 Honda Civic (aging in the sense that it was approaching 200,000 miles). Her car, funny enough, became my car and my Steed, the Ford Fusion became her car (listen, when you get married and have a baby on the way, the wife gets the newer wheels….just don’t argue). In my mind, the Civic became the beater, tasked with the daily grind of shuttling me to the airport for work and sitting in the parking lot for days on end. It was fine, it excelled in that role and to be honest, it could’ve probably gone for another 50,000 miles. But things were starting to wear down and it wasn’t worth sinking anymore money to keep it going. Time to find the new beater.
So the search was on for its replacement. I wanted something that would be cheap to operate but still be a driver’s choice. Corollas were ruled out instantly. Nothing against that car, it’s just not a driver’s car. I zeroed in on a first generation Mazda 3 hatchback as they were in my price range (I had to chuck my #savethemanuals request since the wife can’t drive stick…yet). But then, from out of left-field came another choice: the first generation Infiniti FX. No not the V6-powered FX35, but the hulking, 4.5-liter V8 FX45. When the FX was first introduced in the early 2000s, it was polarizing and, well, beautiful to my eyes. Here, some 17 years later, the original FX has aged gracefully and still attracts with its forward thinking design. The fact that some models I found were in my price was something of a shocker. Could this really fill the beater role?
V8 FX models are rare though, and that rarity commands premium pricing. Especially on lower mileage models. But I was going to make it work. When I told the wife my thoughts, she was skeptical at first but agreed that I might as well get something nice for myself. We found one close by and once she saw it, she was hooked. “You NEED to get this car!” I’ve never seen her so excited about car buying. A short test drive revealed engine issues however, and that particular FX was ruled out. I found another one that, with some haggling, was in my price range. It drove beautifully, was in great condition and, crucially, had low miles though this did give me pause (remember my Lexus debacle?). A pre-purchase inspection was necessary, which the seller agreed to. However, he would not budge on price…..and never did. So there went that option.
With the prospect of buying an FX seeming increasingly remote, I briefly considered a rebuilt Lexus IS300 wagon a friend was selling. Knowing I couldn’t possibly get that pass the wife, I resorted to the original plan to find a Mazda 3 hatch. Finding a white 2007 model a few miles away within our price range. a short test drive revealed an odd noise in the rear which was at first attributed to a loose cosmetic piece in the trunk. A pre-purchase inspection revealed no issues with 112,000 miles on the clock and no bad spots on the CarFax report. After some haggling, we welcome the little hatchback into out garage. At this point, you’d think we all lived happily ever after. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Shortly after taking delivery, several issues began to pop up. The most annoying being that same rattling rear end. It wasn’t a constant noise, mind you, as all was quiet during steady highway cruising. But go over speed bumps or uneven roads and the noise resurfaced. The other issue was the transmission. The ‘AT’ light would flash in the gauge cluster at odd times, momentarily throwing a check engine light. At first, there was nothing wrong with the transmission’s shifting quality until one day, heading to my in-laws during a move, the transmission abruptly kicked into Park for less than a split second. The CEL briefly illuminated, then went dark. It was such an unnerving experience that, the next day, I tried to diagnose the issue at our local repair shop. Since there was no steady check engine light and apparently no way to diagnose the rattly read end, the shop recommended a full suspension/transmission rebuild.
I nearly puked.
No way was I going to cough up as much money as I paid for the car to make it roadworthy. So after buying a Haynes Repair Manual (I recommend doing this for any used car purchase, even if you’re not a DIYer) and delving into some YouTube videos, I performed several repairs that solved all issues. The rattly rear end? Changed the rear suspension end links and shocks. Poof! No more rattling! The AT light illuminating randomly and throwing a CEL? Replaced all transmission sensors, including the control module (a $400 part!) and now the transmission has never shifted smoother. I also replaced both the engine oil and transmission fluid, replaced a bad starter and swapped out the spark plugs since I have no idea when they were last addressed, if ever. The engine coolant is currently being scheduled for a flush, even though the coolant itself still looks pretty good.
Another thing that irked me when I first saw the 3 were the taillights. They looked sunburnt and yellowed, plus the red element in the fixtures themselves had melted away. Put another way: pressing the brake pedal you expect to see red lights, except here they illuminate white. So out went the old taillights, replaced by some snazzy LED units. The car only came with one key/fob so I purchased and programmed another set. Other preventative maintenance items planned include changing the water pump and thermostat (along with the coolant flush) and a new battery. Besides these things, the 3 is running like a champ. The car reminds me of my old Mazda 6: playful and composed, yet comfortable and efficient. The car looks so much better now that calling it the ‘beater’ of the garage just sounds wrong.
Future plans for the 3? I may either smoke the headlights and switch them from halogens to LEDs (low beam and foglights). While the stock 17″ wheels are pretty good looking and fill the wheel wells nicely, I think some 19″ RX-8 style wheels will look even spiffier. But that would be it, no engine mods or bodywork here. Will our new Mazda 3 survive for another 30,000 miles? Will it be the reliable runabout we’ve sought? Subscribe and stick around to this space for updates!
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