So I bought a 2001 Mazda 626 for cheap because it wasn't in the best mechanical condition and I thought I could do a quick flip on it and sell it for a profit. When I was looking it over before I bought it, I diagnosed the noise and vibration from the engine was due to a bad spark plug. By unplugging and replugging the spark plug wires one at a time I quickly determined that it had two bad plugs. It also had a couple of valve cover gaskets that were leaking badly. Although I knew that the back gasket would be kind of a pain, the gap between what he was asking plus parts costs and the market value for that make, model, and year in good mechanical condition made it look like a good investment. That's the way it seemed, anyway.

Unfortunately, when I replaced the spark plugs and gaskets, there was still a very noticeable vibration and pinging from the engine. I took it to a nearby mechanic that I could trust to tell me the bad news. The leaking valve cover gaskets had sprayed oil all over the timing belt, loosening it a little bit. The timing belt, belt tensioner, and water pump would have to be replaced and because it is a transverse mounted engine all of that stuff is wedged next to the passenger side wheel well and almost impossible to get to without removing the fender. He said that if he did it, it would cost me over $1,100 with half of that being labor. Even if I had that kind of money, it would destroy my profit margin.


I now have a few options. I could part it out and maybe I'd break even in 6 months. I could take a substantial loss by selling it for junk to a junk yard or as a "mechanic's special" to another sucker. Thirdly and lastly I could suck it up and take the time and scraped knuckles to fix the timing belt myself. The only problem with that is the 2.5l V6 in the 626 is an interference engine which means that if I fuck up the timing, it's sayonara for the engine. I've never changed a timing belt before and this isn't the way I wanted to learn.

To make matters worse, there's dirty oil all over the engine bay from the valve cover gaskets, so I can't tell if anything else - such as the cam shaft seals - is leaking, and judging by the rest of the car it probably is. Basically, this car hasn't been properly maintained in several dozen thousand miles and I'm the stupid sap without a seat when the music stopped.

Lessons learned from this:

  • Don't buy a car, even for a flip, from someone who doesn't know jack shit about cars. You might be able to get a really good price because they don't know what their car's worth, but they also won't be able to tell you what's really wrong with it. "Uh, I don't know. It's making funny noises." isn't a suitable replacement for a maintenance history.
  • Don't ever buy a car with a transverse mounted engine. Just don't. Even for a flip. Whatever is wrong with the engine is going to be located in that microscopic gap between the engine and the wheel well. That's why the owner is selling it to you so cheap.
  • Don't buy a car with an interference engine if you don't know how to replace a timing belt because that will be the first thing that breaks. Either that, or a head gasket. Either way, you're going to have to deal with the timing belt.
  • It's always going to take more time and money to flip a car than you think. How much of each depends entirely on what you have more of.