COVID-19 has destroyed my sleep schedule. To relax, I had taken a liking towards watching car detail videos - they’re satisfying. I hadn’t flipped a car in more year - the last flip car I owned was a 2009 Mazda 6 I bought last July, and I had the *itch*.
I accidentally clicked “message seller” when I meant to just share the link with a friend; a 2000 Toyota Echo with only 131,000 miles, with a “seized alternator”. $800. That’s a little pricey, but he’ll likely flex a bit.
I didn’t expect the guy to respond, after all, it was 4 AM.
Yeah, but this is an old person. 5:30 AM rolls around, and I’m still staring at the ceiling - can’t sleep.
The man replied, at 5:31 AM.
“Hi there, I’ve got a lot of interested people but no one has shown up yet. When can ya come out?”
After a bit of back and forth, we agreed on a time - 11:30 AM. Enough time for me to “sleep” then make the hour journey out there. My idea was to fix the car on the side of the road, and then drive the car about 50 miles back home and fix it properly.
I always judge and wonder about the owners of my flip cars, each car has a story.
I had a 2010 Dodge Journey that I had a new engine installed; the car was FILTHY. The previous owner had kids, and boy did it show. What I did not expect, however, was a pair of lacy panties in the driver’s seat pocket.
Or, the 2004 Ford Escape that needed a catalytic converter - the car was driven by the woman’s son who went to the University of Alabama. The stereo had Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” in the CD player, yet the anti-cop, pro-black anthem “Alright” was glaringly omitted from the tracklist.
Or the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze that only had 79,000 miles, but had both catalytic converters sold off it and was full of payday loan receipts, beer cans, and swisher sweets wrappers. It took me two days to get the cigarette tar out of it.
Well, these people told me that the bought the Echo new in 1999. It was “the first Echo in Springfield, Ohio” - and it shuttled them around central and southern Ohio universities as a professor. The woman eventually started buying Priuses, but the Echo was paid off, so they kept it. It went from kid to kid, until they realized none of their kids wanted it either since they were all grown and had families of their own.
So they parked it in their barn.
And it sat.
The husband said he was going to fix it eventually, but then he, unfortunately, needs a new heart valve and is currently fighting leukemia. While “cleaning out the barn” he decided to let the car go.
After a bit of negotiation, the man took $650 for the car.
Anyone ever talked to an elderly person who has lost their concept of time? I don’t think they were being malicious, but the car had been sitting for longer than a year.
The tires were from Obama’s first term. 2008.
The oil change sticker still showed 2,000 miles to go until the next oil change. The next oil change? 11/15/2015.
The gas smelled awful, and after removing the belt, cranking for a few mins, the Echo coughed to life. It ran ok, considering the gas was likely five years old and was probably around 70 octane. Still, the alternator was seized and I had no way to pull it off on the side of the road, so I opted to get it towed back to my house.
Fixing this car was fairly uneventful. Here’s a budget:
- The purchase price, tax, title, registration - $753.75
- Tires (Westlake RP18, 175/65/14) - $149.24
- Used alternator - $45
- Spark Plugs: $25
- Wiper blades, Alternator Belt, Brake Pads/Rotors, Air filter - $90.48
- Two ignition coils (used, DENSO brand) - $42.05
- One matching hubcap $19.95
- Associated fluids (HEET to get water out of gas, synthetic oil, and filter) - $14.38
- Gas Cap: $35
Total Invested: 1174.85
I sold the car to a friend of a friend who needed his first car, for $1700.
Total Profit: $525.15
The echo certainly wasn’t perfect when I let it go, the EVAP charcoal canister died, but there are no inspections here in Ohio, and it doesn’t affect drivability, so I just let the new owner know.
Also, this is a $1700 car.
Everything works - the car tracks straight and doesn’t vibrate even at 80MPH. The stereo works and the AC is ice cold, and the heat is hot.
I feel like the Echo has gotten a lot of hate for some reason. Is it cute? I think so - it’s charmingly ugly, the cartoonish proportions and dinky wheels work well in person. In this black color, with this gray-cladding sports kit - the car looks like a spunky top hat.
The Echo’s three-box design is goofy, sure it’s not as sensible as the Vitz/Echo hatchback the rest of the world got, but the Echo is still very well packaged. The car has spacious head and legroom for the car is for four passengers. Also, the trunk is huge for being such a tiny car.
You sit very upright, but it’s comfortable. The steering wheel is tiny, and I like the center-mounted speedometer. It’s one of those things you quickly get used to, and aside from few auto journos who went out of their way to complain about it, I’m not convinced that people who bought Echos cared. It does make for odd night driving though, directly in front of you is dark, something that I still took a bit to get used to, and I’ve owned four Yarises.
Once again, I’ve owned Four Yarises - two automatic (flip cars) and two manuals (my real car). The Yaris is a reliable but clumsy to drive, small car.
I think the Echo might be a bit more interesting to drive. The Echo is lighter and less refined than the 2007+ Yaris, but it has the same 1.5L (1NZFE) and four-speed automatic as the newer cars. The Echo’s steering is fairly engaging, which is surprising - the feel and heft are good, and the tiny dimensions and small wheels make the car easy to place on the road. The suspension design is a pretty generic front macpherson strut, rear torsion-beam design; ain’t nothing wrong with it. That setup is pretty ubiquitous in cheap cars - it’s compact and inexpensive to manufacture. The suspension is soft, the car is tall, and you sit up high, so body roll is fairly pronounced, but I feel like a few mods could easily fix that - maybe some stiffer springs and a bigger sway bar.
The 1NZFE only made around 108HP - and mated to a four-speed automatic, the car won’t win any races, but it’s more adequate than you’d think. Compared to the same year Corolla, I think the Echo might be about as quick as the 1.8L and three-speed automatic in basic Corollas. The automatic feel dated by today’s standards, but it operates very smoothly. Wish it had one extra gear to bring down RPM’s - the Echo screams at 70+ MPH on the freeway.
I’ve seen a few articles that have wrongly called the Echo a bad car, I don’t think that’s true at all. Sure, it was a little spartan - base models didn’t even have AC or power steering, and yeah it was a goofy looking car.
But, it was a solid and thoughtful car, a car where passenger space, economy, and practicality were the foremost concerns, styling be damned.
Too bad the new owner smokes. If I would have known, I wouldn’t have but so much energy on cleaning the interior.