1990 Geo Prizm LSI from North America


Takes a licking and keeps on ticking


Engine leaks oil.

Body is rusting out.

Had to replace the alternator.

Headliner is falling.

General Comments:

This car is indestructible. The engine keeps running and running.

With it's age it has developed several oil leaks probably due to old seals or gaskets. I have to add a quart every 600 miles.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 4th December, 2004

1990 Geo Prizm Base 1.6 from North America


Very reliable


For a car that's this old I guess these problems are just average.

Paint fade.

Roof liner sagging.

Window cranks snapped off.

Dash has small crack.

Water pump.

Alternator (three times)

Cv joints (twice)

General Comments:

I can't remember this car ever not running its never just failed to start.

I know that it uses a toyota engine and transmission and let me tell you this is on durable power plant after all these HARD miles it still burns no oil.

The car still has lots of zip left in it it has a lot more power than you would expect for a car of that time.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 7th July, 2004

1990 Geo Prizm GSi 1.6 from North America


Good reliability at excellent price, and low cost of operation


When I took ownership, this Prizm had several problems which couldn't be considered unusual for a vehicle nearing 15 years old:

A 5 second puff of blue smoke upon start up after sitting overnight, then the exhaust runs clear. This is indicative of a valve stem seal issue, and while it isn't serious yet, it will likely slowly worsen. I opted to put in high mileage engine oil in an effort to perhaps swell up the original seals a bit and buy me more time.

There is a high idle problem, where the car idles too quickly at cold (~2300 RPM) AND warm (~1300 RPM) engine temperature. Could be any number of things, but I'm thinking a vacuum leak of some kind, and I'll be investigating that shortly.

Brake pedal pulsates-- This is due to slightly warped brake rotors (The GSi came standard with 4-wheel disc brakes, by the way). It isn't serious and there is still 90% pad left, so I opted to leave it as is, for now (previous owner had installed aftermarket pads).

Steering wheel is badly off center, and will require a full alignment job to correct (~$80).

A myriad of rattles throughout the vehicle interior. In particular the removable rear deck (which you take out when expanding the hatchback cargo area). Again, problems such as this are normal for a car this age.

General Comments:

I bought this car about 2 months ago and am now in a position to present a review of its characteristics. I choose this particular vehicle because of its near identical association with the Toyota Corolla, which has maintained an excellent record of reliability spanning time on the order of decades. Not just a few years here or there.

For a nearly 15 year old vehicle, its condition is nothing short of remarkable, and while much of that has to do with the excellent care taken of it by the previous owner (s), these first generation Prizms were built solid from the beginning and were apt to hold up considerably better than your average Plymouth Sundance or other similar piece of garbage. People may wish to try and denigrate the “tinny” nature of these cars, but the reality of the matter is they were built from the beginning as economy cars that stressed efficiency over insulation from your surroundings, and they perform as such. If you want to be insulated from the outside world and don’t care about reliability, environmental responsibility, or saving money on fuel, you might as well buy a Ford LTD or the like. Have fun.

This particular car has no interior seating rips or stains, the carpet is clean and in good condition, all on board systems work (including the AC which blows cold), and it presents with a comfortable small car ride that is reasonably acceptable; even on longer road trips-- Albeit it is noisy (road/wind noise—Common for cars of this era).

This is, as mentioned earlier, the GSi model, which is equipped with Toyota’s legendary high compression 4A-GE engine; 130 HP and a 7500 RPM redline (same as they put in the earlier generation MR2’s). It continues to pull strong, with smooth, quiet operation that beats my previous car, a 2001 Mazda Protegé ES with the FS-DE engine. **I HATED THAT BLOODY CAR AND AM FINALLY EMANCIPATED FROM IT, thank the creator**

Overall, Prizm is a fine car that presents qualities BETTER than many contemporary vehicles in the same compact class. It’s lack of airbags and antilock brakes are worrisome to me personally, but that’s the way cars were back then-- Only the likes of Lexus and Volvo were offering such things in those days, for the most part.

On a parting note, I recommend your best effort at securing an official factory service manual, perhaps on eBay as I did. Chevrolet (GM), the original overseeing authority over Geo, has in large part dropped their support of the early generation Geos, including this Prizm. That means parts are likely hard to come by (although there are many interchangeable parts from the cloned Toyota Corolla), and many Chevrolet/Toyota service departments don’t have on hand much information about the first generation Prizms anymore (I took my Prizm to a Toyota dealership service department for example, and, with all due respect, they were *total* morons and screwed up my idle speed even worse than before). If you’re to do work yourself or have another shop do it, it’s a good idea to have on hand a REAL manual that contains all the specifications you’d need to do the job right. Otherwise there’ll be a lot of guessing, which suffice to say isn’t in anyone’s best interest…

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 30th March, 2004

14th Aug 2004, 15:50

Update on status of above car:

Have had several problems since taking ownership, including failure to start (nothing but a "clicking" sound from engine bay when key was turned), faulty water pump, the aforementioned alignment problem, significant engine knock from 2500-3500 RPM, and that pulsating brake pedal issue noted earlier.

The start problem only happened once and I've been waiting for it to become more consistent before endeavoring to repair it. It may be something I can repair myself, based on my preliminary 'net investigations. Don't think it's the starter itself, but rather the contacts that energize the solenoid/starter motor. This is home repairable, basically for free.

The bad water pump would produce a "squawking" sound just as the engine was shut down, and later began to make that sound upon startup for about 5 seconds, then go away. Required replacement to the tune of $400 friggin' bucks.

Engine knock was a consistent problem, even though I've always run premium fuel in the car. Added fuel system treatment to no effect. Finally got an intake system and fuel injection cleaning service from a professional shop, for $200 bloody dollars, and now the problem appears eliminated. Carbon deposit build up is a common issue in any car over 100,000 miles and 10+ years of service.

Alignment was corrected at a shop for $100 bucks.

The pulsating brake pedal is likely attributable to the after market brakes installed by previous owner, as noted before. The stopping action of the brakes themselves is smooth (as in, the car doesn't jerk to a stop), but there is a slight pulsating/clicking from the brake pedal, as noted. Pads are still over 80%, and two shops have said the system itself looks good. Based thereon I decided to simply live with the slight pedal quirk and take no further action.

So, to date, I've dropped over $800 bucks on this car. To be sure, given the price I paid and how old the car is, I fully expected to have to make repairs, and can't say these problems are unusual. Such is a matter of expectation even when dealing with the likes of the best auto makers in the world (namely, Toyota). That said, I'm not happy about failed components and shelling out nearly a thousand dollars to repair them. I resent it, in fact.

Some day I hope to be able to look back on our era of archaic internal combustion engines with disdain and loathing, wondering why we wasted so many decades dealing with these kind of repairs, shelling out untold fortunes, when we should have been working with electric motors that require MUCH less maintenance years before we finally did. Until then however, even with the best cars, we'll have to deal with these disgusting, unclean, wasteful machines in ceaseless, day in and day out drudgery. Forking out billions in collective expenditures for repairs. Indeed, given how much money is made on repairs for these machines, there are a great many forces not interested in seeing us move on to new technology any time soon. Bugger.

At any rate, beyond my obvious aversion for current technology, I've still found this Prizm acceptable in terms of comfort, fuel efficiency (averaging 36+ MPG on the highway is admittedly most excellent), and relative practicality. I wish not to be totally negative, as I've been happy with the car all in all, these repair issues being a reflection of internal combustion engine realities rather than a reflection of the Prizm's quality. As said, these issues will happen with ANY car this age-- Indeed, you'd probably have more problems with other cars (such as your GMs, Dodges, Fords, VWs, etc.). Given that this is a Toyota you'll not find better vehicles in terms of reliability, ever. And that's a fact.

The hatchback and fold down rear seats offer excellent, excellent utility-- This has been my first hatchback and I've found it very convenient, with good cargo capacity, even though this is a compact vehicle. And although the rear seat area is very cramped, this being a 4-door car is also convenient.

So I still see this as a good original purchase and recommend the Prizm to anyone in need of reliable basic transportation on a very limited budget. These first generation Prizms offer as good a chance as any used car in terms of low operating costs.

Just be careful when driving them, as was the case when these cars were built, there are no modern safety features incorporated into these vehicles (airbags, ABS, belt pretensioners, etc.). The situation would likely be very serious if you were to be in a major accident in one of these small cars.

31st Aug 2004, 16:24

I also have a 1990 Geo Prizm LSi first year the car was made, actually it was released in 89 as a 90 model. I got the car in 1996 and it has ran perfectly it now has 202,867 miles on it with the original engine and transmission. Even with this many miles it still doesn't use any oil. I had my water pump replaced at 182,000 miles and I had a timing belt break at 192,000 miles luckily no damage was done. Those are the only two major things that have happened with this car in all the years that I've had it. I do wish that I had the GSi model considering it had quite a bit more power than the base and LSi.

16th Aug 2005, 13:25

I obviously enjoy cars and the commentary afforded in review, but not for wish of boring anyone-- I simply like being thorough in the hopes that such observation might prove useful.

And, in point of information, usually a 'Thesis' is something written in the pursuit of a Master's degree; sometimes even a Bachelor's. For one's Doctorate, it's a 'Dissertation'.


21st Sep 2010, 03:04

This is in response to the GSi owner's first comment.

The internal combustion engine is here to stay. Rechargeable electric cars with batteries are silly. Hydrogen is a proper fuel for piston engines. It is abundant. With water fracturing technology (dc pulsing with stainless plates) we would liberate humanity from elites and solve all energy "crisis". No more wars for energy. Unfortunately humanity is captive and stupid. This will not come to pass. Only the elites will employ this energy secret. The technology does exist.