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.
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…