A peppy, valued priced used vehicle
When purchased the throttle body, idle control valve and intake manifold were fouled up with sooty deposits. Caused stalling at idle.
Engine light intermittently comes on.
Air conditioning has failed (electrical problem).
Random instrument cluster electrical problems (speedometer stops, tachometer and other gauges "freeze up").
I purchased this car used at an auction for a good price. Generally auctions don't give bidders an opportunity to test drive, so I had encountered the idling problem right away.
Overall the car has been very fun to drive. It is responsive yet comfortable to drive and the DOHC engine is quite powerful.
Fuel economy is very good, typically 7 l/100 km.
Interior fit and finish is good. Controls feel fairly well made and are of sound design overall.
The six speaker sound system is fairly pleasant on the ears considering it is the factory offering on an economy car.
Exterior fit and finish is mediocre. For example, the weatherstripping around the frame-less windows is not fully up to the task of keeping wind noise and water out (the water problem really only happens in car washes though). Exterior panels and parts are somewhat flimsy.
The Neon seems to be one of the last cars from the era of poor electrical/electronic design from the eighties to the mid nineties. Most of the hard-to-diagnose, annoying and overly expensive problems seem related to electrical issues.
Typical problem: The electrical connections on the instrument panels of Neons and some other Chrysler products of the late 90's often have cold solder joints that crack. This makes the speedometer fail intermittently. Fortunately, if you are comfortable with a soldering iron the problem can be fixed easily without buying any parts.
Neons have a poor reputation concerning reliability which is understandable, but still not quite deserved. Consequently they have a poor resale value.
Chrysler dealer service is poor. Avoid dealer mechanics at all costs--they just want your money and they have no more clue about how Neons work than private mechanics.
A good used buy. If you find one for a good price, get it inspected by a trustworthy independent mechanic first. If it looks good definitely buy it. They are inexpensive, pleasant cars to own if you treat them right.
I wouldn't have bought it new however, due to poor resale and the fact that you'd have to go to a dealership to buy one and to get routine servicing.
* Unless you need four doors, try to find a coupe. With tho less doors and their frame-less windows the wind and water leaks are less pronounced. The coupe also looks a bit nicer.
* If you NEED four doors, get a 2000 or newer, since they have better exterior fit and finish (including door frames around the windows)
* Avoid the automatic transmission. I seem to see more complaints about them. The 5 speed manual is more reliable and much more fun to drive.
* Try to find one with the DOHC engine. It is still easy on gas, but more peppy. Perhaps it is because it is less common, but I seem to hear a lot less about the infamous "head gasket" problem on the DOHC as well.
* Take care of your cars people! A lot of problems the Neon has are related to neglect. They aren't exactly built like tanks, so they deteriorate quicker. Change the oil regularly. If you have an automatic change the ATF also. Flush the cooling system. Make sure fluid levels stay up. Buy intake/throttle body spray cleaner and use it every 20,000 km. Replace the timing belt at 160,000 km. If you do all that you'll avoid the majority of the typical Neon problems. You should do all that for ANY car you buy, not just Neons.
* Never, ever go to a Chrysler dealership for parts and service if you can avoid it. Their mechanics are clueless and seem unable or unwilling to troubleshoot problems at all.
An example of Chrysler "service": The engine light comes on, the trouble code reads "O2 Sensor". They will not check them to see if either of the O2 sensors are actually bad. They will not check for short circuits or loose connections, and they will not check the TPS or IAC, which can cause other problems that will trick the computer into triggering the "O2 Sensor" code.
A Chrysler mechanic will simply replace one or both of your O2 sensors and charge you parts and labour. When the light keeps coming back on they'll just replace them again. After doing this a couple times (and they have enough of your money) they just give up and say "Neons just do that sort of thing--you'll just have to live with it".
* Fix problems yourself or find a trusted independent mechanic. I fixed the stalling problem myself. I discovered the deposits and thoroughly cleaned the throttle body and idle controller in solvent, and used an intake cleaning spray. Fixed the problem for ten bucks and an hour of my time.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 30th June, 2004