Dear Tom and Ray:
I am considering buying a 2003 Toyota Corolla, but I'm concerned that it has an "all aluminum" engine. After the disaster with the aluminum engine of the Chevy Vega, is it likely that Toyota is sacrificing quality for price? Should I be concerned about an all-aluminum engine? I just want a reliable car. My current '91 Camry has 313,000 miles. Any chance that will happen with a new Corolla? -- Anne
RAY: It's amazing how fickle we've gotten, Anne, isn't it? You get 313,000 miles out of a car, and when it comes time to replace it, you say, "Hmmm, I don't know if I should buy another one of these. ... Maybe I can find something better."
TOM: The short answer is yes, it's certainly possible to get similar life out of a 2003 Corolla if you treat it as well as you obviously treated your last car.
RAY: The old Chevy Vega engines didn't fail because the blocks were made of aluminum. What failed were the cylinder liners. Those cylinder liners were made out of some strange alloy of, like, cubic zirconium and lucite. And when they overheated, they failed and those engines forevermore burned oil.
TOM: But manufacturers have gained a lot of experience in the past 25 years. And I have no doubt that during that time, Toyota has figured out how to make cylinder liners last forever in aluminum engine blocks. After all, Toyota uses all-aluminum engines in its Lexus models, and nobody's whining about them.
RAY: Aluminum is more expensive and more difficult to cast than iron. But it's a lot lighter. So it can allow the carmaker to improve mileage or the power-to-weight ratio, or simply to add other features that add weight while still staying within overall weight parameters.
TOM: The other advantage is that by making the head and block out of the same material, you minimize head-gasket failures, because the two major parts of the engine expand and contract at the same rate.
RAY: So, overall, it's a good thing, Anne. Most people would consider an aluminum engine a plus -- something you might expect to pay extra for. Or something you'd find in a higher-end car. So you certainly shouldn't let it stop you from buying another Corolla.