You've seen my car, I know you have. There were 95,551 1988 Plymouth Reliant L/E 4-door sedans
produced, and astoundingly one can still see some of them motoring around today, 12 years later.
My family has a history of purchasing those cheap little American cars that most people joke about. We've had a Chevette and not one but TWO Vegas. They all putt-putted along for over 150,000 miles with minimal care. They were good cars. The 1988 Plymouth Reliant L/E 4-door sedan
is just that kind of car. It wasn't expensive. It sure isn't pretty these days. But it's been a solid little trooper that's gotten us from point A to point B.
We're ready to retire our Reliant. It's traveled 150,000 miles in 12 years, and it's tired and worn. We purchased this car new for $8868. It came with such amenities as air conditioning, automatic transmission, cloth seats, a steering wheel, four tires, a windshield... In truth, except for the a/c and automatic, this car was about as minimalistic as one could find. The radio doesn't even receive FM! That, of course, was the appeal of a Reliant. It's your basic bare-bones transportation.
Given that the car is no Lexus, it is a good car for what it intends to be. Handling has always been adequate. Steering is a strong point, while brakes seem to be less responsive than similar cars. The suspension is probably one of the weaker parts of the car and always has been. It's a rough ride. That being said, the bench seats themselves are still very comfortable and have held up well. The seat fabric has probably held up better than the rest of the car.
This car has never been a powerhouse. It's a wimpy 4-cylinder car that struggles up hills. One has to always allow extra time for left turns and lane changes, because the acceleration is so anemic. Through its early years, it got good gas mileage. Nowadays it needs to warm up for 10 minutes before being driven (to avoid inevitable stalling), so the fuel economy has fallen off dramatically. On the bright side, it's virtually impossible to speed in. If you're going 55 in this car, you feel like you're going 110, and you can almost hear the screws and bolts straining from the effort.
As for the exterior, well... she aint eye-candy. The paint (a particular weak point) started to fade and patch years ago. The trim fell off, and repeated attempts to reattach it never worked for long. There are rusty patches, as well, although the body is not as deteriorated as it could be given that the car is not garaged and has had to endure some salty Northern winters. No one would ever mistake this car for a Ferrari, but again, that's never what it was intended to be.
One thing worth noting is that these cars sustain damage from accidents pretty readily. When I was younger and more impulsive (and inclined to drive right into other cars), I got into two accidents with this vehicle. I was going very slowly in both situations, and the impact itself was minimal. Yet the body damage to the car was significant in scope and expense. If your nickname is "Crash," you might be safer on a moped. These cars don't have any of the fancy safety features that cars do nowadays... no airbags or ABS.
In recent years, the car has become a money trap in a nickel-and-dime way. Unlike other cars that have MAJOR problems like blown head gaskets or shot transmissions, this car has held up well in that regard. There haven't been any major mechanical issues. Instead, there have been lots and lots of relatively little ones that add up over time. Most recently we needed to replace a leaky oil pan gasket (inexpensive item, very costly labor) after the car had been leaking oil for several months and finally started to POUR oil and create smoke under the hood.
I'm no mechanic, and one nagging problem in recent years involves the temperature gauge. The temperature gauge keeps spiking when the car should not (and does not appear to) be overheated. We've spent money replacing the thermostat and other miscellaneous peripheral parts and trying to find the problem, to no avail. Now we simply ignore it. We drive with the temperature gauge routinely in the red, and the car seems to be fine. I don't know if it's a harmless quirk or if something is ready to die (head gasket issue?). I also don't know if this is just an isolated idiosyncrasy or if it's something that is seen routinely with Reliants.
I write this review with the used-car buyer in mind. There are still an awful lot of these K-cars on the road (Plymouth Reliants and the identical Dodge Aries). If they have been maintained well, they might actually be a good purchase for somebody requiring very cheap, very basic transportation. If all you need is something that starts, stops, and turns, this might be it. On the other hand, buyer beware. If the car is like mine, it has done its job and is now ready to be laid to rest.