To drive a Geo Metro is to wear a Badge of Honour—only the bravest of the brave need apply. It is not a perfect car. It isn’t flashy. It won’t win you any admirers. If you were looking for a prestige car, you wandered into the wrong storybook. It is the car at which everybody likes to poke fun—I was hearing it from the comedian at our local comedy club to my law professor. But it is a dependable car. It gets terrific gas mileage. True, it is extremely tiny, but it is also very easy to handle. It can whip around corners, take U-turns quickly, and is a breeze to park. If you get into an accident, however, you can almost write the whole car off.
When I first moved to Minnesota I was looking for a nice, economical vehicle. As a graduate student, I didn’t have the money to buy a new car, and I wasn’t about to be tied down with monthly payments. And since what I know about cars can fit on the back of a matchbook cover, I needed one that wouldn’t involve me with a lot of time and would require little more than an oil change for maintenance. The car I was looking for had to be used, less than three years old, priced at under $5,000, and have a proven track record. Admittedly, I wasn’t giving myself much room with which to work. After searching the classified section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for several weeks, the only car that fit my parameters was the Geo Metro LSi.
The Geo that I bought was two years old and had 44,000 miles on it. The owners had put new tires on, but everything else was original. The Metro was an automatic, meaning that I wasn’t going to get as good gas mileage as its stick-shift counterpart. Still, I managed between 32-35 mpg in the city. And much to the chagrin of my SUV driving friends, I could go as long as a month without refueling. The gas tank held an even ten gallons.
The couple who sold me the Geo claimed to have driven it to Florida and back twice. While I can’t vouch for that, I did take it to California one summer over I-80. On the open road, I averaged nearly 50 mpg. I couldn’t help but notice the absence of other Metros on the interstate. Then it hit me why it is called “Metro;” it is primarily a city car. Nevertheless, I did not encounter any problems during the 4,000-mile round trip.
The car I had was a three-door model, with two front doors and a hatchback. I was amazed at how much such a tiny car could carry. With the back seats folded down, I was easily able to cart a dresser or desk and still be able to close the hatchback door.
But any benefit of a hatchback is also a disadvantage. Anybody can take a peek inside and see what you have stowed away. I learned this the hard way when I parked in a seedy neighborhood for a few minutes and left my backpack full of textbooks in the back. I returned to find my driver’s window smashed, with the lock broken for good measure, and my backpack gone.
Of course, utilizing the hatchback might have been the easier way to transport passengers as well. The backseats do not offer much legroom and sitting in the proverbial position with one’s legs up to one’s chin was not too far from reality. For that matter, the front seat was not very comfortable for my taller (over 6 feet) passengers, either.
With a 3-cylinder engine, the Metro is a gutless wonder. I noticed that at stoplights I could get the jump on the guy next to me. However, it was not the fastest in the pack at accelerating, nor could it swiftly climb hills. When merging into traffic, it was better to yield than try and compete with the bigger roadsters. I also noticed that if the car was parked outside the morning after a rainfall, or if there was dew on the hood, it tended to be very sluggish and would hardly accelerate at all until the engine warmed up.
My wife had little say in my selection, as I purchased the car before we were married. So, she too wore the Badge of Honour, for five of the longest years of her life. She would constantly call me cheap, frugal, a tightwad, etc. (I prefer practical, utilitarian, or sensible—anything to escape the truth) for not buying a bigger car, especially when we could ill afford it. However, I stubbornly stuck to my guns and waited it out until she came around to my way of thinking. Sure enough, she began to like the Geo, too. At first, I think she noticed the little things like how low to the ground it felt, giving the illusion of traveling at a faster speed. Eventually, she commented that while it wasn’t exactly her dream car, it did get her from point A to B without incident.
During the time I owned it, I had to make the normal replacements of battery, tires, and headlights. But other than that, I had little out-of-pocket expenses. The previous owners had given me a recall notice they received where the hood of the car had been known to fly up unexpectedly. So, on one of my first trips into a Geo dealer, I had them adjust the fixture free of charge.
The only trouble I had with the car was when the serpentine belt broke. The mechanic at our corner shop replaced it, but several months later the belt snapped again. I took it back and they graciously replaced it for free, saying that it probably wasn’t tight enough when it was first replaced. However, after a year or so, it fell off once more. I don’t know if this was a standard problem with Metros but it obviously was a problem for mine.
We went through a couple of bitter cold winters with the Geo. Only once did I ever have trouble starting the car, and that was during a week in January where the temperature remained below zero. Eventually, it did start and I made it home from work without incident. However, during the winter the windows had a tendency to frost over on the inside. Nothing I tried (like cracking the windows open or shifting the vent to let in outside air) could prevent this phenomenon from happening.
All good things must come to an end, and for the Geo the end was near when my wife became pregnant. There was little chance that the backseat was going to comfortably fit a child seat. We had tried this before with some friends’ kids. With a bit of work, the child seats did fit, but it was a pain in the neck to get the kids into the back and strap them in. Since the front seats did not move up very far, we had to contort ourselves into position. Therefore, when we discovered we were soon to have a child of our own, we knew that the Geo was not going to be the family car.
After a winter of neglect and a timing belt that fortuitously snapped as I was in the driveway, we sold our Geo last year to a guy who liked to tinker with cars. Would I ever own a Geo Metro again? Yes I would. I think that it is a great little car that is very handy for city driving. I like the look of the sedan model and would most likely buy that over another hatchback. It does not fit my lifestyle right now, but when our son, li’l Mario, is old enough to drive, I’ll be combing the classifieds once again.