“My god David, there are somethings you just don’t screw around with,” Autopian contributor Adrian Clarke wrote, scolding me for my decision to use a $600, 350,000 mile shitbox in a high-stakes situation. “Driving a child to hospital= reliable car, going to wedding with paramour = reliable car…I mean a wedding, that’s when you borrow a Bentley press car,” he went on before the rest of the Autopian staff piled on. But, as brilliant as the editorial team is here, it’s clear to me that they don’t truly realize one important thing: The Pontiac Vibe is an incredible, unkillable workhorse and the perfect car for wedding duty. Yes, even a 350,000 mile version. Hear me out.
While folks often poke fun at me for having “gone Hollywood” after an oil-soaked decade in the frigid rust-orchards of metro Detroit, the truth is that even California can’t change everything, and one thing about me that remains intact is the fact that I’m a cheap bastard. A deeply, deeply cheap bastard.
Saving Money By Borrowing High-Mileage Beaters
The groom’s wedding was just a month later, and these flights were starting to add up, so for round two of the LA to Detroit trip, I knew I had to save a bit of coin. Step one was to book flights on Spirit Airlines — this saved me about $400 over a Delta flight, and — for the most part — things went reasonably well.
I mean, I did have to pull some clothes out of my check-in bag to meet the 40 pound weight requirement, and we had to consolidate some of our stuff into one bag when boarding the plane — neither of these are things you can look cool doing, but my girlfriend probably realizes how much of a dork I am at this point. It was fine. Non-reclining seats were basically the only real sacrifice, but in my eyes hardly a $400 one. (Plus, I don’t like reclining seats when I fly anyway; I always feel bad for the person behind).
The next bit of money-saving took place upon my arrival at Detroit Wayne airport: I wasn’t about to rent a car in my hometown (well, sort of “hometown” — basically the closest I have to one given that I grew up in a nomadic army family), so I reached out to my loyal fellow shitbox-appreciator, Jamie. “Any of my 3 rides will be here and available for pickup. I just won’t be around to pick you up,” he offered. That meant the van, an old Pontiac Vibe, or this 4Runner he’d welded into an actual car from a pile of Fe2O3. Here’s an old article I wrote on his 4Runner fabrication:
“You can also use my wife’s Outback if you wanna be fancy. But I’d have to convince her of that. But the Vibe is better,” he told me.
I passed on the van and 4Runner, since they were wastefully large for my needs. The Outback would have been nice, I suppose, but that’s Jamie’s wife’s car, and also it has a CVT. More importantly, Jamie was right: “The Vibe Is Better.” And to be clear, he’s not just talking about any Vibe, he’s talking about a $600 one with over 350,000 miles on the clock.
It May Be A Junker, But It’s Still A Pontiac Vibe. So It’s Worth Saving
According to Jamie, the car had been listed for cheap because of a leaky radiator. On top of that, the fog lights were broken, the front bumper was a bit battered, there was plenty of rust to go around, the windshield was cracked, the interior looked awful — this thing was a pile. But, as Jamie understood, it was still a Vibe, which meant it was worth saving.
Let’s have a look at what Jamie was dealing with, starting with some rust on the rear hatch:
Here’s what the interior looked like before:
There Was A Lot At Stake
Here, I’ll even provide the answer: Nothing. The Pontiac Vibe is the bargain workhorse of our time, and — even with 350,000 miles on the clock — possibly an even less risky chariot than some beaten-on rental car with modern electronics that might go haywire.
Jamie’s Vibe proved my suspicions: upon our arrival into Detroit on our budget airline, my girlfriend and I took an Uber to Ann Arbor, where Jamie had his beloved 2006 Pontiac Vibe sitting weirdly close to his house, with the key stashed in a secret location nearby.
I hopped in, fired up the vehicle’s trusty 1.8-liter Toyota engine (it’s one of two “ZZ”-line engines available in the first-gen Vibe), pulled away from the wall, let my girlfriend in, and we were off to our hotel and then to the wedding, where I was the best man with important responsibilities.
The Vibe — and I’m not kidding when I say this — drove like a new car. Yes, a 350,000 mile, $600 Pontiac Vibe cruised at 70 mph like an absolute boss. The little 1.8-liter sang a the unkillable Toyota A246E four-speed automatic shifted perfectly. The brakes felt confident, the handling was on-point, the radio switches on the steering wheel — which Jamie had installed from a junkyard Scion TC — worked well, the lights were bright, the ride was comfortable — I’m being effusive because the Vibe deserves it. And I’ve been saying this for years.
Back in 2018 I wrote the article “We’re All Underestimating The Pontiac Vibe.” Here’s what I had to say:
NUMMI, [a] Fremont, California-based plant (part of which is now owned by Tesla), was a way for General Motors to gain insights into Toyota’s “lean manufacturing” methods that promised higher vehicle output and better quality.
The way this relates to the Pontiac Vibe is that this little hatchback was built at NUMMI between 2002 and 2009, and shared not just the same basic Corolla-based platform as the Toyota Matrix, but also the powertrains and the interior. In other words, the Vibe was a Toyota with some Pontiac sheetmetal, offering the same fuel efficiency and reliability as a Toyota, but—and this is just my opinion—in a more aggressive, stylish package.
It’s not fast, and with a MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear-suspension on base models (double wishbone with all-wheel drive), it’s not particularly advanced, either. But reviews that came out shortly after the Vibe’s launch were positive, with Automobile writing in 2002:
“The Pontiac Vibe—a tall sedan/truncated wagon/ mini-SUV—is far and away the best small car from General Motors.”
And it wasn’t just contemporary reviews. People who now own the Toyota-disguised-as-a-GM — that’s 15 years after manufacture — still love the things, largely because they just don’t die. From my old article:
Also, the Vibe just doesn’t die. “They’re hugely reliable. We have members consistently asking about the odometers stopping counting at 299,999 (even though they’re digital). And even though I’ve put the TRD Supercharger kit on mine and more aggressive suspension, nothing has put me on the side of the road, or made me late for school,” he said.
Nick has owned his vibe for over six years and 122,000 miles, and tells me the car is a “secret” in that most people don’t realize just how versatile it is. “And it’s this little secret of a car that seems to do 90% of what anyone needs to do, so I’m always ready for anything,” he says.
Jamie’s Vibe was a beast all weekend. Was it new? No. Did it look amazing? No. But it was comfortable enough, and it was a tank. There was no drama, only great vibes at Brandon’s wedding. Here is the handsome man leaning against his family-heirloom Model A out front of the church he’s about to get married in:
Sure, there had been a lot at stake: two important relationships. I could have stranded my girlfriend and me on the side of the road and left my best friend high and dry at his wedding, waiting for someone to be by his side to give him the ring and sign his wedding certificate — but was that really much of a concern?
The answer is “no.” The truth is, the headline of this article is a lie; I risked nothing, as the Pontiac Vibe’s reliability is a sure thing. A loyal and reliable best man needs a loyal and reliable car, and the Vibe is just that.