Let me start by saying this car has been reliable for most of its life. I bought it at 77,000 miles, and its still running at 191,000+. It is by no means a flashy vehicle, but when the engine ran at peak efficiency, it got close to 40 MPG and ran smoothly. But, at about the 130,000 mark, it started burning oil (1 quart every 1,000 miles or so). 60,000 miles later, it burns through about 1 quart every 50 miles. Further research via Google has shown that this is a common problem for the 2002 Prizms, and is related to narrow cylinders and bad seals. Keep this in mind if buying a Prizm from this final year of production. You'll be investing in lots of oil when it reaches a high mileage point.
We bought our Prism as a first car for our 16 year old son. He wanted a manual transmission and learned to drive a stick after we bought the Prism. Our car had 70,000 miles on it when we bought it and I got a terrific price for it. This little car has been sensational! Shifts crisply through all the gears, has exceptional zip for the little engine, brakes well and while it's a base model, all the controls and amenities work perfectly. We have not experienced the oil usage issue many other reviewers have, which is interesting, given that we live on a steep mountainside and the car is a manual transmission driven by a teenager. You'd think our unit would be susceptible to the oil problem, but no, it runs better than either of the cars we bought for our other kids.
I have not had a very good experience with this car. I bought it as a certified used vehicle with a little over 36,000 miles. The transmission went out a couple months after I bought it. Several minor interior things have come apart. The filler pipe on the gas tank came unwelded and fell partially into the tube, so I was not able to fuel the car until that was removed. This week the running lights and auto- on headlights quit working, but could still be turned on manually,a few days later, they stayed on, requiring disconnecting the battery to turn off. The switch failed and it's located under the pas. air bag requiring the entire dash to be removed. I would not buy another or reccomend!
Believe that comment about using a qt. of oil every 100 miles, it's true @ 120+ K mi. And with that, the mpg is only 20 mpg avg. May be OK for low mileage but Prizm engine is not long lasting .I put new seals and rings in, still burns oil and bad mpg. Can't see smoke unless you hold throttle 3/4 down for 6-10 seconds. ( This is a must before buying ! ) Do not buy with over 100 K. It may look like a Corolla, but engine doesn't last like one. I got robbed. Wouldn't recommend Prizm.