After much wrench turning and swearing, I finally made the painful decision to put myself into debt a bit deeper in order to solve my vehicle issue. The Mazda is gone. It had oil on top of two cylinders and an awful rattle from the two screws that I could never locate. I pondered the idea of pulling the head until I found out just how terribly complex that is. You need to literally half pull the engine and then use special Mazda only tools. Yeah, no thanks.
I found a car that fit my needs, was within my price range and made the awful trip to the stealership. I was honest up front about the issues with the Mazda and they were pretty cool with me. They gave me a fair price for my car (engine "issue" and some slight body damage). It pained me to add more years and dollar signs to my debt but really what could I do?
So, I ended up coming home with this:
Big enough to haul the dogs, has 4wd but still gets ok mileage. Plus, it's a stick, haven't had a manual in years. I bought it not because I loved it but because it met my needs. After owning for almost two weeks, I think it might be the most useful vehicle I have ever owned. Rumor has it, you can fit some motorcycles in the back. Might be useful when I get around to tracking down that coil issue. =]