To Throw it in the Woods?
When does it
no longer make economic sense to pay for new repairs to an old car?
When is it time, in other words, to throw it in the woods
or just sell/trade the thing?
Here are some
depend on it anymore
Is it realistic
to expect that the car will be reliable again after whatevers
wrong is fixed? Or will you merely have fixed the latest thing
to go wrong?
Some cars start
out better-built than others and so last longer than other cars.
But eventually, all cars reach a point where problems due
to age and the wear and tear associated with long use become general
in the same way that as we age, isolated, individual problems that
resolve on their own or which can be treated effectively become
chronic and systemic and theres nothing you can do about them
except crutch them with pain meds or other palliatives. The aging
body cant really be fixed anymore.
An aging car
can be fixed, of course if money (and time) is no object.
Even a complete basket case car can be restored to as-new condition
if your wallets deep enough. But thats neither here
nor there when were talking about cars as appliances
as a means of getting from A to B. And when money and time
and hassle are the deciding factors.
Like our physical
bodies, cars are really multiple different systems operating in
concert. When its just one thing thats gone wrong and
once that one things fixed the car can be counted on to run
reliably for some time to come, doing the repairs makes sense. But
when the entire car is getting obviously tired and several systems
are on the verge of collapse, its probably time to say your
no longer safe
Rust is the
major factor here. Not cosmetic rust structural rust.
The frame (and critical mounting points on the frame). Structural
damage to the frame/mounting points due to corrosion takes longer
to manifest nowadays because cars built since the late 80s
are much better protected (and have better body integrity) than
vehicles built before that time when it was common to see
cars only a few years old with significant rust problems. But that
doesnt mean your later model car is impervious to rust. If
you keep it long enough especially if you live near the sea
or drive in an area where road salt is used in the winter
youll have to deal with rust problems.
Any car that
is more than 10 years old that has ever been driven in an area where
it was subjected to road salt or sea spray should be inspected on
the underside very thoroughly at least once a year by someone who
knows how to spot potential safety issues related to structural
rust-through. The inspection should also include a close look at
(usually) steel brake, clutch master cylinder and fuel lines. Rust-weakened
lines can easily break and can be expensive to replace.
rust is found, its time for Last Rites. The only way to fix
this sort of problem is by cutting out the bad section(s) with a
torch and welding in new metal which is neither easy nor
inexpensive. And then youve only fixed one cancerous area.
If youve got one, odds are youve got more.
becoming hard to find essential parts
had (until recently) an otherwise nice early 90s-era Cadillac.
The car still ran well but when the AC stopped working he found
out that the part he needed is no longer being made by GM. Eventually
he found a good condition used part from a salvage yard but
scrounging junkyards is not something many people want to deal with.
Even if you succeed in finding the part you need, itll be
a used part that comes with no guarantee it will work any
better than the one youve got. Or it might only last for a
few weeks/months. Theres no way to know and no alternative.
As a general
rule, if the car is more than 20 years old especially if
its a modern car with electronics, such as a digital
dashboard or electronic climate-controlled AC some critical
parts may be unavailable new and hard to find used. They
will probably also be expensive, too which leads to the biggest
consideration of all:
putting more money into the car than the value of the car
the Catch-22 you dont want to find yourself facing: The transmission
in your 16-year-old car fails and a new/rebuilt replacement will
cost you $2,000. But the car itself is only worth about that much
much. If you spend the $2k on the new transmission, the car will
not be worth $2k more. It will be worth about the same as it was
worth before the old transmission failed.
On the other
hand, if you dont put the $2k new transmission in, the car
(not-drivable and needing a major repairs) will be worth
Or almost nothing. You might get a few hundred bucks for it as a
parts/scrap car. Maybe.
Even if youre
thinking: Well, Ill spend the $2k on the new transmission
and then just drive the car for another couple of years. The problem
is that if something else goes wrong and it probably
will go wrong youll be throwing more money down the
and facing the same Catch-22 all over again.
This is your
cue: Its time to cut your losses and throw it in
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2012 Eric Peters
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