I have a 2002 Camry (4cyl, LE I think) with ~107k miles on it. It’s a solid car that I got ridiculously cheap from some family friends when I finished college and I know these cars can last quite a while so it was a steal! However I wasn’t the best at doing regular maintenance in the last couple of years as a poor grad student (e.g. waited about a year or more normally between oil changes, never changed any other fluids), and while I don’t drive a lot, I’m really happy I have the car. The only issue I’ve had with it is that it has developed some sort of issue that makes it sound like a diesel (a louder roar, lower RPMs than the gas engine I know it has), which was diagnosed as a broken exhaust pipe and a dirty air intake. I spent around $2000 to get the exhaust assembly replaced and the intake cleaned about 2 years ago, and for about 6 months the car felt like new - a lot more power just in idle, and the engine was much quieter. Other than that, the only maintenance I’ve done is get new tires when necessary, put in new brake pads a few years ago, and the occasional oil change. Though the diesel-like sound came back, it wasn’t in my budget/schedule to get it looked at.
This week, I decided I would take the car in for the 105k mile inspection and check to see what else is going on with the car. The mechanic (who I trust) took a look at it over a day and told me in addition to all the regular maintenance at this point (brake fluid, oil, coolant), the front and back suspension would need replacing and that the front axle needed a new part as well (sorry I can’t remember what it was, I don’t know much about cars) if I wanted to be driving at highway speeds (we do take trips into the mountains for hikes, with drives being a few hours long, so I’d like to be safe). All in all, it sounded like I would need to spend around $3000 for this car that KBB says is worth less than $2000.
So my question is whether it is worth putting in the money to get this car safe for longer drives again? I feel like 100k miles is pretty low to get rid of a Camry, even if I wasn’t the best at maintaining the car previously, and I am in favor of getting as much out of a car if it’s still reasonable. On the other hand, I’m not sure if there’s more things that might break soon, and my wife and I would benefit from a 4wd car that would help us get into the mountains, as well as perhaps have some updated safety features as we think about starting a family. We were looking at a Subaru Impreza, but anything newer than 2013 is at least $14,000 where we live - definitely more than the repairs! I still have about a year of grad school (2 for my wife) ahead of us, but we could manage car payments if we decided to buy one. Since the car isn’t in great shape cosmetically - somehow a lot of cars have swiped us with minor damage to the body, so there’s a few dents and scrapes - selling it might not get us much in trade-in value, so we would donate it to our local NPR station if we did choose to buy.
Thanks in advance for any advice!