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Advice for a poor graduate student

I drive a 1999 Acura Integra LS (B18B1, 5 speed manual) with 132K on it. I am about to begin graduate school, which will involve moving 600 miles north of where I currently live. Since I will be a poor graduate student very soon, I would like to maintain my car well enough to get me through the next 5-7 years without having to buy a newer car. More importantly, I would like to maintain my Integra well enough so that I do not end up stranded on the side of the road when I make the 1200 mile round trip. I have a laundry list of things I could/should do to the car, which has produced a ton of questions.

1. I need to replace the windshield washer fluid reservoir. The washer fluid pumps have failed and this will impact visibility during snow. This part is extremely hard to find, and it looks like I will have to purchase it from a dealership. Replacing the part involves removing the front bumper ? any advice for someone that has never done this? Is there a way I could just fix the pumps without having to replace the part?

2. I need to replace the trailing arm bushings. Last time I had the wheels aligned at a Honda dealership, the mechanic informed me the trailing arm bushings were shot. He then quoted me $500 to replace them. Being poor, I opted not to have this done. I have confirmed that the trailing arm bushings are in need of replacement (it is obvious from looking at them). But I have not noticed any changes in the way the car drives or the way the tires wear. Will problems become more apparent as I continue to drive the car? Should replacement of these parts be more of a priority if I am going to be taking long trips with the car? How hard would it be to do this on my own?

3. I have been picking up a lot of noise from the accessory drive belts. Specifically, the drive belts have been producing the characteristic squealing sounds indicating they will need attention soon. I believe I may also need to replace the idler pulley and alternator. Removing the alternator is extremely difficult on this particular Integra ? you have to partially remove the front driveaxle. Should I attempt this on my own, or just have a mechanic do it? How many more miles can safely I get out of the belts, idler pulley and alternator before I should replace them?

4. I am moving to a cold climate. I have considered installing an engine block warmer or oil pan heater to prevent excessive engine wear and improve gas mileage. There seem to be a handful of options to choose from. Any recommendations or criteria for judging which block warmer I should get? Is this really all that necessary, or am I just creating another problem?

Given my limited funding, what should I prioritize? What should I try to do myself and what should I rely on a mechanic for? I am certainly not a car expert, but I have done a lot of basic maintenance and I can rely on my friends/family for some help.

The WW fluid reservoir can wait. You can wash your windshield at almost every gas station you find.

Bushings are a safety issue. I would do those next.

Have you tried tightening the belts or using some belt conditioner/dressing? Doing these things yourself might buy you some time.

How cold will your new climate be? A block heater seems like a luxury to me. That would be the last thing on my list.

  1. don’t waste your money, time, effort.

  2. do change the accessory belts. This is your warning sign of imminent likely failure. Please note if you do item 0 the labor is free since they are removed to change your timing belt.

  3. Trailing arm bushings can be changed by an independent mechanic. Get some more quotes and opinions on their condition

  4. You need the washer fluid container/pump in any cold climate. I would suggest a auto recylcer(aka junkyard)

  5. MOST IMPORTANT. If you have no changed the timing belt on this car this is top priority. It is $500+ but if ignored its not if but when it snaps your engine will turn to junk or cost your about $2000-$3000 in major repairs.

The WW fluid reservoir can wait. You can wash your windshield at almost every gas station you find.

If they salt roads in the cold climate(typical) it is a REQUIREMENT for safe driving to have a washer.

Item 1 is go to an auto parts store & buy a repair manual (about $20). The auto parts store manuals are not great - but they do the job for most basic things - such as bumper removal, belts & pulleys, or r&r of bushings. At the very least it helps you decide what you can do on your own.

Why would you take a 13 yr old / 100K+ car to dealer? Find a good, local, independent mechanic & it won’t cost you $500 to get new trailing arm bushings.

For the washer fluid issue check salvage yards. Always keep the salvage yard option in mind.

I think the best thing to do about the block/pan warmer is get to where you’re going and find out what the “local” wisdom is about such things. My guess would be that most people don’t use anything like this and their cars never notice (so long as they follow manufacturer specs for oil viscosity).

  1.,carcode,1382857,parttype,8840 Here are washer fluid pumps for $15.70. You can probably change the pump without removing the reservoir. I’ll bet you can do this without removing the bumper.

  2. Why replace the alternator unless it’s not charging? AllData doesn’t say anything about having to remove a drive axle to get at the alternator. Alldata says replacing the alternator is a 1.5 hour job.

  3. I’ve lived in MN my whole life and have never had a block warmer. Modern cars are great, if you have a good battery they’ll start, even at 25 degrees below zero.

How old are the belts? Have the belts changed and the pulleys inspected.

The timing belt was changed at 90K, along with the accessory drive belts. Which is why I think the squealing noises may be more associated with the alternator and idler pulley. I haven’t tried tightening the belts yet, so that may be my first step.

I appreciate all the great advice.

I agree, no need for a block warmer. Make sure the battery is in great shape, preferably less than 4 years old. If it’s a move to a very cold climate I might switch to a synthetic oil like Mobil 1, but that’s not a requirement.

Indeed. In such conditions you will constantly have salty spray building up on the windshield, but the water will dry up faster than the wipers can clear it, leaving a windshield that is impossible to see out of. You would be using the washer pump constantly. It would be extremely dangerous to drive without a washer pump in those conditions, and I would be extremely upset if some idiot hit me because of something stupid like that.

Aren’t there short-term alternatives, like pulling over and washing your windshield manually? Can’t the OP carry a gallon of low temp. WW fluid, a spray bottle, and some rags to use on the side of the road?

I still think the bushings should be a higher priority.

Wow?that?s a lot of typing. Let me see if I can provide a tad of assistance?I?ll give you what little I can, and type a lot, too. ? Bear all the other opinions in mind, too?but here?s my .02.

First off, it?s a lot of mileage, but not a truly excessive number. If you take care of it, service it regularly, it should run without major issues for another few years. I know you?ve probably thought about replacing it, but as you say, being poor, it may not be feasible. Hit a parts store and get a book. Lots of the things you want to do are simple enough for the home mechanic, and you said you?ve done a lot of basic maintenance yourself. As a struggling student (who hasn?t been there?), prepare yourself to do more.

Winter driving will definitely require you to be able to clean your windshield, and is legally required in some states. So your washer fluid reservoir. The pump is a separately replaceable unit, and at my local AutoZone, it costs $16.99. It?s listed under ?Electrical and Lighting?. There may be a better price somewhere. Typically, replacing it involves pulling the old one out (a pressure fit, you should not have to remove the bumper), disconnecting the plastic tubing, and changing the wiring. You should be able to do that done in your driveway - it comes with directions. You may need to jack up the front of the car to get under it?but borrow jack-stands if you don’t own some. Never crawl under a vehicle supported solely by a jack.

Trailing arm bushings are relatively cheap ? from $30 for just the bushings, to $60 for the bushings and the mounting part inside it. It can be difficult to change?normally requiring a press of some sort. I?ve been successful using a vise, but that?s a hard way to do it. Any decent mechanic around can do it. If you have the ability to remove the arms and take them into a shop, they can press them in for you relatively cheap. This is a drivability and safety issue. You should get these done as soon as you can.

The serpentine belt is a <$20 piece, and easy enough to replace. Idler pulley is about $40. Are you seeing signs that your alternator is failing? Battery constantly low, even right after a new one? Something? If not, then you probably don?t need to replace it. If you do, and you?re not sure that you can manage the work, then you should either ask for assistance from a friend you trust, or take it to a shop. As for how long the belts will last, there?s no way we can tell. Even if we had pictures, we cannot hazard a guess. If you think it may be failing, then you probably just need to replace it.

Ok, you?re moving ?North?. I lived in Minot, ND for just over a year, and I?ll tell you, THAT place is cold. I saw -30F, with winds bring the ?real feel? down to -75F or even lower. Since you?re going 600 miles, what North is that you?ll be in? That matters. I did not have block heaters in either of my vehicles, and they always did just fine. I know in my home state (NH), they?re not typically installed unless the owner wants one. The odd vehicle will have them. My parents live up there in the mountains, and their vehicles live outside?with no heaters. They typically have below zero temps, and very little problems.

You may want to start putting money in some sort of separate bank account, though, for when things do fail, and to replace this at the end of school. I know?easier said than done. Just do your best. Living in the North, vehicles have it rough, and rust is a problem. You?re going to need to replace it when you?re done.

IMHO, you should do the trailing arms, accessory belt and washer pump now. I can?t really say one is more important than the other, except maybe the washer pump last. Leave the heater block until the very last, if you think you really need one.

There’s a reason many poor grad students don’t have cars. Keeping old vehicles maintained takes both money and lots of precious time (time that’s likely needed more for academics).

I don’t want to judge whether you need a vehicle or not, but you might want to at least evaluate it from a big-picture level to see if a maintaining a 13 year old car is the right decision for you.

Only if you’re good with pulling over literally every 30 seconds to wipe the windshield. The spray is pretty insane in the northern states if there’s any water on the road.

Get a second opinion on those bushings. There is a wide range of opinions expressed by mechanics on when a suspension component needs replacing.