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Am I too cheap?

I have a 1998 Subaru Outback with 165K on it. It has served me very well. I have the usual oil leaks, and feel like I have to replace the muffler every couple of years. But it’s starting to show it’s age. It needs shocks and struts, new tires, and looks like it’s starting to have the signs of a head gasket leak. The catch is, I drive this vehicle about 2,000 miles a year, all local. It starts every time, it gets me to where I need to go and back. Now I have to have an emissions test (we have one every two years in our state). It would kill me to have another car payment for a car that would sit a whole lot in my driveway (our other car is a 2007 Subaru that runs great.) So is it worth putting any money into this car, or is it time to say thank you for your service and find something else?

Check Great parts prices. Struts and oil pan are easy changes. Fairly cheap as well, the head gasket I would have professionally repaired. But thats about 1500 bucks

For 2,000 miles a year, I won’t do much to the car. If it passes the emission test I’d put some decent tires on it and that’s about all. For local low miles, low speed, driving the shocks and struts can be bad and not be unsafe.

The head gasket issue is something to watch. As long as we are talking external oil leaking from the head gasket you can live with that for years. If the leak is internal and oil and coolant are getting together then you might have to spend money on engine work to keep it going for a bunch more years.

Eventually you are going to need another car, this one isn’t going to last forever. Start making payments to yourself now. If you make a $300 a month payment for 3 years you’ll have close to $11K to buy a used car or make enough of a down payment on a new one that the car payment to the bank will be about the same $300.

What’s cheaper? To fix or do a little maintenance to a 13 year old car to get it to pass emissions, or buy another car just to drive it a couple thousand miles per year? I have an 18 year old car that I just needed to spend $250 on to get it past emissions. With 356,000 miles on it, starts every time I turn the key, I felt it was well worth it. That takes my total maintenance tally to $1,000 for the year, which includes new tires, a tune-up, a Half-shaft replacement, and various filters replaced. It’s paid for, so that is a lot of car payments I’m not making. And, I commute with it every day, putting about 7,000 miles a year on it. Even if I can find a decent replacement, I’d have to spend $4,000-$5,000, and still have to pay for maintenance and repairs.

You should check your local (state) laws. My BIL has an old Mazda truck that he drives to work, and because he puts less than 5,000 miles a year on it, it is exempt from emissions testing. We live in PA. Your state’s laws are different, but I would certainly look into that.

If you took that car out and gave it a good run once in a while, the engine, and surely the exhaust system might age a bit more gracefully.

If it is capable of passing an emissions test, and it doesn’t have any structural rust issues, I would fix it. My car is also a 1998 model, and it has about 196,000 miles on it. I don’t drive it very often either, but when it came time to replace all four struts at about 160,000 miles, I paid for it. I just put new tires on it last year. I am still driving with the original muffler, but I live in the south, and I don’t have any head gasket issues, but the engine does seep oil.

If the car is safe and legal, putting money into these repairs would be the better financial decision than financing a new or new used car.

The question is not whether you are too cheap. The question is whether you are being “penny wise and pound foolish.” In the case of car maintenance (which includes most timely repairs), “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I hesitantly offer these observations, but I will (why not?).

I own a 1984 Toyota Corolla liftback with 547,000+ that I bought new. It does not have an oil leak (and the last and only oil leak that I can recall was sometime in the mid-1990s), I can’t recall when I last needed to replace the muffler (sometime in the 1990s) or the struts (maybe early 2000s or late 1990s), and the vehicle offers no sign of a head gasket problem. However, I did buy a new pair of tires recently.