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Buy car or transmission rebuild?

What should I do? I have a '99 Mazda 626, 155,000 miles. It needs a transmission rebuild, which I can get locally for about $1600 with a 3 yr guarantee. Should I have it done or is it time to get a new (i.e. used - no new car for me) car? My wife (who has a '97 RAV4 that will need replacing some time) wants me to get a new (used) car. I flinch at getting deeper in debt. I’m also terrified of the prospect of negotiating during the buying process. I know it’s not going to run forever, but… when is it time to stop putting money into an old car and get a new one? Rebuild now or take the plunge?

If the Mazda is in good shape other than the transmission I would get the transmission rebuilt. You can’t replace the Mazda for $1600 so you would just being going further in debt with another vehicle.

You need to assess the overall condition of the car. Does it burn oil? If you need to add a quart of oil every 1000 miles it could mean a worn out motor. Does the motor make any obvious knocking and/wrapping noises? That could mean bearing problems. Does the motor run smoothly and have power similar to when it was a “younger” car? How are the tires?

A '99 car will need stuff; brakes, CV joints, struts, tie rods, etc. But these are normal items that wear out. The stuff that kills cars this age are neglect (running without checking oil level or changing the oil), and bad head gaskets. If the car has never overheated and the oil and coolant stay clean your head gasket(s) are OK at this moment.

Perhaps before spending big bucks for a transmission, you should have your mechanic give your car an inspection to be sure it is worth putting more money into it. A compression check and leak down test could determine the condition of the motor.

The motor seems fine (no noises, power seems the same), but I should have a compression check done. I have always changed the oil every 3K miles; it might be down a half a quart over that distance. Tires are new. I’ve replaced a few things - normal wear stuff. There is some body rust around the wheel well on one side. I don’t have a mechanic (I’ve just taken it to the dealer except for oil changes) - time to find one.

A half quart loss of oil per oil change is just about as good as it gets for your car and mileage. I seriously doubt you need a compression test, if as you say there are no noises or any power loss or significant oil loss. You seem to think the car is pretty solid except for some body rust and the transmission.
The amount asked to rebuild the tranny is high. But it’s still worth it if you can even two more years out of this car.

Just offhand, my vote is to rebuild the transmission but then again I’m allergic to shelling out interest money and new car smell that increases the amount of that interest.

A 1/2 quart of oil consumption at that mileage is nothing to be overly concerned with.
One area of concern might be the timing belt if this has not been done.

Thanks. The amount for the rebuild didn’t seem so bad after I heard what the dealer wanted for it: $4500.

Rebuild the Transmission

I too would do the transmission. If your wife gets upset about it show up with flowers & tell her they came from the huge amount of money you actually saved.

I hope that you’re not getting this done at a national chain transmission place. As franchises, they certainly do vary in quality - but on the whole they are not the way to go.

Hopefully you are at a local, independent shop.

I had the car looked at: the compression is great; the mechanic said the car is in great shape mechanically. Except for the transmission - I’m going to have it done at a local shop. Case closed! Many thanks to you all for your advice!

If it makes you feel any better - which I’m sure it doesn’t - those 626 transmissions were not at all hardy. Lots of failures at relatively low miles. So you were doing well at 155K

After it is rebuilt be sure to have it serviced - pan dropped/filter changed - every 30K miles. Unless you would do it yourself, the same shop doing the rebuild would be the place I’d go - keep a relationship with them and they’ll keep seeing it at least partly as “their” transmission.

Pardon my ignorance: what is "pan dropped/filter changed?

Its a standard way to service a transmission/transmission fluid. Unlike with the engine oil a lot of transmissions don’t have a drain plug and the filter is actually on the inside of the transmission. (If that sounds loopy, you’re not the only one who thinks so). So a standard way to service the fluid/filter is to take the fluid pan off of the bottom of the transmission. You can inspect the pan for debris and such and change the filter that way.

Many transmission experts say that doing this every 30K miles or so is the best way to keep the transmission healthy.

My clouds of automotive ignorance are slowly lifting, thanks to you guys. Man, I love CarTalk. Are there any good books or web sites where I could continue my education (although I think just asking y’all questions my be as good as anything).