Buy new or repair this? (A little long)


#1

Not really looking for advice here, just would like others’ views:

We currently own a 2005 Mercury Mariner (3.0L V-6), of which my wife is the primary driver. This vehicle is nearing the 140K-mile mark, and when we bought it new my plan was to keep it for 10 years and then upgrade to a new car. The Mariner was a special-ordered, top-of-the-line model with every option box checked (except back-up sensors, much to my later regret. . .), and has been the most reliable vehicle we’ve ever owned. We both retired about the time we bought it, and it has been garage-kept, hand-washed, and appropriately maintained (by me) since day one; it still truly looks nearly new, in and out - no smoking, pets, or small children ever. We live in a southern state, so it’s never seen salted roads, and since we live in a rural area, it always gets fully warmed up when it’s driven - no short trips, and not much stop-and-go driving.

It was involved in one collision, a side-impact by an inattentive teenage driver, that required replacement of the passenger-side front door and lower part of the door frame. The work was done beautifully - no structural damage was done, and the paint match was perfect. I also backed into a tree at one point, requiring the replacement of the rear bumper cover, but again no serious damage.

It developed a slight oil leak about 50K miles ago that has been traced to the lower “girdle” of the engine block. This is a common place for an oil leak on these Duratec engines, and will require engine removal and disassembly to repair it. This might be a minor annoyance for most, but it bugs the heck out of me since I’m the one who changes the oil, etc., plus, the drip lands directly on the exhaust header, which of course results in a very nasty stench. I have never had to add oil between changes. This is the only known “problem” with the car at this time. (Zero squeaks or rattles either.)

I sent an oil sample to Blackstone labs at about 100K, and the result was very positive - no abnormalities detected. (I’ve used Motorcraft 5w-20 & Motorcraft filters since day one.) Transmission fluid has been changed twice, most recently at 90K, using Amsoil synthetic.

Historically, the transmission has been the weak point of the Escape/Mariner series of this era, but so far I have not noticed any particular odd behavior, although it does seem to have an occasional hard downshift - maybe that’s not surprising given the mileage.

While I have respect for the durability of this little SUV, I have never liked either the looks nor the driving characteristics of it. Like pretty much all small SUV’s it has a rough ride and transmits lots of road noise to the interior. My wife just wants to get from point A to point B in a car that doesn’t look old and ratty - beyond that she’s not very fussy. If we do buy a new vehicle, she would like something very similar to this, so it will also have a poor ride and will be relatively noisy (we have test driven '15 and '16 Foresters, Rav4’s, CRV’s, etc., and confirmed). I’m happy using my F-150 for my errands, and we usually rent a car when we take long road trips, so my satisfaction with driving it is not a major consideration.

Pulling the engine to reseal it would cost at least $1500. Since the trans has to come with it, it seems to me that it would be prudent to rebuild the transmission concurrently, given the history mentioned above. As well, we’d want to reseal the upper and lower intake manifolds, and possibly replace the injectors and COP modules, plus a few other wear bits here and there. All told, I’d anticipate a $6000 repair bill, hopefully a little less. New tires are also on the near horizon, another $600-$700 cost.

While $6K sounds like a lot to spend on a car that’s currently worth $5K on a good day (probably less given the collision history and oil leak), this should insure another 7-8 years of life, as I believe the engine will be good for 250K miles without a rebuild.

Obviously, these repairs are not “necessary”, but I have to take into account my own satisfaction with things working properly and not having to worry about whether the car will make it home every time it leaves the driveway.

What strikes me as a real gamble is putting that money into it does not translate to added value in the event of another collision. Stuff happens.

What does buying a new vehicle gain me? The latest in safety features, primarily. The Mariner/Escape, in 2005, was “not recommended” by Consumer Reports due to their ease of overturning during emergency maneuvers or side impact. Although the options I ordered included extra side and curtain air bags, it is still not nearly as safe as what’s available today: vehicle stability control, collision warnings, etc. How do you put a price on that added potential for saving life and limb??

Some will argue that buying a new car is wasteful, environmentally. I do sympathize with that, but also realize that newer cars put less crap into the air than 11-year-old cars, and use less fuel as well. Further, someone who really needs a low-cost, reliable vehicle would be grateful to find this Mariner.

Lastly, spending $30 - 32K on a new set of wheels would not put us in a financial bind, but one can ALWAYS find a use for the money saved!

I would appreciate your views!


#2

If it’s not really broke then I don’t fix it. Leaks on vehicles are common and if it’s not a puddle…not to worry. Perform all necessary maintenance and forget the rest. Check all fluids on a regular basis and keep a check on your tire pressure as well. You will do fine.


#3

I agree with missileman. Save your money and use it to purchase your next car. Just do your basic maintenance and only fix what is broken on this vehicle. At 11 years and 140K miles you can’t expect that this vehicle will serve you reliably for much longer. I’m not saying it can’t but the odds are not good that it will. Keep driving it until it needs a really expensive repair and then move onto a new vehicle.


#4

Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back as Bruce Williams used to say. Time to move on or maybe not quite yet, but don’t spend $6000 on this car. Get a pan for the oil leak.


#5

My 03 ford truck had the oil dripping on the exhaust. There was a tsb about millings causing the head gasket to leak, but no warranty repair. our mechanic put in a peice of metal to divert the drops. If I were in your situation I would try to find an indie to do that, and as long as the wife is happy let her drive on.


#6

Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back as Bruce Williams used to say.

Wow, someone who remembers Bruce Williams! He always had good advice.

Not in love (nearly the opposite), just looking for the most thoughtful approach over the long term, whether it means upgrading now or later. Thanks for the input.


#7

You have a nice looking very reliable car that will require 6-8 thousand dollars to repair to your rather exacting standards. And it is worth <$5000. Oh, you also don’t like the car.

Sell it now and move on. if you have a F150, what do you need an SUV for ? Not for snow or to move things, why not get a comfortable car ?


#8

What I’d do is drop the transmission pan and inspect it for debris. If there’s a light coating of blackish ick I’d change the fluid and skip rebuilding the transmission which is the most expensive part of this proposition.

If the pan has a fair amount of blackish sludge in it and/or a fair amount of metallic debris then rebuilding it is an option.

If the trans appears to be clean then I’d reseal the engine and skip rebuilding it. The only thing I would advise doing while the engine is out is to replace the front pump seal on the transmission.
Murphy’s Law says that if this is not done it will start leaking in a week or so and the trans will have to come out because of a 10 dollar seal.

Anytime I’ve had an engine or trans out of a car I’ve always replaced the pump seal for free and only charged for the cost of the seal. It only takes a minute and is very cheap insurance.


#9

Thanks for the warning about the length in the subject!
One thing you have in your favor is time. You don’t have to do anything right now. You see three options - live with the leak and keep, repair and keep, buy a new car. You may see another option in a month or two.


#10

Whose SUV is it again? Since Mrs waxinesthetic is the primary driver, maybe you should frame the issue from her perspective. If she is in favor of a new vehicle, it would be a good time to start looking. It seems that the leak is so slight that you lose less than 1 quart of oil in the 5000 to 7500 mile change interval I presume you use. If it was a large leak, I would suggest trading the Mariner. If you don’t mind the work required to sell it, do that and buy a new SUV for the Mrs. We have a slight oil leak in our 2003 Olds Silhouette and I have offered to get a new vehicle for my wife, but she declined, saying that she drives it infrequently enough that it and a couple other problems are not so severe that it requires repair or vehicle replacement. Her call.