End of the line for '96 Camry?

We have a 1996 Camry with ~162,000 miles on it and in the last three years we’ve put a little over $5,000 of repairs and maintenance into it (replaced shocks and struts in 2007; new tires and replaced radiator, front brakes, and battery in 2009; replaced spark plugs and wiring in 2010).

Last week while driving to work, without even a flickering warning light on the dashboard, the power steering crapped out and all steering nearly seized completely (we were fortunately able to wrestle it to our mechanic’s garage). Power steering fluid has been monitored and maintained throughout the life of the car and hasn’t leaked an ounce.

Our reliable and honest mechanic is stumped, thinks that replacing the power steering fluid pump might do the trick, but she’s not entirely confident in that diagnosis.

With a car this age and with this many miles, does it make sense to drop $500-$600 on another repair? Or is it time to say goodbye to an old friend?

All of the work you list is typical maintenance for a car this age (I have one). So just focus on the steering problem. There would be no warning light. Was any fluid lost? Any mechanical grinding noises?

If your mechanic isn’t comfortable diagnosing something like this, it sounds like you need to find one that is. Have you used the mechanic finder under ‘actual car info’ above?

No fluid was lost and we didn’t hear or feel any grinding. Our mechanic says she’s seen something similar once before in a older Chrysler minivan, but never in a Toyota.

And yes, our mechanic is highly regarded and experienced and we’ve been relying on them for years (http://www.cartalk.com/ct/mechx/shop.jsp?id=14883). I’d be leary that a mechanic who’s “comfortable” diagnosing the problem might be more focused on their own bottom line than the practicality of the repair.

OK, if you like them, fine, but this sounds like a pretty straightforward failure of either the pump or rack. I’m surprised they’re ‘stumped’. I assume the belt’s OK? That would cause this.

But to answer your basic question, if you like the car $600 is not much to keep it running for another year or more.

Maintenance costs (shocks/struts, tires, brakes, battery, spark plugs, plug wires) should be considered a cost of operating the vehicle, so I would never lump them together with repairs when making this decision. The only repair cost you have listed is the radiator replacement. A radiator and a steering problem on a 14 year old car is no cause for alarm.

I know you seem to like your mechanic, but if she can’t diagnose this problem, and just wants to throw parts at it to see what happens, it is time to get a second opinion.

gee, I had two 1994 camrys and they both went over 200K. the radiator went on one at 165K so that’s normal (the plastic top split). The struts went on the front near that mileage. the tires, tune up and other stuff is normal. PS didn’t go on mine so not sure what’s wrong there. If you want the car, pay to fix it. It will go another 100K or more. My brother in law’s altima has like 450k and is still going. at least you didn’t say motor mounts. Maybe you had that done earlier.

I don’t see anything other than the radiator that isn’t standard maintenance, and I wouldn’t freak out about that one repair.

I would freak out about the cost, though. OVER $5,000?!?!?!?!?!

Four complete strut assemblies (not just struts, but new springs, jounce bumpers, mounts, isolators) shouldn’t run more than around $1400 installed, max. Tires for a Camry? $400. Radiator? $450 or so. Brakes? $300 at worst (new pads and rotors). Battery? $90. Spark plugs and wires? $150-200.

That’s still a couple thousand off of what you say you’ve paid in repairs and maintenance. Either you have a horribly overpriced mechanic or you’re simply not listing everything you’ve had done.