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Expensive repair vs. new car

I have a 2003 Subaru Forester (purchased in 2002). Over the course of 9 years of ownership we have spent approximately $1,000/year with $4,000 of those repairs/maintenance in 2010 and 2011. We just found out we have an oil leak that requires removing the transmission to reach and repair the leak totalling $1,700. I can’t decide whether to repair it or buy a new car. Overall it has been a great car but the last two years have been expensive ones for repairs and if we go this one we will have spent almost $6,000 in 2010-2011. Bluebook value is $5,000. Thoughts?

Normally I’m for repairing rather than replacing, because you can’t get a new car for $1700 or even $6,000. But this IS a Subaru, and they tend to be expensive to own. I’d toss it.

Is the leak in the rear main seal? Is it interfering with the operation of the clutch?

If it’s’ the rear main and it isn;t interfering with anything, just monitor your oil level and you can consider getting the seal changed when you next need a clutch replacement. If it’s anywhere else, such as seepage through a gasket, you can just keep your oil from running low and ignore it.

Engines do not die prematurely or operate any less well due to a simple oil leak. They only die prematurely of the level is allowed to run low. As long as you keep that from happening, you can drive a car with an external oil leak forever. You might want to set a $1 turkey pan on the garage floor if you’re concerned about drips, but your engine will be fine. The perception that all oil leaks need to be fixed for the engine to last is an erroneous perception.

As cars get older the repair costs come more into the picture. You didn’t mention what the $4,000 for repairs included. Such things as tires, brakes, struts, mounts aren’t really repairs in my book, just stuff that wears out. You can also expect an alternator to fail, and you have a timing belt and and water pump that isn’t really a repair either.

If you’ve fixed these kinds of things then you can expect not to need to deal with these items again for 5 or so more years. As for an oil leak; as cars get older we can get a bit less finicky about stuff like an oil leak if it is simply a drop or two of oil on the garage floor. It really depends on how much oil is leaking, where it is leaking, and if the leak causes an operational or safety issue. If not, then a top off of oil now and again is all you need do.

You need to assess if you’ve spent money on simply replacing wear and tear items, and just how important is stopping this oil leak. Spending $1,000 to 2,000 per year to maintain and repair a car that is approaching 10 years old is about what I’d expect and put into my “auto” budget.

Thanks so much for the feedback. You’ve given me some good things to research and think about.

The key question is how much oil actually leaks out? How often are you adding motor oil?

You can buy many cases of oil for $1700. Your maintenance costs seem on the steeper side but my guess is a dealership is the likely place its happening.

The key to great car ownership beyond the vehicle is a reasonable place to fix it in both price and advice/diagnosis.