CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Fix or buy new

I own a 2002 Saturn L200, 99,382 miles, people are telling me to replace the timing belt now, I have original rear brakes and at this point in time the dealer says anything can go wrong, I do not feel safe in this car. I am a retired single 63 yr old woman. I realize it is better use of my $ to repair rather than buy but I feel as if I will be living waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thoughts?

Look to your manual for suggested maintenance. If you wish no repairs trade it in, the other thought is to put the new car payment into a savings account, keep up with repairs and maintenance from that account, and when you get to a repair exceeds the account trade it in.

The timing belt and rear brakes are just routine maintence items. If the car is otherwise good shape, I don’t see any reason to get rid of it.

Agreed. You don’t say you’re having any problems with the car. Routine maintenance is not the same as repairs, and anything can go wrong at any time with ANY car. Even brand new cars sometimes have problems. There’s no such thing as a car that will never need repair.

Why do you not feel safe in this car? There are people driving around every day in vehicles with twice as many miles as your Saturn.

You have two choices:

  1. Do the maintenance that’s required according to the owner’s documentation and keep driving.

  2. Trade your car for something else, then do the maintenance on it.

Helen poses a real dilemma. With a car of this vintage and mileage, there will always be a lingering question of, can I rely on this car to take me on that next trip? The math will almost always justify fixing over buying new. But that will not give you total peace of mind.

My initial suggestion would be for you to have a local reliable mechanic give your car a thorough health check-up. Yes, some things will be obvious, like a new timing belt and tires if worn. Reliable checks can be made of the battery, brakes, hoses, exhaust system, etc. that if done properly and thoroughly, should go a long way to giving you a sense of comfort. And yes, this approach will save you considerable money over the option of buying a new car. If still in doubt, consider renting a car for that infrequent long trip you might make.

Use this time to plan on replacing this car within the next 2 years or so. This way, you won?t be pressured into having to buy a new car NOW. Also, accumulating 2 years worth of car payments that you didn?t need to make will go a long way toward a down payment on a new car.

Good luck.

If you have kept up on maintenance there is no reason to think it will break down.

A seven year old car with less than 100,000 miles on it can be as reliable as a one year old car, if normal maintenance is done. The riskiest car to take a long trip in would be a brand new car, in my opinion.

Helen, my mother in law is 91 and she drives her 1994 Pontiac Sunbird on a daily basis, and it gives her very little trouble.

If your Saturn had 200,000 miles on it I would say that you would have a greater chance of a breakdown, but it could still be reliable.

As others mentioned, get a good independent mechanic to check your car over, and fix any other minor things that it needs. Then your car will be as reliable as a one year old one, and you have no payments. And please stop listening to the dealer; they want to sell you a new car. The Sears appliance salesman will likely tell you that your washer or fridge is on its last legs!

I’m pretty sure that the L200 4 cyl has a timing chain. The Gate Timing Belts catalog only lists the V6 with a timing belt. Check your Owner’s Manual/Maintenance Schedule to make sure.

Ed B.