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Help! What to do with this car?

Please help me! Here’s my problem (a bit long, hang in there): I have a 1999 Toyota Sienna LE with 243,000 miles on it. It was always scrupulously maintained. In 2009 I moved 3000 miles away to New York City for three years (to finish graduate school) and gave the car to my son, then a college student. Finding he could not afford insurance, he left the car sit parked for these three years (not a word to me a bout this). He did not even start it (!!!) He now tells me he does not want the car. I wanted to rehabilitate the car and had it towed to a mechanic who gave me an estimate of $1000 for a timing belt and several other small items. I got a second opinion from another mechanic who was heartily endorsed by a friend whose father works there. I had the van towed to the second mechanic who came back with an estimate of $1500 because he said the first guy missed a lot of problems including front brakes, water pump, drive belts, spark plugs and battery. He assured me that the car was “great” and that the engine, transmission, struts, suspension, bearings, etc. were in wonderful shape. I agreed to the $1500 worth of work. He later called me to say that when he test drove the car, the catalytic converter failed. Another $600. Today he said the fuel injectors have also failed. I am a single parent with no car knowledge. I am sorry I ever agreed to the repairs. What the heck do I do with this car now? I don’t feel it is reliable, although this second mechanic seems to be very thorough - at great cost to me relative to the car’s possible worth. I have just finished graduate school and have almost no money. I hope someone can give me good advice. Thanks!

Yes, it was probably past due for a timing belt. Installing a water pump at the same time as the timing belt is standard procedure, so I’m surprised that shop #1 was not including that in his pricing. Mechanic #1 probably looked at the front brakes too. Why would he miss that, or the belts or ther battery? They’re so easy. My thinking is that you are being party to the “late boat payment” syndrome. At this point all you can do is tell him to quit working on it and let you have it back without the new catalytic converter and injectors as long as it RUNS. Cats don’t just quit working from sitting still. Injectors might get plugged, but that’s what injector cleaners are for.

A 14 year old car with 243K miles on it…Sits unused for 3 years… It was not worth the $1000 dollar estimate the FIRST mechanic gave you…This is not 1964 Doc.

“Son, have it hauled off and you can keep the $200…” No graduate degree needed…

Why would the timing belt need to be replaced? It’s a non-interference engine on a 243k mile car. Drive it till it breaks - it won’t hurt anything if it does - and then decide whether or not to have it replaced when it does. Some timing belts can last more than 4x the design life, and as long as you’re not risking grenading the engine by not replacing it, why spend the cash?

Other than that, I agree with MG - this mechanic is making a nice chunk of change, and half the crap he says it needs, it probably doesn’t need.

A Toyota of that vintage that sits for 3 years needs a new battery, new oil, and new gas. Anything else it needs, it will let you know by either running poorly or not running at all.

FWIW I have to wonder if the fuel injectors failed (if indeed they did fail) because the mechanic neglected to drain the gas tank and fill it with fresh gas.

Unfortunately you are getting deeper into the “project” than you originally expected. Sometimes you can’t predict all the problems you’ll encounter in a car that has been sitting for 3 years virtually neglected. A new battery in this case is to be expected. Worn front brakes are not out of line with the miles on the car. It was due for a timing belt and water pump as part of normal maintenance.

The surprises seem to be the cat converter failure and now fuel injectors failing. I suspect the old gas which was never treated for proper storage killed the fuel injectors. The cat is questionable, but with that kind of miles on the car isn’t really hard to see a replacement is needed.

After you get the car back into normal service, it might still have a few issues that could pop up. After 6 months of use you can expect things to be sorted out and then it will settle into being a “reliable” vehicle again. It is a '99 car with 250K miles on it, so reliable is a relative term given the age and miles driven. Sitting with old stale gas in the tank for 3 years didn’t help.

hmm … well, doing the repairs recommended isn’t unreasonable for a car with that many miles, and the price they quote seems competitive. Even w/a non-interference engine, the engine and/or head can be damaged if the timing belt breaks at high rpm, like if you are on the freeway. The fact that the car isn’t worth as much as the repair cost isn’t relevant in my opinion. If you like the car and it has been reliable for you, the repair cost compared to the price of a new(er) car is what matters.

Car’s tend to not do well after sitting for months at a time without being started. All sorts of things can go wrong. It’s not unusual at all to have fuel problems, injectors clogging, etc. I think the shop is trying to deliver you a repaired car in good reliable condition is all.

If you wanted to do it on the cheap, the timing belt can be inspected usually through some inspection holes. If it looked ok all the way around, it might be worth the chance to not change the timing belt (or the water pump.) If the brake pads are beyond their spec, that’s a no brainer of course. It’s a safety issue. Before replacing or cleaning the fuel injectors, it’s probably worth the touble and $$ to clean out the fuel tank, if they haven’t already suggested it.

Or if you’ve become frustrated, simply junk it.

The timing belt and fuel system related parts along with the battery are usually the things at the top of the list. Aged gasoline can do a number on fuel pumps and injectors. Pump failure, either immediately or soon after being back in service, is not that rare.

Considering the age and miles on the car it was a mistake to wade into this thing. The best option might be to quit throwing good money after bad and call it quits because my personal gut feeling is that there are going to be other issues that will crop up.

If the vehicle was 5 years old, had a 100k miles on it, etc then it might be worth resurrecting. Just my humble opinion here, but for a DIYer the vehicle has possibilities but for someone who has no car knowledge and money it’s crusher bait looking for a recycler at this point.

Put it on CraigsList for offers along with the receipts and see what happens. I do have sympathy for your being in this position.

If you didn’t agree for him to do the work, you don’t have to have to pay him.
From the sound of it, you only agreed to the 1500 bucks so pay him that and take the thing. Check your state but I’m pretty sure they can’t just fix things without written notification.

Run some techron fuel injector cleaner through a couple of fill ups and you may very well have a decent van to drive.

Follow up: I have not agreed in writing to any repairs whatsoever. I also wonder whether or not the mechanic drained the old fuel (as best he could) and filled the tank with fresh gas and some fuel-line cleaner. This seems like a no-brainer, but this guy has been a bit flakey.

I feel that this car needs to be out of my life. Do I just leave it at the shop or is there some more responsible and possibly profitable (???) course of action?

Abby-Like the others have said, I am sorry you are in this predicament. I agree that it’s not a good idea to invest money the car yourself, considering your circumstances. However, depending on factors you haven’t mentioned, I might agree with ok4450 about trying to sell it to a “do-it-yourselfer” who has skills to repair this car. What I would use to judge the potential is the physical condition of the Sienna. If the body, interior, and glass are good, and if it’s not rusted underneath, etc, (you did say it’s been well maintained) then a moderately skilled DIYer can make many of these repairs to make it a decent car for a good overall price…maybe. I’ve seen lots of non-running cars on Craigslist for somewhere between $500 and $1000. No way to know if any of them sold however. There’s also a small chance that someone with a Sienna like yours might need enough parts that your car could be a donor car, and would buy the whole thing for maybe $300 or $400, again, a wild guess. Spend some time looking at Craigslist ads to get a sense of what the market is in your area.

But if the body is bad, dented, rusted, and / or the interior is a mess or torn etc, then maybe it’s best to sell it for scrap. In my area, you’d probably get at least $100, maybe a good bit more.

But I’d start with advertising on Craigslist ad and see what happens, and if you get no success, then scrap it.

Best of luck!

Scrap prices on cars are currently about $200 per ton around here. With $2100 invested I’d hate to give up on it now. Since the car is running I’d go get it put fresh gas and injector cleaner in it and drive it a couple weeks to see what developed. If you can get it running decent then you can decide whether to continue driving it yourself or sell it, but it’s definitely going to bring more in running condition than in non running condition. I’m also wondering if this mechanic is just trying to take you for a ride, repairing things that are not necessary.

Should you decide to scrap it, consider donating it. In my area there are several non-profit organizations that will pick it up for free. All you need to hand them is the title and keys.
The tax write off may yield more money than you could get for it in scrap value.

If you agreed verbally to the work, you should pay for it, but at this point, get the van and if it doesn’t run good, find another mechanic. It seems that some people think they have the greatest mechanic because he can find things that need to be repaired that they were not even aware of. I call these people EZ.

If you want out at this point, see if you can sign over the title to the mechanic in exchange for him dropping all claims against you for payment for the work done so far. I’m not sure of what work has been done and paid for, and what work has been done without being paid as yet.

I strongly disagree with UncleTurbo’s advice here, that could be exactly what the mechanic is hoping for. Find another mechanic and get a second opinion before doing anything.

If you don’t want the car now, why not offer to sell it to the mechanic for cost of the work he’s already done on it? i.e. just give it to him if he’ll accept it. That might be a good deal for both of you. Doesn’t hurt to ask.