How much money would you sink into a high mileage car?

mazda
repair
mercury
tracer
fuel-economy

#1

In 1989 I bought my first new car. It was an 89 Mercury Tracer, basically a Mazda 323 in disguise. I needed a good commuter car to get me back and forth to work with gas then at just over a buck a gallon. I drove the heck out of this car and later hit a deer head on totaling the car. That was with 270k on the odometer and I didn’t figure that the car would last much longer so I decided not to. Well long story short, it now has 375k and it’s just too hot to drive in the summer. But I just filled it up and got 40 MPG! With the price of gas at $4 a gallon would it be worthwhile to spend the $ and get the AC fixed? I do have a 95 Tracer with working AC to drive when it gets too hot.


#2

What kind of fuel economy are you getting from the '95? If you are insuring both, you may be better off ditching the '89 and keeping the '95 in top condition. The '89 has certainly given you your money’s wrth.


#3

How much damage and what type of damage does it have? If the damage was all aesthetic, I’d fix the AC. If there was chassis damage that might change my decision.


#4

I would ditch the old one; there is some life left in it but at that mileage one big repair will occur afer the other. It is theoretically possible to keep a basically good car going forever, but usually not cost-effective. An don’t forget the smog tests; an old car may run well but if you fail the test it may mean very expensive repairs!


#5

The 1989 car may not need smog testing. I believe that was before OBD-II computers, and all pre-OBD-II cars are exempt. This car should definitely not have collision coverage, and I’m sure you dropped that a while back. If it is not your commuter, insurance might not be that expensive. If not, you could keep it for those snowy or icy days when it won’t matter too much if there’s another scrape or two.


#6

Yep, go for it. Provided it is not obsolete (as in doesn’t meet your needs today), the only way to look at repairs on an older car is to average out your per mile repair costs, then if you will drive the car long enough to recover the repair costs, that’s your break even point. As long as you hit the break even point, so what? Of course you can always decide to increase your cost of the car itself and lower the repair costs by buying a new one, but that’s not the question.


#7

Missouri (my home state) doesn’t require smog testing. But I bet it would pass if needed. I consider the car expendable, I carry minimum coverage on it, and the taxes are minimal. It actually gets around quite well in the winter. But the little 1.6l doesn’t put out much heat on those really cold days.


#8

With front end damage, was the condenser damaged? Did it leak out all of the R12? If the condensor was damaged, and all the r12 leaked out, chances are your looking at a complete system replacement. The compressor will be the most expensive, but if the system was exposed to normal atmosphere and all the moisture it contains for 100,000 miles, most shops will want a new condenser, evaporator, and hoses before trying to oil and fill the system. This will get very expensive very quickly.

Park it until Fall, and drive the '95 this summer. The difference in mileage can’t be that bad.


#9

Sadly I am one of those guys who keeps a spreadsheet of all my exspenses and even mileage. Last month it shot out a spark plug and I had to do some serious soul searching before I shelled out some cash for a helicoil insert. But in 18 years, that is the only thing I have ever done to the engine. If it had needed a new head, I would probably have junked it, or taken it out into a field and put a bullit into the hood. This car is still on the plus side of the cost benefit chart. But there are no creature comforts and it sure doesn’t turn any heads. I just know that the second I put a new AC in it, then that engine will let go. After all how many motors do you know of that have run over 375,000 miles without a repair? I am thinking I can make it to 400k and hopefully trade it for a new Ford Fiesta next year.


#10

Slight fender damage, minor dent in front of rear wheel, and taillight pushing in a bit. Badly faded paint, but hardly any rust. But not a show car by any means.


#11

I gotta agree with this one, I would add that you might put in a new thermostat before cold weather sets in, that is probably why the shortage of heat.


#12

The deer took out the radiator and condenser. Only the radiator was replaced. I removed the compressor, plugged the lines with foam rubber and stored it. If I do the work myself I could probably keep the cost down. But would my old compressor work with the new refrigerant? Replacing the compressor would probably put me over the top in the expense margin.

The 95 Tracer (second generation Escort clone) gets up to 35 mpg so we are only looking at a 5 MPG difference. At $4 a gallon that’s $1.5 a day on my commute. It would take a long time for the savings to add up to enough to offset the repair cost.

I put in a new thermostat last year as the old one was sticking open. I watch my temp gauge closely as it doesn’t take much to warp an aluminum head. I have considered a thermo with a higher opening temp, but am afraid of potential damage. I don’t want to see my gauge climbing out of the safe zone.

If you have ever owned an 88-90 Tracer or Mazda 323, you know that even brand new they don’t put out much heat. I remember the day I drove it off the showroom floor in the middle of December. Once I got it outside, the cold air set in and I took it back to confirm that the heat was actually working. You can close off outside air and it gets a little warmer, but then the windows fog up real bad. I just dress warm and sometimes wimp out and drive the 95.


#13

I tend to place personal preference higher than I did in my youth. In fact, to me liberty is the ability to use personal preference as much as possible, as long as you do not actively harm other people. I suspect you really know you are not comfortable putting a large amount of money in the a/c when you well know something major can pop at any time, but at the same time hate to dump a car that runs so well. Many a dairy farmer over the years has put an old cow out to pasture when she stopped giving milk.

That car can be used at night, if you drive much then, until cooler weather comes. Or, parked until cool weather, though that can be hard on a car.

Or, you can advertise it at 40 mpg; people are paying outrageous amounts for high mileage cars. Full disclosure, please, on totaled status and no a/c. There might be a pizza delivery guy who works nights… The money you get will pay the extra gas on the other car for a while.

On the farm in the 50’s, we used to put water in our old tractors in winter, frantically adding the water after we got it started. We would cover the radiator with cardboard to keep it from freezing, and when we shut it off, we immediately pulled the drain plug. Carefully monitoring temperature, one can cover a gradually increasing area of radiator on this car in very cold weather, making sure not to overheat, you might get a few more degrees of heat.


#14

I have used a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator on really cold days. But there is only so much heat to be extracted. Your right, I am quite attached to this car. Most people see it as a worn out old car, instead of a dependable commuter car with great mileage. I would much rather be driving my Explorer, comfortable, roomy, well equipped, but not practical to commute in. We save that for trips to the store, church, and other outings. But with only 20 mpg possible, it spends a lot of time parked. I am thinking about trading it for an Escape Hybrid, but only if they add the plug in option.