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Keep it or kill it?

I have a 1997 Plymouth Grand Voyager. I have owned it 6-7 years. It has been very reliable, runs well, and has always been in great working condition.

Last year, we got rear-ended. No damage required repair (no broken lights or glass). The hatch was caved in a bit, but other than cosmetic issues I’ve left it alone. The only down side is I haven’t used the back hatch since, as I’m unsure whether it would latch again after opening it! I only mention this to let you know its condition. Other than a caved in rear “door”, the van is in good shape.

I took it in for a 30-pt inspection with a mechanic I trust. It currently needs $580 in brakes and $150 in rear coolant lines. Other than that, he sees 2 or 3 minor issues that will need addressing eventually, totaling $500 or so.

So here’s my question:
The total repairs, both current and predicted, are equal or greater to the value of the van. Do I have the brakes done or scrap it? I’m tempted to have them done and keep the thing as long as I can. I’m not likely to buy a replacement for similar money that is in similar condition. I have no pride when it comes to appearance. I just want a trustworthy vehicle.

How long is this van likely to live? If I put $730 into a car with ±120,000 miles is that a wise investment at this point, or am I being stupid?

How long is this van likely to live?

You have to think about the transmission.

If this van is still on the original transmission, it’s likely to fail sometime between 120k and 160k, even if it shifts fine now. If you’ve had trans fluid and filter replaced every 30k or so, that will get you farther than if you have not. Rebuilding a transmission would probably be $2000+ but get a price from your local independent transmission shop. Then you have to decide if a vehicle with body damage such as yours is worth $730 + $2XXX. Compare that with the cost to purchase a similar minivan…and think about buying one in better condition but which is known to need a transmission and priced accordingly, or which has just had a transmission replaced (insist on documentation). I’d also suggest doing a compression test on the engine, and visit an alignment shop for determination on what parts are approaching time for replacement, etc to know if you have more big expenses looming - or not. Compare your car to other vehicles. Do the math and you may get the answer to your question.

On the other hand, if you’ve recently rebuilt the transmission, then the equation shifts the other way. If the only body issue is the rear hatch, how much would it cost to buy a new hatch from a salvage yard? If you’ve done the important preventative maintenance such as changed oil and coolant more or less regularly, and if the engine compression is good, and if the steering gear is good , then it might make a lot of sense to do the brakes and other repairs you mentioned.

So…How long is this van likely to live? My 1990 Grand Caravan is at 294k, and only now is the 3.3L engine compression low enough that I’ve been forced to replace the vehicle…with a 96 Grand Caravan 3.3L. That one runs great, passed our smog test very easily. In other words, if your engine has good compression now, it will easily outlast the transmission. Hope that helps somewhat.

If you like the vehicle and it has been good to you, spending money for these repairs is only stupid if you know of some sort of impending doom and spend the bucks anyway. These signs may include engine knocks, oil pressure light on, transmission slipping or missing gears, etc. Can you and your mechanic speculate the car will last another six months to a year after these repairs are made? What kind of used car can you get for the cost of the repairs? If your van were for sale with all these repairs made for the cost of the repairs, would you consider buying it? These are some things to consider when faced with a repair bill.

You may also check into some salvage yards for a replacement liftgate. The yards near my city sell them for $30-50 typically, and they are easy to replace. Also, since Chrysler made a billion of these things, finding one in the right color should also be pretty easy. Fixing that might make you feel better about that car.

I second looking into the transmission condition. If regular pan drop and ATF 4 changes have been done then you should be fine-note “should”. If not, I will check the transmission fluid condition, drop the pan and check for debris/shavings and decide. Remember, only ATF 4 in the transmission, no generic + additive despite what the shop would tell you. Best to take your own oil in so you are sure they will use the correct one.

Also, the rear cooler line; are they for a rear heater? Mine doesn’t have it, not sure if it is necessary (we are in CA). Can you just bypass that and call it a day?

I will add only this. Transmission repair/replacement can be very expensive. Often the need for repair/replacement can be avoided by changing the transmission fluid BEFORE there is any indication of a problem. I recommend every 30 - 50,000 miles. It is a lot cheaper than replacing the transmission or deciding the car is no longer worth the cost.

Good Luck

Thanks everyone. As far as can be known without completely tearing the trans apart, there is no reason to think that it is bad. I went ahead with the brake repairs and coolant line. Everything works great now. The mechanic gave it decent marks after his 30pt inspection, so I feel pretty good about the decision. (I’ll check on the replacement lift gate, but last I checked I thought it was $300+)

As far as can be known without completely tearing the trans apart, there is no reason to think that it is bad.
@jscottsmith : How many miles since your previous transmission service (remove pan for inspection and filter)? Regular transmission service is very important but often overlooked. A transmission specialist can get some indication of the condition of the unit which can't be determined by driving (see galant's post above). If you have not done this in the six plus years since you bought the car, you are due, especially because you mentioned that you'd like to "keep the thing for as long as I can".

Do the repairs. While Chryslers of that vintage are known to have a higher than normal rate of failure, that rate is NOT 100%. Yours is fine and if you maintain it the probability of not having a problem is still much higher than the probability of having a problem.

If it’s working fine, pat yourself on the back (you must be doing something right) and keep 'er running. No one can know if the tranny will fails, but at this point things are looking good.

By the way, you can probably ipck up a rear hatch at any boneyard. Aligniing it will take some patience, but it’ll be fixed.

Do the brakes and drive on. Transmission service is prudent but at the same time not sure if I’d do it to a vehicle this age/condition/value.