Repair my 2002 Malibu, or get rid of it?



I have the age-old question: to repair or not? My car is a 2002 Chevy Malibu, 93,000 miles. The transmission is slipping, it needs 4 tires, a coolant flush, an alignment, probably a timing belt change and spark plugs, and there could be more.

Problem is, the car isn’t worth much. There’s rust under the gas cap, the fan only works on settings 4 or 5, one speaker is blown, the interior is kind of dirty, and the car has a checkered repair history. Ever since the car hit 40,000, there’s been a necessary repair: rotors, intake manifold gasket, ignition cylinder, and brakes, brakes, brakes. It’ll be tough to get a reasonable price for it. So I need to decide on doing ALL the repairs (maybe $4000?), or scrapping the car and looking for something else. My goal is the cheapest long-term solution. Normally I’d just repair, but I’m wondering if the Malibu is a big liability, and maybe getting a used Honda for $8000 or so is the better bet right now. I’d love any and all opinions.


We normally recommend repairs since a new or nearly new car would require monthly payments that would quickly exceed any repairs you made.

However, in this case, it appears this vehicle has had an unusual number of problems and has not seen the regular maintenance it should have, or it was treated brutally by its first owner.

Tires are normal wear items, at 93,000 miles you should be doing your SECOND coolant flush, while rotors and brakes are normal wear items as well.

A slipping transmission at that mileage indicates lack of fluid changes; this could be one model where there was no fluid dipstick to check the fluid.

In summary, I would sell this car “as is” and recoup whatver you can get for it. Since you are on a budget, $8000 does not buy a Toyota or Honda without high mileage, and you will soon be having the same problems. I would recommend a used Hyundai Eleantra, Hyundai Accent or perhaps a Mazda Protege, both with low mileage, and a proven maintenance record.

Once you have bought your new car, carry out the maintenance outlined in the OWNER’S MUANUAL religiously with out fail. Budget $125 per month and put it in your car account. No matter what car you buy, performing ongoing maintenance and necessary repairs is a “must do” activity.


4 tires, brakes, timing belt, coolant, alignment, spark plugs = Maintenance stuff that you will have to do on a Honda, Ford, Chevy, it doesn’t matter.

Sounds like the transmission is the only “repair” you really need right now.

Hondas are good cars but when looking at them on the market I find them to be suprisingly under-maintained, I guess people buy them and think “hey Hondas are reliable, ill just change the oil and that’s it!”. So even if you get a honda for 8k, you’re still going to have to do the same basic maintenance that your car needs now. Hope that helps.


I think you’ve had enough of this car. You are just going to resent putting more money into it. Of the repairs you mentioned the only thing really out of line for this model is “brakes, brakes, brakes”. In 90K miles you should be just about ready for you 2nd set of new brakes and rotors. More brake work than that means you live in a very hilly area, or you tend to hit the brakes hard as part of your driving style.

The rust issues are a concern but it they are localized surface rust they can be refinished. A speaker is pretty easy to replace, the fan could be a bad switch or perhapsa new fan motor is needed, parts from a salvaged vehicle is what I’d look for if you decide to keep the car. The transmission issue needs to be evaluated, it could be a clogged filter and a new filter and fresh fluid my be all it needs. Or, it could be a shot transmission. If keeping the car is an option you need to find out what the deal is with the trans and then you can decide.

It might not be a bad car, but it needs some detailing and repairs. If you don’t want to spend the money, perhaps a local mechanic could fix it up and sell it for a little profit.


If you spend a lot of money to repair this car, you’ll still have the same car with the same history of problems.

Look at your situation as if you were an investor (because you are).

Would you prefer to invest $4000.00 in something that has never performed well or would you rather invest in something new with a reliable performance history?

The answer is very simple, in my opinion.


Something is eating your brakes? Of the items you list needing done, the only repairs I see are ignition cylinder and the manifold gasket(which should have been covered by a good will warranty by GM, or is that a different gasket I’m thinking of?).
A dirty interior can be fixed by a good detailing. Speakers can be replaced with better ones from an audio specialist, or even the local Best Buy. Slipping transmission could be fixed by changing the fluid(you have changed it before, right?).
The brake problem could be solved by anticipating stops by slowing down instead of waiting until the last second and slamming on the brakes, not tailgating someone, going a little slower. Or it could just be a stuck caliper, who knows.


Almost everything you mention falls under the normal maintenance heading and from the sound of things this car has been sadly neglected.
If this continues no car will hold up; no matter what badge is on the rear.