Repair or New for newlyweds

Need some advice on upgrading or repairing our vehicles:


Wife and I own a 2000 Grand Am with 135k miles and a 2001 Ford Ranger with 130k. No loans on either vehicle. We’ve been married a little under a year and recently moved to South Carolina from the Midwest.

Grand Am (3.4 V6 GT 2 door): In the last year, I have replaced most of the components on the accessory side of the engine - new water pump, alternator, power steering pump, etc. Also has new front springs, starter, battery and numerous other fixes. The manifold gasket slightly leaks. Also, and this is a big one, it has no AC (leaky seal in the AC compressor). I was putting in a can of refrigerant in every month but now it won’t hold a charge for more than two days. We have quickly discovered that no AC plus living in SC equals a big problem. I would attempt the repair myself but since we’ve moved I no longer have access to the support and tools that I had back home to guide me in these repairs. Estimated repair cost is around $950. Overall, the car drives nice and is in excellent condition inside and out but I just have very little confidence in its reliability.

Ranger (3.0 V6 XLT): Has been an stand up truck. Only repairs in five years have been replacing the brake booster and the oil pan gasket. It is in need of some suspension work - ball joints at a minimum. Probably needs $1,500 of work to stay in good condition for another 3 to 5 years.

Question: Since we’ve moved from the Midwest to the South, we would like to take more weekend trips to explore our new surroundings but I don’t have confidence in either vehicle to go on more than a five or six hour drive. I’m a bit of a nervous wreck anytime we go anywhere because I’m worrying if either vehicle will crap out during the trip. So I’m contemplating upgrading one of them. The question is which one and what do we get. Or should I put money into these vehicles and keep them around. Financially, we could conservatively handle additional vehicle expenses (payment, higher insurance, etc.) of $250 a month.

If upgrading is the solution, any recommendations on a potential vehicles. If the truck goes, I would to replace it with a small SUV. If the car goes, I would like to replace it with a sedan. I think my big focus is on long term reliability. We will undoubtedly own the new vehicles for 10 years. The wife has owned her Grand Am for 10 years and I have had my truck for five.

Thanks for your input and suggestions,


For long, out or town trips consider renting a car. Less wear and tear on yours and you don’t have to worry about it dying. Even a Rent-A-Wreck car is probably more roadworthy than yours.

That’s a good point and we have considered this but it’s not a long term solution. We’d be spending $150 for a rental car for two weekend trips a month plus that doesn’t solve the day to day issues.

Thanks for the input.

Of the choices, it seems obvious to me, ditch the Pontiac.
As for what to replace it with, it depends on what dealers are nearby. But Hyundai Elantra or Sonata(if their black plumb is anything like my Mazda’s black cherry, it’s an awesome looking color) are good buys, inexpensive new and have that 10 year warranty. Others include Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Mazda 6, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord

$250 more a month means you are still on a pretty tight budget. I’d bite the bullit and get the AC fixed and cross my fingers that the recent repairs are all you need for awhile. Try to save the $250 in a new car fund. You will get so little trade in for either car and $250 a month is going to buy only a very small car or a used car. A used car wouldn’t be anymore dependable than what you have now.

With decent tires, brakes, a functioning AC, good hoses and drive belts you’ll be able to make your weekend discovery trips. A roadside assistance program might help you feel more secure.

Newly married is not a good time to add to your debt. Perhaps there are student loans, certainly a home purchase in the future, and kids —. Better hold on to your money and start saving for some long term goals.

Offhand, I’d say keep the truck but let me add something.
In regards to the A/C problem, when you recharge the system are you using a set of A/C gauges or one of those inexpesive charging setups sold by many parts houses?

I’ve got an unusual backyard method (unorthodox, but it works) that might help you along with a compressor replacement or repair (a shaft seal kit may be available) if the issue is evacuation of the system, lack of a vacuum pump, etc., etc.

There are 4 seasons in SC; Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer, and Christmas. Fix the AC. And where can you get a good car for $950? You can get almost anywhere in SC within 2 hours from Columbia, so Greenville to Charleston should be about 4 hours. I’d keep the truck and the Grand Am.

Clearly the vehicles have gotten to the point where driving either any distance causes anxiety. That’s one of the “flags” that say “time for new wheels”. Once you’ve lost confidence in a vehicle you’ll never feel confindent about it again.

Personally, I’d keep the truck and dump the Grand Am. It sounds like the truck has been far more reliable, and keeping that would allow you to have a utility vehicle as well as a “trip vehicle” for comfort.

As to reliability, get a Consumer Reports New Car Buyers’ Guide at the local bookstore and use that as your guide in selecting. It’ll definitely improve your odds.

Good luck to you both.

Another Case Of Champagne Tastes And A Beer Budget ? Keep Both Cars And Forget About Car Shopping. Sweat Like Crazy And Forget The A-C. It Inspires You Do Do Better.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you really can’t afford car payments (only $250 for payments, additional insurance, etcetera ?) and you really can’t afford to " . . . to take more weekend trips to explore our new surroundings . . . ". I tell my children that it’s good to want things. All you have is the idea for it, not the means of making it happen.

Stick around home for a while and find ways to increase your income. That is the solution for your " . . . big focus is on long term reliability."

If I were you I’d consider yourselves grounded until you increase your income and save some money. Find adventure close to home in the meantime. Live within your means and you’ll thank me later.


Let me second CSA’s advice. When I got married, my income was $6300 a year (this was in 1966). My wife was completing her master’s degree. We rented a comfortable,but inexpensive apartment ($88 a month, plus utilities). We had an inexpensive car which we owned outright. I grabbed onto summer teaching to boost our income. We made it a habit to save $100 out of each month’s check (quite a chunk in those days). When my wife finished her degree, she was able to get a teaching job. In the meantime, I invested my time and money into tuition and took course work at night. We put every penny my wife earned into savings. Our goal was to return to school and earn doctorates. Well, that is exactly what we did. While earning our degrees, we lived in married student housing ($90 a month including utilities), continued to drive our old car. Our tuition was paid with assistantships and the stipend covered most of our living expenses. The courses I took before entering the doctoral program counted as a year’s worth of coursework. When we finished our degree, we had barely touched our savings. When we then got jobs, we had enough savings to make a good down payment on a house. We even stretched the old Rambler for another couple of years until we had the cash to buy a better car.

Save your money and look to the future! It’s fun watching your savings grow. When you consider financing something, calculate the amount you are paying in interest. You will be appalled at how much you spend to rent money.