Repair or not?

now a question about my own car…

i have a 1999 subaru impreza l. 5 speed manual, ~210,000 miles. new clutch and timing belt at 185k, burns about a quart every 3k miles, leaks none. the drivetrain is in great shape (i don’t like the feel of the new clutch, and it squeals a bit on hill starts, but it works just fine), the car still gets ~30 mpg. it is fantastic in the snow. i drive it up an down a mountain every day (~2800’ vertical in 10 miles plus 17 miles of flat, each way - highway for 20 of it). this is the best most reliable car i’ve ever owned. it is fantastic. it has never broken down. oh sure stuff has worn out (half shafts, wheel bearings, ball joints etc, but then again its 14 years old, and has over 200k on it). heck the a/c is still cold, and i have never recharged it. i have not seen an increase in the rate of stuff needing fixing (just the standard front half shaft every 5 years, the wheel bearings seem to last about 10, i’ve only had to replace one ball joint - about 6 months ago)

so what’s my question?

the car has rust. not so much that the body is going to fall off from around the rest of the car, but it has significant rust around the rear wheels, as well as around the windshield. is it worth fixing rust on a car this old? i got a couple of quotes from local auto body shops. most won’t touch it, but i have found 3 that were willing to quote it. the low was $2k (maaco), another for $2700, and a third for $3k. all said they would cut out the rust, and replace it with metal from a donor car, then respray. i would also have to fix up the interior, (sun damaged vinyl, very worn carpets - the dash is in good shape though), i’m guessing that’s another $500+ my primary concern is the body work though.


Glad to hear a fellow Soob owner is happy with his car. If I was doing this I would save my money instead of doing the body work. The car is just getting older and at some point is going to have to be replaced. Save the money for a down payment on a newer or new car when it comes time to replace it. You could also start saving monthly deposits at the bank for a replacement car fund. That way you will have a good bunch of cash to put towards the car and might not even have to make monthly car payments on a better car later on. (Another Soob of course)

yeah, i have some concern that no matter how good a car i get, it won’t be as good as this one (my wife had an outback, and it had quite a few problems - overheating, head gaskets, funky shifting, oil leaking from everywhere). plus i don’t really like the styling of the newer ones (i think the '99s are the best looking of the imprezas) - that said, i do like the looks of sti hatchback model, but i want a car that gets good gas mileage, and doesn’t get me a lot of speeding tickets :wink:

Commercial body work on a car this old and with this mileage is not worth doing. I have always either done it myself with some Bondo and spray paint, or just put that sticky aluminum tape over the rust and then touch it up with a $15 matched paint spray can.

If you spend $2700+ on a shop the rust will come back somewhere else sooner than later.

Most I ever spent on DIY body work is $50 for materials.

Your primary concern should be the safety of the vehicle. Extensive rust means that unibody is no longer capable of securely holding its subframes and subsystems solidly, and if you should be in an accident you’ll be history. In modern cars, the body is the frame. Rust is not just cosmetic. It’s structural.

Time to go shopping.

good point. its not that bad yet. but i know from experience that it will get worse (this is not the first car i’ve taken to 200k. this one has cost me the least getting there though.

I’d have the car’s frame and structural integrity checked out, and if OK - then the decision is drive on as is, or fix the rust. I don’t think fixing the rust is going to return much on the investment. You are looking at $2 - 3,000 to make it look good. It might not last any longer than if you let the rust keep eating away at the body.

I’d suggest you shop for another '99 from the south or some non rusting area of the country. If you have space you can keep your current car as a parts car.

I agree with UncleTurbo on both counts. First, get a thorough inspection of the structural integrity of the car. Then if the verdict is not great, buy another car from a location where rust is less problematic and keep your present car as a donor vehicle, but only if you can do most repairs yourself.

Drive as is or junk it.

You got your money’s worth out of it. I agree that it should be checked for structural integrity, but not by a dealer. They might want to sell you another one too badly and this could shade their advice. But you certainly should start thinking about what you want next, even if the car has another year or two left.

well, here’s my thinking on it: back at ~185k when i had the clutch and timing belt done, i asked my mechanic to look over the whole car, and tell me everything that was wrong with the car (as if i were bringing him this car as a car i wanted to buy). i didn’t want to sink any more money into it if it wasn’t going to last. he came back with: wheel bearing right rear (i replaced that) and ball joint left front (replaced that one too). he said the engine had at least another 50k left in it. that was 25k ago, but i’ve noticed no decrease in performance (i don’t go tearing off out of stops, but heading up the canyon, i can keep the car in 5th the whole way, as long as i stay above 3000rpm (70mph), and that’s the same as when the car was new. i get the same gas mileage now as then. i have confidence that the engine still has 50k+ left in it now. so 50k gives me about 3 years. if $3k buys me 3 years of continued use, that’s the same as paying $83/month as a car payment. i don’t think i want to drive a car that i could buy for $83/month (unless it were this one). so i’m thinking its a pretty good deal. of course, that’s assuming that the car doesn’t start breaking down on me. not counting gas, the car has cost me $0.06/mile (including original purchase price) i figure i’ve spent about $25k on fuel, or $0.12/mile for a whopping $0.18/mile total. why do i want to let this car die?

So, why do the body work? It will run fine without it.
Unless you have a rusted brake line or something.

@nfisheremti My sister is a retired accountant and she basically shares your philosophy. The family usually had 2 cars and the older one was basically driven till it gave out. They did some cosmetic body work (cheap) and drove the cars until they died.

An exception was a 1972 Ford Torino (Like the one in Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino) and the frame of these cars was rust prone. It rusted right through and they had to scrap the car with a good engine and transmission in it.

If the car is basically safe and reasonably reliable, jut keep driving it until used up.

It’s not a question of you letting the car die, it’s a question of the car letting you die. If the structure of the unibody is weakened by rust, it will not reliably maintain its structural integrity in stress situations. Cornering, handling, braking are all at risk, and should you hit something or something hit you, it can collapse or twist, putting you at very serious risk of injury. The engine might still be running, but you could be trapped or crushed in a rusty car.

Get the structure checked. I had a 66 Tempest convertible rust out underneath so that the doors were the only thing keeping the body from sagging on to the road. They would no longer open. That’s waiting too long. I was a lucky jerk. Don’t be an unlucky one.

@wentwest “letting the car die” is a figure of speech! We’ve had to scrap two cars because the body rusted out and the car became dangerous. I meant not putting any significant money into an older car and just use it up or drive it till it becomes unsafe. In all cases inspect the body structure and determine if it’s still safe.

In many cases however, especially with European cars some major component will give out and the repair costs are prohibitive, and the car will then be “used up”. A few years ago a friend had to scrap a Mazda 626 in very good condition, except for a failed transmission.