Should I repair 'old Faithful' or buy a newer used car; we only have $8k to work with

Our 97 Ford Exploryer has 350K miles on it. The transmission has given up the ghost (words of our 20 plus year mechanic who has done all our maintenance and repairs on all our cars over the years; including nursing our 85 Coupe DeVille to 180K) We only have about eight thousand dollars to remedy our transportation problem. Our local Ford Dealer will pull and replace new our transmission and engine, in three days (bring it in Monday, pick it up Thursday) for 7-8 thousand dollars. Our mechanic advocates buying a good local used car, as "there’s 350K miles on the whole suv, not just the trany an engine. But I think for $7-8, I’d end up with an 03, 04, 05 with 100K to 130K miles on it… I am leaning towards the Ford Dealer deal. (my mechanic isn’t really set up for a job like this; said he’d do it, but will likely cost $9500 and take a couple weeks. Please advice…no room here in out budget for a stupid mistake.

“But I think for $7-8, I’d end up with an 03, 04, 05 with 100K to 130K miles on it.”

Which is 6-8 years newer than your current vehicle and 200k fewer miles.

I wouldn’t sink any more $$ into the Explorer. You didn’t say what your requirements are for a " new" vehicle, but for $8k you should be able to get something reliable and with plenty of life left in it. Just do your research and have a mechanic first check over whatever vehicle you plan to buy.

I would never spend 8 grand in repairs on a vehicle that’s 17 years old with 350K on the clock.

But that’s just me.


At 350K I think the Explorer is done. One option I would explore before condemning it is to price out the installation of a used transmission from a salvage yard. I’m generally opposed to used transmissions, but for the $2000 or so it might cost you may get another year of driving the truck around–enough time to make a more relaxed decision or explore other options, perhaps save more money toward a replacement. Spending a little money may buy you some time.

I advise AGAINST having the dealer replace the engine and transmission

Apparently, your transmission is shot. Why does the dealer also want to replace the engine?

As your mechanic said, the entire vehicle has 350K . . . the suspension, steering, interior, etc. may be worn out

Does the vehicle have significant rust?

Another thing to consider . . . even with a new transmission and engine, the truck will actually be worth much less than 7 grand. No offense, but it’s old. A 1997 Explorer just isn’t worth much, no matter the condition

I advise you to spend money on a decent . . . and much newer . . . used vehicle. Perhaps your mechanic can inspect it, before you buy it.

In my opinion, a Highlander, Pilot or CRV might be good bets, if you can find one with acceptable mileage. If possible, look for a car with maintenance records.

Here’s another thought . . . you might want to get quotes to have a used transmission installed. It’s not an ideal solution, but it might allow you to wring another year or so out of the truck, during which time you can save for the next vehicle.

If you search around a little using sites like Autotempest there might be a much newer Explorer with even under 100k for your budget. If this had more like 150,000-200,000 miles on it you’d have a tougher call but the one you currently have had better be in top shape otherwise to justify spending $8,000.

A rare or classic car would certainly be worth the investment of $7k-$8k.
But…a 17 year old Explorer that has a book value–if it was in excellent condition–of only ~$1,200?

It is time to move on to a newer vehicle.

I’ll go along with the crowd, move on. 350k out of this car is great but it has very little left to give. You will forever be repairing everything else. Normally I’m a “keep it running” guy but you’ve reached the finish line for this thing.

I bet your trusted mechanic could find you a good car for 4000 bucks

Why would anyone go to a dealer with a 1997 vehicle?

^OP already states they had an indy mech, but heavy engine work was outside his comfort level/equipment level.

Your mechanic is correct and it would be insanity to sink that much money into an aged, very high miles vehicle such as this.

If you have 8 grand to play with and with a little patience and footwork you can find a very nice used vehicle with fairly low miles for that amount of money or even for far less than 8 grand.

I would agree with asemaster’s comment about spending a much smaller amount of money on a used transmission which could get you by for another year or two; maybe even more all depending.
A few grand would be tolerable but an additional 6K puts it into the intolerable category.

I agree time to move on. But I’ll be the lone wolf and ask why you must limit yourself to $8000. That’s why a good number of people finance their cars for a few years. You get better/newer and can spread the expense more over the life of the car. Why go through this again?

When my t45 trans went bad in my mustang it was under 2 grand to rebuild it. If you were feeling crazy you could rebuild it, but Im with everyone else - thats a lot of age and miles on everything else. And you can buy a lot of car for 8 grand. My 03 f150 v6 was 4300 with 115k on it. Search craigslist, and have the mechanic go over whichever car interests you.

I appreciate the several responses, and seems all responders are of one mind; I’m not convinced. There is ‘0’ rust. The interior is as new (our mech, replaced our power drivers seat as I’m 265 lbs and had worn out my drivers seat back rest. Apparently they made a wholle lot of 97 explorers and used equipment is pretty easy to find…even got our same upholstery! During those 350 thousand miles, we always did our maintenance, and fixed problems as they arose. Example: Ball Joints last year, radiator cooler a few yrs before that…ect…Having no car payment and no comp & colision means more repair bills. We started having 'repair bills about 80k…water pump, alternator, serpentine belt…etc etc etc. One commentor asked ‘why a ford dealership with 350k?’ I thought that pretty obvious…3 days, $7-8k, 36k guarantee; as opposed to 2-3weeks, an $9500. Service at our Ford dealer, agreed with my point that yes, cars with over 100k need more ‘fixing and repairs’. (batteries, calipers, tires, couple years ago our mech put in a new used steering colum, had new computer put in, differential was re-sealed…etc etc etc) and any Explorer (this is our third) needs attentions. So would an 03, 04, 05,…Ours, has new rubber last year, brakes three yrs ago…One responder questioned why not finance; because with comp & collision, plus a payment, would add $400 to $500 a month to costs of transportation and any car out of warranty has repairs bills… …One responder asked "why would the dealer try to sell a new engine when only my trans was out…he didn’t, i did. thought if I needed a new trans at 350k how long before the engine?? While its down do both…Like I said, I appreciate all the responders, but I don’t think all responders really get it. Trouble free Explorers are the ones with under 15k miles from programs, still under warant, and COST around $20-23K…I’ve got 8k, and no room for a payment.

Why do you feel the need to buy another explorer? You even admitted they are problematic and we know they are high cost vehicles to own.

Sounds like you need to act your wage and buy an affordable car like a civic or corolla.


I’m the one who asked why also replace the engine

Thank you for the detailed response

It seems that your Explorer is in better condition than any of us suspected

Since the dealer already provided you with a quote to replace both engine and trans . . .

How much does the engine cost?
How much does the trans cost?
How much labor are they charging?
How long will the dealer warranty the parts and labor?
Will the warranty also be honored at other Ford dealers?

Do you have the 4.0?

Rear wheel drive or 4x4?

A few more things . . .

if you’re going to go ahead and have both engine and trans replaced, this is an excellent time to replace the engine mounts and the trans mount

If the new engine does not come with plugs and wires, do it before dropping it in. It’ll be easy

You asked for our opinion, the consensus was that putting 8K into an Explorer with 350000 miles was insane.
In the end it is your money and your choice, but trying to convince us we are all wrong and you are right is futile.
If it was mine I would look in the rust belt for a good driving Explorer that is going to the junkyard because of rust. They are much cheaper than buying the engine and tranny after the junkyard gets them.

I asked why use a dealer for a 97. Any good transmission shop can repair or replace the transmission for a lot less than a dealer. If the engine is running fine why replace it? Run it till it dies. 8000 dollars will get you in a much safer and more fuel efficient vehicle.

Heres the problem. Regardless of mileage and how well you’ve babied it things go bad with age. Namely rubber and plastic. Mother nature and repeated heat and cold break things down. I had a 98 ford mustang with about 200k on it and maintained it very very well. But sometimes youd need to unclip a wire and the clip would just snap in your hands. Not my fault, just old. When a wiring harness starts wearing out it just gets annoying. Things get brittle. Newer is just that - newer. Theres a lot of non obvious things like this that become problematic in even the most well
Maintained cars. Youre still being charged an ungodly ammount for a trans. If you want to be captain frugal, then have a used transmission put in with much less miles on it and keep truckin.