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The Nickle & Dime Dilemma, or Me Mechanic, You Sister-in-Law

Facts first–I’m female, overly sentimental, and know very little about cars. My husband and consequently his brother are male (right!), sensitive but practical, and know quite a bit about cars–brother-in-law is a mechanic and has been for 18 some years. He has also been our mechanic for 7+ years.
We have a most beloved 1997 Volvo 850 Wagon with about 250K on the meter…We’ve taken the advice of our in-family mechanic and have done minimal repairs, those that ‘needed fixing the most’, doing a few here and there, bypassing others, to ‘save money’. Now the old girl needs quite a bit of TLC, and the real meaning of nickle and diming has popped into question once again…
In my mind, the one who knows very little, I feel like we should hold on to the Volvo, give her an actual annual check-up (I mean, she IS a part of this family); stop piecemealing her repairs and fix the issue thoroughly when it arises; and just keep with her needs. I just don’t believe in nickle and diming, especially when I see cars 20+ years old on the road still…Not to mention growing up with older used Saabs my entire life.
In my husband’s mind, and his brother’s as well, the car is on the way out; it’s far too expensive to just keep doing repairs on an old/high-mileage car, with pricey parts to boot; we should save that money and buy a new/newer used car (more than likely a Subaru wagon–hybrids are too expensive!); and just move on.
Please, please please tell me the truth–is nickle and diming real, or is it just a ploy of the car dealer/mechanic’s secret relationship to buy more/new cars and get parts in the junkyard to then keep up their own old cars?!
I’d love advice to at least sound like I know what I’m talking about…

Many thanks!

Me, I’d move on, sorry! A 14-year-old Volvo with 250k is not the place I want to sink serious money. Do you know what all it needs, and the estimated cost?

Well, there is a bit of a litany–
The most important is a new Catalytic Converter, and then…

Serpentine Belt
Heat Shield

There may be a few others-- cost will most likely be around $1500., as the brother-in-law mechanic does work for a bit cheaper.

Seeing it written out like that makes me want to agree with you!

Let it go and move on.

A Volvo with 250K is basically a bottomless money pit. Nickels and dimes aren’t going to cover what this things needs. You could easily spend thousands keeping it running for another year or two.

Sell it and get something with fewer miles.

Yeah its time to move on, but before getting a Sub, take a look at all the posts with Sub problems. A car can be kept going indefinately if the parts are available and you want to spend the money. You can spend as much money on small repairs such as sensors, electronics, and so on as major repairs, so yes there is a point that the thing will require many small repairs to keep everything working. I got rid of my Buick at 530K but after looking at the repair history, I would have been better off dumping it at 300,000, plus all the aggravation of troubleshooting problems, as well as the reliability issue.

I agree with the others.
Some of those close to me have lived with old Volvos and Saabs.
They’ll break your heart, and budget!

If your brother-in-law is doing all that for $1500, it’s not “a bit cheaper”, it is an outright gift of his labor and discount.

When I was very young, I was kidnapped. My parents were elated because it cost a lot to feed me and keep me in clothes. Well, I caused the kidnappers so much trouble and expense that they paid my parents to take me back. Like me, your Volvo is one of the family. However, nobody is going to steal it and then pay you to take it back. You’ve got your quarter of a million miles. It’s now time for the Volvo to leave the nest and establish itself in a new home.


For admittedly over-sentimental women who know little about cars, things need to be explained in terms they understand. I thought that the “Ransom of Red Chief” was an appropriate illustration in this case.

It was.

“Nickle and diming” is real. It isn’t a ploy.

But there’s more reason to retire this than just hard bottom-line numbers. There’s safety, reliability, and crashworthyness. Any new car will be much safer, more reliable, and more crashworthy than your '97 Volvo, and probably get better gas mileage.

And frankly, your hubby and his brother have a far better idea of the actual condition of the car than any of us possibly can.

It sounds like you’re getting good advice from people who love you. You should acquiesce and take the advice.

I’ve been in the role of your of your brother-in-law, which was to spend lots of my time keeping relative’s cars running just to help them save money. There’s a fine line between respectfully using your brother-in-law’s help and taking advantage of it.

He believes the car is on its way out. If you decide to keep it and convince him to invest his time fixing it, you run the risk of having him feel taken advantage of.

I’d go so far to say that the BIL is strongly hinting he’d like not to see it again. If OP keeps it, start paying him the going rate, no discounts. It’s one thing for him to take care of minor stuff, but it’s no longer minor.

It’s not worth putting a lot of money into this car but that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it. I’d put as little money as possible into it, just enough to keep it running. That’s what I’m doing with my 89 Mercedes.

well spoken, all of you…dare i say, i’m convinced?
even my husband shook his head and said, "see what i mean?"
thanks for all of your allegories, anecdotes, and sensibility…

If the car runs and drives well I don’t see a problem with repairing the things you mention.

It’s kind of sad to me that tires, a serpentine belt, a quarter million mile halfshaft, and rattle prone heat shield (and even a converter IF needed) is reason enough to throw in the towel on this car; and all for a measly 1500 bucks?

Now if your post had stated the car was a 250k miles, 1997 Honda Accord that needed
the exact same repairs for the same price then there’s no doubt there would be comments advising you to fix it because there’s a lot of life left in it… :wink:

No one has asked the obvious question: what repairs has your brother in law advised you to forego over the years?

i wish i knew the exact terminology to answer your question, piter…in my mind, however, i feel like that reasoning, the ‘hold off’ notion, is why this rhinoceros of a beast of a wonderful car is in the condition it is in anywho…putting things off for too long. regardless, we have two young children, and bought the car for $5K seven years ago, and are definitely looking to maintain safety above all else. i’m thinking a new car just may be in the cards, if nothing else to give IT the love and attention it deserves in its old age :slight_smile:

and what is it with hondas? everyone says they last forever?!?