Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

When do you give up the beater and buy a newer car?

Here’s my story:

I’ve got a 1996 Olds Ciera, bought it last year for $850 cash from some guy on Craigslist. Given the amount I paid, I knew it would need some work. I had to replace the externally leaking intake manifold for $450 [pays to be friends with an engine mechanic], the power steering pump for $200, plugs/wires/fluids “tune up” stuff for $200. It ran fine for a year with regular oil changes, and today it’s in the shop because it decided not to start this morning (I posted about that a few threads down - it’s cranking but not firing!)

Because of it’s age, who knows how long it is going to last. What I want to know is what you folks think it would be time to toss the beater in favor of a newer car. Money is always an object and a problem, and I know it doesn’t make much sense to trade in one beater for another. But when is enough enough? If I get a call from my mechanic today that it needs an entire new engine at whatever that might cost, should I go for it or cut my losses? What would you do?

It makes sense when you emotionally cannot take it any longer.

Truth is your costs don’t seem all that high for one year. I would expect an older vehicle to cost about $1000/year in repair/maintenance and feel good about it.

Calm yourself and wait for the call for an estimate and ponder your finances and emotions. You have done really well it seems for a vehicle that last one year for $1700.

Relax. You’re doing fine. You won’t need a new engine. Not for the problem you describe.

The stuff that you’ve described is all normal, and all peripheral to the main engine and drivetrain. When and if you should get a problem that will require a new car, then you can post and we’ll make suggestions (we’re good at that) however right now you’re in good shape.

Problems with automobiles come in clusters. The car will run well for a rather long period of time and then several unrelated problems will happen about the same time. There is a statistical model that verifies this.

Since you have a mechanic, you might have him look at the transmission fluid, the ball joints and suspension, evaluate the engine, etc. to see if any major issues are looming in the near future. The problems you have had in the past year aren’t major. Some careful driving and regular maintenance may get you through another year.

Don’t be too quick to give up. You’ll get past this problem and then you will have smooth sailing for many miles. Then a new problem will crop up, just as it does for everyone else. That’s par for car owners. Replacing the engine is certainly going too far but you’ll cross that bridge if you come to it.

An older car can be kept going economically for a very long time, as long as the major components hold out. Americans spend an average of about $1100 per year on maintenance, repairs and tires, so you are doing OK.

If the breakdowns become a troublesome burden time-wise or somthing major like the engine packs it in, just keep fixing it.

I pretty much agree. When you don’t like it anymore or it doesn’t fit your needs or you’re worried about it all the time-could be time to move on. From an economical standpoint though, if you figure an average cost per mile of 6 to 10 cents for repairs, and you are looking at a major repair, as long as you are willing and able to drive it the 10-15K miles to get your money out of that repair, then do it. If not, then dump it before putting the money in.

Correction, Last paragraph: unless the breakdowns become too troublesome time-wise, or a major item goes, just keep fixing it.

Financially, you’re better off repairing/maintaining it for awhile longer. If you look at it this way, you’ve spent about $2k on this car including purchase price. Even if you do need a new engine(not very likely), it’ll probably cost $2~3k more for the engine. If you can find a nice newer car for $5k that won’t need any work done to it for a year or so(save for fluid changes), then you might come out ahead.

There is a reason that Olds doesn’t exist anymore. It is not because the name was changed to Saturn, although you couldn’t tell by the styling. You could argue that GM shouldn’t exist anymore. Or maybe I could but I wouldn’t be so impolite. It might need something cheap (not you, a part like an ignition coil or something). Not me either; although I too am cheap and have had some “free” cars, your car doesn’t need me anywhere near it. If you get the message that it will cost another $200 to fix it, flip a coin because you never know. It could run forever.

I doubt that it needs an engine and the no-fire problem is more than likely a comparatively minor one.
You’re into it for about 1600 bucks and have a year of dependable driving out of it so don’t panic at this point.

The last owner probably sold it because he did not want to put any more money into it. That means you should have more repairs up front than you will over the next few years. Once you get past the initial needs you will only have annual maintenance and occasional repairs. It won’t be as cheap to fix as a 2 year old car, but you also didn’t pay $15,000 for it.