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When is an old car not worth repairing

Partly a philosophical question … I have a 99 Mazda Protege, 209,000 miles. Its been a great, durable car. Now I am told I need to fix all the engine mounts ($525) - I’m not surprised, its had a bad shake / rumble / hesitation feeling for a couple weeks. That plus badly needed tires and a couple minor issues (air intake hose, etc). My mechanic - who is great and I trust - says it would be about a $1000 total repair. And given that she’s ‘long in the tooth’ it may not be worth doing.

So … is it worth doing? Will this solve all issues and get me 6 months to a year more? Or is it the start of constant repairs. In the past year I changed the alternator belt, that’s about it. But I’ve gotten a great deal out of this car, so is it time to upgrade?

What kind of driving do you do? If you aren’t commuting long distances to work, you are not an over-the-road sales person, or aren’t an aggressive driver, $1000 may buy you at least another year if you also keep up the routine maintenance.
Be certain that the car is safe. If the chassis is rusted, it is probably time to move on. However, if the car is still safe and meets your needs, $1000 for repairs is not out of line.

Not an aggressive driver, but I do have a long commute, about 36 miles each way, so over 350 miles a week. Half highway at 65 to 70, half side roads at about 45 mph. My commute is probably 95% of the car’s use.
I don’t believe the chassis is rusted at all, but I’ll double check. Mechanic seemed to think the least safe aspect was the tires, which I’d never noticed a problem with (but will change if I decide to repair).
If the engine mounts issue isn’t indicative of “the beginning of the end” then I do have a decision to make. I know that without a repair, it will lead to more issues, so its a decision I need to make shortly.

If the body and interior are in good shape, I’d fix it up…If you have never had a set of struts put in, now might be a good time…Motor-mounts, struts, new tires, that should make a big difference…

When a motor mount goes bad, it can allow more movement of the other mounts and it sounds like that is what happened here. I think replacing the mounts makes economic sense since the car is otherwise sound.

Needing tires is no reason to dump a good running car, you do the miles and you wear the tires. If you bought a replacement for this car you could have just as many and quite possibly more repair issues.

I have a rule I use when looking for used cars. I’ll accept a little rust. I’ll accept a few dents. I’ll even accept a leaks around the valve cover and oil pan. And I’ll accept problems with the electrical system. But if the engine mounts are shot, I won’t buy the car. Worn engine mounts to me are a sign of a heavy-footed driver. Just driving down the highway long distances doesn’t wear out the engine mounts, or at least it shouldn’t. They only get flexed on acceleration. It isn’t that the engine mounts are particularly hard or expensive to fix, but fast accelerations also wear out the expensive to fix internal parts of the engine like the crankshaft, rod bearings, piston rings, etc. and indicate the suspension and brakes are probably well worn too.

Unless you have reason to believe your engine mounts are worn out due to some other reason – like they were faulty at installation, or this year/make/model has this problem inherent in the design – then I’d probably look to buying a new car. Maybe give it away. Let a teenager use it for experience with fixing cars. A teenager doesn’t care if it shakes a little anyway.

Look at it this way $1000 is only around 3 months of payments on a new/used car. If you can get the car to last at least that long or longer you are ahead of the game.

If you have the money for a new car, go for that.

If you don’t have the money for a new car, fix what you have.

Nobody can predict; can only guess what will fail next on your older car. At 209k miles, you can feel secure in that you got your money’s worth from that car.

It’s my view that owning a new car costs little more than an old car that breaks and then paying others to do your repairs. Possibly you can save a little money by driving and repairing an old car but a new car with a warranty provides a large measure of peace of mind in return for a few extra dollars

Interesting thoughts, thanks everyone for the help. Just to clarify, I bought this car new and have had it all 12+ years. I’ve done all the driving, and I know it hasn’t been abused or over accelerated. Kept up w/ all needed repairs, but I’m impressed at what I haven’t had to do - like ever change the clutch (its a 5 speed manual).
My next car will again be new, and again I’ll plan to keep it 10+ years. Most likely a Mazda3, since this Mazda was so good. My goal had been to make it to the 2013 model year (so the Skyactiv technology would be in its second year). That won’t happen without the repair, but if the repairs get me 6 months …

Did your mechanic also check the condition of the ball joints, tie rod ends, CV joints brakes etc? At 200K miles if they’ve never been changed there’s a good possibility they are starting to get significant wear and may need replacing soon which would probably be another $1K-$2K in parts/labor. At 200K miles the clutch may be getting pretty thin too. The last clutch I put in my '88 Escort lasted about 260K miles. You know your car better than anyone else and can probably make a better judgement call than anyone else other than possibly your mechanic. My '88 Escort has 518,600 miles on it and am still driving it, it’s easy to work on and I do 98+% of my own repairs so it doesn’t cost me much to keep it on the road. If I’d been paying a mechanic to do the work I’d probably have got rid of it when it had 250-300K miles because of the amount of work I was putting into it and the general condition of the body and interior. If it were me and I was pretty sure the car was in good mechanical condition other than the things you mentioned I’d probably put the $1K into it and drive it until it needed other major work then sell it or trade it off, but if I were planning to buy a new car in a few months (2013 models will be coming out in around 6 months) regardless of whether anything else wore out I’d probably just go ahead and put the $1K toward the new car purchase… At today’s parts/labor prices $1K repair is about like a $100-$200 repair 20 years ago and the cost of cars is much higher. Nearly anything that runs now will bring $1K or more even if it needs repairs.

I agree with the others; if your Mazda has been dependable and you can vouch for the care you’ve given it, and more importantly, you feel that it still meets your needs, why get rid of it? Let’s say you muster up a couple thousand bucks worth of repairs…you’ll lose more than that driving the next new car off the dealer lot.

FWIW, I bought my '02 Jeep new and it now has 218k on it. As it still runs like a champ, I have no intentions of getting rid of it. I am mechanically apt and I keep track of things as (or ideally, before) they fail so I try to limit surprises. In the last 18 months I’ve spent $350 on repairs, excluding oil changes and the like.

While a new car comes with the warranty, I’m a little afraid of what happens with them once that warranty runs out–a lot has changed since 1999 in terms of technology, electronics, and the like. Your Protege is pretty simplistic (and cheap to work on) versus newer models.

It is rare for a car to reach the point when it is better (from an economic stand point) to replace it rather than to repair.  What I find interesting are all the drivers who sell their car to buy a newer car.  Who someone is selling so they can get a newer car.  

But the decision is not just an economic one. It is also emotional. Economically it is seldom wise to sell one car to to replace an existing car

Remember, unless you are buying a new car, you are buying a car that someone else decided should be replaced, likely for the same reasons you are deciding that you should replace your car.

Something to think about as far as Mazda is concerned. Ford dropped Mazda for which they owned 30% of. Mazda is currently are too small to survive on it’s own, and are desperatly trying to find another manufacture to tie in with. The problem comes from lack of money for product development, lack of size to push around suppliers, lack of sales to justify there us factory. High cost of the yen, etc. It’s like a house of cards that just lost there base, it’s begining to come down and fast. There is some serious doubt if Mazda is going to make it alone. That can change really fast if they find a partner, but truth be told there are not many other company’s in a position to help.

If you have to pay only $1,000 a year on maintenance and repairs, you’ll never find another car you could buy that can beat that. The time to consider unloading the car is when there is a MAJOR repair to consider and reliability drops to the point where you fear being late to work consistently, or fear being left on the side of the road constantly.

To GeorgeSanJose, I think your motor mount fear is misplaced. Motor mounts are made of rubber, and this ages just like tires, belts, and hoses. If there is an oil leak that drips on them, they degrade even faster. Bad motor mounts are not a good indication of a heavy-footed driver. The engine and transmission can tell you that even better.

Your car is probably not worth anything without getting the motor mounts fixed, and worth about $500 after replacing them. If you don’t mind giving it away, you could consider a new car. After the fix, you are due for may other maintenance items, as described above. You can reasonably expect to spend up to $2000 in the next year. I think that I’d just give it away right now and avoid spending a lot of money on it.

As noted, if you’ve always kept up with needed repairs/maintenance and the body/interior are good I’d keep fixing it.

I’d start a small savings account for the clutch.

I didn’t go check, but it probably has a timing belt - how far off are you from needing one of those? I was recently looking at a similar type of car on craigslist. The price was good until I found that both the clutch & timing belt were original - cha-ching!

It sounds like you have driven a very long time without a lot of maintenance, other than perhaps oil changes.

At that mileage, you should be due for or already have done:

  1. Flush the cooling system and replace coolant

  2. New spark plugs

  3. Most likely new CV joints and half shafts

  4. Replaced the struts.

  5. New battery

  6. Transmission fluid & filter change, if automatic

  7. Be on your third timing belt, if the car has one.

  8. Third brake job

Older cars will incur $1000 per year in maintenance and repairs; Mazdas last a very long time if properly cared for. I would go for the engine mounts and just keep putting $1000 per year into the car and you will be driving cheap. My son has a 2004 Mazda 3 and it has had no repairs other than normal wear and maintenance. You will have no more depreciation, bank chearges, and cheaper insurance than driving a new car.