Why keep a car not worth fixing?

I took that for hyperbole.

$50,000 to have what is likely the nicest Plymouth Valiant in the world doesn’t seem that out of line to me.

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Several of the cars on Fantomworks had wasaaaay more money spent on them than they were worth after restoration. All comes down to an emotional attachment.

My grandpa was a Jeff Foxworthy joke. If you mowed the grass at his house you did indeed find a car. Actually, you found several cars. He had somewhere around 20 of them hidden in the weeds when he died. Grandma had them all hauled off the day after the funeral. I think she felt guilty about how happy she felt.

Grandpa was a child of the Depression, and he also wasn’t very good with rationality. He’d buy the cheapest hunk of crap he could find because anything more expensive was “too dear.” He’d drive it until it broke, which usually wasn’t very long.

Then he’d hook it up to the tractor and tow it down to his mechanic’s shop. The mechanic would diagnose it, and if the repair cost more than 50 bucks or so, Grandpa would get mad and tow it back home. Now he had a choice: He could sell it for scrap value, which he wouldn’t do because he paid a lot more than that for the car and selling it for scrap would be a ripoff. He could get it fixed, which he wouldn’t do because the mechanic was just ripping him off. Or he could just leave it and go get another car. That’s pretty much always what he did.

Grandpa never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If he had, there’s a passage where Pirsig talks about about stripping a screw that he needs to get off in order to drill down to the problem that’s making his motorcycle not work. He explains that people think of screws as low-value because they’re small and aren’t very expensive. But if the screw is preventing you from making the motorcycle work, then that screw is worth the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is worthless until you get the screw out.

Maybe if Grandpa had read that, he’d have realized it makes more sense to give the mechanic $75 to fix the $500 car than it does to keep buying more and more $500 cars while turning your wife’s front lawn into a scrap yard. :wink:


@shadowfax. My parents lived through the depression and it certainly had an effect on their purchasing habits. World War II also had an effect. New cars weren’t available. I remember seeing an advertisement in a late 1945 Time magazine my parents had saved. The advertisement was from Chevrolet urging motorists to “Continue to conserve your present car”. Production lines were beginning to run, but the supply couldn’t keep up with the demand. My dad had the engine overhauled on his 1939 Chevrolet and the car repainted in the summer of 1946 so that he could drive the car several more years. I remember the motor burned out on our refrigerator that was ten years old in 1949. It didn’t have a sealed unit, so the repairman was able to take the motor off, have it rewound, and put the refrigerator back in service.
Today, having an automobile engine overhauled doesn’t happen very often. The refrigerator motor and compressor are s sealed unit and the entire refrigerator is usually replaced when the unit goes out. We used to have a furnace fan motor rewound. That isn’t done anymore.
On the other hand, things do last longer today than in years past. My dad’s 1939 Chevrolet had 70,000 miles on the odometer before the engine was overhauled which was an amazing number of miles back then. Today’s cars often go over 300,000 miles before major engine work is needed. My parents’ refrigerator needed the motor repaired after 10 years. Our refrigerator is 24 years old, works perfectly, and has never had a repair.


Well, sometimes its just not worth fixing an old car. When it is cheaper to buy a used but functioning car I’d also not fix a broken car.

It doesn’t seem that way. I drive past that ramshackle house at least twice each day, and I have never seen the hoods lifted, nor have I ever seen any people in the vicinity of those moldering wrecks. A few years ago, he added a severely rusted Dodge van (probably also from the '70s) to his “collection”, and this vehicle also just sits, and sinks further into the mud as each month passes.

It all depends what’s wrong with your current car

The expression “The devil you is better than the devil you don’t” comes to mind

If your older car that isn’t worth much needs some bushings, shocks, some mounts, tires and brakes all around, the cost of that work might handily exceed the value of the car

However, if that car has been well maintained, it might be better to do that work, versus junking it and taking a chance on another used car, which might not have been as well maintained as yours

Wouldn’t do to get rid of your own car, just to buy a ticking time bomb, so to speak


A update–of sorts…
A few miles from my house there is another disreputable-looking home, complete with a collection of '80s and '90s Lincolns sinking into the mud on its side lawn. A few weeks ago, the homeowner chose to add an ancient Datsun 510 station wagon to his “collection”.
This Datsun apparently slid into a tree or a pole many years ago, due to the incredible damage to its right rear fender. The right rear glass is missing, and undoubtedly could not be replaced as a result of the severe damage to the fender.

If he has ignored all of his old Lincolns for so many years, why would he choose to add an even older–and likely unrepairable–Datsun to his “collection”?

A lot of people buy project cars intending to fix it. And then they’re either too busy, or find that they don’t know how, and the project sits around. When they do it with multiple cars, it’s properly called hoarding, and it should be looked at no differently than the guy with mountains of junk from the thrift store in his house. It’s a symptom of a mental illness that needs treatment.

We have a hoarder in my family on my wife’s side. Piles and piles of junk throughout the house that she buys for pennies at the thrift stores. She’s a great person, but she doesn’t have much money and has had a lot of bad experiences in life. Her mounds of stuff are her main source of comfort, and so getting her to pare down - even with the argument that if she doesn’t she will literally die in a fire one day because she’ll be trapped in there - is not something that we can convince her to do. And since she has few financial resources and lives way out in the country, she doesn’t have access to the kind of counseling she should be getting.

It’s probably a similar story with your Datsun guy. He’s buying junk cars because that’s what he can afford, and having a fleet of cars, even non-running, is a source of comfort. I knew a guy like that back when I lived in the Southwest. He lived on around 5 acres up in the mountains, and had an amazing assortment of hardware strewn throughout the property. He even had a bunch of old rusting farm tractors. Don’t even know where he found them, because there aren’t a whole lot of farms on top of the Rocky Mountains. As a kid I thought his yard was great, and used to hang out with him all the time looking at his stuff, while wondering why my parents would let me wander that junkyard. Looking back as an adult, I suspect my parents let me go over there because it gave him some human contact which he was otherwise sorely lacking.

I have an old friend from my undergraduate days, and he became worse and worse over the years in regard to hoarding. At my insistence, he finally saw a therapist, and–miracle of miracles–he actually began to throw out decades of useless junk that was clogging his tiny apartment. Unfortunately, his throw-away phase was short-lived, and he keeps texting me photos of the “great stuff” that he found in garbage cans and dumpsters.

The saddest part is that he isn’t at all short of money, and there is no need for him to pick through garbage.

Those old tractors and cars that don’t run can be a great place for children to play, as long as they’ve had their tetanus shots.

That reminds me of a story. One of my childhood friends and I used to play in his parents’ VW Rabbit (in the mid 1970s). One day, it must have shifted out of gear or the parking brake failed, and the car rolled out of the driveway as we were playing in it. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and nothing was damaged. When it happened a second time, we were banned from playing in the car. It was strange that it happened a second time, because we were playing in the back of the hatchback when it happened. Maybe an old beater parked in a field would have been a safer place to play.

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Oh man. Similar thing happened to me. I was in dad’s car pretending it was one of James Bond’s cars. I moved the control that activated the smoke screen. Unfortunately in real life it was the control that released the e-brake. Thing rolled backward down the driveway and tapped a tree. No damage to the car or the tree, but there was definite damage to my ego. Especially when Dad couldn’t stop laughing. :wink:

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his house his cars his decision and nunya biz

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Until the Municipal Code Enforcement people show up and force him to remove that blight on the neighborhood…

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Well , I think you are wrong . The junk cars are a health problem because they will attract rats and snakes not to mention a breeding ground for mosquitoes . And for neighbor children it could be called an attractive nuisance to be injured while trying to play on them.


…until the his miniature junkyard violates zoning laws or brings down my property value. At that time, it becomes my business.

Earlier, I made reference to a run-down house in my neighborhood, with a “collection” of '70s era Volvos sinking into the ground, along with a very badly-rusted Dodge van from–I think–the '70s.

Well, it appears that the problem is being remediated! The elderly man who lived there either died or was put into a nursing home, and a local family of well-to-do farmers bought the property and are beginning to rid it of its detritus. The house is in such poor condition that it is likely not repairable, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was bought as a “tear-down”, to be replaced with a new, larger home.

In any event, the first step for the buyers is to get rid of the junk cars, and they are beginning that process.


That actually happened to one of my neighbours

She is a retiree who had a decrepit and moss-covered rv in driveway . . . and after a few years of respectful and polite requests for her to either fix it or get rid of it, one of my other neighbours who has pull with the “powers that be” arranged for it to be towed away, against her wishes, I might add

It’s kind of a weird situation, because the interior of her house meets the definition of a hoarder, yet the outside looks great, and the yard and plants look beautiful. She actually spends a lot of time keeping up appearances on the outside, yet she didn’t want to get rid of that worthless rv . . .

Of course there’s the emotional “My first car” and the psychological “Hoarder” reasons but there’s also the logical reason, “What would it cost to replace this machine with a functionally equivalent new one?”.

For example, a Jag XK8 has a book value of about $6,000 but a functionally equivalent new Jag F costs about $60,000 and both will get you more speeding tickets than you’d ever want. So if you’re looking for a luxury sports car, even plowing an additional $20,000 into the XK8, while well above book, still leaves you at less than half the cost of a new F type.

And then there’s also the the question of whether the new functional equivalent of machine you’re looking for is even still available? I’m thinking of the mini pickups like the Chevy LUV or original Ford Ranger that you could easily park without the assistance of three tug boats.