The best con is one you never recognize. The one that keeps you paying – and keeps you smiling.
You thinking you got the best end of the deal.
Modern cars get you at the beginning – the initial purchase price – and at the end (when the cost to keep it on the road becomes so high the best thing to do is throw it away and start over.
This is the price of “reliability” and “low maintenance” in the middle … the long con that many people have bought into.
First there’s that up front cost – now on average over $30,000 (more here) and taking at least 5-6 years to pay off for most buyers (vs. the once-typical 3-4 years). It’s not just the money you’re required to spend, either.
It’s the opportunity cost of the money.
What else you might have done with the money during those 5-6 years… and especially the last 2-3 years, which in the past would have been payment-free years? It’s an example of what the great economist Frederic Bastiat called “things unseen.” The stuff you might have done, the things you could have bought… but weren’t able to because you were still making payments on your car.
That’s the (lost) opportunity cost.
Or, looked at from another perspective: The car is “reliable” and “low-maintenance”… so you’re not paying for things like occasional tune-ups and minor adjustments, as in the Dark Days before computers and direct-injection.
This is the Sell.
You’re just paying a defined sum each month to own the car.
That’s the Cost.
Which is preferable from a money point-of-view? The $100 fall/spring tune-up and minor adjustment? Or the $400 a month (every month, for the next 5-6 years) payment?
How about the much-touted long-haul oil change intervals Now vs. Then? And “lifetime” coolant and spark plugs? Is it really a savings to go say 6,000 miles in between oil changes rather than 3,000 when the oil now costs $7 a quart? And – in a number of new cars – requires special siphoning machines to do the job?
It used to cost about $2 a quart.
You used to be able to do it yourself.
Spark plugs are advertised as lasting 100,000 miles – and they do. But ever try getting them out after 100,000 miles? Lots of fun on the firewall side of a transverse-mounted V6 in a FWD car.
Modern cars with manual transmissions go much longer without needing a replacement clutch. But if the clutch slave cylinder – which provides hydraulic assist, making the clutch easier to work (and also maintaining adjustment automatically) craps out – and it will, eventually… especially if you neglect to change the fluid fairly regularly (which they count on) … it’s sometimes necessary to remove the transmission to do the job.
Which isn’t cheap.
There’s also this:
Stuff eventually does wear out. And – if it’s a modern car – then you’ll really pay.
I’ll give you an example, a True Story.
Lady I know has a Lexus RX, which she bought new back in 2000 for about $32,000. It has given her very little trouble since then.
Fifteen years on, it is beginning to cost money …. again.
It needs four new struts – the modern-car equivalent of an old car’s shock absorbers (which typically sell for about $100 a pair) except they combine the function of a shock absorber and the formerly separate (and lasts-the-lifetime-of-the-car) coil spring and so cost much more. Parts and labor.
One shop wanted $1,600 to do the job. Another upped that to $3,200 – claiming that in addition to the struts, the control arms needed to be replaced, too. Maybe so. Probably. But here’s the dilemma: The RX itself is worth maybe $4,000 at this point.
The RX’s engine is still running great – and the paint looks good, too. That’s also common with modern cars. But what good does it do you to have a great-running engine or paint that still looks good after 15 years if your $4,000 car needs a repair that amounts to a third to half its retail value?
With an older car that has shocks and coils, you can replace all four shocks for about $200.
That math makes sense.
But putting $1,600-$3,200 into the RX? Keep in mind that something else could and probably will crap out at any time (it’s the nature of the beast when dealing with any older machine) and hit you with another big bill. Which becomes mathematically more likely the longer you own an electronics-addled modern car.
Modern cars also often have non-repairable components (e.g., throw-away hubs, non-greasable/non-serviceable suspension parts) and also more complicated components. The RX’s struts, for example. Much more expensive to replace than a standard/old-school shock absorber.
Also more difficult.
Shocks on an old car were typically held in place by three bolts (two at the top, one at the bottom) and all you needed was some combination wrenches, a floor jack, maybe some rust penetrant and some determination to remove the old ones and replace them with new ones.
Almost anyone could do this job.
Fewer people can do struts.
Similarly, brake service. ABS – which all modern cars have – ups the difficulty level. And the expense. If the ABS pump goes out, it’s a big bill. Older, pre-ABS cars don’t have ABS pumps. Or wheel speed sensors. Or computers.
Much easier to service – and cost less to service.
So, sure, modern cars are more “reliable” and “lower maintenance”… for a while. In between when you bought the thing and are making payments on it and the point at which things begin to stop working … which seems to start happening shortly after your final payment.
With the old stuff, maintenance intervals were shorter and you generally did need to service things more often. But the things that needing fixing were simpler and cheaper – and so were the cars. We had them paid off in three or four years and it was easy (and cheap) enough to keep them on the road for another ten years after that.
Sure, you had to pop the hood more often and maybe sometimes the balky bastard wouldn’t start. But you could also go years without payments and the fixes were generally things you could do with hand tools by yourself. And even if you did have to pay someone else to do ’em, the cost was more manageable.
We had more money in our pockets for other things as a result.
Are things really better now?
You tell me.
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Your op ed here is great food for thought Eric! As for me, I sure as hell can’t afford to go out and buy some new stupid vehicle, and why should I anyway. My 04′ Ranger is bought and paid for, and with proper care, should last me for many years to come. I had to recently get the passenger side airbag replaced due to a safety recall from Uncle Sam. It has low miles and is reliable. One of the service guys at the local Ford dealership I went to, to have the airbag replaced, was asking if he could buy my Ranger from me or knew of someone who would sell one. I said sorry, can’t help you there. I think people are figuring out that all this complicated BS in cars and trucks now is becoming a headache.
8, you’ve commented before about the GM diesel truck engines. A neighbor just put a 1990s GMC 3/4ton 4WD Diesel up for sale. What should I know when I go over to check it out?
The short answer is don’t buy it. They are turds. Here is a good forum link that explain the common issues with early 90’s GM Diesels.
If you’re looking for a cheap early-mid 90’s diesel, stick with the Cummins powered Dodge. The engine is bulletproof. If the truck around the engine becomes too expensive to fix, just yank the engine out, sell it on craigslist and sell the body for scrap. Rinse/repeat.
8, I’m bumping this up hoping you’ll see it.
Long story short; don’t buy an early-mid 90’s GM diesel. Stick to the Cummins powered Dodge trucks from that era.
I would stay away from the early 90’s GM diesels. The best choice from that era would be a Cummins powered Dodge. The Cummins engine is bulletproof and once the body becomes too expensive to fix, just yank the engine out and sell it on Craigslist to earn most of you money back.
Check out this link that explains common problems with Chevy Diesels from the early to mid 90’s:
I was at a school for a job and got to talking with another guy there. He had a Dodge Cummins he liked real well, pulled good and would get 26mpg with a 3.54 rear gear.
We went to lunch and took my 6.5 Chevy. Driving along the interstate he said Well, there’s one thing this pickup does my Dodge won’t do. Oh yeah, Yep, we can have this conversation.
Yep, I’ve been in lots of Dodge Cummins and they are reliable but I’d as soon hitchhike as to ride in one of the loud, rough MF’s every day.
Ed, there’s the little trick with the tubing and water bottle described in the lnk Pedro has on his comment. And I’d hope he’s never run (can’t call the brand right now)one of those air filters guaranteed to be the best performer. They might flow more air but let dirt through too. I’d check the downside of the filter that goes into the turbo for anything. It should be OR clean. Those engines don’t leak oil either. Like any other engine I’d check out the cooling system. One nice thing about those models(hopefully, 92 or 93)is their R 12 a/c. Ask if he’s replaced any of the boost controller. I replaced mine with an aftermarket item, about $75 and it works better than OEM and seems like it had no vacuum line and infinitely adjustable. You might as if he ever adjusted the fuel pump since they’re supposed to be adjusted post 100,000 miles…..or maybe that’s the governor, naw, fuel pump I think. Other than those things, just basic service records, the type of oil he uses.
Also, has he replaced the water pump, probably not a weak point but not unheard of or if it’s ever been hot. Don’t expect one to even get a whiff off a Duramax or later Cummins or Powerstroke’s cause they don’t make that kind of power. They will pull a light trailer without you knowing it’s there though, and not so light. I used to commonly pulled 12-15,000 lbs of trailer with 2 tons in the bed and it did that well and used very little fuel for a truck that size(mine was one ton, 4X4 ext. long bed). Well, gotta go get a load of sand for bagging and haul to Knott. Tx., should be great fun. Take care. Let me know what it’s like.
Thanks Pedro and 8. The neighbor has been in NC and I’ll have a day or two before he comes back. He’s asking $3100 and it has 250k +. I’ll ask y’all more, later on.
OK, it’s a ’99 w/6.5 turbo. Interior is fine, cab corners solid, bed solid, tires about 1/2 way through the tread but 6 years old by the date code. I was able to look it over because his shop guy was there fixing a tractor, but he (the owner) still ain’t home.
Pedro’s forum link is a big help. Those guys are into mods, but there’s a good forum just on 6.2, 6.5 Ds. Some of them say the 6.5 sucks, most say, nah, it’s fine, just not high torque or HP.
I plan on taking it down to the logging equipment shop and let him go over it. It’ll cost about $120 for him to look it over. If I buy it, the $120 will be well spent. If he says leave it be, the $120 will have saved me from buying a turd.
Anyway, these days, $120 is about what you’d pay to see two dogs fucking, so…….
Ed, I didn’t know people who had bad problems with major parts of the engines but the non=computerized have few problems. Every time somebody looked at mine they’d say “You got one of the good ones”, referring to mechanical injection as opposed to the computerized starting in ’94.
To be honest, I know a guy with an old 6.2 in the older body style that he put a Banks system on and he’s pulled a big rv trailer all over the country.
Ed, I’d need to look it over but if the exterior is clean and the running gear/steering isn’t worn out, I’d buy it right now for myself. I’ve seen people spend a huge amount of money rebuilding the engine but that’s because the mechanic is taking them for a ride. If you look around on the web, you can find crate engines for them cheap and often, crate marine engines that are more powerful. I don’t have to sweat the legality of installing a marine engine in one in my part of the world. It might be a problem somewhere else but only IF THEY KNOW ABOUT IT…..and I just don’t see how that would happen.
Thanks, 8. On that forum a few have mentioned just pulling the computerized system and replacing it with the mechanical injector system. Here, there’s no problem passing inspection with a replacement engine.
Good thoughts in your posts. I might just buy it if the Logging truck guy says it’s good, and if I can beat him down a little on the $3100 asking price.
All I want it for is to install a Fisher snowplow system and a Frontrunner grading rake on it. Dressing my gravel road and hiring out to dress the neighbors’ roads is my goal.
Ed, I wouldn’t do anything to it. Just because it might screw up doesn’t mean it will. I know plenty of those that worked find till they were beaten into near oblivion. It’s weird but give some people an excuse to not treat a pickup well and it’ll end up looking like it was used(and probably was)the gate on a portable cattle pen. Than there are just those kinds of people anyway. Of course I’ve seen a guy pull up and use his brand new GMC for a gate and not ten minutes later two bulls got in a big fight and one side was totaled.
Hell, sell me the pickup and I’ll find you a tractor with a blade and leveler on the 3 point hitch. The best finisher for my drive is a piece of RR rail I have chain welded on both ends. I can pull it straight or make it do a bit sideways to roll stuff one way or the other. This is what I do after I cut and fill ruts and gopher holes with a dirt mover on the old 4020. It follows the contour of the road and never takes a “bite”.
8, I’m too stove up to handle a tractor. A Fisher plow lift with the Frontrunner rake will dress a gravel road in one pass in each direction, and I can drive the truck to anybody who wants me to do their road.
I had thought it out before deciding about this kind of rig. Check it out:
Ed, I can see he’s already made 2 passes at least. A tractor with a dirt mover on back would be done and if you want to feather the edges you can back it up till it’s at an angle, chain it, and do a sideways thing.
I could do it with a Dodge but Jeez, not a Chevy aha.
Ed are you talking about human dogs or human female dogs, or dog dogs?
Just regyoolah dogs, to5.
I have said it many times and will state it again.
The early 90’s to 2000 model year was the pinnacle for automotive design in terms of reliability and driveability. Most vehicles only had ONE very simple on board computer for controlling the electronic fuel injection. Old school distributors, 1 or 2 oxygen sensors, no drive by wire and no government mandated ABS, Stability control, tire pressure monitoring systems or side curtain airbags make these cars a bargain to repair.
By this era, most new vehicles were just highly refined versions of previous carbureted designs. Here are a few examples of amazing designs from that era that fit the bill. Because the designs dated back decades, parts were dirt cheap (and remain so to this day)
1992 Mustang LX Notchback 5.0L: Lightweight and Simple built on a platform that was 30 years old with an engine designed in the 60’s. With proper maintenance these powertrains last 200k+ miles. The world’s most popular basis for a cheap drag race car.
1998 Chevy CK1500/Silverado (V-8): Arguably the best version of the Small block chevy engine inside of the best Chevy truck ever designed.
1990 Chevy 454SS Pickup: The classic Big Block Chevy with modern Fuel Injection in a small truck. Just as bulletproof as the SBC version.
1994 Ford F150/Bronco: Icons of their era. Clean Broncos are starting to command HUGE markups in the collector market. A classic Small Block Ford with modern fuel Injection equals bulletproof reliability.
I could go on and on but here are a few more notable vehicles:
Honda Civic, Accord, Prelude, Acura Integra, Toyota Camry, Corolla, 91-96 MR-2 Turbo, (93-98) Supra Twin Turbo, Nissan Sentra, Altima, Maxima, BMW 3-5 Series.
Clean versions of every vehicle I listed are starting to command big money in the used car market. As the supply dries up they will begin to approach collector car status. Many vehicles on the list are already there.
I’d argue about the best engine GM ever made. It was the 350 from about ’89 to 95 or so, up to whenever it got a roller cam and was rebadged a 5.7L. Two friends, one with an 89 GMC and the other with a 93 Chevy got(the last I knew)over 500,000 miles on their 350’s and they pulled trailers and drove the whee out of them. I never saw a gas engine go that far…..ever……and they were still running fine with a hint of oil in the exhaust but no oil use…..nothing new valve seals wouldn’t have solved.
Well said Pedro. The 90’s were the pinnacle, in many ways. I’ve heard this from several people. I’m sure the manufacturers and govt want these 90’s cars off the road. You can’t get a 90s creampuff for less than 5k around here. Price has been going up since C4K… And less people are going to sell and prices will keep increasing as more modern cars become unfeasible to buy and repair. Hopefully the restoration industry picks up and becomes a viable alternative.
You talk to common people, read comments on fairly mainstream sites… Everyone agrees cars are too electronic. Just like everyone agrees people spend too much time on their phones and computers. Just like everyone agrees all the political candidates suck. But everyone still goes along with it. They buy their new cars, new devices every 2-3 years, and vote in the same people (assuming the elections aren’t rigged).
It seemed that a sizeable number of people were getting sick of the unsustainable consumer culture. Minimalism and embracing the simple things in life seems to be gaining popularity and acceptance. But everything still seems to move towards the disposable appliance model.
How many hours a day DON’T you spend looking at a screen, be it a phone, TV, or computer? 10 maybe? Many seem to want to spend less of their life staring at a screen. But most of us have to for work, and everything else… And this election, many seem to want someone who isn’t part of the establishment. Only a few months will tell for this point.
A 1965 Malibu was much worse in 1980 than that old Lexus today, or a Camry if you want closer price point comparison. Worth $100, needs $300 in parts to keep it running but it’s a total rust bucket. The only difference in price is a heavy dose of inflation combined with salary stagnation. And the Camry still has considerably more life after 15 years than the typical oldie but goodie.
I have an ’06 Altima. I went ahead and spent the money to replace the struts/shocks about ($1800 with better quality struts) and alignment a couple years. I thought about trading the car off but they have gone up more than I was willing to pay. I’ll try to get 180k miles out of it if I can.
Several years ago (30?) I was taking Econ 101 at the local community college. A young lady comes up to a few of us guys after class one evening with a question.
“I’m about to pay off my car loan” (only 3 years back then) “I have heard that it’s not good to live w/o a loan, because you get used to spending the money and it makes it hard to pay when you do need to get another loan.”
Here was the reply:
First, do you like the car? (why not, a 280Z IIRC)
2nd, is it in good shape? (not needed a lot of repairs, even small ones, yet)
If both answers are yes, here’s what you do – open a savings account (paying low interest, maybe 3% back then, but more than today) Keep making the payments – to yourself. If a minor repair or 2 comes up, you can pay from the savings, not put it on plastic. When something major comes up, you have cash to add to your trade-in, so you can take a shorter loan. Keep doing that and eventually you can pay cash for the car.
Just got rid of my wife’s 03 Grand Caravan. 240k + miles. 4 nearly new tires, 5 months left on the warranty of the Jasper transmission. But the rod bearings were going. We got $150 for it.
Last week was the quarterly generator inspection at work. A post that holds the battery cable and a few smaller gage wires broke off the starter. No danger of the generator crapping out, but potentially (since it was the positive post) the cables could come lose and bump into something grounded. So it needed to be replaced. Of course, since the starter motor is part of an offsite-built assembly you can’t just order the post and bracket, you have to order the entire starter.
So the order goes through for a replacement starter. As it makes its way through the bureaucracy someone sees that a replacement starter motor was ordered and panics, thinking that the starter motor is bad. I get a frantic call from my boss at noon on Friday, I have to go back to the headend and wait for the “portable” generator to arrive (this thing is portable in the same sense that a semi is portable because it has wheels on it). Why? Because the starter is “bad” and has to be replaced and what if there’s a power failure and we’re exposed and oh noes! After explaining the real problem (and chastising him for thinking that I wouldn’t tell him if the starter were really bad) he got everyone calmed down.
My point is the reason cars are expensive to repair has little to do with reliability and more to do with ease of assembly. Namely how easy is it for Ford or Honda to do the final assembly. Separate coil and shock suspensions means that there needs to be 2 (union) guys working in River Rouge instead of one (or none if you can program a robot to install struts). When was the last time someone broke a coil (in normal driving)? Someone can make the argument that struts are better for the ride because the coil and shock are in the same line, but most of us will never know the difference (but it makes another “we got that too” bullet point for the marketeers).
The trend these days has been to build complete products. Personal computers went from something that you would assemble as a kit to modular components to customized at the factory to take-it-or-leave it products. This has been done more to easy assembly and reduce parts counts than it was because of some genius “designer” who’s more a marketing prop than engineer. Your cell phone’s assembly line is almost completely robotic with humans doing as little as possible, even with Chinese factories. Once you get the human out of the loop it quickly becomes impossible to put him back. Sections of car factories are dominated by the robots, and it’s only a matter of time until they get the rest of the factory too. When that day comes cars will come with the label “No user-serviceable parts inside.”
> But what good does it do you to have a great-running engine or paint that still looks good after 15 years if your $4,000 car needs a repair that amounts to a third to half its retail value?
I’d still make that repair. Because even though you’re throwing $1500 at a $4000 car, it’s still good transportation that will get you to work on time. And the alternative is taking on $30,000 in new-car debt. Or $20,000 in used-car debt.
Agreed… but, here’s the rub:
Many people cant afford the $1,500 repair. And what happens when the thing needs another $1,500 repair?
They’re kinda stuck in that case. If they can’t afford the repair, they can’t afford a replacement car either.
I would say that this might (might!) be a good case for putting that repair on a credit card and floating the bill for 4-5 months.
Will the car need another $1500 repair in the future? No way to know. But it’d be prudent to start saving up for a replacement car.
Yup – and that’s just what I was getting at!
The cost of cars (buying them/fixing them) has become disproportionate to the average person’s ability to pay.
It used to be you could buy a hooptie that would be /mostly/ reliable (although a rust-bucket, without a working radio, and with a broken driver’s side window regulator that would make you open the door to talk to the Burger King clerk), for about $800.
We’re still feeling the effects of Cash for Clunkers, in that the hooptie market went away, and was replaced with used cars that are actually pretty decent (12 year old Corollas), but cost double what the old Chevy Beretta and Luminas did.
What’s helped me: A dependable highly experienced shade tree mechanic, works “in pleine aire”. (ha) Have him buy parts on his commercial account (surprisingly cheaper) and pass the savings on to you. You just pay the cost of parts and agreed-to labor costs. Mutually beneficial exchange! The person w/ Lexus repairs (above) may have been able to get work done more cost effectively, to keep the vehicle longer. Commercial shops can be SO expensive.
Question: Camry (unsure which years) dependable and reasonable price to repair. Any other models you recommend for dependablity and cheapness/ease to repair? Roughly five to twelve yrs old. NO New/almost new cars for me. We prefer a small SUV since we like to sit up a bit higher off the pavement. Very pleased with our plain ’08 Silverado; no problems with simple V6.
ps – Eric, we drove a rental Jeep Patriot) to LA. Hard to change lanes to the right, with the Giant Blind Spot, (for rollover safety, says Uncle). Tiny mirror is not enough to help me change lanes. What the heck are they thinking? Dad and all the kids had to look through their “portholes” to say “OK, you can get over now”.
I agree with Eight and others here that cars reached near-perfection in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. Numerous models during this era will run almost forever with minimal upkeep costs. After about 2005 or so, the technology in cars began to pass the Rubicon of reasonableness. I’d avoid anything with drive-by-wire systems, touchscreens, over-the-top “safety” systems, etc.
One of the best A to B cars I have ever owned was a ’96 Corolla. You almost have to run one without oil to hurt one…:)
If you dont intend to resell the vehicle — if you’re gonna drive it until something too pricy breaks — resale value doesn’t matter because you’re counting on it effectively going to near zero.
So the question is, which is going to cost more to pay — $1,500 now, maybe an average of $1,500 each year from now on … or $400 monthly payments every single month?
A coworker of mine has a 75 Trans Am with a 400 inch engine that he says is a money pit, constantly breaking down. That I would junk, since I don’t have the mechanical skills to do the repairs myself, and so the costs would be unaffordable to keep it running, not to mention all the days of work lost and the aggravation of not knowing when you’d be stranded on the side of the road.
At some point a car becomes uneconomic for * anyone * to own, because the repair costs plus the value of lost work and time exceeds the cost of a new or newer car. But in the meantime, a change of ownership might make sense. If you’re someone making six figures plus, lost time is very pricy, so that 16 year old Lexus that is getting expensive and breaking down more might be better off being sold and winding up in the care of a mechanic who can keep it running and whose cost for lost productivity when it breaks down is less.
Yeah, but that ’75 TA’s entire drivetrain could be rebuilt to “as new” condition for about $3,500. I mean the entire engine, carb to oil pan plus a new transmission.
It’s a shame your co-worker hasn’t learned to work on it!
Typically, the basic engine and drive line aren’t the problem. Metal fatigue, corrosion, brittle plastics, wear, heat, sun, age, neglect, and abysmal repairs by previous owners are.
That’s about $3,500 in parts, and a whole lot of specialized mechanical knowledge worth thousands of dollars because of the acquisition costs.
I was eyeing that car and thinking about buying it, because damn it is a cool looking vehicle, but I don’t know enough to do any maintenance, and I already own a much more reliable car that can at least match if not outperform it. Owning that car would be like dating a hot looking women who was an emotional and financial mess. Done that, over it.
It’s a great car, but not a good fit for someone like me or my coworker who prize low maintenance costs and high reliability, and it is rational of him to put it up for sale to move it to someone more suited to owning it.
Yeah, but the drivetrain is a very simple one relative to any modern car. There are no electronics to speak of (other than the distributor) so you’re dealing with a basic mechanical device.
The carburetor, for example, can be disassembled with basic hand tools and rebuilt to “as new” with a $70 kit (gaskets, new float and needle and seat assembly, accelerator pump, etc.)
The engine is just an engine. Cast iron block and heads, simple valvetrain. Some machine work and then a set of pistons and bearings and seals and so on… easy.
The transmission – if it’s stock – is a TH350 three-speed automatic. Buy a new one, ready to bolt in, for about $800 with the torque converter. Not much else to do.
Maybe a water pump, power steering pump and alternator. All cheap. All easy.
Maybe the rear end will need a rebuild and that is specialized work – but no huge expense or hassle, either.
What condition, overall, is this car in? Is it a running/driving car?
It looks cherry — beautiful body work. White paint. My coworker uses it as his daily commuter — he parks right behind me.
I’d love to have it just for the style points, but I don’t attempt any auto work besides basic stuff like changing cabin air filters and whatnot.
It’s a long way away from you, Austin TX, but if you wanted to contact my coworker and negotiate with him, I can get you his phone number.
The big expense with these cars is bodywork (rust repair). If the body (and frame) are solid, fixing the drivetrain is easy and cheap. If the car is in service as a daily driver/commuter, it must be in decent mechanical shape and likely just needs some tuning/adjustment. Very, very, easy stuff with these cars. Even if you had to pay someone else.
Example… a major tune-up entails the following:
Replace eight spark plugs (about $20 and anyone who can do an oil change can do this themselves).
Check plug wires/distributor cap/rotor. If all three need to be replaced, about $100 in parts. A monkey could perform the replacement.
Adjust ignition timing/idle speed (requires a timing gun, but otherwise extremely simple; rotate the distributor to advance or retard the timing while watching the light/mark on the balancer… then tighten the hold down clamp).
Adjust clean/adjust carb ($5 can of spray cleaner and a flat blade screwdriver).