Fixing vs. Buying

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One of the reasons – probably the main reason – people buy a new car is because their old car has gotten to the point that it is costing them too much to keep. Repair bills vs. monthly car payment bills. You reach that tipping point in a vehicle’s life when it makes more sense to spend money on a new car than to keep on spending money on the old car.

But what happens when that dynamic reverses?

The average monthly new car payment is currently an almost unbelievable $525, according to Experian – the credit reporting agency. And the average new car loan is now six years (72 months) long.

Four months of payments out of those 72 months is more than $2,000.

Six months of those payments is $3,150.

That’s a whole lot of regular paying.

As expensive as car repairs often are, $3,150 pays for a lot of fixing. A year’s worth of $525-per-month new car payments pays for fixing almost anything that could possibly go wrong with a car.

It might be worth not making those payments.

Think about it. How likely is it that something big ticket will go wrong with whatever you’re driving that will cost you not just $525 once but every month – for the next six years?

And if the car is paid for and nothing goes wrong this month or next month, you just banked what you would have had to spend on a new car payment. On a car that is losing value in exactly the same way that the Titanic lost buoyancy after it kissed the iceberg. Which has created a problem almost as serious as the one faced by the passengers on the ill-starred liner that cold April night. Like them, you are likely to find yourself under water . . . owing more in payments yet-to-make than the car is currently worth. This problem has become so common – and so bad – that some new car loans even include what is called “gap” coverage, an extra charge added to your tab to make up for the loss of the car’s value (depreciation) which someone (you) has to pay for in the event it is totaled in an accident.

You won’t die, but the lender is making a killing on you.

The paid-for car, on the other hand, has already probably lost most of its value – which is a good thing in the same way that it would have been a good thing if Titanic’s water-tight doors had gone all the way up to the boat deck. If you have to spend say $800 on brake work, at least you didn’t also just lose $800 in book value.

And if you live in a state or county that applies a personal property tax to motor vehicles – which tax is based on the retail value of the motor vehicle – you may save the equivalent of several $525/monthly car payments each year just by not buying a new car. The property tax is obnoxious in principle – you’ve already been income-taxed at least twice (federal and state) and now the cretins are going to tax you again on the value of whatever “personal property” you managed to acquire with the remainder?

But the hit you take on a new car is particularly punishing – given how much new cars cost. The property tax hit on a $35,000 car – the average price paid for a new car – can be $1,000 or more annually, for several years – until the car has lost enough value to ease up on this third-tier form of extortion.

Looked at another way, the money you didn’t spend on taxes can be put aside to pay for repairs. And if the repairs aren’t necessary – or cost less than the money you would have had to pay in taxes – then you come out ahead.

Insurance costs should be taken into account as well. These are going up – regardless of your driving record – because of the cost to fix new cars. A busted headlight assembly can cost as much as a new car payment; a deer strike can result in body damage equivalent to a year’s worth of $525 monthly payments. These costs are not only reflected in the insurance premiums you pay to cover a new car, you have to pay them.

Unless the car’s paid-for, which is a tough trick for most people – who haven’t got the scratch in the bank to cut a check for $35,000 or even $15,000. So they are obliged to carry full coverage (replacement coverage) on the car – reasonable, since otherwise the lender would be the one left holding the wet-bottomed bag.

But if it’s a paid-for older car, you can (wisely) skip the full coverage; which is wise because unless the car is less than five years old,if you ever do get into anything worse than a fender-bender accident, it is very likely the insurer will total the car and cut you a check for the much-depreciated value of the car. You’d have saved money by putting the money you spent on the full coverage in a mason jar. Because you’d at least still have the money.

And the difference in cost to fully cover a new car vs. the cost to minimally insure a paid-for car can amount to several $525 monthly payments you didn’t have to pay, too.

The final argument in favor of fixing vs. buying is that buying anything new amounts to a guarantee you will either be spending much more than $525 to fix things when they fail – because of the lunatic overcomplexity of almost every new car on the market (and, arguably, almost every new car built since the early-mid 2000s) or you will be buying an even more expensive new car when the one you just bought begins to fail.

. . .

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112 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for being the voice of reason. When I had to replace the catalytic converter on my 17-year-old Honda this spring, one mechanic asked me WHY I would want to repair a 17-year-old car. I had two reasons: 1) it’s paid for, and 2) it’s paid for…AND it gets me well over 30 mpg and sometimes verges on 40. Insurance and yearly registration are cheap, and I love it!

  2. Eric, as a 50 year old guy who has never owned a new car, coming from parents who have never owned a new car, up until recently I would have agreed with you without reservation. However, lately I’ve begun to reconsider it. IF the work that is done when repairs are needed is done correctly and in a timely fashion, then you are all set. That is a huge IF. In 2016 I bought an older Chevy 2500HD with 54,000. I had issue after issue with that truck. When it was determined I needed a new torque converter, that ran me about $1000. Exactly, to the day, 120 days later the transmission was determined to be in need of a full rebuild. That was $1600. They had it 6 days, after promising a 48 hour turn around. I got the truck back and not only did it still stall every time I put it in first or reverse, it now had a bearing whine in 1st gear. They could not take the truck for a week, and then when they took it, promising a 24 hour turn around, they had it 9 days and had still not ordered the parts! Knowing I was going to flip out, the garage who had done the torque converter and who recommended the tranny shop for the rebuild, bought me a new GM transmission (and worked something out with the shop that still had my transmission) and installed it. With the wrong tranny cooler and wrong lines. I had to go to another transmission shop and spend over $300 to get that corrected when my brand new transmission was overheating. All told I spent over $6000 in repairs on that truck in 16 months. That meant over one full month cumulative without my truck while it was being repaired, and nearly the equivalent of a new truck payment in repairs. I decided to buy something under warranty. I bought a 2014 Ram 2500 with 33,000. I started hearing a noise 6 months later like a card in bicycle spokes that would go away if I put the truck in 4wd. It was very definitely on the passenger side. I took it to a dealer, the most recommended and one of the highest rated in the state, who first said I had a stuck brake caliper on the driver side. Then it was determined to be a frozen u-joint on the driver side. Then it was the passenger front wheel bearing. Each time they would test drive it on a noisy highway and declare the clicking sound gone. Finally at my insistence, they opened the diff and as I expected, they found shiny things that shouldn’t have been shiny from wear and they replaced everything inside, under warranty. Great, except they had my truck 13 days and I had to make 5, FIVE, trips to the dealer an hour away. At least the dealer gives a loaner vehicle. When it is a vehicle out of warranty, if you don’t have a backup vehicle you are stuck renting one or bumming rides from friends while yours is at the shop.

    As an aside, another issue is that if you need a 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck you are stuck with the Big 3. And they make trucks like American auto manufacturers in the 1970s. No competition, so no need to build reliable vehicles. If Toyota would put a full floating rear axle in the Tundra and some stiffer springs they could clean up in the 3/4 ton segment.

    • Ben, not knowing what year you’re speaking of, this is a worst case scenario. I can’t imagine a 54,000 mile truck needing a transmission and even if it did, a used one might be very cheap. It sounds like they saw you coming.

      I’m partial to “new” transmissions from GM. They are slightly higher than rebuilt but have torque converters and warranties. There are GM dealers such as Scoggin-Dickey in Lubbock, Tx. who sell this stuff cheap with great warranties. There are other “super” dealers when it comes to parts.

      And there are transmission specialists who build and sell warrantied transmissions too.

      I have found when it comes to GM, their new crate transmissions are better than the original although I can’t say why.

      Sorry to hear such a story with any brand including the Dodge. In my experience, it’s really not the norm and often used ones from a relatively low mile vehicle are very cheap from a wrecking yard.

    • Hi Ben,

      Eight got to this first, so what he said, basically. In the first place, a transmission failure at 54,000 miles suggests abuse – or a rip-off. GM – for all my issues with the company – makes excellent transmissions and if not abused, they almost always last the life of the truck; 200k easily. Something smells about the treatment you got at that dealer. The fact that they installed the wrong parts is clear evidence of incompetence. If they got the cooler lines wrong, what else did they get wrong?

      I think you just had some bad luck – and had the bad luck to get “serviced” by the wrong shops…

        • Hi Anonymous,

          The TH350 was a medium-duty passenger car transmission not generally used in HD trucks; they got the much stronger TH400. Those are still popular in high-powered bracket drag racing. The TH350 can be “built,” too.

          • The TH350 was used in all the pickups with small block V8s.

            I was actually driving back then and owned a couple of 4×4 pickups with the TH350 (I bought one and was given the other). Both of them were crap as far as the transmission was concerned. Too bad, because otherwise they would have been really strong and mean trucks.

            • TH350 was used in 1/2 tons. Anything with 8 lugs got the TH400.

              The TH’s may not have perfect, but at least they were cheap and easy to rebuild. Then they came out with the POS 700R4’s that no one could seem to rebuild worth a darn, and that would pop front seals and bearings just for the hell of it…. That seemed to be right around the time GM started it’s slide into the terlit.

              Heck, a struggling comedian could revive his act just by mentioning GM products!

              “Remember:
              The Vega?
              The Monza?
              The Citation?
              Olds 350 “diesel”?
              Caddy 4-6-8?
              HT4100?
              Cimmaron?
              700R4?
              Pontiac Sunbird?
              ….”

              • Well then explain the 1973 eight lug split rim K-20 with a TH350 that I bought brand new ???!!!

                As far as I know (and I worked for a Chevy dealer for a while) the factory never put a TH400 with a small block and they didn’t put a big block in a 4×4 until the K-30 came out sometime in the 1980s IIRC.

                • I had a friend with a 73 SBC that had a 400. It was a hoss. Before he even put the big wheels and tires on it, it was a 4WD sumbitch.

                  Let me give you an example. We had White Freightliner with a turned up Cummins and this was one of the many trucks we ran including my and my uncles Detroit Diesel trucks.

                  Anyway, this truck was hooked to a big van….with the top cut out and turned into a seed laughing sumbitch with a lot of HP, Cummins Hp.

                  It was bad winter and slick bs roads with frozen bs. Once loaded(we stomped cotton seed for days loading this trailer), the clutch gave it up. So, this 3/4T Chevy 74 model was tasked with pulling this semi out from underneath the cotton seed thing. It was wet and cold and the hiway was slick as shit with frozen bs. He hooked the C20 4WD to the rig(Firestone bullshit road tires intact)and pulled it uphill to the highway(Texas, 70, Rotan, Tx)and 9 miles south to Roby Tx. There were marks(white, where he’d cleared it off)for years. We replaced the clutch on that rig and took it to Sweetwater to ADM. We pulled up on the scales and weighed 126,000 lbs….and broke the scales and were banned from coming back.

                  Remember this was a 3/4T pickup in 4WD that dragged that rig 9 miles to get fixed.

                  I as amazed, simply amazed, at the traction and power of that 3/4 T pickup……with factory Firestones getting the traction. For years, there were these streaks(very light)in the road where it pulled that hugely overloaded rig 9 miles.

                  Maybe a 126,000 lbs doesn’t impress every one here….but it damned sure did impress me and everyone involved.

                  His previous pickup was a 3/4 T 427 badass, to the tune of burning tires(huge tires)when tromped on at 40mph with a fully loaded bed.

                  You just have to be a GM ophile to truly appreciate GM power and the ability to get it to the ground. I had Ford friends who had really big tired pickups…..and nothing to even rival the power the GM’s made.
                  It’s not that I’m a GM fanboi, I’ve just lived the life. You go with what works.

                  I’m about to get another Peterbilt. I’m simply grateful it is a Peterbilt. I don’t own Peterbilt stock and I couldn’t care less what the brand is if it doesn’t work. I love Volvo’s…to the extent they are good road trucks. I don’t like backing up, having the front end grabbing a tumbleweed and ripping the front fascia off as my co driver once did. He came back into the yard and I asked what had become of the front end. He was hot. He said I was just backing over a tumbleweed and it ripped it off.

                  I laughed….since I knew he was telling the truth. Specific vehicles for specific uses. What can I say? Volvo’s are pretty nice…..running down the interstate.

                  Ford’s are pretty good….hauling your girl’s cheerleading bs home.

                  BTW, I I was going to the liquor store yesterday when a cabover came up behind me hauling ass. I could see it said “White Freightliner” in my rear view. I don’t know how long it’s been since Freightliner had a White in front of it and since it was a cabover. It went by with matching green wheel covers over the drive axles and painted frame the same. it was hauling some heavy oil field stuff(I don’t know what it was). The stacks were 8″ chrome with dual chrome intakes. It was OLd and GOoD. Had big power and hauled ass. It did my old heart good just to see it. I once had one similar and it would haul 54,000 lbs at 90 mph. The interior was all diamond stitch naughahyde. We can’t go back….unfortunately. I hung my head, I hung my head…..

                  • Sure, you could swap a TH400 into an SBC, if you could adapt it to the TC(?).

                    I dragged a Pete all over the place trying to get it started one cold morning – until we discovered that the Cummins fuel solenoid wasn’t working. Partly explains why the AT wore out so soon…

            • You won’t hear about this often but GM did build a heavier duty 350 called a 375 with extra, larger clutch packs. They were put in 4×4’s and other things such as pickups and El Camino’s with “trailer tow package”.

              I didn’t know this till I took my Trailer Tow El Camino in for a transmission rebuild, not that it needed it but because I was about to stick a really strong “built” 350 in it.

              The transmission rebuilder told me up on pickup, That’s a 375 in this for some reason and I built it back to that. And no, you won’t find a “375′ moniker on a window sticker.

              Most used pickups in the 70’s, no matter what their life had been like, had never had a transmission serviced. This was common and a rarity for someone to change the filter and fluid on a regular basis….or even at all.

              It wasn’t exclusive to GM’s either and the Ford Slushomatic was infamous for going south way early and back then, a 4×4 Ford pickup was a rarity.

              Those old 70’s and 80’s 4X4 GM pickups were so good that here in farm country you often saw those pickups as the “work” pickup while the owner cruised around in some swanky new thing that would eventually become the “hand’s” pickup, i.e., the work truck. You don’t see a lot of the 4X4 GM pickups working anymore since they were all worked to death. You don’t see old Ford or Dodge 4X4 pickups anymore either simply because so few were made and were unreliable and the most unreliable thing on Ford’s were the transmissions, manuals excluded.

              I have my eye on what I deem is about an 80 model Chevy Crew cab long bed 4X4 gas pickup sitting by a farmer’s barn. The body is straight and with a new driveline, door gaskets and shocks and probably worn out steering parts, it would be a bullet-proof rebuild and with an OD transmisson and TBI do well on the road and in the mpg dept. I have a soft spot for vent windows, steel everything and all that Donaldson stuff underhood.

              The only thing the 90’s model pickups have on the 80’s is IFS with better handling and ride. Now there’s you a 6 seater pickup that you can go anywhere in including up the mountain in Mexico on a mining truck road.

              HEI rarely needs a coil but I’d probably take an extra if I were going to drive around the world. Stick one of the 11.5″ ring gear rears from a 90’s one ton and have a bullet-proof pickup, inside and out. It’s disgusting to try and find a long bed used pickup these days. Nobody trades them in and nearly every one of them were ordered. I hate short beds.

              • Never heard of a TH375.

                I’ve thought of trying to graft a TBI into my 1976 C-20. But I’m not sure how to retrofit the gas tank for electric pump and return lines??? Otherwise just going to rebuild it or get a crate motor if I live long enough to get around to it.

                The IFS 4x4s are great on the highway but take so damn much room to turn around!

                • Retrofit fuel injection uses an electric fuel pump outside the tank. You may mount it where ever it fits along the fuel line. For the return I believe that for cars of the 70s and newer the charcoal canister evap line is often re-purposed for the return or a returnless system is used.

                  • BrentP, you are exactly correct. Use the return canister evap line for a return. I understand the in-tank fuel pump which keeps it cool but it doesn’t have to be that way.

                    Glad to know you understand the process.

                    I once built a SBC for a friend’s Camaro. He had a lot done to the fuel system and with a hotrod company, they set up the shittiest line for fuel you’d ever want to “not” see.

                    So he’s driving around MOPAC when a line gives it up. Of course it set the car on fire. That big 20gph pump emptied the tank toot sweet and set it all on fire.

                    He’s on the side of MOPAC watching it burn when somebody pulls up and offers him a ride.

                    Not being a dumbass, and not having the car registered in his name, he walks away. By this time it was only a couple feet tall and melting rapidly. He never saw it again and was glad.

                    There were so many parts that were so expensive he didn’t want to think about it since I had had the work done and found the exotic parts required and had it done. How can you mend a broken heart, how can a loser ever win? Tell me how can you stop, the sun from shining, and let me live again?

      • re: GM transmissions. My parents bought a Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon back in the late 70’s early 80’s. One week after the warranty ran out, the transmission failed. My dad took it down to the dealer. They pulled it out, and you could see that it had been damaged and “patched” before being installed. They charged him for a new one.

        • Hi Schnarkle,

          Was it the same place? If so, that was pretty crappy of them. They may not have known the transmission was damaged, but given your Dad had only just bought the car, “working with him” on the repair cost would have earned them some good karma and likely your family’s business for a long time after…

          • Hi eric, Yeah, he took it back to the dealership where he bought it. The service guy took us back to look at it, and they pointed out where it had been, as they phrased it; “patched” by the factory prior to installing it or reinstalling it into the car. The dealership simply pointed out that they had nothing to do with such an immoral act, and that they received the car in good faith that nothing was amiss.

            That was the last time either one of my parents bought an Amerikan automobile. The next tow vehicle was a Mazda van. They had a couple of Mazda sports cars as well.

  3. If money is no object, then one should buy the brand new model of whatever they prefer. If, on the other hand, money is an object, then, one needs to weigh the costs and the benefits. Some people need a nice car for business purposes.

    My strategy has been to buy used cars with low mileage and in excellent running condition but with enough flaws in appearance that I am not paying top dollar. I’ve found that fading clear coat is perfect for my purposes. It looks terrible but it has little if any effect other than looks and if I choose I can get a paint job pretty cheep anyway.

    So, my point is, if someone wants a great car that looks good then get a good used car that needs a paint job and paint it.

      • Don’t understand that. 77’s were the simplest most powerful till the TBI ENGINE went into the square body for half a year. They had OD too.
        They next year was the new body style. I’d love to find the old square body with the new engine and transmission. Vent windows, kick panels and crew cab in the one ton.

        • 1973-1980 were basically all the same, except the electronic ignition added in 1975. 1981 saw a hood/fender change and they went to aluminum case chain drive transfer case instead of the iron case gear drive TC. I think the TBI started in 1987 which was the last year of the square body pickups (except crew cabs till 1991).

          I bought a new 1980 K-10 with 350/4 speed and it was great but I sold it a couple years later for business capital (to pay for a 1965 C-60 GMC!). I wish I had bought another K-20 instead and kept it forever.

          • It was 88.5 that the change was made. I had a friend who called me and wanted me to see the “newest” pickup available. It was the 88 body style with TBI and the 4 speed OD transmission. The next year was the 89 made from the ground up as a TBI and the new body style.

            • Somehow I thought that the 1988 had the new GNT400 body style??? I ad other things going on about then and wasn’t in the market for a new p/u so wasn’t paying attention like in the 1970s.

              My “dream pickup” would be a K-20/30 square-body 4×4 with TBI and a SM465 4 speed and NP205 iron/gear transfer case.

  4. This basic logic of Eric’s column is sound. If your monthly (or average monthly) car repair bills are greater than a replacement car payment would be, then time to get a new (or newer) one. The whole car, working, is much cheaper to buy than the sum of its parts (plus labor to install). Which is why chop shops and parts places and repair shops are so easy to find.

    There is also the “cost” of your time and stress dealing with broken down vehicles (towed perhaps) and in many cases rental of a short term replacement. At best you are caging rides from family/friends and/or using borrowed or second (less usable, normally) vehicles you might be lucky enough to own. Or even getting killed when that junker you’re driving breaks down at night in crazy traffic.

    It is true that the emotional lure of new shiny vehicles with updated gewgaws to impress friends, neighbors and attractive others is a major motive for the entire industry. How many car ads stress safety/reliability/ease of repair? Those expensive sports TV ads feature attractive people (mostly females) driving in beautiful locales with admiring glaces from the envious. Psychologists work making these ads and companies spend up to $100K/spot (say, Super Bowl) to air. This isn’t an industry selling to mostly accountants or the thrifty. Other than homes, it is the largest single purchase most will normally make in their lives, but on a much more regular basis. I will say the newer cars are generally reliable and often nicer to drive. But they are “consumption good” as economists say, not an “investment.” Even classic collector vehicles rarely turn owners a profit.

    • Hi Muggles,

      Yup! I tell people to think of cars as they would think of any other appliance. Because that’s what they are. I am speaking, of course, about cars purchased for everyday driving, getting to and from, hauling kids, etc.

      If it’s a classic car, an exotic or similar toy, then different rules apply.

      Bt if it’s a “toaster,” regard it as such. It is a thing you buy to use for a given period of time, which loses it value rapidly – and which you will eventually throw away…buy accordingly.

    • Most car problems let you know well in advance of absolute failure: noises, looseness, hard starting, etc, etc, etc. Those things that DO just suddenly fail without warning (electronic parts, usually) can also fail on a new or nearly new vehicle. Newer vehicles have more electronics and thus more potential points of sudden failure.

      I could probably completely rebuild everything mechanical on one of my 30 year old trucks for about $10K – which is about 20% or less of the cost of a comparable new one.

      • Hi Anonymous,

        Amen. I can (and have) completely rebuilt the entire drivetrain in my ’76 TA for less than $10k. That is literally everything. Not just the engine but all the engine accessories, the transmission, rear end (if it even needs it) and once done, the mechanicals of the entire car are effectively brand new and good to go for another 20 years or more…

        New cars are cost-prohibitive to buy – and to repair.

        • Well, I was figuring on a 4×4 so there’s a little more stuff to rebuild. Steering and springs sometimes need a little help also.

  5. For years I would buy the most inexpensive car that looked like it would last me at least a year. Then I wised up and started looking at cars that have a reputation for lasting decades and hundreds of thousands of miles, e.g. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, etc. I bought a Nissan Sentra at a tow yard for $150.00 towed it to a garage where I had a replacement engine waiting which I had picked up at Atarco for $500.00. The mechanic installed it for $200.00. I drove it around for six months, and sold it for $2,200.00 Japan has a similar emissions program, but over there they mandate that once your car reaches 30k miles, you either sell it and get another one or replace the engine. Those engines are then shipped overseas and sold for next to nothing.

    Some guy tore up the driver’s side door of my 82 chevy van. He didn’t want to involve the insurance company and I went along with his request. I sent him three estimates, the cheapest being $1,200. I then assumed he would never pay so I drove down to the local pick n pull and picked up another one for $65.00. Three weeks later I received a check from the guy. I only paid $1,400. for the truck a decade earlier so I just parked it and used the money to buy a Toyota Sequoia which has twice the miles, but will probably run twice as far for less money than the chevy.

    These cheap foreign cars run forever, and parts are easy to come by. They’re also disposable. Borrowing money for anything is for idiots.

    • There is no engine replacement criteria in Japan but the inspections get very difficult to pass so people junk the cars. The engines of course have tons of life in them so there are businesses that ship the engines to the USA. Even the whole cars had tons of life in them. It’s just government mandated waste.

      All the people in the world that could use this stuff and its mandated into scrap.

      • Yep, I have seen it done. Entire cars for nearly nothing and with a need for not a lot a money. Of course they’re cars that cost very little to rebuild with American name-plates.

        A great deal of this depends on the state and county where you register. The same pickup I own is an owners nightmare in a few counties in Tx.. it’s not really here nor there in my county, It’s all a bunch of shit when you get right down to it.

  6. I am very happy with my 2002 (or 2003, I’d have to look it up) CR-V. It does everything I want it to, except one thing.

    No matter how well I’ve kept it maintained, I can’t drive for Uber.

    And it is NOT worth the crap of a new car just to do that.

    • Hi Bob,

      From what I understand about the “deal,” driving for Uber is a terrible one. You use your car, rack up the miles and wear and tear… and earn nowhere near enough to justify that, leaving aside your time and trouble…

    • What Eric says!

      Drive for Uber- after all is said and done, you’re lucky to come out with $2 an hour net profit for your time and labor…but the average person doesn’t “see” it, because the money coming in NOW seems O-K, until the longer-term expenses start to mount up.

      Uber is for the short-sighted instant gratification crowd.

  7. Hello Eric,
    I’m onboard with the theme of your article, but I don’t have the tools, time, training or talent to repair my car.
    Well, OK, I can do filters and lightbulbs.
    So, does the math still work if I pay a dealership mechanic to do what needs to be done?
    I live in New Hampshire. No sales or income tax. Long winters/wet snow.

    • Hi Mark,

      The key thing – if you aren’t doing repairs yourself – is to find a good independent mechanic. Dealers aren’t necessarily bad places to go in terms of the competence, but they tend to be expensive. Most are volume businesses; an independent relies on developing relationships with his customers. If you find a good one, you will find usually reasonable repair costs. Secondarily, if you take good care of the car – basic preventive maintenance – it ought not to require much more than basic repairs for a very long time (15-20 years).

      • You do need to be a smart (parts) shopper. Dealers aren’t always a bad choice – the Lexus-brand battery I just bought was $20 more than an Autozone replacement, but came with an *84* month warranty vs. a 36 month one.

        Dealers sometimes have good prices on tires, too. They’ll have the original spec tire, and you could probably save money by getting the “black and round and mostly holds air” special, but tires are something you shouldn’t scrimp on.

        eBay and Amazon are (selectively) good places to look for parts. Both have problems with cheap Chinese knock-offs, but if you can identify a genuine OEM part you’ll likely save money vs. the dealer’s parts counter. The passenger mirror actuator I just replaced was $160 at the dealer vs. $111 on eBay.

  8. Timely article. Even later model used cars don’t make a lot of financial sense. I just looked at possibly replacing my ’98 Tahoe (202,000 miles) but getting one that was ten years newer was still going to set me back $15000, and all of the ones I looked at had 150,000 miles or more. I figure that less than $5000 would get the old ’98 back to near new condition, so instead of borrowing money for a new wiz-bang truck with marginal improvement in mileage, I’ll just wait a few months, save the money, and upgrade what I’ve got. Rust is still my main concern, but so far it’s been holding up ok. Even body work would not cost me $15000, plus interest.
    I think I’m destined to become that old codger still driving the 30 year old clunker, and my neighbors thinking how sad it is that I am so old and poor. Little do they know….

    • Ron, you made the right choice- and you missed the best reason for doing so: That 10 year newer one has a lot of complicated, delicate electronic and mechanical systems that your older one doesn’t; and when the newer one breaks, fixing it can cost MANY times more than a similar repair on your old one. These newer vehicles are basically disposable once they are out of the warranty period. It’s not uncommon these days for one repair to cost thousands of dollars- IF it can even be fixed competently- which it often can’t be, as the stealership service departments (Which you often need to use, because there is so much proprietary junk on the late-model crap-mobiles) have become little more than expensive parts swappers.

  9. I had an ’06 Altima just shy of 115k miles. Transmission seals went bad and before that the AC compressor went bad. It still needed tires and front struts replaced. I let it got for a few hundred dollars. I would have spent $5k to have a $3k resale value car. I was really disappointed by this to say the least.

    • That sounds like about a $2k net loss on restoring the old vehicle to a reliable and well maintained vehicle that could provide several more years of service. But if you could spend $2k + the few hundred dollars you made on the sale for a comparable vehicle then good on you. Perhaps you are in a different market, but $2300 doesn’t buy much and isn’t likely to have any maintenance records coming with it either.

    • Doesn’t matter what the resale value is if you’re going to keep the car and drive it.

      You have to compare the repair costs versus what it would cost to buy a decent car that doesn’t need any repair. Doubt you will find much of anything worthwhile for $5K, if you’re not willing to put some repairs into it after you buy.

    • ” I would have spent $5k to have a $3k resale value car.”

      I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Resale value is as irrelevant as original sales value, because if a new car was “worth” the price then it would make economic sense to buy new. Because “value” is the wrong word. The word to use is “price,” as in “market price.” I’m arguing for considering the “economic value” instead. You may or may not choose differently looking at it that way, I couldn’t tell you that.

  10. As the world’s second or third-most incompetent handyman I’m often asked why I pay to have work done on my old cars that costs more than the cars are worth. (1) I know the cars and their history, while every purchase of an old car is a pig in a poke. (2) I want to avoid having to get the latest Incomprehenso HAL 666 vehicle that makes the space shuttle look crude. (3) For all the reasons Eric mentions in his excellent article.

    P.S. I just changed the rear shocks on my B250, piece of cake. I then damaged the front shocks’ rectangular studs even using a shock absorber tool and didn’t loosen the nut a bit. To the shop tomorrow, but the truck is worth it to me for the use value I hope still to get out of it.

    • Hi Ross,

      Amen to knowing the history of the car you’ve got. I should have added that to the article! Excluding structural issues (e.g., a rotted frame or major body rot) it is almost always the smart move to fix what you’ve got, assuming what you’ve got is basically sound. My ’02 truck was paid off ten years ago (bought it used, of course) and so it has cost me almost nothing since then. Yes, tires, oil/filters and so on – but one has the same expenses with a new car. In terms of repair costs, I’ve spent money on a rear tailgate latch and some front-end stuff. Maybe $500 over the past ten years. Not even a down payment on a new truck!

  11. I was pondering the whole build vs buy equation myself recently, after tallying up the receipts on the current occupant of the “Weird Science” garage. 1964 C10 longbed, 230 six and a 3 on the tree. Now as an aside, this truck was an unbeatable deal. 2 owner California truck without a lick of rust, running and driving for $1800. We’ve mainly gone through some preventive component replacement (clutch, water pump, fuel pump, master cylinder, ujoints, etc), converted to front disc brakes, rebuilt the carb, and replaced the hideous white spoke wheels with some junkyard 6 lug stockers. The biggest single cost has been a set of thin whitewalls for a whopping $316.79 with tax/mount/balance. For $3100 and change ($3250 if I factor in the Amtrak ticket to go get the thing), I’ve got a reliable shop truck that also serves as a rolling advertisement. People will notice the old blue Chevy before they pay attention to another boring white F250. Best thing is that I bet it’ll do another 50 years or so with nothing more than maintenance.

    • Hi El Guapo!

      That truck sings to me! I saw a similar one – slightly newer, circa 1973 – GMC pick-up the other day, parked at the gym. Those trucks looked right and also worked right. I could see what was in the bed. And get to it – assuming it was my truck, of course! It had a 350 under the hood and I think a TH400 but could not tell without crawling under. Two-tone paint and wagon wheels. Beautiful! And still looking good and running good 50 years after it was made…

        • Hi CD,

          Yup… the word is out. I am hoping to buy another such car . . . before the word gets out. It is a mid-late ’70s full-size American luxury sedan; a Cadillac Sedan deVille, say. Or an Olds 98. These cars are fabulous. What luxury ought to be. Soft, quiet, smooth and huge.

          The new stuff is desperate to be “sporty” – which is an absurdity when we are talking about a full-size luxury sedan. Or at least, a contradiction. Plus, all the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety crap. Which the old stuff hasn’t got any of!

          • I wish I could get my hands on a 76-79 Seville in decent shape. That was the peak of Cadillac styling and packaging. Good luck in getting a Carter era Cadillac. I think that they were the best overall. My second favorite car from GM of the era was the Impala and the Electra 225.

            • Ah, Swampz! Those old Electra 225’s were truly one of the most durable indestructible cars ever made! They were always underappreciated; never really got their deserved fame.

              Those, and the old Caddys were truly the epitome of the automobile.

          • One ‘safety’ feature those old luxobarges have is sheer mass. My ’95 Roadmaster tips in at 4450# with me in it. People seem less likely to pull out in front of me when I drive it…
            My only gripe about the car is that rear visibility is less than stellar. It has up close L&R rear blind spots when using the mirrors (i.e. turn your head and look car). Most noticeable on freeway entrance ramps.
            No trouble getting up to speed, with 3.42 gears , headers & self tuned I’ve managed to run 14.60s @ 93+ mph in 1900′ density altitude conditions (NHRA correction factor sez 14.4x in sea level air). Knock free on 10% ethanol 87 octane. I see 16.X mpg in town driving to work and such, plus weekend trips to the dragstrip.

            I think that, if looking for an older luxury car, a ’94/95 Cadillac Fleetwood would fit the bill.

          • Eric, I had a c. 81 Coupe DeVille in the mid 90’s, in that pewter/platinum/champagne color…..what a car! It was a creampuff, and I paid a whopping $75 for it, ’cause it had the horrible HT4100 engine with a cam that was going bad- so I only got to drive it for a few months, and then had to junk the beauty 🙁

            But your plan is right on the money- get one of the older ones, back when Caddy still made real engines, for their still at that time real cars, and you’ve really got something. Gorgeous cars that were comfortable; had good visibility; scads of room for people/pets/cargo (You could fit a modern car in their trunk!), and yet, they had a commanding presence- they drove solidly, and didn’t feel like old people’s/women’s cars.

            Unbeatable!

            • Great minds think alike Nunzio, I’ve had two Caddys; a 77 Coupe de Ville, and a 71 Calais. I bought the 77 for $600. and drove it around for a couple years before it jumped time. I lost all four hubcaps in less than 48 hours just from taking turns too fast.

              re: trucks. I was sitting at a light and looked over at a Hummer in a parking lot. The guy was waiting for traffic to exit behind him, but even if he didn’t have four wheel drive it would have been no problem for him to jump that little block of cement that his front tires were resting against, and drive away.

              It’s bizarre seeing people driving four wheel drive vehicles with no clue how to drive four wheel drive vehicles.

              Years ago I took a friend of mine off road in my Nissan Sentra. There was this narrow spot between two hills, and just over it was a huge mud bog so it was something that required some steam to get through. I came flying through it, and immediately got bogged down in it, but the Sentra was front wheel drive so it might as well have been four wheel drive. It was only about a hundred feet or so before I would be back on dry ground, but about half way through it there were three or four guys in a Blazer and a guy trying to lock his wheels while another guy in a Jeep was up on the side of the hill trying to toss him a cable to pull him out with his winch.

              I came flying through there and they all had to stop and watch how it’s done.

              What’s so sad is that neither one of those 4 x 4’s had any mud on them. The Blazer didn’t even have any mud on the wheel wells. My car was covered in mud.

            • Hiya Nunz!

              Also: The mid-late ’70s versions are still reasonably priced. You can find them in cherry condition for less than $10k.

              I’d love a ’67 Eldorado, of course.. but…

            • Those early 80s GM full size are pretty much legos with each other. Parts were and probably still are dirt cheap. Although I do think there is some complexity in switch drivetrains between them. But nothing that can’t be overcome.

          • I had the same thought, having had a ’72 Olds 98 as one of my first cars (the first vehicles I owned were trucks). They were built incredibly well.

            But, they are also pretty hard to come by. Most in my price point are derelicts. I’m wondering how easy it would be to get door seals and other things a car that age might need.

      • And Eric, no-doubt it had a vinyl bench seat and rubber flooring! A truck that was meant to to actually DO something; to be useful; to be capable of doing some real work and transporting the men who do that work, without having to worry about getting mud on the carpet.

        And if 4×4, it could actually go off-road, to remote and gnarly places, without the constant need to worry “If a sensor or servo fails, can a flatbed get in here to rescue it?”!

        These things:

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/autohistorian/7176600900/lightbox/

      • It just feels right too – something about the old girl just begs for a lunchbox and thermos on the seat. In deference to the glorious heat of Arizona, I did “reupholster” the bench seat with a genuine, handmade in Pakistan El Paso Saddleblanket rug/throw/thing ($30 at any I-10/Bowlins tourist trap in New Mexico).

        I really dug the truck when I found it, but once I started cleaning it out and found a couple of hand ground high speed steel tool bits in the ashtray, I knew that it was the shop truck I had been looking for.

    • I have a serious love of 60’s chevy trucks.

      One of the nice things about them is they weren’t very “Connectorized”

      I’ve had about 4-5 older cars/vans from the 80s-90s that the biggest issue keeping them running, or fixing them, by far is the cheap brittle connectors. I had a 94 caddy that every time I so muck looked at a connector it snapped, making it likely it wouldn’t stay connected.

    • I had a 1965 C-10 short step-side with 230-6 and four speed, that I traded some logs and firewood for. Very sweet and handy little pickup. It would go just about anywhere even with only 2wd.

      Stupidest thing I ever did was sold it when I went back to college mid-life.

      • I feel your pain….years ago I had a ’63 shortbed, 230 with the 3 on the tree. I’ve kicked myself for selling it for a long time now. When this 64 came along I jumped on it. After having it around a while, I’m kind of digging on the long fleetside even more than the shorty. It just seems to flow and look “right” for it’s purpose.

  12. Keeping vehicles alive in the rust belt requires corrosion inhibition. Chainsaw bar and chain oil applied to the underbody of vehicles will prevent rust and stop any further rusting. Lay it on thick and let it drip off somewhere for a day before driving anywhere. Possibly the best way to do it is with an air powered paint sprayer. Spray it on everything under there. Best time to do it is late summer when the vehicles have been mostly rinsed off by rain and there is still time for the oil to “bake” into everything under there. If you do this every year you will never lose your car or truck to rust. This concludes my politically and environmentally incorrect public service announcement.

    • I’ve got a ’13 Silverado with what I believe is bedcoat shot up on everything underneath……I don’t live in the rust belt but that would definitely be at least a well thought option in a world where everything comes standard

      • I spent the first 2/3’s of my life in Rust-opolis. The vehicles with undercoating/rust-proofing/etc.- anything adhered to the underside, alwasy were the rustiest ones.

        • Rusty Jones in Buffalo had a worthless guarantee. They’d give you your money back if your car rusted through…which all of them did. They just hoped you’d sell your car before then.

    • Yeah, that’s the thing… no matter how diligent you are about keeping the thing running, the rust eventually catches up to you. I “inherited” an ’04 Chevy Express van. Doing the brakes earlier this summer I noticed how bad the rocker panel under the sliding door is getting… can poke my finger right through that thing. It isn’t that bad, a little body work will fix it right up. Unfortunately, while checking out my broken A/C belt, I noticed the frame under the engine is basically rotting away.. A shame really, as the drivetrain only has 66k miles on it. Doing a body-off frame restoration on it myself is out of the question and I can’t imagine what it would cost for somebody else to do it properly.

      • Yeah, Robb- no need to do a resto on an ’04 Chevy- still plenty of ’em around in decent shape- you could just sell yours and get one that is a better long-term prospect.

  13. I have more than a few friends that totally rebuilt old cars. The most current, he bought a 1998 Jeep Cherokee for $1800. It went from shop to shop, – new motor, new suspension/brakes, lift, roof rack and more. The body was gussied up. He has effectively a new Jeep.

    Total cost all in? $12k.

    You can pick nearly any older car and do this. It’s best with Trucks. I had a neighbor do this with a ’65 chevy pickup.

    I myself buy cars and trucks (usually toyota) at about 8-10 years and drive the crap out of them. My current truck is a 05 sequoia I picked up for 10K. Only 100K on it. I’ll have it 10 years or more, easily.

    • This is a great idea, but the catch is getting financing. No bank will touch that kind of money for an older car so you have to get the moola up front.

      • Financing would defeat half the purpose for having such a vehicle! Someone wanting to do such but not having the money, could drive a $1500 beater as they slowly get their intended old keeper in the desired shape; or just save money while driving the beater, with which to purchase and spruce-up the keeper.

        The thing is, INSURANCE companies would view one of these vehicles the same way a bank would- and with so much money being tied up in such a vehicle, you’d want to carry comp and collision on it- but probably with a company that is familiar with classics and specialty vehicles, so you could set an agreed-upon value, in case anything were to happen- worst case scenario being that someone plows into you, and it’s totaled out (which, by standard book value would pretty much occur if there were any damage at all)- The other guy’s insurance co. would want to just give you book value, as if the car were just any car of that age and model- so you’d want to collect from your own insurance co. and then let them have the hassle of subrogating, and going after the other guy[‘s ins. co.]; which would be a lot easier for them, showing that they paid you x for the vehicle; whereas if you or I walked into court and said that our 1995 Glockenspiel is worth 10 times the book value of a typical 95 Glockenspiel, we’d be laughed out of court and end up with a check for $800.

      • Not having the dough upfront is true to some extent.

        Then again, he didn’t do it all at once. Probably took 6 months. And, the drivetrain and suspension were in good condition – he could drive it anywhere while working on it. It didn’t require a frame up. Most of the money he spent was on accessories – like the roof rack, front brush guard, lift kit, wheels & tires.

  14. One of the reasons I lament the extinction of the simple, compact pickup (like a base Ranger or Dakota) or the base Chevy 4.3 work trucks is that you could practically keep ’em going forever if they didn’t rust out. You can’t do that with a lot of contemporary trucks and SUVs.

    But you also have to be willing and able to to the work yourself. Most shops charge in the neighborhood of $100 an hour for labor these days, plus parts markup, so that can make the cost of having other people fix your vehicle prohibitive. Not to mention that fitting your vehicle into a reliable mechanic’s schedule in a timely hashion isn’t easy, either.

    I have an old base model Dakota with nearly 200K that I keep patched together for a winter truck. I paid $1900 for it and I’ve had it for five years. Right now I’m in the process of putting an output shaft bearing into the transmission. The bearing’s only about $30 but if I wasn’t willing to do the job myself there’s no way it would be worth paying what it would cost for someone else to do it.

    The ONLY things I hire mechanics for are tires, alignments and mandatory state inspections. That’s it. But I realize that I’m something of a dying breed…

  15. Eric:

    What are your thoughts about the apex of the existing used car market, with a maximum longevity vs affordability curve, where you can get the most years out of that car…2011-2014? 2006-11? Pre GDI? Pre-turbo/supercharged? Pre-DEF?

    I know this is affected by where you live…rust belt or no…rare or common…

  16. For me, the debate is at what point I trade up from a really old car to a relatively new-ish used car. Screw buying a brand new car.

    My current car has 125K on it and runs great, so until something big breaks, I’ll keep driving it.

  17. New cars have another problem in that most can’t fix them anymore. So many electro-mechanical parts INSIDE the engine that most shade tree mech. can’t do.
    Some examples are variable cam phasers, fuel pump inside the gas tank, electric lifters, multiple computers, etc… And it’s getting worse by the year.
    My guess is, these vehicle don’t make 10 years before they can’t be fixed for what they’re worth.
    I think after fuel injection, CAFE has gone to far and cost us all a lot of money.

    • Test drove a new 2019 silverado yesterday just for kicks. Opened the hood and was shocked at how crowded the engine bay was. It’s hard enough to change spark plugs on the 2000′ era Silverados but this one looked near impossible. The engine was tucked pretty far into the cab that made it near impossible for a regular joe to reach in and do the job.

  18. you can do a similar article on motorcycles. Why young ppl can’t afford them and can’t afford the mechanic. You have to be a home mechanic to own one, or rich to buy a new one and pay someone to fix it. To make matters worse, bikes are computerized and harley acts like a college text book company and constantly makes small changes every year to their bikes so it’s hard to find parts on an older model

  19. The math is real and undeniable yet fear and ignorance continues to fund the banking industry. Every time i read these types of articles im just glad i’m doing what i’m doing. My dad was a mechanic and although he didn’t teach me much he pointed me in the right direction. I always wrench on my own cars. Doing a head rebuild on a 02 civic i got for $500 right now. The timing belt went out and bent the valves and the owners didn’t know what to do with it. My wife complains after i do stuff like this. I tell her the math but then she still wants a new vehicle. For our used paid off vehicles the difference between full coverage and liability was only $10 a month so i upgraded. I do have a $1000 deductible but it’s fine because i usually have $1000 around anyways. Insurance is one of those things most people don’t consider into the cost until after the fact. My 25 year old nephew bought his first new car a 2015 subaru wrx, he paid $27k, plus got suckered in for all the extra warranties and insurances, then with insurance his payment was $1000 a month for 60 months!!!! Until the insurance can be lowered. He still has the car but ended up moving in with his parents. I had a 02 wrx but paid cash $2200 all it needed was a new clutch. I continue to live on my own. Math is great in that its either true or not.

  20. From Eric: “… you’ve already been income-taxed at least twice (federal and state) and now the cretins are going to tax you again on the value of whatever “personal property” you managed to acquire with the remainder?”

    One other tax – inflation. Along with price increases, the value of the fiat paper “money” is decreasing yearly. Whatever is put in the cookie jar (savings) will be worth less – sooner than later. It’s a decision to make – buy now or will inflation (currently about 6%) take away that option in the future.

  21. Hi Eric, There is however another interesting phenomenon these days – and it seems thanks to the way lending is done (ie pushed onto people who cant really afford it for commissions and bonuses bonuses so that the banks can have something to securitise and flog to one another), its easier for someone who’s not too well off to get a brand new car than a used car…. about an year ago a cousin noticed this (he doesnt like monthly payments either)- he was a bit tight and scraping money together for an old banger, while so many of his colleagues (on the same money) went off and got the new car off the lot. Ofcourse all them went to the dealer and financed new cars (some even quite nice ones) on offers of a couple hundred a month (we have PCP financing here which means you only pay depreciation and interest – no capital).

    On the other hand, to buy any used car over 5-7 years, you need hard cash in the bank which most people never have in the west. On top of that, the 800 dollar brake job you mentioned – who has 800 dollars in cash anyways!! Hence, financing – thanks to the modern financial system a guy can easily get what he cant afford, but someone who wants to do the responsible thing finds it near impossible!!

    • Hi Nasir,

      There is much truth to what you’ve written. My neighbors – who are nice but very poor people – somehow have a brand-new 1500 truck in the driveway. It replaced the other brand-new 1500 that got repo’d last year. They also just bought – financed – a $20,000 John Deer tractor. They should be able to use it for about six months before it gets repo’d.

      I feel like an idiot paying my bills and never buying what I can’t afford to pay cash for.

      • Just because you’re broke don’t mean you can’t have a new car…..and often. It’s like the women my wife used to work with, almost all Hispanic. They continually had “new” used cars, not because they couldn’t have paid for them long term, they just blew their money on fast food…..every single day and ate way too much of it(fat, fat, fat….including the kids).

        Wife and husband(if they had one)both worked. OTOH, since we’ve been married when inflation or too high electricity bills or the times when big oil gouged, we’d live frugally(we don’t and never have gone out to eat enough to matter), save when we could and emergencies like the washer or fridge taking the big one were mostly things I could fix since they’re not often machine dead…and even if they were, we’d go buy a new one without all the frills(sorry people, if it HAS to have automatic soap and fabric softener delivery, you’re just lazy) and play catch up for 2-3 months till we were back on track and with fridges, keep your eye on the swap shop and people like my mother who just got tired of looking at the same fridge, would have their old one cheap that might only last another 20 years….or more.

        We rarely have felt like we had “old” vehicles even though they might be 15 years old. My first car, a 67 Malibu Sport, was red, red and red. 5 years old and the carpet(loop pile, real carpet)looked like new as did the rest of the car inside out. It’s not hard when you have full mats and keep the car clean, inside and out and underhood. I’d get asked if I bought new carpet. What I’d do every year of sooner was to remove the carpet and get it a good cleaning including a good washing, leave it on the line to dry and then re-install it and might even spray a bit of Schotch-Brite on it. Before Amorall came along there was Pledge, good old lemon Pledge kept everything shiny and supple.

        Same thing for other, non-worked every day pickups(they don’t stand a chance but don’t have to be trashed). Seats getting worn out? Get a good Indian blanket seat cover with a rifle pocket up front along with other pockets(handguns and change) and they were good to go for another 10 years. Have a rear-end get worn out, no problem, there were plenty in the wrecking yards or behind your neighbors barn where the kid wrecked the farm truck. And the my old ’82 Chevy pickup is still fine body-wise when that galvanized bed and real bumpers made for pushing.

      • The funny thing is that people (particularly woman) tend to look at the guys with the new car and see them as successful, but people who have old cars but have the ability to shell out thousands in cash are seen as bums or something!! The world truly has gone mad……

        That said, one of the best things about owing a car which isnt worth like years of your after tax income, and which you can fix most anything on for cash is that you can drive it however you want…… without bother that you will scratch it or something….. its an amaizingly liberating feeling……. one which anyone who has a new car costing a fortune and with a ton of financing to pay off will probably never get to experience…. but somehow i suspect that may just be the point….

        • We live in a society where people are judged by their stuff. Especially men by women. It’s as if the system was deliberately engineered to suck men into debt slavery.

          Men who shun debt are well, shunned.

        • Amen, Nasir!

          All of my life, I considered it the height of folly to indebt oneself for a car- a quickly depreciating asset. It truly is liberating to own things free ande clear, and even more so things which you don’t have to constantly worry about.

          But it makes perfect sense that today “success” is equated with new cars and indebtedness; and that so many are willing to play that game- because this society has become subserviant to women- so the men bow and scrape before them, and the women can’t find any real men.

          This is why men buy big fancy houses with marble countertops and stainless appliances, and mortgages which require a lifetime of never-ending endeavor- because of women. What man would need that and be willing to enter into servitude for it, if it weren’t the price he had to pay for image of having love, and a family?

    • Being able to do your own wrenching is an invaluable asset when driving older vehicles. An $800 brake job turns into maybe a couple of hundred bucks worth of parts and an afternoon’s work. You can pick up a 15-20 year old vehicle for cheap that is basically solid but needs some TLC, and drive the heck out of it until something really expensive breaks (typically several years or more if you choose well). Repeat as needed.

      I cannot even imagine signing up for six years or more of debt slavery just to buy a car.

      • It has certainly gotten ridiculous to buy a new car. The last one I bought in 2002 was the Toyota Tacoma pickup that I still drive after 227K miles. I am figuring a new long block at 300K which I will have installed by a trusted mechanic because I simply don’t have access to facilities for the work. I paid cash and even back then the dealership attempted to get me to finance the damn thing. I do the typical brake jobs, tuneups (which simply consists of installing new plugs), oil changes and the like. I would never consider buying a new vehicle today and would never consider anything newer than a 2010 vehicle at that. Most of the cruft added to new vehicles strikes me as “tits on a boar hog” class stupidity. As always, OALA, EHOATAS and YMMV.

        • I knew 3 people with 89-93 Chevy pickups with 350’s with TBI who all got over half a million miles out of the engine…and were still running fine. I don’t see the later 5.7’s doing this well, not a one I know of.

          It’s because, in my opinion, they have too much electronic engine controls along with the roller cams which I think caused the 5.7 not to be a long-lived even though I’ve seen lots go well over 300K which ain’t bad at all.

          The 5.3 in my pickup has variable valve timing and even a variable oil pump. I don’t look for it to go as long although at 218K it still doesn’t use oil.

          When I bought it it had some name brand high mileage vehicle oil in it and did some upper end tapping. I got the best oil filter I could find locally and put some Amsoil flush in it, drained that and chunked the oil filter and filled it with Amsoil Premiun 5W30 just like it’s supposed to have. It got dirty fast since synthetic cleans whee out of whatever it’s in. In 4k it used another quart so I changed it and put in fresh plus Amsoil oil filter. It used a very little in 7K or so and I changed it again, once more with Amsoil. It no longer uses oil. I’ve had this happen on lots of high mileage engines.

          On other vehicles that didn’t have really high mileage it’s been no problem at all. Even my diesel leaked a bit of oil because of the add-on filter base to turn the filter side-ways because of 4WD. It quit leaking after a while but began to seep once more. I paid less than $5 for a rebuild kit, O rings and gaskets and it never leaked again. It also went a couple thousand more miles before using a quart.

          That’s been my experience with everything I’ve changed to Amsoil.

          GC, a couple years ago I was looking for a clean, used pickup. I viewed window stickers that had one thing after the other I couldn’t interpret so I called the dealer when looking at a list on a particular pickup one day and asked a salesman to tell me what they meant. We were both looking at the same list. As we went down it, I’d ask about something…..silence, and then he’d say “I don’t know”. We did this for at least 8 different things. He said he’d try to find out. I called back that afternoon. He was baffled, no idea….me either.

          • I[ve recently worked on a couple of mid 90’s Chev pickups/suburbans with 350’s in them…. some carbed (a 1995) some TBI….. Seems in ’96 they went to the Vortec engine, and the sense I get is that THAT was the line in the sand. The 95 still had flat hydraulic tappets, no variable cam timing, an HEI or the newer capacitative distributor… the engine in that truck would have easily gone to half mil miles but the dummies failed to pull over and refill the rad when the water pump seal bailed on him and he kept driving…. until the temp guage went back down, then kept on until the engine just quit running. Turns out the thing got so blinking hot it MELTED the plastic grip attaching the wire for the temp guage to the sensor in the side the head!!!! Melted the plastic “hat” on the sensor itself, too, and aobut six inches of the wire’s insulation. Blew both head gaskets and cracked one of theheads.I’msurprised it did not crack both….

            So I’d put good money into an older Chev, pre-Vortec (which I think started in 96) but the problem is their chassis, gearboxes, suspension/steering etc are nowhere near as strong as Fords…… but then, Ford’s 5.4 variations are just fine.. until they hit about 150 to 175 K, then they are worn out. I think about 1995 was the end of the old 351 Cleveland blocks… what they called the 5.8. Those mills had power, and lasted.

            Best rig I’ve ever had (out of more than 200 different ones) for a workhorse is the 98 Ford E 350 with 7.3 Powerstroke I’ve now had for thirteen years. Bought it with130K on it for a chunk under ten grand. Have put almost nothing into it (two sets of brake pads, originals were thin when I bought it, went to carbon metallic, they lasted a LONG time, and just recently went to extreme service ceramic. Ball joints at about 280K, front discs when I did pads last, at about 320K. Rear shoes still original. Rebuilt the turbo at about 330K as the bearings were worn and I did not want to buy housing and wheel. At 350K it STILL does not use oil between changes, and I’ve extended the change interval to 25K miles. Yes 25K. Does not use any between changes, oil always is clean and retains viscosity and lubricity. Trans is original, never touched, as far as I know it still has original fluid which is still bright pink. NO brown, no smell. Shifts perfectly at the precise point it should. Not bad for a rig I paid <10K to drive home, and have put a quarter million on with hardly any work. Cheapest, strongest, most reliable, hardest working (I've done long hauls pulling heavy trailers an scaling above 16K combination. I'm waiting for the copper pulls me over demands my license convinced its a usual four-wheeler type, and I pull out a Class 1 Combination ticket…. he can't demand the medical because I don't work for hire.
            If I had some money to investI'd try and find a used engine, a match for this one, and buy the rebuild kit and go through it just to have on hand. Prolly do a gearbox as well. That way if either packs in I've got a ready replacement.

            • Any 90’s, or for that matter ’89 or the latter half of ’88 GM pickups are TBI, nothing else. They are ALL had HEI. I never noticed GM being weak in chassis, or steering or suspension. They are/were so much nicer to drive with IFS and the best CV joints to this day, a big deal on hard working 4WD’s and the tightest turning ratios out there.

              I never ran mine far enough to change rear shoes although it had the front pads replaced a couple times simply because the first replacement was with cheap shit. Neither of these brands has a warped disc problem I am aware of. Of course a great deal of that comes down to the driver.

              I look every day at what’s still running out there. I’d say in the 90’s trucks, there’s at least 20 to one GM to Ford still on the road. I know where there are plenty of Ford 3/4 and one ton pickups with fine bodies sitting in the weeds with major problems, mostly engines and some transmissions. I commonly drive by houses and farms with a big yard of dead Dodge’s.

              I rarely see a dead half ton GM from the 90’s and most that are only need an engine or transmission that some half-wit smoked ignoring all those symptoms that tip you off to bad juju, like the heat gauge. Of course you can lose your pickup like a friend lost his Dodge dually due to his wife running into a big, deep cut across a dirt road due to a recent rain. No pickup I know would have survived that.

              My one ton got worked hard and didn’t need much of anything except the drag link at 225K, another 50K it was needed upper ball joints, nothing I’d think twice about on a hard worked 4WD diesel one ton run over all that rough stuff.
              Don’t know how much further a Ford would have gone, longer than I could have ridden in it for sure. That rough-ass rear-end and vague steering along with steer tire eating adds up to what makes people pay more for GM’s.

              Plus, you have the best engine Ford ever put in a pickup. I won’t recommend either Ford, GM or Dodge dual mass clutches to anyone but the alternative isn’t as strong.

              Of course they all ended up making so much torque on their diesels that nothing but auto trans would hold up.

              That’s a lot of miles for a manual trans of any brand.

              The last time I had a rent car, a Dodge 200, I had just gotten out of a Peterbilt daycab. It was like being in a coffin I couldn’t see out of. A friend called and asked how things were. I said I wish to hell I’d taken the Pete cause I couldn’t see except right in front…..and not all that well there. I just can’t tolerate cars anymore. I feel like I’m always going to pull into somebody I don’t see beside me, behind me or coming from the side.

            • Tionico, just wait(you probably have done this)till you have a later, 2010 or beyond, Dodge diesel you have to remove the front passenger wheel, remove the inner fender(plastic bs) to get to the fuel filters….or some models you removed from under the frame in very hard to reach places.

              The NEW pickups of any flavor now have the front wheels very close to the cab. Well, we know what it’s like servicing it, an engine with most of it behind the hood.

              I hope your pickup outlasts you and you never have to jack with all the new bs. The first time I saw a Ford pickup with a 6.0L diesel, my question was “How do you get to the turbo…..or change head gaskets or get to fuel rails?”. A friend who bought one soon found out when the head gaskets blew and they pulled the front clip and body off…..to change head gaskets. He changed to Dodge. Then he had another Dodge and then another. I haven’t seen his latest but I have seen several Duramax’s with 350+ miles that have had 0 mechanical problems….not to say I want one with their common problem of no interior room just like the other brands and plastic everything. I don’t want anything the dash and door panels simply “snap” together…..cause they don’t “snap” back together after a few years.

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