The Economics of “Clinging” to a “Clunker”

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There is more incentive than ever to “cling” to your “clunker” – as almost anything that’s old and paid-for is derisively styled by the people trying to shame-push you into a new car payment – and all that goes along for the ride. Including the surveillance/data-monitoring/driver-controlling “technology” (they always use that word to impart a kind of sophisticated mouth feel to electronics that infantilize).

But what about the disincentives?

Yes, there are some. But – for the most part – they are overhyped, like the cases! the cases! were during the “pandemic.” And for similar reasons. The chief one being to scare you into doing what they want you to do. In the case of cars, it’s to get you out of your paid-for “clunker” and into a new car payment. And also into paying more in taxes and insurance. It (everything) is almost always at bottom about money – and extracting more from you for the sake of them.

But what about those Big Repair Bills? The ones those who want to get you into paying regular bills – every month, for however many years they get you to agree to pay them – use to scare you into agreeing to pay on the regular . . . as opposed to the occasional? It is quite something that some people feel less uneasy about being chained to regular/serial payments for years than accepting the chance they might have to pay for a repair every now and then.

But then, many of the people who’ve bought into this paradigm don’t have the money available to pay for the occasional repair every now and then. Probably on account of their having agreed to make so many regular/serial payments instead.

But – as they say – do the math. And some thinking to go along with it. If you sign up to pay $400 each month for a new car – a very modest monthly payment these days, but just for the sake of discussion – that means you have to come up with $400 every month to make those payments. This means you have $400 less each month available to pay for anything else. Not including what you are probably paying more for to insure the new car.

You have bought “peace of mind” – against the worry that you may have to pay for an unexpected repair. The new car car being new and warranted, so that if a repair is needed, it will be covered by the warranty – as if the latter didn’t cost you something.

On the other hand, if you did not have to pay $400 each month, then each month that passes without having to pay for a repair is $400 more you have available in the event the car you have – your “old clunker” – needs a repair. If you don’t spend that money on something else (another common mistake that backs people into the corner wherein the new car loan seems more “affordable” than paying for an unexpected repair that can’t be financed except by putting it on a credit card at usurious interest) then after just one year, you will have nearly $5,000 in cash available to pay for any repairs that come up unexpectedly.

That is enough to pay for even Big Repairs – the ones they bogeyman up to scare you into making payments on the regular. It is enough, in most cases, to pay for a new transmission in the event your “old clunker” needs one. More than enough to pay for Big repairs such as timing belt replacements.

And the big thing here is that – likelier than not – you probably won’t have to pay for any of that this year. Eventually, yes. A Big Repair will one day rear its head. This is inevitable and as much a part of owning a car as eventually needing to replace the roof or some other such thing is an inevitable part of owning a home, if you own it long enough.

But the odds are ever in your favor – per the Hunger Games – that Big Repairs will be few and far in between. During those in-between times is when you save the money that you’ll then have available to pay for repairs that for the most part won’t be big ones. In our $400/month example, after 72 months – the duration of a typical new car loan and payments on the regular during that time – you will have not paid close to $30,000 just in principal and not counting interest nor what you would have spent on insuring and paying the various taxes on a new car.

That sum will more than cover any Big Repair.

Of course, you will probably not be able to save the whole nearly $30,000 because it’s almost certain you will have to spend money on this or that – i.e., whatever work the “old clunker” you’re driving – needs during that time. But it is unlikely you’ll have spent even half the $30,000 on repairs during that time whereas had you bought into the payments on the regular, at the end of seven years, you’d have spent every cent of that nearly $30,000 – and the kicker is that at that point, you’ll be holding the keys and title to an “old clunker” that will need repairs – which you probably haven”t got the cash to pay for, having spent it all on regular payments.

There is an asterisk to this.

If your old car is a rusty old car then it may actually be a clunker. In italics to reflect the actuality as opposed to the hyperbole.

Not superficially rusty – that being purely cosmetic and of no functional relevance. A “clunker” is no less reliable if it has a few rust bubbles in the sheetmetal. But if anything structural – like the frame – is structurally compromised by rust, then it is probably time to cut bait and buy a replacement.

Which you’ll probably be able to afford – if you haven’t been making payments on the regular.

. . .

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78 COMMENTS

  1. Not more than a few miles from me is a guy who sells classic cars on consignment. He’s got a few acres of them. Some are the classic definition of a ‘clunker’, but most of them have been restored and are no more than $10k to $15k. These are good running cars that will never go out of style. Classic Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers, F250 etc. all of them are over 25 years old.

    My car is over 14 years old and probably not worth more than $3k, but it looks good and runs great. It has a number of safety features that have already been disengaged or removed. The air bags will be the next to go. The goal is to have a car that is as close to a “clunker” as possible without sacrificing any of the traits of owning a traditional automobile.

    One air bag deployment and my car will be totaled and unlawful to drive without a costly new air bag installed. If no airbags are deployed, I can skip that nightmare altogether.

  2. Eric, I always enjoy your articles. I never make car payments, period. My “new” car is a 2005 PT Cruiser which I found on Facebook with 50,000 miles with a blown engine because an oil change place didn’t tighten the drain plug. $1,500 total. I’m fortunate to live in a state with no salt and I do my own repairs.

  3. Totally agree with you Eric. Have had my 99′ Jeep Cherokee, back when they were still making good ones, for almost 20 years now and that old AMC 4.0 still runs great. Plus it’s a 5spd and are as hard as hens teeth to find. Live in the northeast so it’s tough up here with the weather but I still take care of it as best as I can and only average around 3k miles a year. I just have to look at the overpriced junk out their now and all the electronic crap and nanny state BS on them and say NO THANK YOU! All the money I’m saving in new car debt slavery and insurance allows me to have more than enough cash if needed for any repairs.

  4. Age 88 I hope to runout clock with ’01 Rav4 (4wd) plus 2 Saturn twincam SL-2 stick 4 door sedans. Rav4 goes anywhere on ranch
    in heavy mud/snow.
    Both Saturns shutoff fuel @109 slow to 90 then turn back on (avoiding high speed tire reqment for family sedans while same engine coupes with 124 top gearing req’d costly hispeed tires).

  5. That’s an interesting position and has some merit. However, what I have always done since I was in my early 20s and paid off my new car loan early, is to keep putting that same monthly payment aside. Not only for anticipated repairs, but for my next car.  Yes, my next car was a new car also, but I had a huge down payment for it and drove it for almost 10 years while saving my monthly payment again.I moved to buying slightly used cars after that to avoid that First Year New Car depreciation.  He talks about investing, say $4-5,000 into a “big repair” on an “old clunker”… but, what is the Return on Investment? (ROI)  — I have plenty of customers over the years who have told me that after they put thousands of dollars into repairs, they still were having breakdowns and other issues.  So, they sold the car.  They didn’t get a FRACTION of what they spent on repairs back.If you put $2000 worth of work into a 15 year old car with a $1500 blue book value and tried to sell it, you’d be out all that money.If you instead put that $5000 into a “new” used car, you’d get a much better return. I understand the “gambling” aspect that you WON’T have a breakdown on the old clunker, but you could always make that the deciding factor on whether to spend your “car money” on another car instead of getting the clunker fixed.

    • Hi Michael,

      A car is a depreciating appliance, not an investment.

      So you also have to factor in the loss of value over the course of the time you own the car from the time you bought it into the cost of it. Typically, a new car will have lost 40-50 percent of its new car value after six year, so if you’d bought a new car for $30,000 it cost you appx. $12k-$15k in lost value alone. This does not count the payments you’ve made on it.

      Yes, you have the chance of a big repair – and the chance of various smaller ones – with an old “clunker.” But these are maybe’s while depreciation and monthly payments are certainties.

  6. It seems the engines would last for ever in these newer vehicles. The manufacturers have countered that by integrating electronic systems to the point of stupidity. I have had some great “Clunkers” turn into bricks because of alarm system failures, and endless bad sensor hunts. It ruins cars that really have nothing wrong with them.

    • Au contraire.. as a serious mechanic of now nearly six decades I can tell you toda’sengines are a joke when it comes to engineering.
      Of late I have had more major engine repairs oon “low milews” (under 150K) than I ever got with erlier production models. Most of them have been head gasket issues. Uncle Stoopud have made so many idiotic emands on the manifacturers to “save weight” there is no lminger sufficient metal for the cylinder heads tolast. The absolute worset case scenario was back in about ’04 when Ford/IHC were FORCED to redesign perhaps one of the stringest engines ever designed for non-commercial vehicles and resulted in the hasty untested (not enough time to test) 6.0 litre disster. Within 125K those heads would break down and result in a repair bill, just after warranty expiration dates, of six to ten thousand. I am right now dealing with a [air of small block Chev heads on a boat.. produced in 1995-6, so lightweight the metal is not stabl. I have located a pair of eighties vintage heads that weigh about twenty p[ounds eacn more. I can SEE where the metal was “saved” on the “new improved” ones.

      Uncle Stupid have mandated so many comples control systems (variable cam timing is an unitigated disaster and has NO PLACE on a passenger car light duty service vehicle) that not only lokes to fail but is VERY costly to repair. Nissan V6, for example. heads were so unstable they blew the gasket, waer leak and buring coolnt mix. Because ot the twin overhead cams and VCT system, the labour to redo the heads was near wenty hours. Parts were several hundred ore because of the “trick stuff” Uncle Stooopud mandates. For the price of repairing this old beater truck he could have gone and goten a used earlier model car.
      I see more and more of this idiocy the newwer the engies are. Toyota tiny car, not electric, VCT system went south, he dumped the car for cheap and bought new. It was less than ten years old.

      So no, today’s engines are NOT strong any more.

      My two rides: 1985 Dodge/Mitsubishi tiny trick, turbo diesel engoine fove speed, 200K hen I got it, now 228 K, former owner just gave up, “get it out of my driveway I will sign the title”. I spent less than fifty bucks to replace the fuel system plumbing and filter system with solid reliable new hises etc. Had to buy tyres, about $200 total for five good used. Ball joings and drop arm, total parts <$100. Three hours labour. My other ride is a Ford van with 7.3 Powerstroke. I bought it at 130K, it now has 408K. Front brakes, shocks, water pump, fuel lines, Ball joints overdue, rear brakes original untouched. It was totalled when parked, I bought the wreck back from the other guy's insurance company, spent $500 for ALL the crash parts. I have spent more money on tyres (new Toyos as needed) Starts and runs every day. My total out of pocket for both rides is well under $1K

      Best policy is to run solid older cars, but keep one credit card empty against the day you DO have a big repair bill. Plop down the card and get it done, then work hard to pay it back to zero soon.

    • You’re reading my mail Rail,

      My alarm system went on the fritz about a year ago. Horn would start honking, lights flashing for no apparent reason. I finally just removed the fuse for the horn. One of the unintended consequences is that I no longer get into altercations with other motorists after I hammer down on my horn.

      There’s another safety feature that requires me to engage the clutch prior to starting the car. That little piece of plastic broke off so now I have to reach down and push it in with my finger. The unintended consequences are that I’m much more limber than I used to be and any modern day hacker will probably never suspect such an old school hack for preventing theft.

  7. I have a 1993 Toyota truck that just won’t quit. I spray the underneath with Amsoil Heavy Duty metal protector every couple of years. So far , not a bit of rust. I have people ask me if I would sell it a few times a month. Nope….I told my wife to bury me in that truck. She said “I thought you wanted to be cremated.” I told her, “That is what the ashtray is for.”

    • Ha! “That is what the ashtray is for.”

      Rust free ’93, nice.
      The frame over the axles on my ’94 finally rotted through & the fenders are more see-thu, than not. I’m certain Eric would have junked it years ago.
      I’m debating if I want to weld/fix the frame & just use it off-road, or part it out, or just flat-out sell it.
      …It amazes me how much$ nice ones are selling for. Which means, I’ll never have another.

  8. I have a 2000 F-150 which has 363,000 miles on it. I am hoping to make it to 500, 000. At the rate I am driving it, that will take the rest of my life to accomplish. The largest repair I have had to make was replacing the slave cylinder a few years back. The largest problem with it right now is that the seat is badly degraded and needs to be replaced.

    Occasionally, someone will say to me, “Why don’t you buy a new truck?” My answer is always the same. “I can afford to make repair payments a lot easier than I can truck payments. Besides, even new vehicles need repairs and when something in a modern vehicle goes bad (usually electronic), the cost of repairing it is sky high.”

    End of argument. I’ll stick with my old clunker, thank you.

    • Ditto that, Roger –

      I’ll probably need to put a clutch in my ’02 Nissan pick-up sometime within the next couple of years. Better $400 once (for the clutch kit) than $400 a month, for years!

  9. I would expect the old clunkers made before 2000 to last much longer than the new yet to be clunkers made after 2000. I have always owned used vehicles for the most part and had good luck with them. My last purchase of a “new” unused car was 1973. It’s nice not having a car payment. Especially for something that losses value every day.

  10. 398,000+ on the 1998 Camry clock. all original except wear and tear items . bypass oil filtration (don’t be an obtuse and mock this, if you don’t have a bypass filter system you have a lot to learn), original a/c charge still blows ice cold (thats over 25 years of working a/c no service needed). Replacing lcas, tie rods and ends, recently did all 4 strut assemblies, climate blower motor, vent control motor, evap canister. Yeah you gotta replace parts, but cmon…..bypass filter put on at 150,000 miles.

    • That’s awesome! I just learned so much about bypass filter systems and now I really want one for my Subaru. Oil is so critical, especially to turbocharged engines like mine!

  11. Chinese EV’s pile up in Europe….slaves don’t want EV’s…

    Imported vehicles are seriously piling up at European ports, turning them into “car parks.”…there is no dealers to send them to….

    Automakers are distributors are struggling with a slowdown in car sales as well as logistical bottlenecks that make it hard to alleviate the buildup of new, unsold vehicles.

    Some Chinese brand EVs had been sitting in European ports for up to 18 months, while some ports had asked importers to provide proof of onward transport, according to industry executives. One car logistics expert said many of the unloaded vehicles were simply staying in the ports until they were sold to distributors or end users.

    https://www.zerohedge.com/economics/where-unsold-evs-go-die-belgiums-ports-drowning-under-glut-chinese-imports

  12. The tax slaves can’t afford these $50,000 new cars….

    The tax slaves paid so much tax they can’t afford to eat….

    ……and the control group printed so many dollars…. the tax slave’s dollar is only worth 2 cents now…..

    Starbucks, Mcdonalds and now Tyson Foods report their poor customers are broke….

    Tyson sells fake meat…coming soon….bugs….insects….

    https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/tyson-foods-warns-low-income-consumers-are-cracking-under-inflation

    • One G7 country has a solution for slaves in poverty (or homeless, depressed, mentally ill, addicted, disabled, obese, etc)…..free MAID….

  13. I’ve had beaters all my life. Always paid cash. My favorite is the 2 wheel drive Chevy TBI pickups. If I didn’t live in the North East I would still be driving my first one.
    I’m driving a 92 now that I paid $1200 for back in 2015 . Easy and cheap to work on. Don’t even need to Jack it up for oil changes. My state has yearly vehicle inspections and as long as drive a 1994 or older with OBD1 you don’t get hooked up to the states computer. You just get a visual inspection.

    • Yep, you nailed it. Road salt. If I never drove anything ever again in my life but a ’92 pickup, I’d be perfectly happy. But ones worth working on are pretty scarce these days… and not nearly as cheap as they once were.

  14. I always see deals on older vehicles for sale that need some work.
    My latest snag:
    – 2003 VW Passat wagon V-6 4-Motion with 84K
    …had an oil leak (pan) and coolant leak (heater core)…body is in excellent condition

    Also just snagged:
    – 1998 Honda Shadow ACE 1100 with 4,800 miles …unusually good condition…time to ride once again!

    • On a side note…I had to remove my whole dashboard assembly, in order to replace my leaking heater core on the Passat. Heater core and evaporator are removed as a unit from the vehicle. Quite a tedious process.

  15. I live in clunkerheaven. 2011 Subaru (180K), 2007 Saturn Sky (40K), 2005 Ford Escape (245K), 2003 Land Rover Discovery (200K), 1972 MGB (unk).
    I tell the wife, the best time to buy a car is when you don’t need one. I think I’ve just about played that line out though. My neighbor has kept his Dad’s 80’s S10 pickup stored for 30 years. He’s getting older and will sell someday. Six is my limit, I swear Hon.
    I saved enough by wrenching clunkers (and liability only ins.) to put both kids through undergrad debt free.

    • All the other layoffs aren’t helping. I’m shocked at the number of people in my world whose jobs have went away in the last few weeks.

    • Maff is rayciss…don’tcha know???

      LOL

      The only reason I’ve achieved any degree of financial success is to spend less than I made…and for most years of my life it meant driving clunkers to save money and stay afloat.

      Relocated Yeti, the layoffs you’re seeing now???
      LOL, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for what’s coming…

      Hope you’ve planned for the worst!!!
      Because it’s well on it’s way…

      • I’m old. I’ll be fine.

        I’m just pissed off on behalf of my kids. I told them the other day that I’m planning to work until they plant me to make up somewhat for not doing more to stop the monsters.

  16. I would be still bitterly clinging to my 03 Tahoe, but the fucking road salt had other plans. It really is the worst – changing the wheel bearing/hub assembly was an adventure in brute force.

    Out here in CO I see a ton of “clunkers”, to the point that I am on the prowl for a pre-retardation vehicle. Amazing how many 80s and 90s Toyotas and Subies are still running around clean as a whistle.

  17. I have been pretty good at keeping old junk cars alive over my lifetime. Better than most people, I would say.

    First of all, you have to get a “good” one. Some vehicles simply suck, and had poor engineering or quality control, and they will give you hassle that well-engineered vehicles won’t. I had a couple of Ford Contours 20 years ago, and while the engines were OK other components, particularly suspension and wheel bearings, were constant failure points. They were known as shitty cars. By contrast 4-cylider Rangers were known for reliability. Had one of those, too.

    Even if you get a “good one,” most designs have a maintenance or repair item that is a known issue and you should expect to deal with it — Subaru cylinder heads, or Ford 5.4 spark plugs, for instance. If you can find a product line with few or no “known issues,” it is a blessing.

    You need to have the time, ambition, knowledge and space to work on it, and you have to be willing to do those “big jobs” yourself. I did an output shaft bearing on a manual transmission in a Dodge truck a few years ago that required pulling both shafts out of the cases. It only cost me about $200 overall but it would never have been worth it to pay someone to do it. Similarly, I put an electric power steering rack in a Ford two years ago, had to drop the front subframe to get it out. It would have been a $2000-2500 job easily to have a shop do it, but the car was only worth MAYBE that much. It was a hell of a lot of work but I did it for under $200, including aligning it myself, and have gotten an additional 2 1/2 years out of the car, which now has 207,000 on the odo.

    MOST people will not or cannot do those jobs themselves. I can fix almost anything, but as I get older my ambition has waned, particularly since I have to do everything in a one-car unheated garage packed half-full of other crap. Some people do not even have that, though.

    Well, my list of jobs is piling up, I had better get off the damn internet. Need to do an exhaust on one car, shocks and parking brake on a truck, and finish the motor swap on another truck that I have been putting off for a couple of years.

    Never had a car payment, though… ever.

    • Eric had a good article recently on lifts. If I get another older vehicle I will definitely have one in the budget. Unlike a certain VP, my days of working on my back are over.

  18. Buy an old ice vehicle….there is parts available…. for awhile…and techs know how to fix them….

    Broken EVs Head Straight to Junkyards As Repair Costs Are Unbearable!

    Do not buy an EV…… or a plug in hybrid…almost as bad…

    The new ice cars are too complicated too……many problems, but better then EV’s….

    There is very, very few techs that know how to fix them….there is very few parts available….and parts are very expensive….these EV’s are so complicated that it takes weeks or months for diagnostcs…your car will be gone for months…lol

    These EV’s have multiple systems that have to interact to run properly….this rarely happens and no one knows how to fix that…….huge software problems

    They are dependent on frequent, over the internet, expensive, software updates which almost never work properly….so your car is glitch filled…an unreliable, non running, lawn ornament…

    It is so bad some are being scrapped…unfix-able….

    after a very minor accident….all the same problems…but also a fire hazard…..so they get scrapped…..

    There is very, very few techs that know how to fix them….career opportunity…

    The techs are not paid enough…so there is a shortage….

    dealer charges $130 an hour?….tech gets $30?….dealer will have to charge $200 an hour? and pay tech $100 an hour?…..to get inline with plumbers pay, etc….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS13Y9-ZWSU

    • These EV’s have multiple systems that have to interact to run properly….this rarely happens and no one knows how to fix that…….huge software problems….GM is the worst….

      60 computers?…..all with defective software all trying to talk to each other…lol….and it is doing all the driving now….and will kill you….safety…haha…

      It took decades to perfect ice cars to run perfectly….(now they are going to scrap therm)..EV’s the same …it will be decades to get these abortions to run properly….lol

  19. Count me as a clinger too. My super reliable and easy to work on daily driver is 45 years old, and our newest vehicle is our (still brand new looking) 2011 Honda Pilot 4×4 for scooting the family around and for longer trips.

    When will I buy a new car with all of the gadgetry? NEVER.

    • Philo What’s your 45 year old driver? That would be a 1979 of some kind. I have a 2006 Honda Pilot. Mostly reliable and highly available parts.

      • Yep, it’s a 79 Pontiac Firebird Formula with a small block Chevy. Old reliable. It needs body work and paint. It had a crappy silver paint job at some point, then it baked off in the sun. It’s ratty, but I like it.

        I always tell the wife you can tell those Honda Pilots are good vehicles because you still see a ton of them on the road.

  20. 2010 Honda Accord with 200,000 miles. I figure it’s only about halfway through it’s lifespan. Try and take it from me.

    • Replace the cam belt within specified interval, and at the same time replace the water pump. Take the time and spend another five bucks nd get the GMB brand. They come with NEW high grade bolts. USE them with a touch of antiseize. Trust me, you do NOT want topull that engine and dig busted off butter bolts from the cheap pump ou of the front of that aluminium block.

      If you have to ask how I know about that, you’re too dumb to be working on your own car…… no insult intended.

  21. I asked an acquaintance of mine recently which is actually better for the environment, his new EV or the V8 Mustang I’ve been driving since I bought it new in 1992. It’s clear which is better for my personal economy, but my contention that the older ICE Pony car is much better for the environment as well made his eyes glaze over. “V8 bad” is about as coherent an argument as he could muster.

    Fortunately for me the aftermarket for Mustang parts is enormous. I imagine there will be parts available long after I’m gone, barring a gub’mental edict. FWIW I haven’t even had to replace the clutch yet. Ford made a good car with mine.

  22. Why would you cling to a ‘clunker’ when you can zoom across the landscape at 220 mph?

    ‘The Fresno River Viaduct in Madera County is one of the first completed high-speed rail structures. At nearly 1,600 feet long, high-speed trains will travel over the riverbed and will run parallel with the BNSF Railroad.’ — CA High Speed Rail

    Then the nattering nabobs of negativity start their perfidious pecking:

    ‘this is the most remarkable human achievement ever, 1600 feet of high speed rail after 9 years and 11 billion dollars. it takes about 5 minutes to walk 1600 feet, so a high speed rail for that is a really big deal.’ — billy markus

    ‘People will be teleporting between planets by the time California achieves high speed rail service from Merced to Bakersfield.’ — Jonofarcadia

    ‘It will be home to thousands of homeless long before a single train travels.’ — Mark Escens

    https://shorturl.at/fITV0

    Comicfornia: come for the beaches; stay for the laffs! 🙂

    • “Then the nattering nabobs of negativity start their perfidious pecking:” Wondrously whimsical wordsmithing, Jimbo!

    • I could make that round trip Fresno to Bakersfield on my bicycle in four days max, far faster than taking the “high” speed rail.

      I have wondered if the name “high speed” isn’t accurate despite the huge length of time the thing is taking. For some folks in Clifornia, everything is “high”……..
      (put on yer Cheech and Chong accent now…..)

  23. Amen Eric!
    My ‘01 and ‘03 Corollas have saved me thousands over the years; the only expensive repair was a replacement exhaust system for the’03, otherwise just the normal maintenance of oil/filter changes, tires, brakes, battery, etc. Unfortunately the rust is starting to make headway on the frame since up here they put more salt on the roads than there is snow but since I’m retired I avoid driving in the slush as much as possible. Besides not having monthly payments the savings on insurance and excise taxes is a big plus.

  24. I REALLY hate the term “clunker.” It brings back bad memories of 2009, Obuma, and the “Cash for Clunkers” program that scrapped 700,000 good running and driving vehicles. I was sick to my stomach for months as the Dems blew through $3,000,000,000 in $3500 and $4500 increments given to morons to turn in their qualifying (read: gas-guzzling) cars and trucks. I watched in horror as videos of technicians reluctantly poured radiator repair fluid into the crankcases of turned-in vehicles and then had to rev them until they blew up. Senseless destruction…plus the engines became hazardous waste and ended up in landfills all over the country. I never call an old vehicle a clunker anymore because of this.

    • Isn’t it ironic that the “clunkers” increasingly appear to be the newer cars (particularly within the past 5-10 years or so) while many cars made 20+ years ago are still running? It’s a wonder that, during the COVID hysteria, the government didn’t also try to label our own immune systems as CLUNKERS in need of brand new, untested COVID vaccines when they were relentlessly pushing mRNA COVID jabs on the public. Instead, it treated natural immunity as something that didn’t exist or a conspiracy theory advocated by ANTI-VAXXERS.

  25. The other big problem will be spare parts. As the V6 becomes a museum piece and the LS is outlawed, many of the bolt-on parts will also go the way of the VCR and cassette player.

    But there’s hope, in the form of 3D printing and “desktop manufacturing.” It’s actually not all that hard to build a small foundry, print up mold on a 3d printer and finish on CNC or by hand, depending. The processes still require a fair amount of skill, but it’s possible. Combine this with some open source CAD and designs and maybe there’s a way to keep the old girl running a little longer. It’s just steel and rubber after all. And there will probably be people who come up with clever substitutions for parts too. “Print up this bracket, and grab a bushing for a 2021 F-150,” that sort of thing. Once you get the library built it’s pretty easy to get into production.

    Just needs someone who knows about this stuff to stop making AR receivers and chess pieces and move up to the big league.

    • That’s why I suggest sticking to mass market vehicles that there will be so many of, it’s nearly a certainty that parts will be available from someone with the skill and desire to make money. F-150, Corolla, Silverado, Tacoma, Equinox/Escape, et. al.
      Once you get off into the weeds on some of the more unique/one-offs that may be initially cheaper (for the same reason), good luck finding a reliable source of parts.
      *All this changes when FedGov outlaws (by fiat) all the aforementioned.

  26. Drove my daughters 94 Corolla yesterday that I saved and did not sell off after they left the country. Drives like a top, just needs battery charging now and then.

    I was thinking as I drove the Corolla that there will be *a day* in the near future, I was damn smart to keep a low-tech car that gets 30-35MPG around town and is discreet. The day being the black swan event heading our way just ahead of first Tuesday in November.

    • Good stuff, Hans!

      That ’94 Corolla is brilliant because modern yet relatively simple and extremely durable. Barring rust and with proper care, that car can be kept going almost indefinitely.

      I’m thinking seriously about an old Beetle – which is even simpler and extremely easy to keep going “on the fly.” Either that or a diesel JDM Hi-Lux, but I can’t afford the latter just now. The Beetle, maybe.

      • Eric,
        When I was searching for a car for my two daughters, I asked my old trusted mechanic (same guy who did restored my Datsun 2000) what car I should look for…his response was; are you kidding me? Only the Corolla- mid-nineties to early 2000’s. He said first, Japan metallurgy was far better in their approach in that Detroit believed in hard rings and soft cylinder walls, while Toyota believed in hard cylinder walls and soft rings that expand during wear. Toyota built the car to the 10,000 tolerance and lap seated the valves to the cylinder head. The Corolla was designed and built to go 300K with oil changes mainly as service needed.

        I don’t know of any other vehicle that was designed to go this far and last this long. An amazing achievement in the auto industry, which is now a lesson lost to EV’s that last 8 years at which the batteries wear out and becomes a toxic worthless brick.

        • ‘Detroit believed in hard rings and soft cylinder walls, while Toyota believed in hard cylinder walls and soft rings that expand during wear.’ — Hans Gruber

          Essential facts like these, which turn out to be worth an extra 150,000 miles, should be more widely known. Thanks!

          Needless to say, we are not going to glean such vital info from the regime stenographers of Jalopnik and Automotive News.

        • There is Volvo P1800’s that went over one million miles….and Mercedes’s diesels too…

          I owned a Volvo PV544…I couldn’t break that thing…I tried…as a 16 year old driver….

      • Someone voted a Meyer’s Manx, VW powered, air cooled, dune buggy as the ultimate cockroach car…the last running vehicle on earth…..

        Simplest car ever made, mostly fiberglass..no rust…..bulletproof, parts available, simple to repair drive train, off road capable,

        the ultimate cockroach car…the last running vehicle on earth…..what is your pick?…..

        • Hi Frankie,

          The nice thing (one of them) about old VWs is there were so many made that it is still possible to find a solid one. And I doubt finding parts for one will ever be a problem – at least not during the lifetime of anyone currently alive.

    • I’m 77 and don’t drive my ’06 Corolla much, about once every 2 weeks. I kept needing to charge the battery since there’s some sort of small parasitic drain. I solved that though by putting a heavy duty knife switch (from amazon) and now I can avoid the charging as the bi-weekly drive to the grocery store recharges it enough.

  27. My neighbor is the rare example of a younger man with a good head on his shoulders. Drives a 2005 Avalanche which is essentially the same as my 2000 GMC Sierra. We put a new rear main seal in it last year. He called me a few days ago to get an opinion on a sound the steering wheel is making. I told him that’s the ball joints, not the steering column.

    If he decides to tackle it, I’ll help as much as I can. Never done it but watched a couple videos. I’m at the age where I’m more inclined to take it to a shop, tho.

  28. We did this with our Lincoln. No payments now for going on 13 years, 110k miles and nothing more than tires, battery, brakes, oil, and filters. Now we have a parasitic battery draw which requires a new control module. Problem is it took some time to find it, and its a rebuilt with only a year warranty, total cost for the whole deal, 1500$. A little pricey but having no monthly payments, priceless.

    • ‘Now we have a parasitic battery draw which requires a new control module.’ — Norman Franklin

      It’s axiomatic that more chip-driven control modules reduce vehicle reliability, compared to 20th century electro-mechanical components. If only there were consistent, long-term reliability data to prove this assumption.

      In its absence, I assert the basic knowledge of any mechanic or engineer, that more complexity, more parts, more circuits and more chips inexorably lead to more failures. Let us open our hymnals to Chapter 9 of Peter Wilson’s The Circuit Designer’s Companion:

      ‘The failure rate of an electronic assembly is roughly equal to the sum of the failure rates of all its components. If the assumption holds, then reducing the number of components will reduce the overall failure rate. This illustrates a very important principle in circuit design: the highest reliability comes from the simplest circuits. Apply Occam’s razor (“entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”) and cut down the number of components to a minimum.’

      https://tinyurl.com/259fumv4

      This elementary maxim is now anathema at Govco Motors. Vehicles from the 1990s to early 2000s probably achieved the pinnacle of long-term reliability. Now, like US life expectancy, long-term vehicle reliability is falling. The empire is dying, and its chip-driven throwaway devices are turning to shit, as they were designed to do.

      • I think you’re correct Jim. The 90s was the sweet spot for long term reliability, just before the safety nazis went all in. I should have kept my old 96 Ranger. Now the wife thinks she wants a brand new car. We’ll probably seek out an identical, under 50k mile, same year/same model MKX, then keep the old one for parts.

      • Aerospace for 35 years, manufacturing engineering. Watched the design engineers “do the math” in a design/build meeting to ensure the flight control system in work that day would meet the reliability requirements. Even things like connector plugs are part of this math. From a statistical perspective you’re lucky you car starts, ever!

        So, modern auto electronics are a roll of the dice and more maddening is the interconnection of all that stuff – touchscreen goes blank, no readout for your heating and ac control. Older designs like my ‘05 Jeep the HVAC was a separate module not dependent on the nav screen. Even older my ‘79 Pontiac no electronics in the HVAC, took all of an hour to sort out and fix “no power” to the ac clutch and blower motor. Schematic, find the culprit wire, replace.

        • Likewise, I reviewed FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) for mass transit vehicles. FMEA originated in the US military during WW II.

          Probably auto makers do some rudimentary FMEA in an attempt to limit warranty repair costs. I doubt, though, that reliability beyond the 100,000 mile mark is of the slightest interest to them.

          Indeed, if vehicles could be designed to reliably brick themselves at 120,000 miles, but not before, that’s exactly what today’s sleazy device makers would do.

        • Automotive schematics electrical connectors are proprietary garbage designed to keep consumers confused and service department in business.

          When avionics manufacturers gave up the same obvious nonsense and went to standard reliable mil spec dsub a huge percentage of “problems” vanished like magic. Exactly coincident with introduction of software and database updates. New problem for new solution.

          Quiet sky > empty highway

  29. Well said Eric. My newest car is over 20 years old now (but doesn’t look its age). In the last couple weeks one car got its annual brake inspection and caliper service. The other one got new rear shoes and a warped front rotor replaced. Parts cost probably less than $75.00. Labor cost saved probably about $500.00 at today’s prices! One advantage to owning a car long term is you can buy the parts when you find them on sale and install them years later.

    Yesterday my buddies wife pointed out that if I had only one daily driver I would have less parking and maintenance issues. He pointed out to her if I did that then they wouldn’t last 40 years. She just stared back not getting it.

    With inflation my old cars are now worth more than what I paid for them.

    • My ‘03 Escape got a new fuel pump assy last week, sending unit for the gas gauge failed. Chicom pump less than $50, thanks to a sensible design Ford has an access hatch under the rear seat and quick connectors for the fuel lines. One Y tube video later good to go.

      Oh and remember even if you find one your “USA made” pump has Chicom parts.

  30. ‘There is more incentive than ever to “cling” to your “clunker”’ — eric

    Two vintage (>25 yrs) vehicles from the late Nineties are my daily drivers.

    Number 1 reason: they are not obese. The compact SUV weighs 2,800 lbs; the 4WD pickup 3,600 lbs. Such small, light vehicles with manual transmissions are unavailable new, at any price.

    Number 2 reason: no telematics. These vehicles have no cellular connection. They neither rat out my location and speed, nor do they ‘update’ software or firmware while I sleep.

    Number 3 reason: no nanny tech. Driving without the seat belt on, which I sometimes do, only illuminates a little red warning light on the dashboard. If I feel like opening the door to back up, the vehicle doesn’t stop me, or turn off the radio to demand attention.

    Fundamentally, I despise contemporary fat-bottomed, chip-encrusted Govco-mobiles. I don’t want that shit, and I won’t buy it. When it comes to 21st century vehicles, I am not a car buff anymore. They drove me away with their bloated crap products.

  31. As you say, Eric, rust is the big killer. Not all wintery states throw salt with abandon to clear road ice but, it’s enough to make your serviceable vehicle a rotting hulk.

    It’s enough to make you think GovCo doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

  32. Yeah, that rust can be a problem. Last year I junked out an ’07 Escape for that reason. That’s practically a new car, on my scale of doing things. Didn’t matter to me that the outsides of the rear wheel openings were bubbly, and finally a bit lacy. But, every time I got under it, that longitudinal frame member on the driver’s side, rear, looked sadder and sadder. When the hole in the body that accommodates the upper end of the right-rear shock absorber enlarged itself to the point where said upper end was a banging, clanging free agent — no worries; two great big thick fender washers sandwiched the body and spread the load to where there was enough thinning sheet metal left to hold. It did fine until a hand-sized chunk of that sheet metal broke free entirely. Then, when I was under there contemplating some other MacGyver-style improvisation to extend the life a bit longer, I noticed that three-fourths of the cross-section of that frame member was now made of air. Hmmmm. Reluctantly, I concluded that it was time to look for another beater, which I soon turned up in the form of an amazingly rust-free ’96 Ranger. And I got $300 scrap value from the boneyard for that rusted-out Escape. Oh, well — nothing’s forever.

  33. This is exactly true Eric. The same could be said for health insurance. Go without it when young and/or relatively healthy and save at least 800 month. Add that up over years and you could probably pay out of pocket for even an operation (paying the cash price). But…but…but what about if you get cancer or something big????? Cross that bridge when you come it. Do not ransom your present for a future that may never come.

    PS: My clunker “golf car” Honda Fit is limping its way to it’s tenth birthday.

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