When is it time to get another car? Fix or trade in?
December 14, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Time for a new car?

2004 Maxima. 94kmiles. LOVE this car. Car paid off. No problems until today.

ABS sensor totally failed. $2-3k to fix it.
Motor mount needs replacing
Window keeps opening every time you try to close it. You have to do this funky closing of it for it to stay shut

I've been very good about regular maintenance, use only synthetic oil (drive a lot obviously).

I wanted to keep the car until it died thinking 5 more years? But after today I wonder if I should keep repairing or start to look into another car.

Right now car is worth $7k (if ABS fixed). I have zero money to put down on another car. Probably the only car I can afford right now is a used Altima (low miles <20k).

Keep and fix the Maxima and try to get 5 years out of it? Try (and I do say try, life keeps putting me behind) to save for good money down ($10k is my goal)
Keep it for 1 more year and get something else; trade in value depleating.
Trade it in now while I still have $7k on it and start car payments all over again

I had a horrible used car experience way back when (50k Buick Centrury from hell. Spent $5k on that car and every month was at the shop for a total of another $5k). So I've always bought new since then and traded fast and furious. But I liked having no car payment as of late (I have a kid now, life is different).

My job lately has been questionable meaning this is not good timing either way but I am concerned that if a new job entails driving instead of the train, will this car be a fixer upper or should I just bite it now and get a car w/ a payment plan but lower miles and a warrenty?

When IS the right time to fix vs trade it in? My parents have been fixing up their 1987 Grand Prix so I grew up with the "use it until it dies" thinking.
posted by stormpooper to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total)
Hm. IDK if this works on newer cars, but we always just pulled the fuse on the ABS system when the started to go. Just remember to pump the brakes if you start to slide and ABS is off.

As far as the windows go, eh. My car's windows have all been stuck since I bought it. If it's a big deal, it's probably just the switch. I'd say buy a repair manual, order the part on ebay, and DIY.

How much for the mount?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:21 PM on December 14, 2010

It's hard to imagine how replacing an ABS sensor could cost $2K+. I'd take it to another garage for an assessment before doing anything drastic. Are you still taking this thing to the dealer for service? Because you shouldn't be.

The motor mount and window repair shouldn't be terribly expensive. Not free, mind you, but not the sort of thing to get rid of the car over.
posted by jon1270 at 12:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No dealer analysis yet. Relative is a dealer mechanic (we're getting his pricing not dealers). He said he wasn't sure if he feels confident in fixing and it can be expensive if it's a Nissan fix. Googling the issue everyone else paid $2-3k. Crazy.

Window--less of a problem in decision making about chucking the car. The window has been like this for 3 years. :)

Last motor mount estimate $400 max at another mechanic we were dealing with. Our expectations were less than $400.

Originally it was only the mount and fluids. This brake thing was an out of the blue occurance as of yesterday, increasing the fix/cost.

I'm trying to avoid dealing with Nissan at all costs.
posted by stormpooper at 12:24 PM on December 14, 2010

Okay, I'll bite. I've never heard of an ABS sensor costing $2k to install. That seems astronomical when I see the price of sensors at $130-140 apiece online. Could you do your own repairs?

Also: NTB07-16b is a service bulletin for 2004 Nissan Maximas with certain ABS issues.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:34 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If the $2-3k is ridiculous, good to know. All I heard so far was expensive and my own research into the issue was looking at $2k pricing. My headlight alone is $80 to replace at cost. Crazy.
posted by stormpooper at 12:36 PM on December 14, 2010

Response by poster: And the symptoms are ABS is kicking in every time you hit the brakes. No warning light. It's been 6 degrees where I live and this just happened. Had brakes checked and fixed a month ago.
posted by stormpooper at 12:42 PM on December 14, 2010

Yeah, I'd say pull the fuse on the ABS system until you get the sensor fixed. Drive extremely carefully if conditions are bad.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:46 PM on December 14, 2010

posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2010

As a reference for the ABS, replacing the ABS unit (not sure if this is the same thing as a sensor?) on my 10 year old Audi was "only" 1k. And that was on an Audi, not a Nissan. No way should a Nissan cost more to repair than an Audi, unless very special circumstances.
posted by annie o at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2010

I had an ABS wheel sensor on my 2002 Maxima SE replaced and it cost me around $450, as I recall. Get a new mechanic.

There're no guarantees in this life, but those Maximas are solid cars. If you can get the brake issues sorted out reasonably, I counsel keeping it.
posted by mojohand at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2010

Ah, read your clarification. Probably not a sensor, but the 'master' unit; I could see where that would get pricey. Tough call, but I still go with get it fixed.
posted by mojohand at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2010

When IS the right time to fix vs trade it in?

The cost of repairing cars is generally proportional to what they cost when new. Instead of comparing that $2-3k repair bill to the current value of your Maxima, try comparing it to the cost of a new Maxima (or if they don't make them any more, an equivalent new car)

Most new cars will depreciate by 10-15% in their first year, once your annual repair costs are greater than that amount then I would start to think about trading up.
posted by Lanark at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2010

Yes, pull the fuse on the ABS. I hope you ALWAYS drive carefully, but now also drive it like a non-ABS car. BTW, any other change in braking performance/operation? Next step is to get it checked by a dealer, they should have the equipment to diagnose the source of the fault. Read on for DIY diagnosis.

There are basically two components to an ABS system - the little sensors on the wheels, and the ABS unit itself.

Check the sensors, and ensure that there is no buildup of crud on them, or in the slots in the toothed wheel that creates the modulation of the ABS signal. Sensors can fail, but more likely it is the wiring from the sensor as this is somewhat delicate. Sensors are an easy fix, but not cheap (new). They can be checked with a multimeter (at the ABS electrical connector) by spinning each wheel (by hand).

If you are sure the problem is in the ABS unit itself, get one from a wrecker. It is just an electrical connector and a few brake lines to disconnect, then unbolt the old one and bolt in the new, reconnect the brake lines and bleed the brakes and job done.

I have recently gone through this process on a new used car with non-functioning ABS, my problem turned out to be the ABS unit, replaced that with a secondhand one and all is now fine. I hope yours is fixed as quicly and cheaply as mine.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be cautious with your estimate of what the car is "worth" - you basing that on what people are actually paying, or an offer from Carmax or the like?

Personally I have never owned a new car - my wife's is the closest I come and I'm comfortable with that. I firmly believe that it can never be as cheap to buy new as fix old, regardless of age. But my capacity to live with something may be higher than yours. Not a judgment, just a personal priority.

If you really love the car, though, I'd strongly suggest you just fix it. If you commit to putting the amount of a car payment away every month, hell or high water, you'll be in a better condition to both fix as issues arise and to purchase when the time comes.

And quite frankly, if life keeps getting in the way of saving money for a new car purchase then why will that be different when you have a pay-or-repossessed situation?
posted by phearlez at 1:54 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @phearlez---well exactly. The goal was to use my old car payment as the new "down payment" savings plan. It's been a year since it's been paid off and zero savings to show for. (still trying to figure out the budget/why).

So I totally respect that thinking and wonder about that huge risk. I went into a situation a few years back where amen for the lease being up. I got canned the same day the lease was due. Hooray for "here you can have the car back" before payment/repo was an issue. But it was also a situation that utterly sucked--no car to go on interviews. Generous friend helped us out with that.

I'm trying to rationalize if my parents fixed a 20 something year old beater with odometer flipping, etc. I can live with a car that is only 6 years old with problems at 94k. I bought this car with the intention it was a lifer car. Stupid job at the time forced me to go zero miles to 80k miles in 2 years (hey gotta take a job when it's there). Totally drove this car more than I ever wanted to.

*rubs magic lamp* oh great Maxima, please last another 5 years while I get my shit in order. :)

ABS information was sent to DH as he's with his mechanic cousin. Hopefully it won't be the dreaded $2k. Thanks MeFis.
posted by stormpooper at 2:09 PM on December 14, 2010

The odometer is flipping -the first time-. It's not like the car is worn out or anything. Cars of that vintage are supposed to go 200k+ miles. I have several friends with that nice Maxima, all of them with 250k+.

Yours is finally broken in. It is a stout, well-designed machine. Keep it.
posted by jet_silver at 2:13 PM on December 14, 2010

oops, 2004 - I was talking about 1994 Maximas. Same conclusion. Keep it!
posted by jet_silver at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2010

As for driving without ABS, some anecdata: I have a 1997 Chevy Malibu. The ABS Sensor in my right rear wheel has been out for 4 years. Replacing it requires replacing the wheel bearings for the rear end, $400+. It still drives and stops....
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2010

First, before you listen to anything, did your relative check the error codes in the car's computer to see what the problem is? Do that. Pay the dealer to do it, if that's what it takes. You need to know what the problem is, not what the internet guesses at. And check out that recall- you might be worrying about nothing.

Sensors cost $175 - $225. Can't be more than an hour or two of labor to replace.

(If the control unit was broken, I really doubt it would be actuating. They are supposed to fail "off", not "on".)

Had brakes checked and fixed a month ago.

This might be a clue. See if they messed something up. Someone probably cut a wire or left the plug loose.

Motor mount: Yeah, $400 is probably about right. You can buy cheap ones for $60, but they will fail instantly. It is worth getting the OEM part, since labor can be a pretty big proportion of the cost.

Window: There is a good chance it is just the switch. Even if it is the regulator, shouldn't be all that much.

Commentary: Stick with what you have. You know you have taken care of it, you don't know what the history on some used car is. You could easily have the same problems crop up on another used one. The value of a car is what it will cost to replace it. Someone might only pay me $500 for my car, but it's going to cost me a heck of a lot to replace it. Do the math on what a year of car payments will cost. That's a lot of repairs before you break even.
posted by gjc at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2010

ABS information was sent to DH as he's with his mechanic cousin

Sounds like this guy is going to cost MORE than the dealer.
posted by gjc at 2:33 PM on December 14, 2010

In August 2009, I replaced the anti-lock braking system speed sensor in my 1995 Honda Accord for $280.99. (I seem to recall replacing an engine mount somewhere relatively recently, but I can't find the transaction in my spreadsheet.)

Had I chosen not to replace it, my braking system would have been perfectly safe and functioned exactly as the braking systems I grew up on (i.e., before anti-lock brakes). The only thing you have to keep in mind if you choose not to replace it is that a "regular" braking system doesn't pump the brakes for you, which can matter in an emergency hard braking situation. But the vehicle will be safe to operate.

But as to the question of cost, I'm driving an older car, so the part might be cheaper due to less sophisticated technology or what-have-you. But I'm hard pressed to believe that nine years of technological innovation would increase the ballpark price of a part replacement (with labor) by a factor of ~10. (It's not explained by a Honda - Nissan spread either.) So, get second opinion elsewhere.

As to the question of "do you stay or do you go:" (a) you love the car; (b) presumably it's been reliable; (c) it's reasonably fuel efficient (I'm guessing); (d) it's paid off; and (e) a new car will not preclude maintenance expenses (which are generally higher in newer models). Since the repairs in question are reasonable and eventual as a car ages, you won't be able to avoid them unless you buy new every few years (involving even higher costs over time). So why get rid of it?

P.S. If it makes you feel any better, my vintage Honda has a design flaw in the body work involving the use of water absorbent shock absorption and noise dampening materials. The consequence is something called "Honda Rot," which typically involves rusting out in the rear quarter panels adjacent to the back of the rear wheel wells. I cannot emphasize how much this has annoyed me as driving a "rust bucket" pushes the limits on my fairly laid-back sense of vanity. However, in the spirit of our little recession, I've come to think of it as "genteel poverty chic," and have decided to live with it -- especially since the vehicle is in pristine mechanical condition; gets better mileage than just about all new-car alternatives; and money is tight.
posted by cool breeze at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2010

did your relative check the error codes in the car's computer to see what the problem is? Do that. Pay the dealer to do it, if that's what it takes.

Several of the do it yourselfer auto parts stores will either come plug in a code scanner for you or will lend/rent you one. They're inexpensive enough that it's not uncommon to know someone who owns one; ask your friends or look for local car clubs.

Looking at the Chilton list for replacing the control module and actuator reveals a bit of why this might be pricey - apparently the AC line is in the way.

1.Before servicing the vehicle, refer to the Precautions Section.
2.Drain the brake fluid system.
3.Discharge the A/C refrigerant.
4.Remove or disconnect the following:
*Negative battery cable
*Wiper and linkage assembly
*High-pressure and low pressure A/C pipes to allow access to ABS actuator and control unit
*Harness connectors from ABS actuator and control unit
*Brake pipes
*Bolts and ABS actuator and control unit
5.To install, reverse removal procedure. Refill brake system and bleed the air from the system.
6.Evacuate and recharge the A/C system.
7.Adjust steering angle sensor.

Looking at the info on the wheel sensors there seems to be a simple to remove quick connector to each one. It might be worth disconnecting one at a time or all of them to see if that fixes the issue. Could still be a master issue if it's got a flaw such that it sees a notably different speed from one wheel than all the others.

All that said, I'm with gjc - I wonder if they jerked it up when they worked on the brakes. It's hard not to see that as related, particularly given this bit from Chilton: "Check if foreign objects such as iron fragments are adhered to the pick-up part of the sensor or to the inside of the hole for the wheel sensor, or if a foreign object is caught in the mating surface of the sensor rotor. If something wrong is found, fix it and then install the wheel sensor."
posted by phearlez at 4:32 PM on December 14, 2010

Keep it!

I would think that you'd be able to find some Maxima owners/enthusiast websites where some Maxima experts might be able to give you some more specific direction on what repairs might be needed or how to go about getting them fixed if and when you confirm the ABS problem.

I agree that you can probably pull the ABS sensor and be fine though without the added safety of the ABS.

Also keep in mind that, when you make a major repair, that part of your car is now new and is less likely to fail again (assuming the repair was done well). Even accounting for the cost of major repairs, you'll spend less money overall fixing and old car instead of buying new or new-ish used.

That particular generation of Maxima has a terrific reputation for reliability so I'd put good money on you not having to make any other major repairs like this and even if you keep having to spend money on repairs every month, it'll still be less than a car payment and depreciation on something newer.

Kind of long-shot but some dealerships let their mechanics come in on one day a month and use the dealership's facilities (diagnostic equipment, lifts, etc). Could you get the repair manual for your car and go in with him to do something like replace the motor mount? You might have to invest some time on it but don't be afraid to try tackling some of this stuff yourself. As complicated as a modern car can be, you'd be surprised how many fixes count on having the right tools and facilities rather than expertise.
posted by VTX at 6:12 PM on December 14, 2010

My rule of thumb as to when to give up on repairs and buy new is when the cost of repairs would be half or more of the blue book value.
posted by northernlightgardener at 8:08 PM on December 14, 2010

If money is tight, how is getting back into a payment situation going to be better than springing for some repairs? Nthing the second opinion thing about the ABS - that's nuts.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2010

I drive a 2008 car without ABS. Until recently, no cars had ABS. You can drive your car without ABS, at least for now, so talk to your mechanic to confirm you can safely pull the fuse, then do so.

The window problem is likely that the window's designed to go down if it hits something -- like a finger protection mechanism, essentially -- and something in the path of the window is causing it to think it's hitting something. Lube and inspection of the window channel might be sufficient to fix it, but you're living with it anyway.

The motor mount? Get it fixed, no biggie, but soon so that parts that shouldn't be stressed don't start being stressed.

Then keep the car, since you love it. As it gets older, you'll be more and more likely to find a replacement ABS unit at the dealer (although at 2K new, you may have to beat the rush.)
posted by davejay at 10:01 PM on December 14, 2010

Oh, yeah, and what gjc said: "(If the control unit was broken, I really doubt it would be actuating. They are supposed to fail "off", not "on".)" That's absolutely a reasonable assumption, and the recent brakework is surely a good place to start working. Did you get a disc replaced? The teeth used by the ABS sensor is usually part of the brake disc, and if they put on a non-ABS replacement part without teeth, or broke a few, that might be triggering what you've got. Or perhaps the sensor is just looking in the wrong place. Start there before spending 2K.
posted by davejay at 10:06 PM on December 14, 2010

We have a 1998 Maxima with about 240,000 miles on it and have had Nissans in the past with 200,000+ miles. Our car is definitely not in perfect condition but runs well (has problems like dashboard lights not going on, clock not working, brake light always on, CD player doesn't work -- recently needed repairs to the starter, but that was the first major repair in years and cost a few hundred dollars.). If the car has been reliable in the past and you're hoping to keep driving it for several more years before trading up, I think Maximas have a good enough track record that it's reasonable to hold on to it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:36 PM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: Looks like dismantling the ABS (for now) is the way we're going to go. Motor mount fixed. Window--checking it. Fluids/fuel injection working on it.

Thanks to eveyrone for their insight.
posted by stormpooper at 1:24 PM on December 16, 2010

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