Choose which beater to keep
August 31, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Which beater would you keep?

Following-on to this post...

So, now, our son has moved home, and our house is full-o-crap. In an unexpected development, my wife's employer has given her a 2010 Honda Fit, to replace my wife's high-mileage Nissan Maxima. Very cool!

However, this has left us in a quandary...

Our son is currently driving a beat-up '97 Jetta. It has...issues. As in, the automagic tranny often doesn't like to go into reverse. Otherwise, it's been more-or-less dependable for awhile now (or, as dependable as an old VW can be)

The Maxima isn't without issues, either. First, it needs a new clutch. Second, it has almost 400,000 miles on the clock. Third, as do most VQ engines with high-miles, it's using a little oil now. Not bad consumption, but it's definitely using.

So, we're trying to decide whether to sell the Maxima for whatever we can get and keep our son driving the Jetta (and pray the tranny doesn't fail completely), or junk the Jetta ('cause it isn't worth anything), put a new clutch in the Maxima, and let him drive that until the time comes for him to move to California. It's a real toss-up for us.

So...How would you vote?

Here's the specifics on the cars...
'97 VW Jetta GL
• Close to 200k on odo.
• Troublesome reverse in tranny. Only fix is to replace tranny. $$$$
• Beat to hell. Dents n dings. Rust spots.
• Typical VW dependability (VW owners know what that means)

'01 Nissan Maxima
• Close to 400,000 on the odo.
• Needs new clutch. Estimate is @$800.
• Needs at-least mid-grade gas. Supposed to get premium.
• Some rust forming around rear wheel arches.
• Uses a little oil.
• Has new radiator, steering rack and tie-rod ends.
• Has been a very dependable car.

My gut says give him the Maxima. Thing is, the money we might get from selling it would sure help with his "move to Cali" fund. A downside on him driving the Maxima would be the increased gas cost for him. Insurance would be a bit higher on the Maxima, too.

The variables are making my head assplode.
posted by Thorzdad to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total)
Sell BOTH, and use the combined funds to get something else, something more reliable than either of these?
posted by easily confused at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

are you absolutely sure the jetta isn't worth anything? don't look at the blue book value, look at things like VW hobby boards. i would be very surprised if it doesn't have some pieces and parts a hobbiest/dealer would want.

i like easily confused's suggestion - sell them both and get him something with less miles.
posted by nadawi at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2011

At best, we might be able to get $2000 for the Maxima (high miles, needs a clutch). We might be able to get $600 for the Jetta (bad tranny, lots of dents, was rebuilt, etc.) So, at best, that would give us $2,600 for a car. We don't have extra funds to add to that. I don't believe you can get anything any more reliable for that little cash.

But, say we could get $1000 for the Jetta. That's still only $3000 to work with. Our daughter bought herself a car this summer to commute to school, and she was had-pressed to find anything under $6000 that wasn't scary.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2011

Third vote for selling both and get something more reliable. If you absolutely *have* to keep one, I'd go with the Maxima. Nissans generally kick VWs ass in terms of reliability (and even though the gas and insurance might be a bit more, it'd be worth it to me to not end up stranded somewhere).

Also, where does your wife work? That's my kinda boss! ;)
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:25 AM on August 31, 2011

Does the Maxima need a new clutch or just want a new clutch? My first impulse was to say keep the maxima because of its dependability over the VW. But the relative mileage on the two probably makes them about equal. if that's a toss up it boils down to known issues -- and you know the VW's bad transmission is only going to get worse. And be crasy expensive to replace.

So, my gut says to stick with the Nissan if you think you can get some miles out of the existing clutch. Or keep them both, leaving one uninsured as a backup in case the other one breaks.

You mention selling the Nissan, but I'm curious how much value there is in it with having 400k, some rust and burning oil.
posted by rtimmel at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Protip: look for used cars outside of the Bay Area -- Manteca, Modesto, Turlock, etc. You'll get a lot more car for less money. I can hook you up with an honest mechanic in the Central Valley if you'd like a recommendation. MeMail me.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2011

I understand what you say about the low value of either car; the thing is, neither one really sounds like its worth sinking even MORE money into it. The VW is only worth $600-$1000? The Maxima needs that clutch? It really doesn't sound like repairing either one would be cost-effective: more like the old saying about "throwing good money after bad". And, too, even if repaired it's unlikely either car would be able to move him to California, nor would either one be likely to pass California's stringent emission/safety inspections. I'm sorry, but selling now, before they looose even MORE value, would be my choice.
posted by easily confused at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2011

What does your son want to do?

My grandma had the same generous gift for all her grandkids: $5000 on our 16th birthdays with which to buy a car (or put into savings or whatever else our little 16 year old selves wanted). My parents' deal with my brother and me was that if we wanted to get a car that was more than $5000, we had to put forward half of the difference. My car (which I'm still driving nearly 10 years later) was $8500. $5000 from gram, $1750 from parents, $1750 from me.

I realize every family's financial situation is different, so changes should be made accordingly, but I think my parents did my brother and me a huge service by giving us some agency and autonomy in the decision. Because we put forward (some of) our own money for the car, it felt like a serious purchase instead of a gift. When our classmates were busy thwacking mailboxes and driving into ditches, we were busy making sure we had proper tire pressure and regular oil changes.

YMMV, of course, but since it is your son who will be driving it, I would try to consult with him as much as possible on the decision.
posted by phunniemee at 11:33 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Neither are exactly cars I'd want to go cross-country in, but I would agree the Maxima is going to be a better car, even with the higher mileage. VWs in general are not as reliable as Nissan, and you're comparing POSSIBLE trouble with KNOWN trouble. I mean, the VW has already proven itself to be high maintenance; that has zero chance of turning around.

Would also agree - sell the Jetta, don't junk it. There are people who just love those things. You can make a few bucks from it.

You've used a few Dave Ramsey buzzwords, so as a recovering Daver myself, I'd caution: the expense of owning a car is more than the note (or lack thereof) on it. The ideal thing is to own cars outright, but if you sold both of these, put a healthy downpayment on a newer USED car that was more of a basic, fuel-economy ride like a Civic, Corolla, etc., I think you'd be better off. If you have genuine credit problems and can't/shouldn't borrow the money, please disregard this paragraph. But I'd rather have a little <$200 car payment than deal with a car breakdown with my child cross-country. The expenses of dealing with the emergency repair situation could be more than the car (or car loan) is worth.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:35 AM on August 31, 2011

BTW -- I ran the Maxima through Edmund's appraisal engine and came up with a number much lower than your estimate. Assuming its a regular 3.0L V-6 manual with 400K in rough condition, it spits out a value a little over $600. I know that Edmunds is not the be all and end all, but people look at it, and so it has an effect on the market.
posted by rtimmel at 11:43 AM on August 31, 2011

Does the Maxima need a new clutch or just want a new clutch?
Needs. Definitely needs.

FWIW, neither car would be used to take him to California. We know neither one would pass emissions out there (even though '01 Maximas were all Cali-spec.) The Cali plan, for now, is for him to possibly rent one-way a small van to move himself and his stuff. See...right now, we have this extra car...the Maxima...plugging-up our driveway. The Jetta has to park in the street for now, since it can't dependably back in or out from the drive. That's workable for now, but when the snow comes, street parking will get difficult, especially after the plows come by. One way or another, one of these cars has to go.

We understand the whole good-money-after-bad thing. But, this is the hand we've been dealt. There's no grandma with big money waiting in the wings, unfortunately.

As for our so, he understands the financial situation, so he's working with us on this.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:49 AM on August 31, 2011

Sigh. Gotta be one or the other, huh, not both? Okay, there's no way the sale-price of the Maxima would cover the VW's tranny repairs, but would the sale-price of the VW cover the Maxima's clutch?
posted by easily confused at 11:56 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I have a 04 Maxima w/ 104k miles on it, it's worth $6k at best. I'm a little suprised that it's worth even $2k. But you give me hope with the 400k miles.

I would say do the rent-a-van or if he can--possibly train it out there and stay with a friend? Then use money from both cars as a down payment or a buy for a used vehicle. I wouldn't rely on the $2k again. That seems awfully high at 400k miles.

Good luck with the move.
posted by stormpooper at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2011

I like the idea of using the vw to get a new clutch for the Nissan. You might even find a mechanic willing to do the work in exchange for the vw. Your comment about winter parking settled it for me: the vw simply won't work for you after the fall.
posted by Forktine at 12:00 PM on August 31, 2011

As the past owner of several 80s and 90s Volkswagens, I vote for selling the VW to pay for the Maxima's clutch.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:02 PM on August 31, 2011

I vote for keeping the vehicle which can drive in reverse.
posted by crankylex at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm at least half serious here when I suggest sell both cars and get him a rental to move and a nice bike. California is getting more bike-friendly all the time, even in unexpected places.
posted by zomg at 12:12 PM on August 31, 2011

I'm at least half serious here when I suggest sell both cars and get him a rental to move and a nice bike.

Sounds nice, but the idea is to get him in more-or-less dependable wheels while he's living here and working. His plan is to save-up to move to Cali. He's at least a year out from that.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:19 PM on August 31, 2011

Get rid of the Jetta. I say that as a former owner of a slightly more recent-vintage used Jetta that absolutely fell apart at just under 200K, and as someone whose family has owned multiple VWs of that vintage and earlier. (The final straw for getting rid of mine came when I added up my monthly repair bills for the last year of the car's life and they were higher than a car payment.)
posted by pie ninja at 12:20 PM on August 31, 2011

I say keep them both until it snows, then reassess. You're not planning on getting anything for the VW, right? So drive it into the ground, really right into the ground.

Honestly I don't think one decision is significantly better than the others, you'll be fine whatever you choose!
posted by mskyle at 12:21 PM on August 31, 2011

To weigh in once again, it seems like keeping the Maxima is the best bet. VW's are such a high risk propositions compared to Nissans. If he's not taking it to California, you will get some of the cost of the clutch back when you do sell it -- consider it an investment in his post-California move. The increased gas cost is fairly minor -- about $1.50 a tank. That's a issue when deciding on a new car, but its only $50 or so over a year. Oddly, I would have thought that liability insurance on a Jetta would be more than on a Maxima -- I'd think it would be considered more sporty, even with 4 cylinders, and so pricier.
posted by rtimmel at 12:25 PM on August 31, 2011

Notice all the people in this thread who owned VWs of that era and are advocating keeping the Nissan? Put me in the "my brother would say exactly this" category. VWs of that era are all timebombs of one form or another, it seems. I pretty sure I've never ridden in his car when something significant wasn't broken. Door locks, MAF sensor, transmission, indicators, steering column lock, you name it.

Put a rebuilt clutch in the Maxima and do your best.
posted by introp at 1:17 PM on August 31, 2011

It doesn't make sense to put money into either of those cars, unless the Maxima has already had engine (and suspension) work done fairly recently. If you really have to go either/or you have to say Maxima, but...

Honestly, I just bought a car (89 Civic) off Craigslist for $500 which seems better than either a Jetta with a dying transmission or a hospice care Maxima. I think in Indiana you can do better for a beater than either of these cars, probably for the price of that clutch.

My civic has ~100K. It's beat up, half the windows don't work. But the engine doesn't leak and it drives fairly well. It's looks like crap, has no radio, etc. it's a beater.

Craigslist is your friend. I would look at Saturns (good gas mileage, timing chain (not belt) ) from around 2000. Expect to pay around $1500 for a one with around 100K miles. In general, people overvalue how a car looks, buy ugly.
posted by at 1:38 PM on August 31, 2011

You should ditch the VW, keep the Maxima, without question. Without question. Did I mention it is a no-brainer? VWs are expensive to maintain and repair, and require both often -- qualities you do not want a beater to possess. The Maxima has gone 400,000 miles and is only burning a little oil (clutch replacement counts as routine maintenance, like brake pads, just not as often.)

Did I mention you should keep the Maxima and ditch the Jetta?
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on August 31, 2011

and yes I have owned two VWs and four Nissans; I bought the Nissans after getting sick of all the issues associated with having the VWs.
posted by davejay at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2011

My old boss cussed out his VW Jetta every day. My mother gave her Maxima to my sister and pines for it still. Be smart like all these nice people are telling you—sell the Jetta to pay for Maxima repairs.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:18 PM on August 31, 2011

And, sell the Jetta we did. Got $650 for it, which will go a long way to a clutch on the Maxima.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:28 PM on November 9, 2011

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