What (else) is wrong with my car, and can I get 2 more years out of it?
October 10, 2014 11:10 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are planning on moving to another country in 2 years. We suspect it will be easier to not take any cars with us. We currently have 2 cars, but one seems to be auditioning to join the choir invisible.

Keeping my 1998, 150K mile Subaru running is getting expensive. Last year was new front struts. A couple of months ago was a new battery and starter. The manual transmission is loose, and the rear struts are overdue. Yesterday it started a new problem. If I take my foot off the gas pedal (such as when shifting), it may not accelerate again. Water in the gas? Clogged fuel filter or line?

We've done fine on one car before, but in our current city and current jobs, having only one car is a big hassle.

I realize repairing the old is almost always cheaper than buying new (previous & previous), but given the pending issues with the Subaru, and the fact that its replacement would a) likely be a used car purchased for cash, and b) be for a 2-year window, how does that change things? Any suggestions or advice appreciated.
posted by neutralmojo to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think keeping the Subaru running for two years would still most likely be less expensive, but only you know how much you are willing to pay for the convenience of a car that works every day. The calculations change depending on whether you need to drive the car every day, whether it needs work just to pass inspection, etc.

It's an old car, and you're talking about TWO YEARS, not a few months - if it's a daily or even several-days-a-week car, I'd seriously think about replacing it if I were you.
posted by mskyle at 12:08 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a bit of a toss-up depending on how much you would be prepared to spend on another car. If you would just be replacing it with something similar, you're likely just buying a different set of (unknown) problems. Depending on how well you need the Subaru to work, you are most likely better to just let it limp along, only fixing what you absolutely need to. This also depends on the sort of driving you do. If you can replace it with something that you can be reasonably confident will not need major work in that period, probably better to replace it.
posted by dg at 12:13 PM on October 10, 2014

I might consider leasing for two years, something cheap and cheerful. You know it'll start every day, you can get something economical on gas, and at the end of the time, just give it back.

It's a math problem.

Car Lease = $6,000 for 2 years.

Fixing Subaru for next two years = ???

Whichever is cheaper, do that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:12 PM on October 10, 2014

Everything you have noted at this time are totally normal for a car of this age (and have nothing to do with subaru or the car 'going bad' on you ). Any car of similair age and mileage is likely to have these issues, as everything you have mentioned is what is called a wear part-it isn't supposed to last the lifetime of the car and is replaced as part of the normal maintenance.

Actually for struts 150k is pretty good. Battery typically last 3-5 years. I am not sure what a 'loose' transmission is-is it physically loose in its mounts? or does the shifter flop around inside the car? both are likely a matter of worn out rubber parts that are cheap and not too difficult to replace. Subaru manual transmission are usually very, very good and last longer than any other part of the car.

The acceleration problem-i am assuming you mean when you press on the gas pedal the engine doesn't rev-is likely a bad sensor. The part may be pricey (or cheap-sensors are weird) and if it is a sensor it is likely to make the check engine light come on.

Only if the engine tries to rev up and stalls or stumbles and the car jerks (when in gear) is it likely to be a fuel filter, fuel pump or very unlikely bad gas (easy way to check-fill up car and see if problem goes away/gets less). if this is a problem it will happen more at higher engine RPM and load-say climbing a decent hill on the highway.

The way to figure out if it is time to replace a car (that you like and suits your needs) is are the repair costs more than monthly payments on a replacement vehicle of equal utility.
posted by bartonlong at 1:28 PM on October 10, 2014

This is one of those situations where a lease might actually make sense if you have firmish plans to leave and want the least hassle in handing it back at the end. Or if you can buy something late-model with good reliability and lowish depreciation and will be able to sell it to somewhere like CarMax when you leave, then you're paying the cost of the depreciation plus the dealer's margin.

But if you have a mechanic you trust, there's no harm in asking "what's it going to cost to get a couple more years out of it?" That's your point of reference for everything else.
posted by holgate at 1:41 PM on October 10, 2014

I generally keep my cars for a while. And I'm fairly well-versed in car maintenance and turn my own wrenches when possible. I'm not sure what you mean by "loose" with the transmission, but if it's mounts, those are cheap-ish. Shift linkage...getting more pricey. Clutch...even more so. Transmission itself...just scrap the car. The acceleration problem could be anything from a clogged fuel filter to bad injectors, a flaky TPS, EGR valve weirdness...who knows. Subarus may have a reputation for longevity, but that seems to be based on a very vocal fanbase and not actual reality. Head gaskets on the 2.5L engines are a known issue with them, for instance, and are not cheap nor easy to fix. So you may have that to look forwards to also.

As a general rule it is cheaper to keep what you have, but that rule ignores the price you will get when you sell what you have, especially if you're selling an 18 year old car with ~175k miles on it versus a 12 year old car with ~120k miles. As an example, I sold a 16 year old Accord with 189k for $1200, but an 8 year old Civic with 170k for $5500 (and that had a salvage title...).

And finally...how much is NOT having to fix your existing car on an unpredictable basis worth to you? I may have loved my 300k mile Jeep Cherokee but there was always something broken. Always. Front differential actuator...blower fan resistor...throttle position sensor....ABS sensor... Never ending parade of $100 - $250 repairs.
posted by moitz at 2:10 PM on October 10, 2014

Similar wrench turner to moitz above,

None of these sound like scrap it or sell it repairs to me. the gas pedal thing sounds like a flaky TPS or something as mentioned above(which i'm starting to get really suspicious is a thing on my dads car), the rest is just... normal car stuff. Any other car you get is going to need stuff like that.

My dad has a 99 subaru with like, 250k on it. Everything you've mentioned has been replaced and it's still going strong. We're basically waiting out the headgasket, or something else expensive to fail before moving on. It's been at this crossroads many times, and every time my parents just said nah, fixed it, and kept driving it.

The fact that you only need two years out of it leans really strongly on keeping it to me, honestly.

Pretty much, pay a diagnostic fee at a mechanic and find out how much the throttle/hesitating issue would cost to repair and what exactly its cause is. Ditto with the transmission(which i bet is just a loose shift linkage, and not as much of a hassle as it normally is in a FWD car since subarus actually have the transmission in the tunnel like a RWD car since the engines aren't transversely mounted). Then look at how much you'd get for a generally in decent shape car like yours on the used market.

Then figure out how much you'd be willing to put on top of that, and what you could get for that much.

Personally, i bet you'd end up with another car that would need similar maintenance and repairs with pretty similar mileage. You'd basically be trading a known quantity for an unknown and imperfect one.

The lease option might be ok, but i'd figure out how much you'd get selling this car and how much of the lease that would cover. If you leased something really cheap, like a yaris or a versa, what's the cost gap between what you'd gain from selling the current car and what you'd pay? If it's more than like, $1500, i bet you're ahead keeping the car.

On preview a critical detail is how many miles do you put on the car a year? do you drive a lot, or just short trips or a short commute? the scale might start to tip if you plan to put another 30k miles on it in two years or something.
posted by emptythought at 2:52 PM on October 10, 2014

The items you list are normal wear items, especially after 150k miles. Subarus are long-haul cars, so 150k is really nothing. I'd get the work done and keep driving it.

As for the accelerator issue...Could be a plugged fuel filter or injector. Water in the gas would cause a lot of stumbling and coughing. Drop a bottle of Techron in the tank when you fill-up next time, and see if that doesn't help things.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 PM on October 10, 2014

Thanks everyone. It is reassuring to know that I don't HAVE to abandon the Subaru.
posted by neutralmojo at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2014

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