When is it time to give up on this car?
February 1, 2016 3:47 PM   Subscribe

My 2006 Camry is apparently going to need $4k in repairs within the foreseeable future. When do I give up on it?

It's got about 140,000 miles on it. It's not aesthetically in good shape, lots of dents, some rust, etc, so I figure best case scenario it's worth about $4k.

The thing I brought it in for is going to cost $950 to fix. I would definitely pay for this, EXCEPT apparently the exhaust system is completely rusted out and is currently leaking and the pipe, muffler etc. are just going to fall off at some point. There are also a few other things that are, I guess, on the verge, though he's not suggesting I replace them right now. In total, these near-future repairs equal the value of the car. (I don't think the mechanic is not scamming me.)

We have another car (which is older and less comfortable to drive, but isn't rusted out) and can get by with one car if we have to. Also, like, we're financially capable of buying a new car - we would just rather not.

So, given all of that: do you spring for the $950 now, in the hopes that you could get a few more months out of the car, or do you just call it?
posted by goodbyewaffles to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
i would call it - this was the point i was at when i kicked my acura to the curb. the cost of the repairs were equal to the value of the car, and it was still no absolute guarantee that it would fix my issues. buy a newer, safer used car.
posted by koroshiya at 3:54 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Time of Death: Right Now.

Rust is the thing that swings it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:56 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can you be more specific about the long-term repair your mechanic is recommending?
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:56 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

(I don't think the mechanic is not scamming me.)

This is somewhat of a critical point here and might be worth clarifying here.

To answer your question, I attribute a monthly value to my car. To a first order, I figure that each car I buy will last about 5-7 years, and I'm willing to pay $15K-$20K for a car ($178-$333 per month). So, in order to justify spending $950 on a repair, I would expect the car to last 3-6 more months to be worth the cost. In general, these sort of calculations end up with me spending more to repair a car until I am in roughly the same place you are.

So no, I wouldn't repair the car (and I'm usually a proponent of repairing it) unless you think the mechanic is trying to suggest unnecessary repairs. For a 10-year-old car, mechanics are usually pretty liberal with their repair suggestions, so I take what they say with several grains of salt. I think this is especially applicable here, because a replacement exhaust system for your car is not going to total $3150.

What else is your mechanic suggesting, and did they provide a time frame for those repairs?
posted by saeculorum at 3:59 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, that should've said that I *don't* think the mechanic is scamming me :x That's a big difference, sorry. I've gone there for a long time and have always felt good about them; friends who are car people go there, etc.

So the short- and medium-term repairs:
- rear brakes (front ones we replaced this summer)
- the entire suspension system (probably explains why it sounds like there's a six-pack rattling around under the dash)
- the exhaust system
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:03 PM on February 1, 2016

I asked this question a few years ago. After fixing the car I ended up selling it because I was just not driving that much anymore, not because of mechanical trouble.

posted by Calzephyr at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2016

I am almost always on team "fix" and i would sell this as-is on craigslist. If it's drivable but needs the above work, someone will buy it. Probably fairly quickly, too.
posted by emptythought at 4:42 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

- rear brakes (front ones we replaced this summer)
- the entire suspension system (probably explains why it sounds like there's a six-pack rattling around under the dash)
- the exhaust system

Brakes? Any car will need that. So not a good expense to judge dropping the car against. Same with Exhaust. This is just the cost of ownership. So the only expense that needs to be factored against keeping the car going is the extraordinarily vague 'entire suspension system'. Which is either very badly described or astronomically unlikely as a diagnosis.

Rust is the thing that swings it.

Once more a completely unhelpful and sweeping generalisation/non-answer entirely without basis. You cannot possibly make any sort of assessment without knowing where the rust is, how much of it there is and the structural implications of it. Rust in and of itself is not a deal breaker for a car. Sometimes it can just be ugly and not be at all problematic.

OP: You need to define 'rust'. Is it body panels? In which case it doesn't really matter. Are they rusty areas that have been started by scratches or dents initially? If so, these are likely to be cosmetic. Is it chassis? Where? To what extent? I'd be surprised if a 2006 Toyota had terminal structural rust, but this is Chicago (presumably) so it is possible, but not necessarily definite without more information.

So in summary - you need to establish what the genuine costs of the car are (not including normal wear and tear expenses like tyres, servicing, brakes etc that are just the cost of owning a car) and weight that against how long the car will last post repairs.
posted by Brockles at 4:45 PM on February 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Do you feel safe (enough) driving it? Do you have the money to buy another used car right now? I'm talking in cash if possible. If you do, then perhaps look into buying a newer car in the near future. If not, I'd keep trying to make do with this one. A Premier membership to AAA costs $126 and offers me great peace of mind: for example, this includes one tow up to 200 miles and other helpful services.

I personally would spend the $950 now because the value of the car for me as a driver is much greater than the amount listed in the Kelley Blue Book. $4000 is a lot though and no guarantee. It sounds like the car hasn't been very well-maintained so it might take quite a bit to keep it running long-term. You may not technically need this car but it's certainly more convenient to have it around should you and your partner both need to go different places at the same time.

You can always get a second opinion. I really trust my mechanic but my car's never needed that much work. Well, it did previously when I had brought my car in for a check-up at the dealership, most of which was unnecessary. It sounds like this mechanic is only encouraging you to get the bare minimum now but also making you aware of future needs, which is helpful and then up to you to decide.

It's a smaller purchase but still one with a hefty price tag: a few years ago, my dishwasher broke. It came with the house and I knew it was about ten years old. The repair cost about $250 and the service technician told me that these days dishwashers only are built to last so long, and to perhaps consider simply getting a new one were it to break again. Were I try try to fix it again first, I'd have to not only pay for the repair work but also the removal and installation of a new one. (He would not have profited from this purchase because he was working for a different company.) I trusted him and ended up getting a new dishwasher two years later when it broke again. I'm glad I got it fixed the first time and I'm glad I just got a new one the second time around.

Camrys are generally reliable, well-made cars. They still do break and some just suffer more wear and tear. My family spent years and hundreds (well, thousands) trying to fix an old Honda Civic (another generally reliable car) and it was just not worth it. However, I'd keep investing in my 2002 Camry so it really all depends. You're the owner and you know best for your situation: I'd listen to your gut, and whatever it's telling you.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:23 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd replace the brakes only and drive it into the ground. That's what I'm currently doing with my old vehicle - I bought the replacement in anticipation of it's death but I still drive around in the old one.
posted by zug at 5:59 PM on February 1, 2016

I just sold a hybrid Camry with only 48k miles on it, no rust, no accidents and no needed repairs ... for $6k.

There's no way putting $4k is going to be worth it.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 6:18 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

2006 Camry's are going for between $5K and $8K in Chicago, from what I can tell. Not all markets are the same.

Also, it is an oft repeated fallacy that you are judging the cost of repairs against the value of the car. That is entirely incorrect reasoning. A car is not an investment it will ALWAYS lose money. You need to weigh up your repair costs against the cost of buying (and maintaining) the replacement car plus the time, cost and hassle of getting rid of the old one. It is not a 'repair costs against value of current vehicle' equation and never has been.
posted by Brockles at 6:26 PM on February 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think it's great to consider things from many different angles, and this thread certainly offers many. My personal anecdote above is intended as exactly that: sharing an approach that is working for me and not getting caught up over meanings of specific words. I typically follow the financial advice of Michelle Singletary who has some tried and true suggestions that all veer towards being financially conservative and avoiding debt whenever possible. So many Americans find themselves in crazy debt buying things they think they need rather than making do with what they have. It's hard because life is expensive and complex! This debt can include car payments that can get out of hand; your situation is certainly more nuanced, and requires careful cost benefit analysis. It's hard to know from here what is going to work best but I hope you find a happy solution. goodbyewaffles, if you'd like to get yet another opinion on this and a professional one at that, you could pose it during her next online chat at the Washington Post.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:15 PM on February 1, 2016

Get some more quotes before you decide anything.
posted by Slinga at 8:22 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Spend $50 getting a second opinion.

Source: Owner 2000 Jeep

Those quotes sound high, did you see the rust while it was up on the lift?? My Jeep goes in reliably (read: breaks down or needs tweaking) every 3 to 4 months. It was more often when a particularly spendy posh shop I trusted was sabotaged parts of the cooling system. All repairs are within $100 to $400, max. So, maybe $1200 per year to drive it safely?

Have deferred a lot of maintanence? If yes - sell it. Otherwise, $950 worth of work on a regularly maintained 10 year old Toyota sounds high to my ears. YMMV
posted by jbenben at 10:26 PM on February 1, 2016

Yesterday. Spend the money on the lease of a fuel efficient car. 140,000 miles-4K, or just get a newer camry.
posted by Oyéah at 2:41 AM on February 2, 2016

Also, it is an oft repeated fallacy that you are judging the cost of repairs against the value of the car.

YES! I like to read just about every AskMe car repair question that comes up and fiddle around with my own cars as a shadetree mechanic. Brockles very frequently answers in those threads and has professional automotive experience to back up his point of view.

If you are thinking from a financial perspective, the calculation you should use is "Total Cost of Ownership." I don't think we "answerers" have enough data from you to help you calculate TCO. Brockles question about rust is extremely pertinent.

Here's an easy thought experiment, from my own life, about TCO and the fallacy that you shouldn't spend more in repairs than the car is worth. I was gifted a 1995 Ford Escort station wagon about a decade ago. It had 80,000 miles on it. It was always worth about $1200. It had an automatic transmission, but the hilariously underpowered motor meant I got 30 miles per gallon. So, the TCO from a fuel efficiency standpoint was low, plus the car was free to me and needed few repairs ever...

Once the transmission cooler line ruptured while it was parked at my job. The car had come from a place with lots of road salt use and was significantly rusty underneath. Unfortunately I didn't notice the rupture until I got home, but I managed to get a new cooler line from the junkyard (and I live in a place with no road salt, so junkyard parts are largely free of rust). Fixed it myself.

I spent $900 on repairs with mechanics in about five years. I did eventually donate the car to NPR, because the shock towers rusted through. That's significant rust. If there hadn't been significant rust issues, I imagine I could have gotten the thing to 200,000 miles easily, with other repairs along the way. Given that I drive around 5,000 miles a year, I used about 175 gallons of gas. So, my TCO was very, very low and even would have been if I had had to replace the whole automatic transmission, which would have exceeded the value of the car. But still, I could have kept driving the thing, absent the rust issues, and my TCO would have remained quite low, because I would have spent more on a different car unless I lucked into another basic cheapo beater that had never been in an accident.

Even currently, I have a 2003 Mazda Protege5 with 189,000 miles. I have spent money on timing belts and brakes and that's it. It does need a new clutch eventually. But because I don't spend much money maintaining or fueling the car (regardless of how much the car is worth), my TCO is very, very low.
posted by Slothrop at 10:07 AM on February 2, 2016

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