My broke down car
October 11, 2006 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I need help deciding whether to fix my older car or buy a new one.

I have a 1999 Mazda Protege with 120k on it, a huge dent in the front passanger quarter panel, bad tires, bad brakes, brad struts, and little burn marks through out it. (The burn marks are from the previous owner.) It recently broke down with severe transmission problems. The mechanic (who is very trusted) said it would cost at least $2000 to fix. The problem is: I am upside down in it - I owe about $3600 on it (2 years at about $150 a month). If I buy a new car, I will have to take on at least $300 a month in car payments, plus pay off the broken car I can't drive - I'm not sure I can afford this. BUT I'm not sure it is smart to just fix the old car. What should I do?
posted by eggerspretty to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Car Talk guys say that it's nearly always better to repair a car than to buy a new one, with very, very few exceptions. FWIW.
posted by waldo at 6:07 PM on October 11, 2006

Two previous AskMe threads on the topic, in case you haven't seen them.
posted by RogerB at 6:14 PM on October 11, 2006

Car repair always seems to cost a lot because people usually don't maintain them on a regular schedule. Meaning...the tires could have been replaced long before the brakes needed to, and the struts at another time so when the transmission broke, it wouldn't all of a sudden seem like the car needs a lot of work.

I'm not trying to critcize you...all i'm saying is that the car's problems (dent, tires, brakes, burn marks, and transmission) didn't all happen all at once.

That being said it's going to cost you $2000 on top of the $3600 to get the car running again (not including new tires, brakes and struts). Let's say $200 for a set of tires, another $200 for the brakes, i have no idea what struts cost but let's say $600 for parts and labor. Your're up to (3600+2000+200+200+600) $6600 on this car.

The thought is that if you're going to pay for the repairs and keep this car it's already going to cost you $6600. If you're going to spend that much anyway, then I think you can try to find a used car for that much or a little more. For $300/mo you're also looking at something like a $14,000 purchase. You can find something decent used for much less.
posted by eatcake at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2006

This is a tough one. My first thought is to sell it now and try to break even.

However, I would like to know more details about the transmission problem. $2k just doesn't sound right. Is it auto/manual? Sticky shifting? Does it lock up? Make grinding noises? etc.

From what I know, the protoge is a decent car and at 120k should still be (mostly) serviceable. I think you have some options here, but it would helpful to know a little more.
posted by snsranch at 6:40 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: It is an auto - and the guy who is servicing it right now is saying that it is not shifting out of second gear. It starts in second gear and it stays in second gear. He also said something about fourth gear failure. (I'm not sure what it all means.) He said that he can't give me a full diagnosis until he takes the transmission apart. He will do this for $250 labor and if I get it fixed there after he takes it apart - the $250 will come out of whatever fixing labor he needs to actually fix the problem. He said he has been doing this for 20 years and can guess that, within 10% of accuracy, he thinks this will cost about $2k.

When I reverse and put it in drive it takes a while to actually move into a forward gear and start driving forward. When I drive forward it won't move into any gears, it just drives really hard and then the Overdrive light flashes on and off. I don't know if that helps you.
posted by eggerspretty at 6:46 PM on October 11, 2006

The problem is: I am upside down in it

then fix it, unless you think you can buy an equivalent and working vehicle for $2k.
posted by caddis at 6:51 PM on October 11, 2006

Kelly Blue Book says $4k for a '99 Protege LX in good condition and 120K miles. Fix it.
posted by caddis at 6:54 PM on October 11, 2006

posted by caddis at 6:56 PM on October 11, 2006

Repair it and don't end up owing that kind of money on a car with 120k miles on it next time. I mean, the whole point is to not get into a car load you're going to end up upside down on. The way to do that is to never take more than 5 years max to pay it off, and less than that if it's an older car, like your must have been.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:12 PM on October 11, 2006

The problem, as I see it, is that you can't very well sell the car in the condition it's in; no one would pay you enough for that to be worth your while. I don't really think you have any options other than to fix it. I was in a similar situation recently with my car needing major engine repair. I opted to replace the engine entirely (had the work done very cheaply at a shop that specializes in such things) and at least gain a motor with half as many miles out of the situation. My advice is to bite the bullett and get the car fixed now, and then start saving for a replacement.

Also, don't waste money on a new new car. Get a decent used car; always a better deal.
posted by autojack at 7:16 PM on October 11, 2006

From your description, I'd guess your transmission is, indeed, a goner. However, you could probably find one from a junkyard, as this was a very common car and will be well represented. This would probably cut that $2k repair by half, but, of course, there are no guarantees on how long a used transmission will last.

Once it's running, I'd work very hard to pay off the car in an accelerated manner if possible, then sell it. You'll probably lose money, but this type of throwaway car, at this mileage and, as you acknowledge, lacking maintenance, is not long for this earth.

As for all the unsolicited advice you're getting on auto financing, this is a lesson learned the hard way by nearly everyone. You're in good company.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:38 PM on October 11, 2006

I'm sorry eggerspretty, but that transmission is shot, or mostly so.

But I have good news. Take your car to a certified (ASE) transmission shop. The diagnosis part might me a bit more than $250, but the total repair should be much less than $2k.

I know he's your "trusted" mechanic, but most mechanics don't know much about transmissions, especially with later model automatics.

Having a bad transmission is pretty bad, but having a mech saying that it'll cost $2k is even worse.

Re: used auto parts: Usually they are 1/3 the cost of brand new parts and are often warrented for 30 days.
posted by snsranch at 7:44 PM on October 11, 2006

It is an auto - and the guy who is servicing it right now is saying that it is not shifting out of second gear. It starts in second gear and it stays in second gear.

This is "limp home" mode -- when something breaks down badly enough the transmission just won't work, it locks into second so you can at least get it to a mechanic. $2000 for a Mazda automatic is also not out of line, I paid $2700 to have the trans in an '89 Ford Probe rebuilt (the car shared a lot of parts with the Mazda 323 of the time, including the trans) -- and then had to have it done again about a year later (because the first guy fucked it up) -- fortunately at a somewhat lesser price by someone who wasn't trying so hard to anally rape me. So, um, yeah, the price is about right.

Whether to do it or not, I can't say. I'd personally look for another car. Cars that need one repair are likely to need another, and another, and another.
posted by kindall at 1:16 PM on October 13, 2006

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