Sell now or pay later?
March 27, 2008 8:49 PM   Subscribe

My 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Ltd. is an unreliable, gas-guzzling symbol of all that's wrong with this world. At 78K it performs - the small errand here or the work commute there - but barely, sending warning signs all along that some bigger and more troubling defect is on the horizon. Does it make more sense for me to sell (or more likely) trade it in now while the resale is 5k (at best), or to continue to drive it while I (and it) can do so?

Other factors:

He/she averages 14 mpg.
It has not seen the off-road.
Was a used gift from a generous mother.
Seems a defensive necessity here in SUV land.
posted by mizrachi to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Well, if it feels like a machine of death, it would be good sense to have a mechanic check it over. Then decide what to do given it's prognosis. Unfortunately, in all likelyhood, it will probably last quite a bit longer with regular service.
posted by artdrectr at 9:02 PM on March 27, 2008

Seems a defensive necessity here in SUV land.

Aside from seeing over the goddamn things, I don't think that having an SUV helps in collisions with them.
posted by Netzapper at 9:08 PM on March 27, 2008

Trade it in or sell it. What are the advantages of continuing to drive it? You can spend more time saving for a new car, but in the meantime you're spending twice as much on fuel as you need to, and if you plan on leasing or financing, that could go to payments on a new car. Your wording is sort of strange - "a work commute there" - do you commute or not? If you're driving a long distance every day, then you're spending a lot in fuel that you could save with a small, fuel-efficient car. Also, because Jeeps are classified as light trucks, they don't (or didn't in 1999) have to meet the same emissions standards as cars. New cars meeting Tier 2 Bin 5 standards (or, even better, the Tier 2 Bin 2 standards some hybrids and California cars meet) are a huge improvement.

As you say, you don't need it for off-road. The fact that it was from your mother shouldn't interfere with a rational decision on whether to sell - you can't drive it forever, and you hardly owe it to your mother to kill your pocketbook and the planet.

The "defensive necessity" argument is too common, and leads to so many SUVs on the road killing motorists in cars, because people want to be immune in crashes. They're only immune because they kill other people when they crash. You also have to consider that you have a very small chance of getting in a serious crash in the first place. Very small. Second, that with modern car design, cars are increasingly safe, even in crashes with SUVs. Just pay attention to the NHTSA and IIHS ratings of the car you replace the Jeep with. What kind of car are you in the market for? There are good options in each category.
posted by Dasein at 9:09 PM on March 27, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I commute to work.

My mother's gift means I owe nothing on the car.

Buying another car is not helping out the planet.
Driving my current vehicle is not helping out the planet.
Not sure how to help out the planet.

I'd prefer to not drive an SUV.
I'd prefer to not get hit by an SUV.
If I were to get hit by an SUV, I'd prefer to be in an SUV.

Want: Safety. Reliability. Efficiency. For all.
posted by mizrachi at 9:46 PM on March 27, 2008

Stop dealing in abstracts and put some real numbers to the problem.

Figure out how much you are spending on gas per week or month or year, whatever makes sense for you, and then figure out what your savings would be with the vehicle you would buy instead. Call your insurance agent and find out what the cost would be to insure the replacement vehicle (and remember that a car with payments will need comprehensive insurance, whereas your $5k Jeep needs only liability/uninsured motorist/etc).

You will have to make an educated guess about maintenance costs -- don't forget that even a new car with a warranty will need things like tires, oil changes, and other standard services.

Once you have real numbers involved, you can make a real decision. Until then, it is just emotion and feelings -- which matter, but won't save you money. Almost always, it is cheaper to keep an old vehicle running, unless you are driving enough to save lots of money on gas.
posted by Forktine at 10:27 PM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sell it, and use the proceeds to get a very nice used Volvo 240. Mine gets 22 gallons to the mile, per my unscientific calculations, and is dead reliable.

I lost my last 240 when someone in an SUV rear-ended me at 70 MPH. They did enough damage (shattered my rear window, ruined my rear bumper, and propelled me hard enough into the car in front of me to ruin my front bumper) to total it, but my passenger and I walked away without a scratch. It's a shame, though - we were almost at the 300K mark and she was still a better car than almost anything I could buy new.

My insurance payments are minimal because I'm driving a 20 year old car that has a low Blue Book value, but I love it. It was a luxury car in its day, and I still appreciate the leather seats and such. And the classics never go out of style.

You could probably buy an old Mercedes with the profits from selling your old gas guzzler, too. As long as you have a good mechanic, you can keep an old Mercedes running well forever, too.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:43 PM on March 27, 2008

Seems a defensive necessity here in SUV land.

They aren't safer at all. In fact they are more of a danger to yourself and other road users.

Freshwater makes a good point. I have a early 90's Subaru wagon, great car, massively reliable, all wheel drive, built like the brick shithouse- and it's safe. My wife was t-boned by a manic white van driver who baled through an intersection- Car not a writeoff (unfortunately), mum and kids unscathed.

Volvo, BMW, Benz, Peugeot, Subaru all good strong well engineered cars that are built for safety and driving.
posted by mattoxic at 11:17 PM on March 27, 2008

I'm personally going down the "Buying another car is not helping out the planet" route. My 1985 Holden is still going strong.

I suggest you keep it serviced so it's running as fuel-efficiently as it can. This is a cost that you will/should be paying no matter if the car is new or old.

Here are some tips to save fuel, maybe some might apply to you.

On top of that, I just bought a bike. And I'm waiting until there's a deal on this electric bike (maybe during winter).
posted by krisjohn at 11:40 PM on March 27, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, krisjohn, I can't say I'm with you, but I agree that so far, no one is really addressing what appears to be the key question here -- how to balance old car that has already been manufactured but gets crappy mileage with new car that will be newly manufactured but gets good mileage? I don't have an answer, but I think it's important to restate that portion of the question. The rest of it are hopefully things the asker knows already, like looking at the gas savings versus the raw cost of a new (or newer) car.

Look, whatever you do, you'll ruin the planet. If you don't want to ruin the planet, move to Africa and start a subsistence farm. Or stop flying. Use your car only when you need to. Thing is, let's say you sell your car. Someone else is going to be driving the gas-guzzling machine. Maybe the person who buys it locked themselves out of their Prius and so they abandoned it, and your Jeep happened to be the perfect car. That's probably not the case -- the person buying your Jeep won't be replacing a car with better mileage, I bet. You'll be buying a car with better mileage, though -- but you'll be spending way more than five grand to get it, I bet. Let's say you buy a $10k that gets 30mph -- say a Honda Civic, five years old, stick. So if you sell the Jeep for 5K, you're paying five grand. At $4 to a gallon, you need to drive 18000 some-odd miles to break even. Of course, that break even point goes WAY up if you're spending, say $17000 on a new car (45k miles break-even). And before you rush out to purchase a Prius, examine the carbon cost of manufacturing the batteries and the true mileage Prius's get -- more like 45 mph than 60.

In short, holding on to your car feels like a smart move -- get it fixed up, in working order, drive it into the ground. Otherwise, sell and buy a used, fuel-efficient car. Something that isn't very heavy, because heavy doesn't usually equal good for the environment. The SUV accident thing is certainly something to be concerned about, but I think it's a straw man, not nearly as true as you'd think. Whatever you do, don't buy a new car -- that's pretty much a sure-fire way to toss your money away while you twiddle your nose at the planet. But I'm not judging! Really!
posted by incessant at 2:00 AM on March 28, 2008

I'm a drive-it-into-the-ground car owner. Get it tuned up and (if it's not now) roadworthy while you decide what to do. Why go into debt for a new car when you've got one already? Seriously, a tuneup is the best bang for the buck if you want to help the environment and save gas money.

Now if the car's a lemon (it's unpredictably breaking down, as opposed to failing because it hasn't had regular maintenance) then I'd personally sell it and buy a more reliable used car.

In accidents, trucks aren't safer, even though they may feel that way. If you want a lot of steel and safety, get a used Crown Victoria. They're safe in high speed crashes (police park them by the side of the highway) and they weigh as much as a pickup truck. In a collision with an SUV, all other things being equal, the Crown Victoria is going to get the better end of the deal.
posted by zippy at 5:17 AM on March 28, 2008

Having a smaller, more maneuverable car can help you avoid accidents with SUVs. Or so Malcolm Gladwell says.

I second the Honda recommendation. I have a 1996 Civic CX hatchback (stick) that gets 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. It cost about $3300 when I bought it 3 years ago.
posted by mingshan at 7:28 AM on March 28, 2008

If you need to haul stuff around still, get a older (90s to early 2000s) 2wd Toyota pickup. Your gas mileage will nearly double, and they're relatively nimble. Mine worked great at everything I used it for (commuting, hauling dirt, etc) until I got into an accident with an SUV.

As far as safety goes - my truck ended up airborne and upside down. I came out of the ordeal with nothing broken - just some shoulder and back issues that took time to heal. And those injuries came from the fact that I ended up landing on the ceiling. I don't think being in a SUV would've made any difference to me.

However, I would be worried about side impacts - but the same would be true for a car. And between the two, depending on exactly where you get hit on the side, the truck may have more tendency to bounce around than crumple.

The major up side is that the 4 cylinder pickups from that era are mechanically just about bulletproof. Mine had over 100k miles and ran flawlessly and cleanly. Very reliable, and the rare repair costs are cheap because they're relatively simple beasts.

I would've bought another, but had to switch to a 4 door for family reasons.
posted by krisak at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2008

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