Author Topic: Conflicted: $4k engine replacement for $4-5k value car. Need Mustachian advice!  (Read 5052 times)

bellamama810

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THE SCENARIO:

DH has just discovered his 2009 NISSAN CUBE (with only 80k miles) has a blown engine. Prior to this, the car was worth $4000-5500 according to Edmunds/KBB. Quoted price for a USED (50-55k) engine plus parts & labor is between $3600-4100 at the dealer. DH loves and trusts this particular dealer, especially as they provide a free (new) loaner car. This is key because he travels about 75 miles in total each day during his commute. (We are working on changing this situation.)

We are in the process of pricing out other mechanics but have been told the majority of cost is in labor because of the way the Cube internals are mounted (have to all come out from the bottom apparently). We are figuring the most we'd save would be a few hundred and would need to transport. UPDATE: We are seeing a pretty big drop in price shopping around. New estimates are $2060 to $2500 for a used motor. The latter actually would be for a 15k motor with 1 year parts & labor warranty. This might change the game for us.

CAUSE: It was a combination of a mechanic failing to replace the cap during an oil change and a lack of regular maintenance on my husband's part (he thinks his last oil change was a year ago yes, I know...). The lack of proper maintenance factors because I feel he has aged the car more than its miles suggest. He has had other work done on the car since he just can't remember having another oil change.

THE DILEMMA: Actively working the Dave Ramsey program and reading the MMM blog, we are feeling conflicted about whether we try to keep this car running as long as possible or whether we try to sell it as-is "mechanics special" and then use the funds from that plus a bit of savings to purchase a junk car that will hopefully get us through the next year while saving monthly for a replacement.

THE FINANCIALS: After spending $2k in repairs towards both of our cars over the last few months, we now only have $1,000 in emergency fund. We are committed to NOT taking on any more debt as we are trying to "gazelle" our way towards paying off all debt by lowering our expenses.

THE BIG QUESTION: does it make good financial sense to invest in repairing his existing car to keep it running for another few years, assuming the risk that something else major goes within the next couple of years, or do we cut our losses and spend $2k-3k on a replacement vehicle (more short-term benefit, but possibly more risky)?

I welcome all advice! Thank you!

« Last Edit: March 14, 2016, 02:47:57 PM by bellamama810 »

Thinkum

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1. If the engine went kaput because of neglect, what else is on it's way out? How are the brakes, tires, and transmission? How about the heat & A/C? If everything else is okay and the car is useful to you, then I think the cost is justified.

2. The problem with getting a beater for a couple grand is that unless you know what to look for, you will be potentially just buying yourself another money pit. Especially with such a demanding commute. Most vehicles in that price range already have a ton of miles on them and need something like tires, brakes, or transmission service.

My opinion would be, if you know your car and know it can go on after heart (engine) surgery, then you should just get it done. If, however, it is just one of many problems, then perhaps you should spend $4K on a replacement car.

tonyevans

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Personally, this is what I'd do, but think of this as more of "arrow in the quiver" advice. It's going to come down to how comfortable you are, and talking to a mechanic.

I don't know where you are, so it may be a little more difficult than were I am due to availability and cost of living.

I'd buy a used engine - even from ebay. To get an idea on prices look here:

http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.X2009+nissan+cube+engine.TRS0&_nkw=2009+nissan+cube+engine&_sacat=0

Find a local independent mechanic that works on Nissans - someone that's not charging $85 like the dealership.

The last engine I had replaced in a suburban cost me about $1300 total. I'd hope you could pull it off for $2000. Most shops around Springfield, MO will R&R and engine for roughly $1000. If they have to pull the engine from the bottom of your car by removing the subframe, then it will probably cost more $$ because the transmission is coming out too, but call around.

Again, it's just another option. Cars don't scare me, they do others. Hopefully you can work a different angle and save yourself some dough. Or, as they say around here, "cheddar".

olivia

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I faced the same situation about 6 years ago with my late 90s Toyota Camry and I ended up replacing the engine. However, the engine didn't blow due to neglect, it was apparently a known issue with that year/model of Camry.

I'm not sure if it makes sense to replace the engine if the car has other issues...what does the mechanic think?  And can you recoup some of the costs from the mechanic not replacing the cap after an oil change? 

retiringearly

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I would hesitate putting $4k in a car that is worth $4k.  Also, the car has not been properly maintained, I suspect the rest of the fluids have not been changed per schedule (transmission, coolant, brake).  Dues to lack of maintenance, you most likely have a car that has other problems coming up.

If I did have the engine replaced, I would not do it through a dealer. Have a rebuilt engine installed at an independent mechanic.

Jack

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First, are you sure the car is actually only worth $4-5.5K? I don't really care what Edmunds/KBB say it "should" be worth; what matters is what comparable cars are actually selling for in your area (which could be very different). This is especially true if your car has an unusual combination of options (e.g. a manual transmission) that make it scarce but more desirable for certain types of buyers.

Second, even if the dealer is great, having an independent mechanic do the engine swap is almost certainly going to be much cheaper.

Third, I'm not going to say much about how the missing oil cap led to a seized engine, because if you can't say anything nice then you shouldn't say anything at all. Just be aware that, had the failure occurred sooner after the oil change, the liability for the repair cost could have been on the mechanic who failed to replace the cap. But since you never checked it in a year(!), that's probably on you.

Kaplin261

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Quote
we now only have $1,000 in liquid savings

This seems very low. What kind of salary do you have with a 75 mile commute? So with a investment of $3600-4100 you would have a dependable car worth $4,000-$5,000? What you have invested in this car before is now irrelevant, it's only value is what it's worth at the moment in its current condition.

If it were me, I would sell it as is, and move close enough to my employer I could ride a bike or ebike until your savings is at a higher rate.

Or finance something if you can get a low interest rate, if the debt comes with less than 3% interest rate and allows you to pay $4,000 to a debt with 7% interest rate or higher you will be doing better in the long run.

neo von retorch

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In my opinion, what the car is "worth" with a working engine only matters if you're about to sell it. Since that wasn't on your list of options, your real comparison is:

1) How much will it cost me to repair this car and operate it over the next five years
2) How much will it cost me to sell this car, purchase another, and operate it over the next five years

If you're going to the dealer for repairs and maintenance, you're probably better off just getting a different car. (Preferably one where you are more comfortable taking it to a local, independent mechanic.) If you get competitive quotes from local mechanics, you can probably end up better off just repairing the car.

bellamama810

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Thank you everyone for your feedback. To answer questions...

1. If the engine went kaput because of neglect, what else is on it's way out? How are the brakes, tires, and transmission? How about the heat & A/C?

Brakes and tires are new, catalytic converter has been replaced under warranty and some other misc. items in the last year. Interesting that you mention the A/C. About a week before the engine issue, we had an extremely loud sound coming out of the A/C unit which ended up self-correcting. We need to have them check that as well! He's also calling the dealer to get full records of what has been done. We've had it in the shop at least 3 times over the last year.

I'm not sure if it makes sense to replace the engine if the car has other issues...what does the mechanic think?  And can you recoup some of the costs from the mechanic not replacing the cap after an oil change? 

My husband isn't sure he even has the receipt. Problem is my husband's ignorance over the fact that the engine was likely already damaged by the time he discovered the cap was missing (maybe 3 months later when he was replacing wiper fluid). When he discovered it, he drove to AutoZone, had a guy help him check the oil level and bought a replacement cap. They added 4 quarts! Current mechanic says that was just a band-aid. I really don't know if we have any recourse as it would be hard to prove at this stage, I would think? Ugh. Dealer did say that the Cube's have been very reliable. Said he's only replaced one transmission for that year and this is the first engine.

I don't know where you are, so it may be a little more difficult than were I am due to availability and cost of living. I'd buy a used engine - even from ebay. To get an idea on prices look here:

We live in Pittsburgh so cost of living is not too high. Thank you for the suggestions. We're checking into all options!

2. The problem with getting a beater for a couple grand is that unless you know what to look for, you will be potentially just buying yourself another money pit.

Very good point.

First, are you sure the car is actually only worth $4-5.5K? I don't really care what Edmunds/KBB say it "should" be worth; what matters is what comparable cars are actually selling for in your area (which could be very different). This is especially true if your car has an unusual combination of options (e.g. a manual transmission) that make it scarce but more desirable for certain types of buyers.

Second, even if the dealer is great, having an independent mechanic do the engine swap is almost certainly going to be much cheaper.

Third, I'm not going to say much about how the missing oil cap led to a seized engine, because if you can't say anything nice then you shouldn't say anything at all. Just be aware that, had the failure occurred sooner after the oil change, the liability for the repair cost could have been on the mechanic who failed to replace the cap. But since you never checked it in a year(!), that's probably on you.

I used KBB (though I know they're usually high), Edmunds, Craigslist, AutoTrader (local) and other local listings to determine approximate value. They've stopped making them, so they may eventually be a "collectible." They're also very desirable for people with handicaps or other physical limitations as they are very accessible (that's why my husband bought it). That said, my husband parked it in the city for years and it's gotten pretty dinged up, so it's about average condition (I took that into account in my valuation). Found a local mint-looking Cube with 80k also at another dealer for $7900 and another 2010 for $6000 on Craigslist. There aren't too many, so it's a bit of a guess though.

This seems very low. What kind of salary do you have with a 75 mile commute... If it were me, I would sell it as is, and move close enough to my employer I could ride a bike or ebike until your savings is at a higher rate.

Yes, our savings is low. We're just starting out on our path to financial wellness, I have an ex who stopped paying child support a year and a half ago and my husband has significant medical expenses which require us to set aside several thousand a year at the outset for our high-deductible plan, so please don't judge. I can only start where we're at. I am also well aware that my husband's salary ($50k) does not justify the roughly 35 mile each way commute, but I work in the complete opposite direction (13 miles away) with $65k salary, so it doesn't make sense for us to move closer to his work, and he's actively working on trying to find a closer job. Not easy in this market for what he does (digital designer / art director) at his age (50). I am actively looking for work closer to home to improve our situation as well. Last year my husband was laid off at his previous job and this was the only thing that came through. Continued unemployment was not an option.

I do agree with your assessment, but for us it would have to be a longer term strategy given our situation.

In my opinion, what the car is "worth" with a working engine only matters if you're about to sell it. Since that wasn't on your list of options, your real comparison is:

1) How much will it cost me to repair this car and operate it over the next five years
2) How much will it cost me to sell this car, purchase another, and operate it over the next five years

All very good points to consider, thank you. You're right  if the car was still working, we would NOT be looking to sell. We had planned to keep it for the long haul (though with better maintenance from here on out!!).

Uturn

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I read all over this forum about folks no knowing how to fix their car.  Maybe it's because I'm comparatively old around here, but I would be buying pizza a beer to talk some buddies into helping me swap out the engine that I just pulled from the junk yard.  Do younger folks really not know anyone who can help them swap a motor? 

use2betrix

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With a $115k combined salary you should be able to make some very easy cuts to save up and pay cash for another vehicle of similar value, or to repair this car. Also, I hope you've had a very stern discussion with your car about vehicle maintenance.

NoStacheOhio

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I read all over this forum about folks no knowing how to fix their car.  Maybe it's because I'm comparatively old around here, but I would be buying pizza a beer to talk some buddies into helping me swap out the engine that I just pulled from the junk yard.  Do younger folks really not know anyone who can help them swap a motor?

Yes.

But also, what was the most recent model year swap you did?

otter

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Leaving the oil filler cap off was obviously negligent on the mechanic's part, but your husband's negligence in not noticing it for three months (!!?!) effectively eliminates any culpability the mechanic as. If your FLAPS added 4 quarts to the engine it was practically dry - he just wasn't taking care of the car.

I did an engine swap in one of my cars for about $1000 total (buying the engine, misc. other parts, some due-diligence stuff) so it is certainly possible to not spend $4k (the engine in your Cube is neither rare nor particularly expensive) but this requires being a proficient DIY and some people are and others are not; you obviously are not. Nothing wrong with that, it just means paying for the labor.

I agree with the judgment of the poster who pointed out that its current market value with a good engine is not relevant unless you are going to sell it after you replace the engine. With a good replacement engine, you will get a lot more than a few years' more use out of the Cube...*if* you take care of the thing. I think you will pay less money in the long run to keep the Cube than to buy a $2k beater, but it is a much bigger up-front expenditure and if you can't do it, you can't do it.

Paul | pdgessler

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Also, I hope you've had a very stern discussion with your car about vehicle maintenance.

Yeah, I hope so too! Cars these days have no respect for authority. The last time my car didn't change its oil on time, I had to put the fear of God into it! (In addition to some Pennzoil.)

bellamama810

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Also, I hope you've had a very stern discussion with your car about vehicle maintenance.

Yeah, I hope so too! Cars these days have no respect for authority. The last time my car didn't change its oil on time, I had to put the fear of God into it! (In addition to some Pennzoil.)

YES! I'm even thinking of enrolling him in some sort of car care class, which I could use as well. :)

I read all over this forum about folks no knowing how to fix their car.  Maybe it's because I'm comparatively old around here, but I would be buying pizza a beer to talk some buddies into helping me swap out the engine that I just pulled from the junk yard.  Do younger folks really not know anyone who can help them swap a motor?

I think that depends. I'm 39 and have a younger coworker who has done it on his own (old) cars before. This one is a bit more complex. And I think it also relates to how we were raised. For instance, my Dad from the moment I started driving drilled into me the warning signs for oil, how to check it, etc., and what to do if noises or the light ever went off (stop immediately!). My husband's light never came on, but he also didn't grow up with a Dad who taught him how to check fluid levels and such. My own ignorance was that I assumed, wrongly, that with the number of times it had been in for repairs, he would have had it done. I actually am going to try to find a basic car maintenance class to enroll us in, so we can do our own brake pads and such!

Leaving the oil filler cap off was obviously negligent on the mechanic's part, but your husband's negligence in not noticing it for three months (!!?!) effectively eliminates any culpability the mechanic as.

Absolutely. That's what we figured.

I did an engine swap in one of my cars for about $1000 total (buying the engine, misc. other parts, some due-diligence stuff) so it is certainly possible to not spend $4k (the engine in your Cube is neither rare nor particularly expensive) but this requires being a proficient DIY and some people are and others are not; you obviously are not. Nothing wrong with that, it just means paying for the labor.

I agree with the judgment of the poster who pointed out that its current market value with a good engine is not relevant unless you are going to sell it after you replace the engine. With a good replacement engine, you will get a lot more than a few years' more use out of the Cube...*if* you take care of the thing. I think you will pay less money in the long run to keep the Cube than to buy a $2k beater, but it is a much bigger up-front expenditure and if you can't do it, you can't do it.

Some good news. DH just called a mechanic a friend trusts and they quoted us $2,060 for the exact same specs. Infinitely more doable than the $4000 and what you're saying makes sense. Assuming I can get him on top of maintenance (and yes, we've had a BIG discussion about this), we would like to keep this car as long as physically possible. And ideally, a new job closer to home will follow which will keep wear/tear down also.

Thanks to all!
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Uturn

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But also, what was the most recent model year swap you did?

I'm not quite sure why this is relevant, but my sister's 01 Cherokee.  I get that new cars have more sensors and computers, but swapping like for like is not tough. 

Like I said, maybe it's generational.  When I hear "my car's broke", the first thing that comes to my mind is "let me grab my toolbox."  Then again, I purposely bought my first car with a blown motor so that I would have to learn to fix them.  Through my teens and 20's, I knew so many people that could fix cars, I don't remember anyone taking them to shops.  It's not the OP not knowing how to work on his car that I'm having a problem wrapping my head around, it's the no knowing someone who does.  Oh well, maybe it's time I sit outside and yell at people walking on my lawn. 

Fishindude

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If you don't fix it, you need to get rid of it regardless, in which case a non running car is pretty much only worth salvage.
I'd fix it as cheaply as possible so you can get it sold, and look to replace with something a bit better, more reliable considering all the driving he is doing.

Gone Fishing

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How did the engine finally fail?  Did it throw a rod?  Seize? Lose compression?  It's a mute point, but the one time I left my filler cap off, smoke was emanating from under the hood (from oil droplets getting on the manifold) and the smell of burning oil was profound within 30 miles of driving.  Did your husband experience any of these symptoms?  If so, did he just ignore them and drive on?   Did your husband verify the oil level when the AZ guy topped it up?  Is there any chance it was some dummy who thought the engine should actually be full?

You say you've had it in for other things.  Any shop worth their salt shouldn't have missed a missing oil cap.  Fire them immediately.

The way I see it. The damage is done, right now you have a car worth $300-800 or so in salvage value.  Add a $2k motor and you have what should be a very drivable car for a "cost" of under $3k.   

BlueMR2

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I'm about to put around $10k into a car that's got a book value of $2.5k.  I don't feel bad at all as I can't get *actually* get nearly as nice or as fast a car for that $10k...  My experience is that book values are rubbish.  You need to do your own research to determine the value based on what's selling in your area.

otter

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$2000 sounds about right - if you can swing that amount, you're well ahead spending it on a new engine for the Cube vs. buying a $2000 beater.

Someone or another has said something to the effect that doing an engine swap on a newer car is more complicated than on an older one. I do not really understand the point the poster is trying to make - as stated, it's not particularly true. Obviously swaps involving different powertrains, especially those that are much newer than the vehicle they are going into, or that involve newer German cars, can get pretty involved. E.g. if you want to put a newish VW TDI motor in your old diesel Rabbit, you're going to spend quite a while getting all the details right so everything works. But like-for-like is simple, and it is no more complicated on a 2008 Cube than on, say, a 1993 Sentra. They are a fair amount of work, but not complicated - disconnect everything that attaches powertrain to chassis, drop/pull powertrain, installation is the reverse of removal. Drive axles, cooling, ancillaries, intake, exhaust, mounts, electrical - that's about it.