Author Topic: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma  (Read 5571 times)

Rural

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Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« on: January 09, 2014, 06:48:51 PM »
Okay, we have a potentially dead Jeep (water leaking out of the front of the block itself, not from the thermostat housing as we'd thought). We're going to have it towed and looked at to get a sense of whether it's worth fixing.

Meantime, we thought we had a passable backup vehicle for him to just get to work, 5.5 miles away (biking is out due to mountains and due to I won't ask him to do what I won't do). However, the backup, our 1982 Tercel, doesn't start without being sprayed with starter fluid, doesn't charge though he's replaced a bad alternator and the wire between the alternator and battery, and put in a known good battery ( from the bad-transmission truck). Finally, steam starts rising from the radiator just about the time it arrives at the other end of the 5.5 mile commute. Plus no heat, no radio, and various other minor discomforts and inconveniences. The thing cost us $800 three years ago and we've more that gotten our money back in gas savings because it was a daily driver for a year on a thirty-mile each way commute we no longer have. Now, though, it's truly unsafe, and the cost to get it safe and sort of reliable is probably much more than it's worth. Even if it doesn't cost much, right now we don't have the time to do all the troubleshooting it will take to figure out all the issues.

We made do this week with a combination of carpooling (three days) and him driving the unsafe Toyota one day when I work late (past the time when he would've been locked out of the building in single-digit temps). One day he was furloughed, and I left him stranded at home, also not ideal.

We can carpool easily enough two days every week and three days most weeks. But on the nights I work late, it isn't possible because I can't get to him before he's kicked out, and he'd have to do two 70-mile round trips, one starting at about 6am, to drop me off instead. Plus next week he has jury duty (federal grand jury) 40 miles away and 50 miles from where I work. Carpooling won't work at all then.

So, we need a vehicle next week. We need to know if the jeep can be fixed. And, given our rural environment, we need a third backup vehicle of some sort.

We're not getting any younger, and he's working full time and trying to finish our house, so we're considering a newer vehicle than we usually look at, maybe something made this millennium (this is a big deal for us, but cutting down on the time spent working on vehicles would be a major plus). Max price right now is $8,000, which is pretty doable here (low COL rural area, remember).

We're considering a full-size pickup with camper shell. It would need to be 4WD to manage our road. Advantages include hauling of building supplies (every month or sometimes more often) hauling of Great Danes (every couple of months), towing our trailer when we need to move truly large items or vehicles (rare but saving hundreds to DIY when it needs doing), and camping (2-4 times a year). It would be his daily driver, and the fuel mileage would be poor, we know, but his short commute would keep the cost down.

The other option, at the opposite extreme, is a small car with front wheel drive and good fuel mileage. We could likely get one for less than a truck of the same age, and front wheel drive will manage our road in most weather (2WD pickups won't, ever,  because they just spin--rear wheel drive and a light back end). The primary advantage, the better fuel mileage, is partially offset by his short commute, and a car would not haul supplies, the trailer, or Danes or serve as a camper.

Having looked around the area, we think we could get an early 2000s car for ~4,000 vs. close to our $8,000 max for a truck.

Neither option gets us a backup vehicle, but a newer vehicle for him should buy us time to see about the Jeep and maybe to work on the Toyota.

We will look this weekend in case the perfect deal turns up, and if we have to we'll rent a car for jury duty (cheaper than prison, after all).

But, looking over all these considerations, what would you do? Do you see options I'm overlooking?

Greg

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2014, 07:09:42 PM »
I would put some time into fixing the simple issues with the Tercel and wait on the Jeep diagnosis.  No real need for a backup vehicle.

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2014, 07:20:00 PM »
I would put some time into fixing the simple issues with the Tercel and wait on the Jeep diagnosis.  No real need for a backup vehicle.

This week has proven the need for a backup vehicle.

 How long would you rent, do you think, while trying to resolve issues? Looks like we can do that for about $170 a week, taxes included.

I agree the Tercel is worth working on, but I'm not counting on the issues being simple. They could be.

mlipps

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2014, 08:17:52 PM »
I think renting is worth it for a week or two, since that should be sufficient time to clear up exactly what's wrong w/both cars & how much it will cost. Then, you can see which one(s) is fixable & at what price, so you know how much have to spend on a new car if needed. Plus, it seems if the Tercel is the unfixable one, the small car would be the better replacement, but if it's the jeep, then maybe you could spring for the truck so you keep a vehicle that will get by in the winter months.

unpolloloco

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2014, 10:23:31 AM »
What about an outback or forester (or other small awd wagon or SUV)?  Would hit most/all of the advantages of the truck without the bad mileage.  Not sure about purchase prices though.

Also, you might be able to get out of jury duty citing transportation issues.  Worth a shot at lest!

beanlady

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2014, 10:33:43 AM »
You can't make decisions until you know what it would actually cost to get your current vehicles back on the road.

I recommend against having a third vehicle... seems like a lot of money/ effort to have something that is likely to sit there and then not be functional when needed (like the Tercel). Getting to know neighbors/ friends who might be able to help you put in this kind of short-term jam would be a better solution (and you of course would reciprocate).

From what you've said, the Jeep seems more likely to be worth fixing, so I'd recommend buying a small car if you must do it before you have all the information you need.

(And yeah, postpone jury duty if possible!)

Greg

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2014, 11:14:51 AM »
I agree the Tercel is worth working on, but I'm not counting on the issues being simple. They could be.

Overheating: Check water pump belt tension, thermostat, radiator cap.  No heat may be related (thermostat again).
Charging: Check that the battery warning light in the dash works when you turn the key on, without it the alternator won't charge.  Should go out on startup/when charging starts.
Starting: Check for proper choke/fast idle operation, fuel pump/filter.

These are relatively simple things on an '82 Tercel. 

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2014, 11:37:55 AM »
I agree the Tercel is worth working on, but I'm not counting on the issues being simple. They could be.

Overheating: Check water pump belt tension, thermostat, radiator cap.  No heat may be related (thermostat again).
Charging: Check that the battery warning light in the dash works when you turn the key on, without it the alternator won't charge.  Should go out on startup/when charging starts.
Starting: Check for proper choke/fast idle operation, fuel pump/filter.

These are relatively simple things on an '82 Tercel.

Other than the starting, which we haven't addressed at all because it's workable, we've checked all of those things on the Tercel already, plus replaced the alternator. That's why I'm not sure how simple it will be. My current suspicion for charging is the charge relay, and I have not yet figured out where to get one anymore.

This afternoon, the tow truck I called could not get up our road to retrieve the Jeep. So, Monday will hopefully be the day the jeep goes to the shop and then we'll see what that will take. I'm leaning strongly towards holding off until we see, because today made clear that we have to have one functioning four-wheel-drive vehicle. In the meantime, since the tow truck tore the road up so significantly, I'm not positive that I can get our one working vehicle out of here safely until some of the mud dries. The deep freeze has officially thawed. Sigh.

I did look into Subarus (I've wanted an Outback for years) but I think the cost is going to be more than we want to pay. Plus we're looking at 24 miles per gallon for an outback, not as much better as i would have thought. I'm not sure the difference is enough to make a difference given that the Subaru won't do what we need. It will do most of what we need, though, so we're still going to look for Subarus semi locally.

On the issue of the backup vehicle: We can call on friends, neighbors, family in an emergency, so that's not really our issue. But, just for example, it's 40 miles each way to anywhere to rent a vehicle. So it's not a small favor that we would be asking those friends and neighbors, certainly not something I'd want to do on a regular basis. Plus, without a backup vehicle, we find ourselves in a rush to get something fixed (like now), and so we buy time by paying someone else to do the repairs (or trying to, in this case, thanks to the tow truck situation). If we had a reliable backup vehicle, we have the time to make repairs on the jeep ourselves, or at least to spend more time diagnosing the problem. If the block is cracked, that's not something I want my husband replacing, because I don't want him pulling it. He's done it before, several times, but as I mentioned, not getting younger here.

Here's an example on the backup vehicle issue: the tow truck operator wouldn't take anything for his trouble today, but if he'd gotten the Jeep, I'd have paid him $65 for the tow. That's more than insurance on the Tercel for six months (and registration this year was $22), without even looking at what repairs might cost.

Good thoughts on trying to postpone the jury duty. Reading over the summons, it doesn't look like transportation is an acceptable excuse, but it can't hurt anything to call and ask.

Update: the jury duty can't be excused for vehicles, but fortunately the whole thing has been put off by a week. That helps, though the practice of federal courts doing stuff like this surely doesn't help schools who have to organize substitute teachers (I called his school since he's not likely to see my email until all the administrators have gone home for the weekend).

By the way: we've gotten into this situation because all the long-term car projects have been put on hold in the push to finish the house, for about two years now. It's why we didn't know what sad shape the Tercel was in until we needed it. Oil changes happened, but that's about all. So when the Jeep developed a real problem, we were stuck. We'll get unstuck; I just want to avoid doing so by throwing more money than we have to at the problem. I do want to get one vehicle that will require fewer long-term projects, but not under pressure. IN my experience, that's when the really regrettable car decisions happen.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 12:10:38 PM by Rural »

Spork

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2014, 02:02:28 PM »

I'm not nearly as facepunchy on a cheap #3 vehicle.  I'm currently at a face-punch-worthy 2.5 vehicles per driver (though one is supposedly going to be sold in the next week or so).  And while I live "a little out in the sticks"... it doesn't compare to up in the mountains, over the hill and far away -- past grandmother's house.

When I bought my last replacement, I just took the MMM "top 10 cars for smart people" and browsed craigslist.   I was in a better spot -- I wasn't under constraints of a broken car, I just needed one that got better mileage.  It took me a few months... though I might have been being picky.  If I needed one RIGHT EFFIN NOW I probably would have not been quite as choosy.

Good luck.... and here's hoping the Jeep water leak is just a popped out freeze plug.

luigi49

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2014, 03:39:26 PM »
Okay, we have a potentially dead Jeep (water leaking out of the front of the block itself, not from the thermostat housing as we'd thought). We're going to have it towed and looked at to get a sense of whether it's worth fixing.

Meantime, we thought we had a passable backup vehicle for him to just get to work, 5.5 miles away (biking is out due to mountains and due to I won't ask him to do what I won't do). However, the backup, our 1982 Tercel, doesn't start without being sprayed with starter fluid, doesn't charge though he's replaced a bad alternator and the wire between the alternator and battery, and put in a known good battery ( from the bad-transmission truck). Finally, steam starts rising from the radiator just about the time it arrives at the other end of the 5.5 mile commute. Plus no heat, no radio, and various other minor discomforts and inconveniences. The thing cost us $800 three years ago and we've more that gotten our money back in gas savings because it was a daily driver for a year on a thirty-mile each way commute we no longer have. Now, though, it's truly unsafe, and the cost to get it safe and sort of reliable is probably much more than it's worth. Even if it doesn't cost much, right now we don't have the time to do all the troubleshooting it will take to figure out all the issues.

We made do this week with a combination of carpooling (three days) and him driving the unsafe Toyota one day when I work late (past the time when he would've been locked out of the building in single-digit temps). One day he was furloughed, and I left him stranded at home, also not ideal.

We can carpool easily enough two days every week and three days most weeks. But on the nights I work late, it isn't possible because I can't get to him before he's kicked out, and he'd have to do two 70-mile round trips, one starting at about 6am, to drop me off instead. Plus next week he has jury duty (federal grand jury) 40 miles away and 50 miles from where I work. Carpooling won't work at all then.

So, we need a vehicle next week. We need to know if the jeep can be fixed. And, given our rural environment, we need a third backup vehicle of some sort.

We're not getting any younger, and he's working full time and trying to finish our house, so we're considering a newer vehicle than we usually look at, maybe something made this millennium (this is a big deal for us, but cutting down on the time spent working on vehicles would be a major plus). Max price right now is $8,000, which is pretty doable here (low COL rural area, remember).

We're considering a full-size pickup with camper shell. It would need to be 4WD to manage our road. Advantages include hauling of building supplies (every month or sometimes more often) hauling of Great Danes (every couple of months), towing our trailer when we need to move truly large items or vehicles (rare but saving hundreds to DIY when it needs doing), and camping (2-4 times a year). It would be his daily driver, and the fuel mileage would be poor, we know, but his short commute would keep the cost down.

The other option, at the opposite extreme, is a small car with front wheel drive and good fuel mileage. We could likely get one for less than a truck of the same age, and front wheel drive will manage our road in most weather (2WD pickups won't, ever,  because they just spin--rear wheel drive and a light back end). The primary advantage, the better fuel mileage, is partially offset by his short commute, and a car would not haul supplies, the trailer, or Danes or serve as a camper.

Having looked around the area, we think we could get an early 2000s car for ~4,000 vs. close to our $8,000 max for a truck.

Neither option gets us a backup vehicle, but a newer vehicle for him should buy us time to see about the Jeep and maybe to work on the Toyota.

We will look this weekend in case the perfect deal turns up, and if we have to we'll rent a car for jury duty (cheaper than prison, after all).

But, looking over all these considerations, what would you do? Do you see options I'm overlooking?

Try this for a cheap repair that will take you through the next car savings.  I have used this and have success and sometimes disappointment.   Most times it worked.  Its called WATER WELD if not try JB WELD   Water weld is easy to work with.  Good luck!

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2014, 04:43:56 AM »

I'm not nearly as facepunchy on a cheap #3 vehicle.  I'm currently at a face-punch-worthy 2.5 vehicles per driver (though one is supposedly going to be sold in the next week or so).  And while I live "a little out in the sticks"... it doesn't compare to up in the mountains, over the hill and far away -- past grandmother's house.

When I bought my last replacement, I just took the MMM "top 10 cars for smart people" and browsed craigslist.   I was in a better spot -- I wasn't under constraints of a broken car, I just needed one that got better mileage.  It took me a few months... though I might have been being picky.  If I needed one RIGHT EFFIN NOW I probably would have not been quite as choosy.

Good luck.... and here's hoping the Jeep water leak is just a popped out freeze plug.

Thanks, Spork. I was hoping you'd chime in. You've just described our usual vehicle purchase method. :-) We just let it go too far this time because of time constraints with the house, and we may end up paying for it. On the bright side, we have a house free and clear as a result, so I guess a used vehicle at dealer prices isn't so bad in perspective if it comes to that.

Sadly, it's not a freezer plug. That would be a DIY repair around here, but we can see the leak, and it's not near the plugs. We're probably really waiting to hear the price for a rebuilt engine, but we're going to hold out hope anyway.

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2014, 05:03:33 AM »
Oh, and to update: I did get the car down our road to pick my husband up from work. He got it back up, too, which may have been a mistake judging by the current rain, but probably not -- down is fairly easy, after all. :-)

Current plan is to work on the Tercel this weekend and get it more drivable for him next week. Get the Jeep to the shop on Monday (charging the battery so I can drive it down the hill-- it's about a quarter mile to the main road, and we're thinking it won't do damage in that short a distance. Then the tow company can get it to the shop. We'll decide nice we hear from them, and start looking for a purchase if that's what we have to do. If we don't find something we think we would have been happy with if we weren't under pressure, we'll rent for the jury duty and keep looking.

Right now, we need to see if the steam was a real problem or just a relic of spilling some antifreeze on the tip of the engine in topping it off on a cold morning. It only did it once, the first time he drove it, and no sign of trouble from the thermostat. If all we have is the charging, work on that, and maybe even on the difficult starting.

Luigi49: We are familiar with JB Weld and its many useful applications :-). I'd never seen their waterweld product before, though. I've been looking at reviews online and seeing lots of applications for oil pans and gas tanks (personally, I'd replace the oil pan), but at least one successful use on a block for over 70k miles. Not quite sure how I feel about what seems like it ought to be a temporary patch, but it's definitely worth further looking into. Thanks for bringing it up.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2014, 07:04:22 AM »
If it's a noticeable leak at rest (e.g. not when under pressure), JB Weld and the like aren't going to do anything. I had success with a slow leak in a heater core, but not with a larger leak in a radiator, nor one by thermostat.

I would second that Subarus, while very capable in off-road situations (more capable than many small SUVS, since the ground clearance is often higher), suck at gas mileage. My wife loves her 97 Outback (Legacy) but it's well under 20mpg. If we lived in a rural area, maybe 20 tops average. If you hate changing head gaskets, stay away from early 00 models. Read somewhere on here that that's a known flaw with the block designs from that era.

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2014, 03:55:39 PM »
If it's a noticeable leak at rest (e.g. not when under pressure), JB Weld and the like aren't going to do anything. I had success with a slow leak in a heater core, but not with a larger leak in a radiator, nor one by thermostat.

It's starting to look like the weekend and reasonable temps are going to be kind to us. Upon inspection by daylight and without worrying about frostbite, the water leak does seem to have been from behind the recently replaced thermostat housing. He removed it and we found some of the metal is slightly pitted right there on the front of the block where the housing attaches, and the area was pretty greasy as well. I cleaned it (q-tips and rubbing alcohol for the win) and he put the housing back on with a liquid gasket to(hopefully)get a seal against the pitted metal. We're giving that 24 hours to cure, then we'll see.

On the Toyota, we found corrosion in the voltage regulator (which looks to be factory original) and found the engine fuse blown. The voltage regulator isnt somehting anyone locally can test, and the replacement is $50. So we tried the fuse first, and replacing it allowed the vehicle to charge --probably -- at any rate, the charge light went out. Progress! But on test driving and raising the rpm, the light came back on and the new fuse was blown when he got back. So we're back to the voltage regulator, which is ordered and, miraculously enough, will be here in the morning.

So, while it's possible that we'll end the day tomorrow right where we started today, it's also possible we'll have both vehicles fixed without going to a shop. Time will tell....
Quote
I would second that Subarus, while very capable in off-road situations (more capable than many small SUVS, since the ground clearance is often higher), suck at gas mileage. My wife loves her 97 Outback (Legacy) but it's well under 20mpg. If we lived in a rural area, maybe 20 tops average. If you hate changing head gaskets, stay away from early 00 models. Read somewhere on here that that's a known flaw with the block designs from that era.

Yes, I read the same thing researching them earlier this week. I am most definitely blown head gasket-averse, and that led me away from one down in the next town for $4500. Newer ones are more.

Greg

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2014, 04:09:36 PM »
Sounds like potential progress!  I'm interested to hear how these car projects turn out.

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2014, 04:53:23 PM »
Sounds like potential progress!  I'm interested to hear how these car projects turn out.

I'll keep you posted. I forgot to add that I found the source of the steam from the Tercel the other morning -- a slow drip out from under the radiator cap. Paid for that when I ordered the voltage regulator (over the phone), and we'll pick it up when we go get the regulator tomorrow.

Having the pressure of the workweek and the pending jury duty eased has helped a lot, and daylight sure doesn't hurt...

Rural

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2014, 07:40:58 PM »
Just lost a long post on the solution to our vehicle dilemma. In a nutshell, for about $70 of parts, we got both vehicles running agian, so life is good. Thanks, every one, for the help.

The voltage regulator and another fuse fixed the Tercel charging problem, and a new radiator cap fixed the slow leak of coolant.

The cleaning and liquid gasket have fixed the more severe water problem with the Jeep, which means it wasn't a cracked block at all.

We're delighted not to have to buy another vehicle, and the break in the weather and wit the jury duty went a long way toward making us better able to troubleshoot calmly and methodically.

Thanks agian for the advice, everyone.

Greg

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Re: Help me think through a vehicle dilemma
« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2014, 08:43:16 PM »
Sounds like a great outcome, congratulations!