Author Topic: When to retire a car?  (Read 5049 times)

mrigney

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When to retire a car?
« on: May 29, 2017, 11:11:02 PM »
I know this has been asked before, but I'm going to ask it again. When is it time to retire a car?

Situation...I've been driving the same car since high school (2001). Car is a 1996 Nissan Maxima. Has been about as good of a car as you can get. In 2005ish (when I was in college), had the transmission rebuilt. That was ~120k miles ago. It's going strong. About 7 years ago, had the rack and pinion replaced (about $1k). It's fine. Other than that, oil, battery, brakes. The normal stuff you do on every car.

Yesterday, driving home I overheated. Added some coolant, made it home, but was clearly leaking. Got a radiator pressure tester today to track down the leak. Not an easy spot like a hose. Had a friend who rebuilds cars come over and look. He says it's almost certainly either the water pump or the head gasket. He'd lean toward water pump, but isn't sure. Problem now is that although the water pump is a cheap part, in my car it's a pain int he ass to get to. Involves jacking the engine, unbolting it, etc, etc. For someone like me who is mildly compotent on a good day, it is going to be extremely difficult...maybe beyond my ability? If I get in there and it's the head gasket, I'd say I"m obviously done. If it's the water pump, it's really tough to replace. Don't think I could do it myself honestly.

Called a few places today. Only one open. They quoted $600 to replace the water pump (part plus labor).

The question basically is....at what point do you retire a car? What would you do in my shoes? We're talking about a car that is 21 years old, 211k miles. In good working order, worth maybe $1200-1500 (quick craigslist search for similar cars). Would you risk replacing the water pump? Or just ditch and get something else (I've already found a few great Honda Accords...things like a 1995 with 108k miles for $2k that looks like it's in legitimately good shape)? If I knew for sure the water pump would fix my leak, I'd be more tempted. My fear is I"d just be throwing $600 down the drain if I did that, though.

Thoughts?

JLee

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2017, 11:13:14 PM »
Have you done a compression or leakdown test? That will likely tell you if your head gasket(s) is gone.

Linea_Norway

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2017, 02:49:02 AM »
Do the test first, to know for sure what is wrong. Then, if the repair costs much more than the car is worth and you cannot fix it yourself, I would switch it for the Honda.
You probably don't get the expected price for it with the leaking water pump.

mrigney

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2017, 06:45:53 AM »
@Linda_Norway yeah, definitely can't get $1300 for it right now. Just using that as a reference number for what the car is worth when in working order.

@JLee Havent done a compression/leak-down test. Wasn't familiar with that test. Reading up on it now. Something I can do myself?

Luckily I have 4 weeks probably before I have to make a decision, so I can play around for a while.

shawndoggy

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2017, 06:52:55 AM »
what's the basis for the concern over the (a... it's a v6, right?) head gasket?  Did you see white "smoke" from the tailpipe while this was happening (good indication of catastrophic failure because coolant is getting burned off as steam) or when you pull the dipstick is the oil frothy (indication of coolant making into an oil galley)?

If the oil is clean and you aren't getting white smoke, I'd focus on the cooling system.

frugaliknowit

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2017, 08:40:38 AM »
I would NOT replace the water pump unless I were SURE it was the water pump (partly because the repair is 1/2 the value of the car!).

Have you tried running the motor at operating temperature and shining a bright light around the water pump to see if there's water coming out of the pump area (I know that can be hard to see, since there's all kinds of stuff on top of the water pump...).  As others have said, if it's the head gasket, you should see white smoke and the oil would have some water in it...


Syonyk

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2017, 09:47:44 AM »
When there's catastrophic body rust that makes it unsafe to drive.

A water pump or head gasket are not that. :)

Though, before wasting a lot of time and money on repairs, I'd fill it, drive it, and keep track of it.  You may have a slow leak in the "Top it off every month or two" category, which I wouldn't worry about that much as long as it's not getting into the oil.  A head gasket leak would concern me a bit, but for a cheap older car like that, I'd try a tube of the head gasket weld stuff.  If it's the water pump... eh.  As long as it doesn't get catastrophic in a hurry, which it probably won't, just top it off every now and then.

Since you say finding the leak is hard, it means it's probably a slow leak.  Gather data then decide.

HipGnosis

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2017, 10:36:39 AM »
It's not totally clear what you are dealing with, so I can't give definitive advice.

Leaks can be a lot of places besides radiator, hoses, water pump or head gasket.
It is even possible for a car to overheat w/o leaking coolant.  Thermostats can become stuck.  Water pump impeller blades and seals erode away over time.   

Do not make any repairs without finding out what the cause of the problem actually is.   Paying a professional mechanic for diagnostics would be money well spent.   It could even help sell the car as you will be able to show buyers - eliminating fear of the unknown.

Beyond that - many mechanics recommend replacing water pumps every 100K miles. 
If you have the pump replaced, have the mechanic check the timing chain and tensioner - they are right behind the pump.

Bottom line - I would not consider one repair in 12 years reason to get rid of the car.  But.. at that age and mileage, you need to fully expect repairs to be needed more often. 


Schaefer Light

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2017, 10:48:55 AM »
My philosophy is to get rid of a car when the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of buying another car.

neo von retorch

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2017, 10:55:13 AM »
My philosophy is to get rid of a car when the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of buying another car.

Over what time period?

Syonyk

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2017, 11:04:09 AM »
My philosophy is to get rid of a car when the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of buying another car.

So you never repair your cars because you can find another few hundred dollar beater?  I know people who have done that for years (if you have a good tolerance for beaters, it's amazingly cheap transportation).

But in general, I disagree with that.  I hear it used a lot as an excuse ("Oh, my car needs $1000 of work, I'd better go spend $25k on a new car instead!") from people who just want a new car anyway, but there are relatively few problems with an older car that are fatal.

Body rust, as noted, is the big one.  That's just a cancer that doesn't get better, and to cut it out and rework the body is not worth the effort in almost all cases (short of a classic car being restored or something).

Almost all mechanical issues can be resolved, usually reasonably inexpensively.

I might also consider end-of-life to be a car that had worn out the rings, worn out the cylinder bores, and was having transmission issues - at that point, there's enough work that needs to go into rebuilding things that it's probably not worth it for a general transportation appliance, though most lower power cars will get to 300k miles before you start noticing compression issues from worn rings.

mrigney

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2017, 11:09:55 AM »
So let me clarify a few things about the situation....

1) This is definitely not a slow leak. When the cooling system is under pressure (car on/warm, or pressurized via a radiator pressure tester), the leak is a steady stream. I'd put it on the order of 3-4 oz/minute. So I would probably be running through over a gallon of coolant a day on my daily commute:-)

2) Leak isn't hard to find b/c of the speed of the leak. Leak is hard to find b/c it's coming from deep in the recesses of the engine that is unseeable w/o some disassembly. You can see the stream of coolant coming out the bottom near the oil pan, but can't see anything from above. Water pump is in a really hard place to get to in the '96 Maxima.

3) Talked to a local mechanic who I haven't used but who has been highly recommended by several friends (yesterday just talked to Pep Boys b/c they were teh only place open). He said he'd diagnose it for me and thought he could do it cheap/easily. Said he knows given the age of the car, I probably don't want to spend a ton diagnosing the problem. Also said he'd charge $400 to replace the pump. Based on what I told him, he said he'd lean heavily toward the water pump, but he'll check it out.

4) There is no apparent water/coolant in the oil. At least that's how it appears looking at the dipstick. Oil is slightly low, but otherwise normal looking.

At this point I'm definitely leaning towards fixing it. Doesn't seem catastrophic to me the more I think about it. If I can get a fix in the $500 range, I'll go that route.

ketchup

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2017, 11:13:32 AM »
I retire a car when the engine gives out, transmission gives out, the thing rusts to the point of being unsafe, or I crunch it into the back of a Jeep like a moron.  I'd also probably dump it if one or more of the first three things were imminent and something else annoying/expensive to fix pops up.

Beyond that though, fix it and keep driving.

Syonyk

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2017, 11:16:42 AM »
2) Leak isn't hard to find b/c of the speed of the leak. Leak is hard to find b/c it's coming from deep in the recesses of the engine that is unseeable w/o some disassembly. You can see the stream of coolant coming out the bottom near the oil pan, but can't see anything from above. Water pump is in a really hard place to get to in the '96 Maxima.

Ah.  Flashlights?  It's unlikely that a leak that fast is the head gasket, and that's definitely an external leak if it's coming out that way.

Quote
3) Talked to a local mechanic who I haven't used but who has been highly recommended by several friends (yesterday just talked to Pep Boys b/c they were teh only place open). He said he'd diagnose it for me and thought he could do it cheap/easily. Said he knows given the age of the car, I probably don't want to spend a ton diagnosing the problem. Also said he'd charge $400 to replace the pump. Based on what I told him, he said he'd lean heavily toward the water pump, but he'll check it out.

Where on earth do they put the water pump for those cars?  Buried under the timing cover or something?

In any case, it sounds like something failed, so should be pretty straightforward to fix and keep driving.

Silrossi46

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2017, 11:30:37 AM »
MY Car = 1996 Nissan Maxima =  301,000 original miles.   Runs and drives perfect with regular maintenance.  Never had a catastrophic failure of anything motor or transmission related.   I replaced the water pump on mine at 256,000.   Not to terrible of a job if you are fairly mechanical and have the tools and garage to do so.   If not get a reputable mechanic to do the job.  If the car was maintained and does not burn oil fix it.  These motors and transmissions in these 4th generation maximas are virtually bullet proof if maintained.  I intend to drive mine past 500,000 miles and beyond.   I have never seen a stronger car other than early Mercedes benz diesels and maybe mid 90's Volvos.   

Clean Shaven

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #15 on: May 30, 2017, 11:32:38 AM »
Since you've owned this car for 16 years and over 120K miles, you know its history.  During that time, have you ever replaced the water pump?  Or any of the hoses containing coolant?  (two running to/from radiator, and two running to/from heater core)

Schaefer Light

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #16 on: May 30, 2017, 12:45:42 PM »
My philosophy is to get rid of a car when the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of buying another car.

Over what time period?
I think a 2 year time period is probably sufficient.  If I had to do something expensive this year like replacing a transmission, then that would make this a pretty expensive year.  But I'd still do it if the car seemed to be in good shape otherwise because I can't buy a decent car for what a transmission repair would cost.

Schaefer Light

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2017, 12:49:22 PM »
My philosophy is to get rid of a car when the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of buying another car.

So you never repair your cars because you can find another few hundred dollar beater?  I know people who have done that for years (if you have a good tolerance for beaters, it's amazingly cheap transportation).

But in general, I disagree with that.  I hear it used a lot as an excuse ("Oh, my car needs $1000 of work, I'd better go spend $25k on a new car instead!") from people who just want a new car anyway, but there are relatively few problems with an older car that are fatal.

Body rust, as noted, is the big one.  That's just a cancer that doesn't get better, and to cut it out and rework the body is not worth the effort in almost all cases (short of a classic car being restored or something).

Almost all mechanical issues can be resolved, usually reasonably inexpensively.

I might also consider end-of-life to be a car that had worn out the rings, worn out the cylinder bores, and was having transmission issues - at that point, there's enough work that needs to go into rebuilding things that it's probably not worth it for a general transportation appliance, though most lower power cars will get to 300k miles before you start noticing compression issues from worn rings.

Actually, I was coming at this from a different angle.  I'm not going to buy a beater.  When I look for a car, I want something reliable but still relatively inexpensive.  I'm the type of person who would look for an Accord or Camry with ~80-100k miles that appears to be in good shape.  It would take a series of expensive repairs for me to justify making that kind of purchase.

mrigney

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #18 on: May 30, 2017, 12:49:47 PM »
@Silrossi46 - You inspire me. I think I'm now determined to get it fixed. I've said I want to drive the car to 40....300k would put me past 40, so if I can just make it as far as you have I'll be good. Agreed that the car has been virtually bulletproof up to this point, so even more reason to shell out a little.

What does your "routine" maintenance look like for you on your Maxima?

@Clean Shaven - I've owned the car for 175k miles. Never replaced the water pump or hoses. Like I said above. This car has been extremely low maintenance. Two major repairs in 16 years.

Clean Shaven

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2017, 12:54:31 PM »
@Clean Shaven - I've owned the car for 175k miles. Never replaced the water pump or hoses. Like I said above. This car has been extremely low maintenance. Two major repairs in 16 years.

If you decide to repair it, I strongly recommend replacing all those hoses -- they are not lifetime parts.  Consider it cheap insurance against breakdowns.


Syonyk

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #20 on: May 30, 2017, 01:13:57 PM »
If you decide to repair it, I strongly recommend replacing all those hoses -- they are not lifetime parts.  Consider it cheap insurance against breakdowns.

^^ Definitely a good idea.

There are some parts on cars that are "miles" items and some that are "years" items.  In general, metal is a "miles" item and rubber is a "years" item.

If you've never replaced the various coolant hoses and you're going to have the cooling system mostly drained, that's an excellent time to replace all the hoses (and put in fresh coolant while you're in there).  Also, if you've never replaced it, you really should replace the thermostat while you're in there.  They get old and stop opening fully, and an overheating event can push them over the edge to "not working right" - so do that too.

I'm not sure how the water pump is turned (serpentine belt or timing belt), but you might want to consider replacing that belt while you're in there.  All the extra stuff will add another $200 or so to the repair cost, but most of the labor will be the same anyway.  I hate going through a section of the engine on an older vehicle and not replacing everything that I don't *know* the history of.

ketchup

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #21 on: May 30, 2017, 01:15:08 PM »
@Clean Shaven - I've owned the car for 175k miles. Never replaced the water pump or hoses. Like I said above. This car has been extremely low maintenance. Two major repairs in 16 years.

If you decide to repair it, I strongly recommend replacing all those hoses -- they are not lifetime parts.  Consider it cheap insurance against breakdowns.
+1.  I blew a hose on the highway a few months ago, and it was factory original after 253,xxx miles.  Should have been replaced way sooner.  I usually see every 5-10 years as a recommendation for rubber under the hood, more often if you live in the desert.  Probably makes sense to do at the same as replacing the water pump (or just during a coolant flush) and should be low in additional cost.

EDIT: Thermostat too, as Synonyk said above.  Those are usually easy and about $10 in parts and 10-20 minutes in work.

JLee

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #22 on: May 30, 2017, 02:45:28 PM »
@Linda_Norway yeah, definitely can't get $1300 for it right now. Just using that as a reference number for what the car is worth when in working order.

@JLee Havent done a compression/leak-down test. Wasn't familiar with that test. Reading up on it now. Something I can do myself?

Luckily I have 4 weeks probably before I have to make a decision, so I can play around for a while.

Yes, you can rent tools from Autozone/etc and do a compression test for free. Given that you have an external leak, I highly doubt it's the head gasket (as was mentioned earlier).

Water pumps have a weep hole in the bottom so they will leak coolant when the bearings are starting to fail.  Given your problem description, I suspect a cracked/failed hose or hose clamp more so than a water pump.

Water pumps are commonly replaced with timing belts in cars that have timing belts, because they're generally expected to last longer than one timing belt interval (often 90k miles) but not to make it for two (180k miles).  If you got 175k out of the same water pump, you did well.

mrigney

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #23 on: May 31, 2017, 06:39:46 AM »
Took it to the shop yesterday after work. Turns out the shop recommended to me (local place) is owned/run by my neighbor (who I had never met, so good, new connection in the community). I really liked the vibe to the shop, too. Let me stand around the car and look with him as he diagnosed the problem. Brought in one of his mechanics to confirm what he was seeing. Water pump is in the timing cover and has a weep hole behind the alternator. Leak was from the weep hole, probably due to a bad seal in the water pump bearing. So, $400 to fix it. He said he's replaced a few WPs on the 4th gen Maximas at about the same mileage as mine and they've done fine. Also getting the hoses replaced. Asked about replacing them, he felt them and said, "Yep, these feel pretty shitty." I'll feel like I"m driving a new car after this:-p Next job? Fixing my driver's side front window.

Thanks for the help/encouragement everyone!

alsoknownasDean

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #24 on: May 31, 2017, 08:21:35 AM »
Took it to the shop yesterday after work. Turns out the shop recommended to me (local place) is owned/run by my neighbor (who I had never met, so good, new connection in the community). I really liked the vibe to the shop, too. Let me stand around the car and look with him as he diagnosed the problem. Brought in one of his mechanics to confirm what he was seeing. Water pump is in the timing cover and has a weep hole behind the alternator. Leak was from the weep hole, probably due to a bad seal in the water pump bearing. So, $400 to fix it. He said he's replaced a few WPs on the 4th gen Maximas at about the same mileage as mine and they've done fine. Also getting the hoses replaced. Asked about replacing them, he felt them and said, "Yep, these feel pretty shitty." I'll feel like I"m driving a new car after this:-p Next job? Fixing my driver's side front window.

Thanks for the help/encouragement everyone!

Good result!

I had a situation where my old Peugeot overheated and did the head gasket twice in the space of a month (it was repaired, and then it overheated and did it again again). $3000 later and it was still burning through oil (presumably rings). I ended up driving it for a year and getting rid of it after the clutch went pop. It would have cost me $1000 to sort out the clutch, and who knows how much to fix the oil burning issue, on a car worth maybe $4K in good condition.

In hindsight, spending the $3000 might not have been the greatest move as it wasn't properly fixed afterwards.

Silrossi46

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #25 on: May 31, 2017, 09:05:45 AM »
@mrigney = My routine maintenance is that I change my oil every 3k miles with Valvoline max life high mileage.  I drain and fill my transmission every 15,000 miles with max life trans fluid compatible with Nissan Dmatic which is essentially dextron 3.   That is pretty much it.   Everything else is pretty much break fix stuff and brakes, tires ect.   I have done a radiator and water pump as of recent at 280,000 miles.   I have done other things like valve cover gaskets over the years and and alternator.  Other than that its been bullet proof.   

wotan

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #26 on: May 31, 2017, 11:32:12 AM »
i would go here to ask any questions about a maxima.
https://maxima.org/forums/
helped me fix my car about 5 times in the past 3 years. saved me a couple thousand dollars in repairs. good luck.

Linea_Norway

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Re: When to retire a car?
« Reply #27 on: May 31, 2017, 11:12:17 PM »
[quote ]

I had a situation where my old Peugeot overheated and did the head gasket twice in the space of a month (it was repaired, and then it overheated and did it again again). $3000 later and it was still burning through oil (presumably rings). I ended up driving it for a year and getting rid of it after the clutch went pop. It would have cost me $1000 to sort out the clutch, and who knows how much to fix the oil burning issue, on a car worth maybe $4K in good condition.

In hindsight, spending the $3000 might not have been the greatest move as it wasn't properly fixed afterwards.

We had an overheating with our Subaru. The garage said it was the heating element. They replaced it, as well as the termostate. Problem seemed solved. A few weeks later the motor was again overheated. Then they had to fix some other part, which I don't remember.
It is frustrating to not be able to diagnose your car yourself. You'll need to rely on the garage and I am not always sure they are correct all the time.
Luckily my DH has the last few years learned to do some car repairs himself, like replacing brakes and installing a pulling hook. At least this saved us something.