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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: shelfins on October 12, 2013, 01:50:12 PM

Title: When to sell the car?
Post by: shelfins on October 12, 2013, 01:50:12 PM
I have a 2003 Toyota Echo, purchased in 2006 w. 83,000 miles on it for just under $7,000. The car now has 128k miles on it, and has treated me incredibly well over the years, requiring nothing other than standard maintenance until last weekend, when a misfiring cylinder forced me into the shop. It turned out my electronic ignition system had broke, which--along with replacing the spark plugs, labor, etc.--set me back $300. The mechanic also warned me about several other items which would likely need attention over the next year: the battery and the tires need to be replaced (I have only replaced each once in the car's lifetime, so it makes sense that they're due), the brake pads are worn and will need replacing soon (front pads at 25%, rear pads at 40%), and the radiator will likely need to be replaced as well. Also, this summer, my A/C began squealing when the car starts up, which makes me think that the serpentine belt needs to be either tightened or replaced. While fixing all of these will clearly cost a bit of cash, I'd be happy to do it if I knew that I could get another 30,000 miles out of the car without any other major costs. My fear, though, is that the car's getting to an age where it's going to start having a lot of problems like this and I'll need to start spending several hundred dollars a year just keeping the car on the road. If that's the case, I'd rather sell it now (the car has a KBB value of $3,200-$3,500) and replace it with a newer car. This is the only car I've ever owned, so I don't really know what to expect from it these next few years.

What do you guys think? Is it time to sell, or should I take this as an opportunity to start building up my DIY mechanic skills (right now, I have none)? How do you decide when a car is getting so old that it's no longer worth investing the money it'll take to keep it on the road?
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: aj_yooper on October 12, 2013, 03:11:43 PM
I have had a Nissan and Hondas go past 150k miles so I would expect that the Toyota should too.  Everything you mentioned sounds like routine stuff, not lemony at all so I would chip away at it and keep the car, assuming the transmission is good.  I am a big believer in doing the serpentine belt as it has a big effect on the vehicle.  Tires, battery, and brakes just wear down.  Good luck.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: msnln7 on October 12, 2013, 06:01:52 PM
Your car still has plenty of life left.  Misfiring cylinder sounds like you had neglected replacing spark plugs.  Toyota recommends replacing spark plugs at 120K miles.  It would have been a $40 jobs for parts, if you had looked it up online and tried DIY. 

Batteries need replacing every 4-5 years so you are right on the cusp of needing a replacement -- batteries usually cost around $100 and most auto parts stores will replace free with purchase. 

Tires usually last 50-70K so  your mileage proves you will be needing tires soon as well -- Look up your tire size on or and have them deliver to a shop near you.  They both have installer list with ratings. 

Brake pads usually last about 50K miles so you are probably on the third set of pads and will likely need them before 150K.  Brakes, especially the front ones are really easy to replace.  They simply require you to take off the wheel and loosening one bolt, pushing calipers in, tightening the bolt, installing wheels (look up youtube).  Pads can be bought for around $30-$50 depending on material they are made from.  If you go to the mechanic, the cost to install would be $100-$150.

Serpentine belts are very easy to replace as well, you simply loosen the tension adjuster, take off old belt, and replace with new belt.  Make sure you make a diagram, or take photo so you know how belt goes around different components. Belt costs around $30.

When was the last time you flushed coolant in the radiator?  Is this perhaps, what the mechanic means?  It's a ten year old car so I don't think radiator would have rusted already but your coolant would definitely need replacing.  You are looking at about $50 for the coolant itself. 

One more big item you will need to do, if you have not done so yet, is timing belt replacement.  This will cost you $600 to $1,000.  If you neglect this and if the timing belt breaks, you are going to have a bad day.  The car will stall immediately, and depending on the engine type, you can irreparably damage it.  I would ask mechanic to replace the coolant while replacing timing belt as new coolant need to be put in with timing belt.  While doing this, replace radiator hoses (both upper and lower) as they harden over time and crack.

All in all, you are looking at spending about $1,000-$1,500 to get the car running another 100K miles, at least.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Forcus on October 12, 2013, 06:06:18 PM
Agree, you have a very simple car that is relatively safe with decent mpg that will have wear stuff needing replaced occassionally. Nothing you listed is very intense work and would need to be done on any car. Couple things:

$300 for new plugs, wires, and a coil pack is pretty cheap for factory parts (without checking), which I'm guessing means he used generic auto store stuff. I'd insist on OEM next time. Not saying that they won't work for you but the parts store stuff is a mixed bag when it comes to how good it is (example, rebuilt alternators from a parts store are often very poorly done and you can go through 2 or 3 of them before getting a good one.... meanwhile that labor comes out of your pocket each time).

It will sting less if you spread the parts out over time. 25% on your front brakes, if they've never been done, could still last you another 2-3 years based on how little mileage you put on your car in the past. Batteries, I generally wait until the cranking gets slower, or they really are aged - like 5-6 years on an OEM battery is about all they will do. Tires, well, I never try to stretch those so if they are near the wear bars, or even over and its close to winter, new ones go on (nor do I advocate used tires).

Check the owner's manual or see if you can get a service manual or pdf. This should tell you the maintenance intervals. For example, most people never flush their brake fluid or change their coolant, but there is a specified interval, and it will save you money in the future (assuming you hold on to the vehicle).

Your car with good maintenance could easily last 200k+ miles with no major mechanical work (don't hold me to it, stuff happens). People think 100k or 150k is a magic number where everything falls apart but its not true on newer stuff. Also your car is pretty simple, and I'd think learning on it would be fun and fairly easily done. Start easy like with an oil change, move up to other stuff as you are comfortable.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: shelfins on October 13, 2013, 02:30:20 PM
Thanks so much for your feedback! You've definitely convinced me to hold on to my car for awhile longer. I have a Costco membership, so I'm planning to get the tires replaced and the new battery there. I will try to do the brake pads on my own (it didn't look too hard when I you-tubed it), but I think I'm going to go to the mechanic for the serpentine belt because 1) it's only my own googlings that make me think the serpentine belt is what's causing the squealing, and it would reassure me to have a mechanic confirm the diagnosis, and 2) from what I can tell online, Echos and Yarises (Yari?) don't have tensioners on their serpentine belts--they have to be "manually" tightened and loosened--and I can't find any videos online of a serpentine belt replacement, and just from looking at the belt, I don't feel at all confident that I would be able to put it back on in the right way if I could even take it off. So I think I'm better off leaving that project to a mechanic. While I'm there, I'll also ask him look at the timing belt and let me know if there are any signs that it needs to be replaced.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Self-employed-swami on October 13, 2013, 02:53:22 PM
I'm just going to put another vote in for keep the car, and do the small repairs (regular maintenance stuff really).

18 out of 20 of the toyotas sold in the last 20 years, are still on the road.  That says something for their longevity and quality.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Nords on October 13, 2013, 06:29:53 PM
What do you guys think? Is it time to sell, or should I take this as an opportunity to start building up my DIY mechanic skills (right now, I have none)? How do you decide when a car is getting so old that it's no longer worth investing the money it'll take to keep it on the road?
TromboneAl on has an Echo with over 217,000 miles on it.  He's secretly hoping it'll die so that he can get an EV.  However Al will extract every last penny out of that car's value, and will probably find a way to sell it for parts.  I'm getting the impression that Echos are the 21st-century version of 1960s-1970s Volkswagon Beetles.

One piece of "conventional wisdom" is to sell the car when its annual maintenance/repairs cost 10% of its resale value.  The "problem" with this is that your year when you spend 10% may be followed by several years of 1-2% expenses, so following this rule means you've sold your car to someone who'd enjoy years of benefit from your repairs.

Another tripwire is the car's resale value.  If it would only sell for $2500, is it worth spending $1500 to repair the air conditioner?  The only buyer who'd take this deal is an auto mechanic or an A/C tech.

A third tripwire is the car's durability.  When your dashboard plastic starts to melt and get sticky ('94 Ford Taurus) or it burns through its third water pump or it's on its fourth starter motor ('97 Nissan Altima) then maybe you don't want those problems anymore.

Everything you've posted is well within the car's continued longevity.  You've only put 45K miles on it in seven years and it's only 10 years old, so you may get another decade out of it.  Brake pads can be challenging if the parts are a solid block of rust or if you need special tools or if you're having difficulty venting the air out of the lines, but it's well within the owner's capability.  When you get up to the level of brake repairs, it can be a big help to have someone hanging around who's done them before-- either helping and coaching you through the work, or sitting on the side and keeping and eye on your beer cooler for you, or at least answering their cell phone.

As for the skills... see if there's an Internet forum for Toyota Echos.  You'll find someone who has done everything that you want to do to the car.  And once you figure out how to do your car's maintenance then you'll be able to transfer those skills to many other household maintenance & repair projects.

We do all of the above for our Priuses, and we expect that the cars are going to last at least another decade beyond their current seven & eight years of age.  They're not even over 80K miles yet and we're barely putting 3000 miles/year on them.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Mr.Macinstache on October 14, 2013, 12:18:58 PM
Great thing about the internet... you can learn to fix your car for free! Take an afternoon and give it a go. You'll be more confident in the car once you're able to make simple repairs on it like changing the battery, belt etc. Check the fluids. If you need a nap, real the owners manual. Good luck!
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: thurston howell iv on October 14, 2013, 02:24:49 PM
Shelfins:  do yourself a favor. 

1. Buy the battery at walmart- (likely cheaper and if it goes bad in the middle of no where- the probability of finding a walmart are much greater than a costco
2. For tires, you can't beat wal mart- You car comes with a 14/15 " tire- about $50 a piece at walmart.

Additionally, you can probably order a new timing kit online (cheaper than the dealer) and just pay for labor- OR learn to do this yourself. Your engine is very easy and it's near impossible to mess it up.  If you have questions please feel free to pm me.

Keep the Toyota.... Toyota's and Honda's can practically live forever if you just do the basics. My 97 civic has 225k! Yours is barely broken in!!!
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: lauren_knows on October 14, 2013, 02:54:10 PM
Timely post.

Our 2003 VW Jetta just had a malfunction indicator come on yesterday and was very very roughly idling.  Turns out the ignition coil bit the dust, and they're recommending replacing the spark plugs and wires too (reasonable considering the maintenance history).  Also, both rear struts were leaking (we've noticed increased bumpiness), and the battery is at < 50% capacity to hold a charge with winter coming up.

$1500 later... but she's only got 90k miles on her.  I expect another couple years out of her, and consider this an overdo schedule "maintenance".  Still burns though.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: thurston howell iv on October 15, 2013, 09:17:58 AM
bo_knows: You need to learn to work on your own car!!  You spent $1500 for no reason.  None of those repairs required an super special mechanical expertise (like working on a transmission for example)

Here's a quick sample of the real costs.
Ignition coil: $55
Spark Plugs: $2 ea (x 6 if you have a v-6= $12)
Wires: $50
Battery $75

Specialty tools can be "rented" for free at the local auto parts store and any tools you buy are an "investment". Heck, even if you paid $50-$75 bucks to someone (dealer) to diagnose the issues and give you the list of issues, this is something you could handle easily. 
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Mr.Macinstache on October 15, 2013, 09:42:19 AM
That's the bonus on owning a 96 or newer, you get free diagnostic port that any auto part store will scan and give you the codes.

I invested in a ScanGaugeII which monitors everything, reads and clears codes too. Totally worth the $125 investment. I think the instant MPG's keeps my foot off the pedal too.
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: thurston howell iv on October 15, 2013, 10:27:29 AM
I have the ScanGaugeII as well. It's turned out to be invaluable!
Title: Re: When to sell the car?
Post by: Forcus on October 15, 2013, 11:38:30 AM
Yowzer, that's expensive. I will say though if its the same engine that was in my old lady's Bug (1998), the plugs and wires suck to replace. As I recall the upper intake manifold needs to be unbolted to get to two of them and there is a bracket that is hard to get to at the back of the engine that provides support.