Rule of thumb for repairing used cars, versus trading them in.
Can you tell me if you have a general rule of thumb that you use when deciding whether or not to have a major repair done to an older car? Our 1986 Thunderbird is in need of a head gasket. It has 66,000 miles on it. It is still sharp looking, and we don't owe any money on it. I say it's worth repairing. My husband disagrees. What do you say?
RAY: Gee, Karen, before we mediate a dispute between husband and wife, we usually like to know how big the husband is (especially when we're about to agree with the wife). But I guess we'll just have to take our chances here.
TOM: Our rule of thumb has two components. One is rust. If the car is badly rusted, then it's not worth doing any major repairs, because structural rust is the one thing that's really not easy to fix.
RAY: And the other component is love. Do you still want this car? It sounds like YOU do, Karen. But it sounds like your husband has the hots for something a little sportier...like a lime green '78 AMC Pacer.
TOM: So if you have a car that's badly rusted, or if you're looking for an excuse to get rid of it, then you shouldn't do any major repairs. But other than that, it's ALWAYS worth repairing an old car.
RAY: Speaking from a purely economic point of view, there are no circumstances under which it pays to buy a new car. You always come out ahead financially if you fix an old one (for you non-believers, this argument is laid out in boring detail in Chapter 8 of our mediocre book, CAR TALK).
TOM: Of course, there are plenty of OTHER reasons to buy a new car. There are airbags, anti-lock brakes, rear shoulder harnesses, cup holders, pollution controls, style, comfort, and reliability.
RAY: Plus, in my brother's case (he drives a '63 Dodge Dart Convertible), heat, seat belts, a top that goes up, brakes that work, and carpeting without mushrooms growing on it.