Dear Car Talk:
On my way to Florida from Rhode Island, my radiator overheated and I was towed to a garage in the Bronx. Two days and $2,700 later (see repair slip), I was on the road again. Needless to say, that was a shock. My car is a 1996 Cadillac Eldorado, and I am trying to keep this old car on the road, as my mechanics in both states tell me it's worth it. I would like your opinion, as I'm 83 years old and my husband died in January. Should I get rid of the Caddy and lease a cheaper car? Thanks. -- Ruth
I think when your mechanics told you it's worth keeping this old car on the road, they meant it's worth it for THEM.
First of all, I'm afraid these fine chaps in the Bronx took you for a ride. In my estimation, they charged you somewhere between $800 and $1,200 more than they should have for a radiator, water pump and coolant sensor -- assuming you even needed all that stuff. They saw you as an easy mark, Ruth. And shame on them.
But that's radiator fluid under the bridge now. The question is, What should you do going forward?
The problem with a 22-year-old car is that it can break down at any time. And if you're using it to travel between Rhode Island and Florida, it's very easy for you to end up in a similar situation: at the mercy of a mechanic you don't know, with no other recourse.
So I have a few ideas for you. One is your own idea, to lease or buy another car. A new car is statistically much less likely to fail on you. And even if it does, you'll be under warranty for the next few years. If you do opt for a new car, make sure you get all the latest safety features we've been recommending (automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, etc.).
Another option, if you really love this car, is to let someone else move it between Rhode Island and Florida for you. There are car transport services that will put your car on a carrier and deliver it to you in a matter of days. And while your car is being trucked down Interstate 95, you'll be eating free peanuts at 35,000 feet and making the trip in two and half hours instead of two and half days. And that way, the next time the Caddy breaks down, you'll be near one of your two homes, where presumably you have mechanics you trust.
A third option would be to keep the Caddy in Rhode Island, and buy a good used car and leave that one in Florida (or vice versa). If you leave the battery connected to a trickle charger (also called a battery tender), the car ought to fire right up for you when you arrive.
But I'd love to see you stop making that 1,500-mile drive in a 22-year-old car twice a year, Ruth. That's a long drive, even if you stock up on 8-track tapes. Good luck to you!