Rebuild or Replace: What's the Best Choice for an Older Car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 18, 2015

Dear Car Talk:

I recently inherited the car I spent my childhood washing. It's a '94 Ford Explorer with the tow package. I know you're going to say that Explorers have problems, but I really love this car ... even though it has no air bags. It won't be my commuter car; it will get used when I climb the 14,000-foot peaks out here in Colorado. The head gasket is blown, even though the engine has only 65,000 miles on it. I was leaning toward having a Jasper remanufactured engine put in. My line of thought was that due to the engine's age and the overheating that caused the blown gasket, other things might be ready to go, and a new engine would cut down on future repairs. However, on your radio show, I recently heard you recommend that a caller have her engine rebuilt instead. Which is the best option for me?

-- Brandon

Yeah, I wouldn't worry about the lack of air bags. When you careen off one of those 14,000-foot mountains, they won't help you anyway.

If you're planning to keep the car for a long time, then I think a remanufactured engine always is the best option, if you can get one. There are factories that do nothing but remanufacture engines, and they have the machinery and expertise to do it very well. That means the tolerances (the spaces between the things that really matter) are likely to be more accurate, which produces better results and fewer problems later on.

If you have a car that's so old, or so rare, that a remanufactured engine is not an option, then you need to decide between having a local shop rebuild it for you and buying a new one (if you can even get it). But your Explorer was common enough that Jasper and other companies can make a good business out of remanufacturing those engines and selling them.

So that's exactly what I'd get. In fact, we've bought dozens of remanufactured engines from Jasper over the years, and I remember only one of them that caused us any trouble. And we called them up and they said, "Oops, sorry, we'll send you another engine." Plus I think they come with a three-year, 100,000-mile warranty that includes labor.

So, unless you have a strong desire to support your local economy and want to have a local shop rebuild the engine for you, I'd get the Jasper engine. Then you won't have to worry about the engine again, and you can concentrate on worrying about the rest of the Explorer.

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