Should Lee Replace Parts Before Long Trip?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2015

Dear Car Talk:

What are your thoughts on replacing a water pump, alternator or other components before they fail? I have a 2000 Corvette with 84,000 miles that we are planning to take on a caravan this month from the Pacific Northwest to Bowling Green, Kentucky. I have not had any problems to date, but I wonder if taking preventive actions now, before a problem arises, is advisable? Thank you.

-- Lee

I love the idea of replacing parts before they fail, Lee. But then again, our shop is full of mechanics trying to put their kids through college.

Practically speaking, I actually don't think it's a good idea. With 84,000 miles on the car, anything could be a candidate for preventive replacement at this point. You'd be taking wild guesses. Why not replace the fuel pump, too? How about the brake master cylinder? How about the engine?

And when you tell a mechanic that you want to start replacing parts that are not showing signs of failure, you also open yourself up to unscrupulous operators who may be more interested in running up your bill than in keeping you out of the breakdown lane.

So instead, ask a mechanic you trust to do a thorough inspection of your car. If he sees actual evidence that a part is faltering -- if he hears the water pump making noise or sees some wobble in the water pump pulley, or if he hears the bearings in the alternator making noise -- then you can legitimately replace those parts, and consider it evidence-based preventive maintenance.

Or if he works on lots of older Corvettes, he may have developed some specific knowledge about certain parts that tend to fail on the car at 90,000 or 100,000 miles. That also can be considered evidence-based preventive maintenance.

And then give yourself a few extra days to get to Bowling Green. Put aside some money for a few motel nights in case you do happen to break down; that's a risk you take when you drive a 15-year-old car across the country.

But if you have a few extra days to get there, then it won't be so stressful -- it'll just be part of your adventure: You might get to spend an unexpectedly delightful day (or three) exploring the Museum of Belly Button Lint.

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