The case for seeing a might have a lot of life left in your car.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

The mileage on my beloved 1989 Chevy Celebrity recently turned past 100,000 miles. The exterior is in good condition, no rust, no dents, I can easily get my 6'4" frame in and out and, best of all, it's paid for. My problem: I'm afraid that on one of those cold, dark, rainy nights when I'm 100 miles from nowhere it's going to break down. I think I'd prefer to spend up-front dollars on some preventative maintenance BEFORE this happens. My local Chevy dealer has quoted me a price of $4,300 to install a "Mr. Goodwrench" remanufactured engine, transaxle with fluids, water pump, radiator, hoses, clamps, etc. This price includes labor. In your professional opinion, is this a reasonable plan and cost? Or should I just spend $15,000-$18,000 on a new Chevy?

RAY: I'd vote for none of the above, Harry. I don't think $4,300 or $15,000 are your only two choices.

TOM: If you're really worried about the car dying suddenly by the side of the road, replacing the engine and transmission is not going to help you that much. Engines and transmissions don't often die suddenly. They usually give a lot of warning.

RAY: The parts that cause cars to die suddenly and strand you are things like fuel pumps, water pumps, alternators, starters, belts, hoses, brake lines, etc. All the little things that are tacked onto the outside of the engine. And you can replace all those things for a lot less than 4,300 bucks!

TOM: I'd take the car to a mechanic you trust, and have him check out the car from stem to stern--as if you were thinking of buying it as a used car. If he gives it an overall clean bill of health (if the engine, transmission, suspension, and underbody are basically in good shape), tell him you'd like to replace all of the "wear" items like the ones we listed above.

RAY: That's no guarantee that you'll never break down, but it certainly will decrease the odds of sudden failure.

TOM: And when the engine itself does wear out, you've got $3,300 in the bank. And at that point (if the rest of the car is still good) you can put in a junkyard engine for $1,000, or (if there are buzzards circling the vehicle every evening at sundown) you can put a down payment on a new car.

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