Isn't there some limit on your philosophy that "It's always cheaper to drive an old car than buy a new one"?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

My father believes everything you say. He tells everyone that Click and Clack say it's cheaper to drive an old car than a new one. True, BUT is there no outer limit??? He drives a 1966 Olds Delta 88 that has 250K-plus on the odometer and is on its second engine. The car is a heap, with rust holes in the doors and fenders, sagging bumpers (because the supports have just about rusted through), sagging doors, sagging suspension, rattles galore and a rear wheel bearing that growls like an angry bear. Every year, he pays a body shop big bucks to cover the rust with new paint. The car gets larger every year. A new rear window took more than a year to locate and cost about $1,200 installed. The knob on the gear selector is a sewing-thread spool that is older than my kids, who have kids of their own. Is this really what you had in mind? Do you look forward to the day when all of the cars chugging and rattling their way down our highways and byways are 36 years old and prone to dropping their rear bumpers on the road? Please -- say it isn't so. -- Herb

TOM: Sorry, Herb. It's so. I stand by my words. It is ALWAYS cheaper to keep driving your old car than it is to buy a new car.

RAY: It might not be safer, it might not be more reliable, it might not be more attractive, it might not smell as good, but my brother is generally right. It's almost always cheaper.

TOM: Always cheaper! Always!

RAY: Well, if you get into a situation like your father's, where important parts -- like a rear window -- become hard, and therefore expensive, to obtain, you might find an exception to Tommy's rule. But generally speaking, it's always cheaper to keep driving your heap.

TOM: Now, that said, you do raise some serious safety issues with the old man's Delta 88. Two that stick out for me are the rust and the wheel bearing.

RAY: Right. Rust is OK, up to a point. If the whole body is basically rust held together by paint, then there's not much there to protect you in an accident. The car will basically turn into a pile of dust upon impact. This is not good.

TOM: And if the wheel bearing is making that much noise, the rear wheel easily could fall off while he's driving. This is also undesirable, as I can attest from personal experience.

RAY: So I think it's perfectly reasonable of you to insist that Dad get his car inspected for structural integrity. And if stuff needs to be fixed, it should be fixed -- if it CAN be fixed. A rusted frame, for example, really can't be repaired.

TOM: And if there's safety stuff that CAN'T be fixed, then I think you have every right to insist that Dad get an upgrade. I'd be happy to help him locate a nice '76 Delta 88. In fact, I might have one in the yard!

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