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Frugal or Foolish?

August 6th, 2008 at 09:01 pm

Well, it looks like the transmission on my 1994 Mitsubishi Expo Wagon is about ready to bite the dust. Repair cost is about $1800 to rebuild it and have a year waranty. The car is about ready for it's timing belt change, $600 and new brakes, $400. Total in all is about $2,800.

For a car that's 14 years old, it only has 107,000 miles on the engine. Burns a tiny bit of oil, but not too bad. It's still shiny black and hasn't been in any accidents. There are the usual door dings. The interior can use a cleaning, but it's in good repair as well.

Once the repairs are made, my mechanic says that I should get another 2-3 years out of it easily. He replaced all the other belts and water pump two months ago.

Here's the frugal/foolish part. Do I spend close to $3000 to repair a car that's worth less than $2000 because of it's age or do I buy a new or new to me car to replace it? I've been looking around for another car, but most of the newer used ones in my area have more miles than mine does and seem to all cost over $12,000!!! Apparently a lot of commuters around here. Any new car that will do what I need it to do is about $18,000 out the door and that's for a basic model without frills.

My mind has been going back and forth: repair or replace? I am so torn.

11 Responses to “Frugal or Foolish?”

  1. Apprentice Fun-Frugalist Says:

    Repair to tide you over for the next year or so...

    In the meantime, start saving a deposit/money for a used vehicle ?

  2. campfrugal Says:

    I just did the same thing with car shopping and decided that I didn't want to be commited to another car payment, full coverage insurance and that they cost just way too much, so I spent $1000 and had mine fixed to drive for the next two/three or who knows years.

  3. FrugalFish Says:

    If the engine is otherwise sound, it doesn't seem like you could replace it for $2800, could you?

  4. disneysteve Says:

    Used cars with more miles than yours are selling for over $12,000? That doesn't sound right at all. Search online at AutoTrader or kbb.com or vehix.com and see what's out there. I just checked the value of my 98 Camry with 110,000 miles and it said it was worth $3,800.

    Not saying you shouldn't fix your car, but I think you should have an accurate idea of what you are comparing that to.

    Out of curiosity, I just searched Vehix for Subaru Outbacks. I found an 01 for $8,500 with 90K miles and an 03 for $9,900 with 73K miles. See what is around in your area. You might be able to get something 7 years newer than yours for only $5,000 or so more than the cost of repairs. Might be worth considering.

  5. Cheetahwoman7 Says:


    The two cars that I'm looking at to replace my Expo are a Ford Escape (2005 or newer because the 2001-04's had quality issues) or a Pontiac Vibe (also badged as the Toyota Matrix). I've been to Kelly Blue Book's site and know what they should be going for, but here near San Francisco, they go for more than listed. Frown I've also looked at the online sites for cars around here: Craigslist, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and haven't been able to find a thing that isn't either high mileage or a hidden salvaged vehicle. Seems there's a lot of those out there too...especially if the price seems reasonable. I'll keep lookin' though!

    I have an appointment for Friday at a transmission place to see exactly what's wrong with it. They rebuild the transmissions there, so it might be a bit better of a deal than with my mechanic sending the transmission out to be rebuilt. *fingers crossed* I'll let y'all know how it goes.

  6. monkeymama Says:

    I wouldn't be fond of such a big repair on a car and I Was thinking it depends on region, until you reminded me you live in my neck of the woods.

    Are you only looking at used car retailers??? Check Craigslist. There are slews of cars for sale under $10k. With this mortgage mess, there are far more desparate sellers than usual.

    http://sfbay.craigslist.org/search/cta?query=ford escape low miles&minAsk=min&maxAsk=max&hasPic=1


    I think I'd look at alternate cars though. Not a lot out there for the 2 models you specified. But there is certainly stuff out there. IT takes leg work to get a good deal. But take advantage of all the rich people - wonderful area to buy used cars form private parties (with low miles). You won't sell me that you can't find anything decent with low miles in your neck of the woods. (Though I agree you wouldn't find anything from a dealer. I'd forget the dealerships).

  7. monkeymama Says:

    P.S. I am not sure exactly where you live, but I live in Sacramento and always shop Bay Area for used cars. IT's worth driving a couple of hours to save a few thousand dollars. I would expand the regions I was searching, personally.

  8. disneysteve Says:

    I agree with monkeymama. I'd expand the geographic search area and the search sources. I'd also expand the models to consider. Your car is 15 years old. While getting one that is only 3-4 years old might be preferred, you could do very well getting one a bit older than that, like 5-6 years. You'd still be updating by 9-10 years over what you've got now.

    I agree though that it is a tough call. Seeing as I'm driving an 11-year-old car with 110,000 miles, I know exactly what you are going through.

  9. Stephen Lynch Says:

    DriverSide (http://www.driverside.com) offers free estimates of both auto repair prices and car valuations. The repair cost is based on the stated labor and part costs at your local service stations. The valuations are based on searching millions of listings in your market (based on the provided zip code) to give you the most accurate price range possible. Between the valuation and repair cost tool, you could probably figure out whether it is worth it to fix up your car.

  10. Alex P Says:

    I am having the same problem with my 1994 Expo. The auto transmission just quit and started making grinding noises so I elected to have the auto transmission rebuilt because the car only has 82000 miles on it (my elderly aunt gave me the car). The rebuild is costing me $1425.00 plux tax but I figure it cheaper then buying a newer one. Nothing else is wrong with the car and the engine burns no oil so I'm good to go. What symptoms did yours give you before it quit?

    Alex P

  11. auto mechanic Says:

    Automd.com also does a good job in giving advices for car repairs and stuff.

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