When to let that car go...

Dec 28, 2014
Something I was talking about last night with someone who had just put a $2,500 dollar used transmission in his truck. When do you just say, “alright that’s it, time to move on”?

I think number one obviously is rust. Rotted out frame means the end. And yes, you can repair some vehicles depending on where that rot is, but I’ve seen some vehicles where you just can’t. Plus, at that point we’re usually talking years and years down the road.

So, typically this is what I suggest to people. If the car is in overall good health (suspension, engine, rust), throw that transmission in it, get a warranty with it, and drive it another 3-4 years. Not the worst thing you could do.

However if this thing needs control arms, a steering rack, rust has gotten to the brake lines, fuel lines and is starting to eat its way into the subframe, and your engine is now consuming a quart of oil every 1,000 miles?? Might be time to move on.

I’ll tell yeah, tires is another thing to consider, and overall value of the vehicle. A set of tires and alignment can run people a $1,000 plus on some of these cars now. If you’re sitting there at 175,000 miles with an oil burner, and the suspension is clapped out., do you turn it in? That’s where I think it gets tough - and I’ve traded them in at that point - and that’s where I think I’ve made mistakes. Because by the time I’m done paying taxes, title, plates, whatever, for that new/newer car...I’ve already almost exceeded the cost to replace the tires and suspension. Almost. And then your insurance goes up, your yearly excise tax bill from your town rolls in and it’s $700 bucks instead of the $75 bucks you usually pay. And that continues on for 4-5 years. Is THAT worth it?

When do you consider it time to move on?
No one answer to your question.

If it is a full size pickup, and one NEEDS a pickup, than likely keep forever. New pickups are hard to come by, and can easily cost 50k. A new trans, 3k. Sure justifies keeping the pickup even if it needs trans, tires, etc. A 2012 Ford Tarrus or Chevy Impala. Likely not worth the hassle of keeping one of this models running after 10 years and 200k miles.

I think rust is the center of gravity for your question. No rust, decent powertrain design, drive forever. Rusted frame, brakelines, etc..... time to start looking for a solid replacement.
Rusted frame/unibody. Prohibitively expensive to fix. I can fix about anything else.

I sent my much loved (it was my late father’s car) 1981 240D to the junkyard when the body rusted out. The rear subframe was bolted into rust. With a floor jack under the subframe, it went up while the car stayed put. The seats were bolted into rust. The engine and transmission were perfect, it only had 275,000 miles on it, barely broken in for a W123 diesel.

I found cracks in the frame of my 1970 Ford Fairlane When I had it on the lift at the Oceana Hobby Shop. It was a NJ car most of its life. Salt had taken a toll. It wasn’t a collectible, it was a plain Jane SW with no PS or AC. A young sailor in the stall next to me really wanted the 302 for his truck. I sold the car to him right there for $100 and a promise that he wouldn’t drive it.
Rust definitely.

Careful on using hard numbers on repair values though. Cost to replace a vehicle has gone up sharply. A $1,000 set of tires is getting way less than a car—same on a $2,500 trans. $5k on the used market at the gets you… sadness.
I think it really boils down to your vehicles condition, and how you use it. Any car or truck will have maintenance expenses you can't get away from. So if you have an old truck that's getting tired, but your not going to make cross country trips with it, but it come's in handy now and then, I would hold onto it. One of two big repairs will still come out to be cheaper than 5 years worth of car payments. And I agree that if it's rusting apart and it's not safe, then it will have to go. Case by case basis I guess.,,
To keep a car on the road, I’ve rebuilt front ends. Rebuilt engines. Replaced transmissions. Repaired valve bodies. Done the entire set of brake lines (nicopp is the way to go, by the way, with a tubing bender and good flaring tool).

I can do anything mechanical. I‘ve done body work and paint for cosmetic reasons.

It‘s always been cheaper than payments. Cheaper than replacing the car, even with a used one.

My wife’s Volvo XC has had two complete suspension rebuilds* in its life

But replacing a frame is beyond me. Welding in new pieces of a unibody is beyond me. When/if the car hits that threshold, it’s done.

*Struts, shocks, front and rear springs, strut mounts, strut bushings, spring seats, control arm bushings, balljoints, inner & outer tie rods, sway bar links. A thorough job. Car still drives like new with nearly 280,000 on it. No rust. Good paint and interior. Well worth keeping.
Is auto mechanics a hobby, or PITA. If it’s a hobby, a person would be more inclined to keep going.
It was a financial imperative when I was younger, and supporting a family of five on my one modest income.

DIY meant no car payment. That was a big line item in the budget saved, which allowed for money for other purposes.

If you’ve ever had two in diapers at the same time, you know what I mean…
I’d say probably when there is issues with the frame like cracking or rusted so bad. Like where my Escape is from New York it is rusted pretty bad underneath and in the passenger rear fender well too. It has almost 200,000 on it but I love it and the frame is still solid right now the exhaust is practically rotted away but still holding for now. When the exhaust fails I’ll probably put a new one on it same with if it needs brake lines too. I don’t consider that too major and only paid $800 for the car so I don’t mind paying and spending some money on it. My truck for it being as old as it is everything that isn’t general maintenance related is still original all the old guys tell me I have record for original exhaust system haha. The frame is solid on it and I’m keeping it till the thing falls apart which will probably be never lol. My other truck that doesn’t run on the other hand is a lot more rusty so it might not last forever but my goal is to get it running before I let it go which if it’s rusty I probably still would not let it go unless it just fell apart. I’m not one to buy new vehicles so everything I get would be used and possibly have the same issues lol.
I do wonder about when risk outweighs reward. I loved having my truck, but I knew I could not justify the repair costs when they came. I couldn’t work on it, so when it seemed time for wife to have a more reliable car… off it went.

It also had been bought with the intent of short term ownership. So trading out of it had been always part of the plan. I don’t think I have bought any car with the intent of driving into the ground, but I go in with an exit plan in mind, and that is when I usually get out.
However if this thing needs control arms, a steering rack, rust has gotten to the brake lines, fuel lines and is starting to eat its way into the subframe, and your engine is now consuming a quart of oil every 1,000 miles?? Might be time to move on.
That's every $400 saturn I've bought, LOL.

As long as a subframe bolts into something solid in the unibody (space frame?) it can be saved. It's actually a great diagnosis for bottom-of-the-barrel buyers like myself because people hear "frame" and only want scrap value. Rusted fuel/ brake lines are the ultimate "it's just labor" with cheap parts pricing, as long as you can get the bleeders free.

My clunkers might get totalled with a $1000 windshield replacement or unsolvable EVAP emissions issues.
Here's what I said in another thread:

The first time the car leaves you stranded on the side of the road without warning, start looking for a replacement.

When you fear being stranded again and you don't trust the car, it's time for that replacement.

About rust, gotta say this after seeing that scary video 97K posted: if it's a vehicle you care about and you bought it new or nearly new, why wouldn't you get it undercoated and rustproofed? Not spending that little bit of money, especially for an expensive truck, makes little sense. You could prevent that kind of frame damage.
I really like keeping vehicles alive. Your rust stories scare me; I don't have to deal with it and wouldn't know what to do anyways.
New cars cost a lot, registration, insurance, etc.
I would rather dump $3K into a solid older Honda than buy another that I knew nothing about.
I tend to pass my cars along to a family member or friend, so I like to keep them sound.
Maybe not to the degree @The Critic is doing on that little Corolla, but just the same...
Sort of like the old story about your Grandfathers axe....replaced the handle 3x and the head 1x, but it's still my GF's old axe.

Rust is the final death.
When the dashboard warning lights flash curse words in morse. Yeah that's what you get for putting dorman parts in her. She let you have it and put you on the couch tonight.
I purchase new vehicles when the need changes or when they go from being an enhancement to a burden. When making expensive repairs one has to be honest with the vehicle’s condition and remaining useful life. Don’t throw good money after bad, always beware the Sunk Cost Fallacy. I know we all love our car/truck, but we have to remember it’s just a machine - it won’t love you back.