By on June 9, 2011

Fred B. writes:

Sajeev,

You recent article about racks prompted me to write.  I am the proud owner of a 1996 Nissan Maxima.  I’ve had it since about 30k miles.  Over the course of its 209k mile life it has garnered additional accouterments along with its original generous kit.  Specifically, the paint has gracelessly aged in the Texas sun to a rosy multi-hued patina that varies from nearly bare steel on some of the flat parts to the original red on the sheltered parts.  The car hasn’t lived in Texas all of its life.  Its formative years were spent in Indiana, where the salt festooned winter streets customized the underside.  In fact, it used to make such a racket that I removed the heat shields from the exhaust system.

The interior has also received the gentle blessings of years of use.  The leather rear headrests are cracked, and just recently the driver’s side seat has ripped.  The ebrake boot is shredded, although that is more a function of a poor design, every model of this vintage I have ever seen has a shredded boot.  Otherwise, this car seems to have been built out of lifetime parts.  (I did swap out the stereo, another problem with these models, and I simply stopped changing oxygen sensors after I spent my thousandth dollar doing so.  That was more than ten years ago.  Otherwise, original transmission, engine, pretty much everything.  New belts and other consumables at 100k, regular synthetic oil, probably need to replace the transmission fluid.)

To the point, I no longer take the car out of town.  I pretty much drive it back and forth to work and take two of my children several days a week for a low speed commute and to soccer practice in a medium sized town.  The steering rack is leaking fluid.  It has been leaking fluid for two years.  I top it off every once in a while, and it doesn’t give me a problem.  However, the fluid is apparently dripping onto the front control arm bushings, causing them to deteriorate.  My mechanic says that they will eventually go, but that watchful waiting is ok, and that it is not worth replacing just the bushings because I would have to replace the entire arms and the new bushings would simply be destroyed by the leaking rack.

He is quoting me $1500 for the rack and $700 for the control arm job.  Here’s my question: At what point do I give up on this sun-mellowed beast?  I don’t think it is worth north of $2k for the repairs.  It is still pretty sprightly, comfortable to drive and gets me around.  I can afford another car, but I need five seats and the nothing about the possibilities (other than last chance at a Panther) leap out at me (I am half waiting for the G8 GTs or the 2010 Maximas fall below $20k, but that is at least a year away in my estimation.).  We have a minivan for trips and schlepping the whole family around.  I thought that something like the transmission would give out and make my decision (relatively) easy.  I doubt that the bushings couldn’t just be replaced, but I am not sure how much risk I am taking by simply waiting for them to fail.  If the transmission or engine isn’t going to fail, it means that the car will fail when the bushings go, and I’m not sure I want to be there when that happens.

So, what are your thoughts on doing something with the front end like what you did on your Lincoln vs. just waiting for it to fail?  Also, I haven’t shopped the front end job, but do those prices seem ballpark reasonable?

Sajeev answers:

Since you mentioned it, I don’t hesitate to fix (just about) anything on my rust free, 170,000 mile Mark VIII.  The black leather interior is original, smells kinda luxurious and still gets compliments from random people. With modifications to its air sprung chassis and 330hp on tap, it drives better than most new cars. If I keep my wits about me, I can hyper-mile it to 32 MPG, even on E10 gas.  And I drive it anywhere I want, usually with a grin on my face. Mess with a good thing?

No way. I don’t want another daily driver, much less the associated monthly payment of a newer luxury coupe of this caliber. It’s worth every penny for a Mark VIII in this condition, with an owner so motivated to make it happen. But I am the exception, not the rule. I don’t expect anyone to be even remotely like me.

And for your ride, I’m not feelin’ it. There’s not enough Maxima love in your letter, and this Nissan needs a lot of work. Suspension work is expensive, but worth it.  Interior stuff for cars with no aftermarket restoration support is fiddly and pricey, you’d need a clean parts car (or some luck and a 50% off sale at a junkyard) to do this in a reasonable budget. So this is a car you run into the ground, sell it to the junkyard and start all over again. That is, after all, the circle of automotive life.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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18 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Minima-Maxima and The Circle of Life...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    Unless there is a sentimental attachment to the ride place an ad in Craigslist and you will probably get 1000 dollars for it to spend on something else.

    You already got your money’s worth out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      I agree. Are you fed up with it? Wants a change in your life? This seem like the perfect time to do it. Especially since you seem to have the means to do it right now. Getting another car is exciting, and there are only so many chances in our short life to experience it. Your Maxima isn’t expiring anytime soon, so you can drive it as is for a while yet, making it perfect for unhurriedly looking for that perfect used car of your dream. The search process itself can be half the fun!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I smell a new Impala in your future!

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I think that car has had it’s time. You had a great run, but now I think it is time for a new car.

    I would go with a brand new Subaru Legacy 3.6. If you sell this one for $1000, it should be right in your ballpark (with a little cunning negotiation).

    • 0 avatar
      TOTitan

      A Subaru will never give you the kind of trouble free service that the Nissan has. Get a new Altima…cheap, reliable, and reasonably fun to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        I agree that you don’t really need a Subaru in Texas. But saying that one will not give you trouble free service while a new Nissan will, is pretty interesting. The 3.6R is actually a bit cheaper to own (except fuel) than a 2.5i. However, unlike the 2.5i you cannot get a manual.

        I’d look at a used TL.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Why on Earth would you want a Subaru in TEXAS? AWD is a waste of money down there, much cheaper and more reliable options abound. The ONLY reason to buy a Subaru is if you feel you simply MUST have AWD or you will die in the snow, and you can’t afford an Audi.

      And this is from someone whos first car was a Subaru, in Maine.

      As the other guys said – if he likes the Maxima, get an newer Altima. It’s pretty much the same car anyway.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Time to get while the getting is good. Any money you throw at it other than to put enough gas to make to your next destination is the same as throwing it away. So either keep soldering it on till it just don’t go no more w/o putting any thing other than fluids into it, or sell in now when you can sell it to someone as a running driving car instead of as scrap metal.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Yup. Clean it up and Craigslist it!

    Or, literally drive it until (just before) the wheels fall off, to the junkyard; collect $300. You can probably wait awhile before doing this from what you have told us.

  • avatar
    George B

    Fred, you could see if someone in a Nissan club wants your car. The local club here is Dallas Nissan Enthusists

    http://www.nissanforums.com/dallas-nissan-enthusiasts/

    There is or was a Houston club, but I didn’t see current forum activity. Someone there may want your car as a source of parts. A friend had a similar well maintained 95-96 Maxima that was totaled by a drunk illegal alien driving the wrong way on an interchange. He replaced it with an Infiniti G35.

    Three separate friends have bought Nissan Altimas in the last month. I think there may a fair amount of incentives out there to move this model.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    Save your money, and keep driving. Drain out the old power-steering fluid, put in some Max-Life power steering fluid with seal conditioner, and stop the leak. Your problem will be solved, and you can drive it to 300K. You’ll be ready for a new(er) vehicle then, for sure.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    I’m a keeper. Probably to my own demise. Whether its a car, cell phone, shoes, lawn mower, whatever – once I have invested in something and am familiar with how to maintain and keep it up, generally, it is worth it to keep doing that until it stops fulfilling its function. For example, I get my shoes resoled when they wear down – and replace them when the upper leather starts to look beat up and polish doesn’t cover the leather’s imperfections anymore. AT&T harassed me for 2 1/2 years after my contract expired to get a new phone – but why would I, when mine worked great (until it didn’t one day, and I had to run and replace it)?

    All that being said, the Maxima sounds like it has filled its due. Do you care if it leaves you stranded one day, and you have to spend $100 to tow it to a junkyard to get $250 for it? Does it bother you that one day the control arm bushings may leave you unable to steer effectively around an obstacle, putting your kids at risk? These are the questions you need to ask yourself – and if the risk seems lower than the reward, keep it going.

    Life is about assessing your tolerance of risk. You never get rid of it; only vary it to different degrees. Do what you feel comfortable with.

  • avatar
    vbofw

    Thank you Sajeev. I am in a similar situation 170k on a 2003 MKIV Jetta. Drives very nice, and brakes and tires are less than half used, but the OEM shocks and struts have zero left to give and really need to be replaced. Instead of spending god-knows-what to replace (maybe $1,000? I don’t wrench) its probably best to drive into the ground as-is.

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      QuickStruts by Monroe are pretty reasonable and frequently have rebates (check RockAuto for pricing). Since they are bolt-in, the labor is pretty simple too – I think the mechanic took 2 hours on my wife’s camry. It brought new life to the car. Unless you are junking the car, consumables (brakes, tires) are mostly irrelevant but might help you sell it.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        Agreed, new tires and shocks (double-wishbone suspension) will breath some new life into my 98 3.2TL’s ride and handling. But, I’m going to wait until fall when the tires are going to be needed for light snow driving.

        Monroe makes decent OE-spec replacement shocks and struts.

  • avatar
    otter

    If you can’t stop the leak, per DIYer, perhaps you can just…redirect it with some shielding to keep it off of the LCA bushings. The leak itself doesn’t seem to be an issue, and you can probably get a good while longer out of the current bushings. The bushings aren’t going to fail catastrophically or anything. Eventually you’ll end up with poor alignment and an even looser-feeling front end.

  • avatar
    segar925

    Your situation is similar to what I went thru with the Sterling 827 I owned for almost 19 years. I agree with Otter, try the fluid with seal conditioner, it might help. Eventually you get to a point where no matter how attached you are to a vehicle it doesn’t make sense to keep throwing money at it. Band-aids are cheap and expensive repairs more than 2-3 hundred bucks are hard to justify on a $2K vehicle. BTW I own a 99 Maxima with 134K that I hope to keep for at least another 8 years. My 99 Maxima has required the least maintenance of any vehicle I’ve owned in almost 40 years. Good Luck!


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