By on February 4, 2014

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TTAC commentator supremebrougham writes,

For the first time in a long time, I am 100% debt free, and it feels great! It’s so great that I have decided to try and keep my car going for a while yet, instead of trading it for a new one.

Last December I found a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero GL2, with the 3.4 liter V6. The miles weren’t too bad (104k) and the price was right. The previous owner, a girl from what I can tell, had the car for around eight years and while she didn’t drive it far, she didn’t take very good care of it. It was scratched up pretty bad, and she smoked in it and burned parts of the interior. However, the car ran great. Since I got it I have replaced a power window motor, all four struts and tires, both front wheel hubs and bearings, the rear defrost module the O2 sensor, and had it tuned up. I replaced a lot of the interior parts that were burned, and had the paint buffed out.

I love the car, and have so far put almost 12000 miles on it, and have taken it on several long trips. I’m thinking of having some of the rust spots fixed soon. But here’s where my question comes in…with the car now being thirteen years old, and about to roll over 116k, what should I be concerned with as far as any potential problems that might arise, and when should I just call it enough and not invest any more money into it. I really enjoy driving it, and I get lots of compliments on it. Plus, I am LOVING not having a car payment! I took it to a couple of dealers last month just for giggles to see what they thought it was worth. One wouldn’t even make me an offer, said “it’s just an old car”, and the other one said $1500. I could never replace it with something equivalent at that price!

Thanks in advance,

Richard

Sajeev answers:

Before I go any further, I’d like to tell everyone that Richard is the broughamiest of Brougham fans:  and his well curated, maturely moderated Facebook page proves it.  Join The Brougham Society now! That said, you’d want to keep the Olds running as long as possible, as the only truly broughamy things you’d replace it with are Panthers, luxury SUVs/trucks or certain South Korean sedans (DAT GRANDEUR) to do a fine job taking the reigns from defunct American brands that you (and I) so truly adore.

Far and away the worst thing that kills high mileage vehicles is rust.  Pouring water in all seams/folds and letting it freeze out the road salt is one idea I do like (in theory) but people have tried other avenues (undercarriage coatings, like used oil) for the same desired effect.

Rust aside, the little things that drive you nuts will eventually make you sick of the car.  Or as I once said to a similar query, do you own the car, or does the car own you?  Read that link for more answers to your query.

Now you are a handy guy, I bet you can procure parts on the cheap and install some of them yourself.  And this isn’t a high mile European car needing minor repairs that cost more than the value of said whip.  But still…there’s a moment when you will want a newer car.

Or need a newer car.

  1. When you have a job that demands a 100% reliable mode of transport, lest you get fired/backstabbed in office politics.
  2. When the time value of money is more valuable than any love of old cars and their quirky habits.
  3. When you meet a great girl, and you don’t want to look like a fool when your hooptie breaks down.
  4. When you have kids and are horrified at the mere thought of being stranded somewhere and helpless.  Even worse, your family being stranded and you aren’t there to help.

All valid reasons to give up, and make that car payment.  Now the Olds is a good car, and it will always do its best for you. At some point, well, that simply won’t be good enough.

Best of luck with that.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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101 Comments on “Piston Slap: When is the Olds too Old?...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The funny thing is I’ve read enough of Richard’s stuff to know he get’s bored easily. Buick LeSabre, HHR LT2, Alero (there have been others.) What is going to keep the spark alive this time Richard?

    Enjoy the Olds and since it is paid for, I’d say that if your life situation dictates something else, keep the Olds and start entering it in the “Orphan Car Show” in Ypsilanti.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Hey, I know that car!

    Owning an older car requires a lot of discernment, discovery and discretion. What Richard is trying to avoid is what happens to a lot of folks with older rides, i.e., putting a large sum of money into it and then finding something terminally wrong with it.

    As much of a fan of the N-body/3.4 V6 platform as I am (when it runs well, it really runs well) there are trouble spots with the cars. If the engine checks out (as it should have by now) and the trans remains solid, then the real trick is keeping all of the other bits together (body, interior, A/C system, etc.) In our environment (midwest), they are rusty! The two doors far more so than the four doors. Richard chose well here.

    One has to decide what their pain threshold is for spending money on *any* car. The number one thing I remember about all of them, they are MONEY PITS. Some are lesser money pits than others, but all of them are almost always depreciating assets. Once you disabuse yourself of any fantasy that you’re somehow saving money with one strategy or another, I believe you can make good decisions about aged cars.

    Good luck, Richard!

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I am about to have a child with my wife. She insists I need a newer car…I’m not looking forward to payments…I am thinking a stripper Honda Civic with an auto, er CVT will fit the bill.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Base, two-year old four cylinder midsize sedans are a good deal. A 2012 Fusion, Mazda6, or Altima with 40K miles can be had for $15K in good shape. I’d rather drive one of them than a stripped out brand new Civic, especially if I had to fit kids in it. Quicker, roomier, less of a compromise, and in the case of the 6, more fun to drive than the Civic.

      The two years of depreciation buys a lot of car. I once insisted on buying new with a small budget, and ended up with something I didn’t like much. Buying lightly used at the same price point would have prevented that.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I wouldn’t go straight to the used car market lilpoindexter. Often, APRs are lower on new cars (Honda is running a 0.9% special now). Even if you could pay cash, leaving your money invested will earn a higher return than assuming a debt at 0.9%. In addition, each year your payment is worth less in real terms as inflation makes its presence felt. Basically, take into account a possibly higher financing cost on a used car.

      Also, safety is your number 1 priority. A new Civic with high strength steel, excellent small offset performance, and reasonable interior room would be worth its weight in gold if the worst happens (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/honda/civic-4-door).

      If a new Civic is in the budget, you also may want to see if any nearby dealer has closeouts on 2013 Accord LXs – people on driveaccord.com claim they can be had for well under 21k.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Saving 1% on your APR is kind of a silly reason to spend an extra $10k or so on a car.

        There are reasons to get a new car vs. used, but they aren’t any financial reasons in a world where you can get a used car loan for 2%.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Show me this mythical 2% used car loan.

          Last time I was looking for a car, my local banks were offering me 4.5% or so. Coupled with the crazy high used car prices in the area, the new car I bought with 0% financing was a better deal.

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            My 2013 Volt loan was for 1.55% with 0 down for 60 months.

          • 0 avatar
            Fenian

            Check your local credit unions. I have a used car loan at 1.99% and they deduct an additional .5% off for having the loan set up to autopay.

          • 0 avatar
            kvndoom

            I must be one of those VW engineers with angel wings and rainbow farts, because I just refinanced the Juke with my credit union in December at 1.99%, and bought the KIA from a dealership in November at 1.84%. $0 down and no trade, in both cases.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      “When you have kids and are horrified at the mere thought of being stranded somewhere and helpless. Even worse, your family being stranded and you aren’t there to help.”

      Or, when you have kids and are horrified at the thought of them protected by decade(s)-old impact standards.

      If Jack’s recent travails have taught us anything, it’s that size/mass don’t necessarily matter more than modern design and metallurgy.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      @lilpoindexter – Luckily there isn’t really any such thing as a stripper Civic anymore, the base model is the LX and it is pretty decently equipped. Bluetooth, rear view camera, power everything, etc, even the exterior has a tasteful amount of chrome. Aside from the kind of dorky looking wheels it looks identical to the more expensive models and its more than roomy enough for a couple with one child… the trunk is huge too. It gets great gas mileage too.

      You can shop used cars but I really do not see the value in a used Fusion with 40k miles over a brand new Civic unless you really want a bigger car. You should be able to get a Civic for $18k out the door with 0.9% financing. I think that deal is also available on the Civic Si if you want something more fun too.

    • 0 avatar
      raincoaster

      If you’re test driving the civic, be sure to check out the Fit. I find mine pretty fun to drive, and the interior is quite versatile.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Richard is bold. If I came across a 13 year old ANYTHING that had been abused for the past decade by a negligent owner who burned holes in the upholstery, I’d be running the other way as fast as I could. For those of us not mechanically inclined, a car like that could become a huge money pit.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    If the Olds is still going strong, keep er going and enjoy your non-car payment. Minor repairs to keep it running reliably aren’t going to exceed a car payment, especially if you’re doing the repairs.

    Keep an eye on that coolant level and oil condition though. If no one has done the intake gaskets, you’ll probably have to sooner or later. Not terrible job to tackle yourself in that car, just keep an eye on it.

    If it pukes a motor or transmission, at that point I’d probably give up on it. Unless I had a motor and trans lying around, which probably I do.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Don’t waste your money on rust repair, it will be back next spring.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      I can second this with authority. I had the rust on my 2002 Alero fixed last spring. It looked good for a while but its back and spreading in a worse way now. Alero rust at the front of the rear wheel is incurable.

      I’ve finally put the Alero out to pasture. Waiting on a factory ordered car as I write this, wringing every last drop from the Alero in the meantime.

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    Last year I gave up on a Lincoln Mark VIII with 186,000 miles. I loved that car, but since I’m not mechanically inclined I started to reach the point where my reasoning finally overcame my emotion. I sold it to a mechanic who lives down the street from me. The car has a great new home, but it pains me everytime I see it. What sooths my grief is that in addition to my daily driver (a Focus)I have a neat orphan car – a 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis LSE with only 75,000 miles. This Panther has a long way to go! Richard, it sounds like you really like the Olds and you are not ready to let her go yet. Keep the car longer and enjoy it!

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    In my mind, 13 years old is still a pretty new car….

    To me, that car isn’t special enough, or easy enough to keep going, to warrant all that work. I’d keep up with the small stuff and drive it into the ground, kind of like I do our old Jetta.

    Now, if you really want a old car, and to make it last forever, find something pre-1980 that isn’t rusted out. The later 70′s stuff can be de-smogged easy enough, but all of those cars are very easy, and far more worthwhile to keep going.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Keep the car and stop spending money on it, would be my play. Orphaned brand yes, any danger of not finding parts to keep her on the road: No.

    Don’t sweat the rust, by the time it is bad enough the car, mechanically, will be nearing the end of its useful life. I would be less concerned with the age and more concerned with miles. Since you have a low mileage specimen, for the year, motor on. I am sure you are more than capable of knowing when it will be time for the crusher, before sporadic or consistent episodes of being left stranded occur.

  • avatar
    Onus

    Just keep running it. I recommend the rest repair unlike most people here. My biggest problem now is my truck is rusted pretty bad which makes putting money into a losing argument.

    Invest in a factory shop manual if your going to do your own works. They are very very detailed and worth their weight in gold. Check on ebay vendors sell them for $15 or so licensed copy in PDF form on a cd.

    Good thing you have a domestic car so parts are cheap.

    I know the post above asks why you bought the car. Case in point i bought my truck with a 10 year long maintenance history and it still needs lots of attention. Then again it has 360,000 miles. But, if you got something and you know it works stick with it.

  • avatar

    Rust doesn’t seem to be as big of problem as it used to be. I’d just keep it washed and stay on top of maintenance.

  • avatar
    jmo

    What are you doing with the money you’re not spending on a car payment? I’d say save at least half of it so when it’s time to buy a new car you can put enough down to get the best interest rates.

    I would note that I assume you’re already putting $17,500 in your 401k and 5000/year in a ROTH IRA. If you’re not, then technically you’d be far better off maxing out your retirement contributions and taking the 0.9% on an Accord or Civic when the time comes for a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Sure, driving an old Alero and he’s maxing his retirement contributions. Lolol.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        I’m not sure why you’re laughing about that scenario, it’s the best way to get ahead if you’re not able or willing to have both a car note and a “maxed-out” retirement contributions.

        Richard, I often regret selling my 98 3.2TL as it was a gem and running very well (and looked nearly new) at 150k miles. I was afraid of potential headgasket failure (discussed here a few years ago) so I sold it for a little over $4k and bought my wife a new car. We had 2 car titles in our possession (the Acura and the 07 outback) and I should have enjoyed that longer.

        We bought the 12 Accord and then I took a new job which allowed me to bike to work, so I sold the Subaru.

        Live and learn, but the extra money each month and a car title in hand is a nice feeling. Luckily I’ll be there in another year and the Accord will be around for a long time.

        Keep what you have until it becomes a burden, the first major failure I’d dump it… Otherwise you’ll head down a spiral.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I’m not laughing – I’m saying most people who have old cars don’t have the extra or discretionary income to be ABLE to max their retirement contributions.

          It’s an excellent idea, but not feasible for those on a budget.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            But, if that’s the case then there is no sense in paying cash for a car then, right? If you have 10k in cash and it’s time for a new car you’d be better off increasing your 401k contributions by $1000/month for 10 months and borrowing from Honda at 0.9%. You’d decrease your taxable income by 10k wich would reduce your tax burden by ~$3k an instant 30% return on investment.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        You’d be surprised. There’s plenty of wealthy folks who don’t care about cars other than as transport pods, who are perfectly happy with owning an appliance and banking the saved cash, as long as those appliances pencil out.

    • 0 avatar
      djn

      +1

      I’ve bought only 1 car on payments, back in the 80′s. I’m debt free and will stay that way. Drive your Olds and sock away the cash in savings, 401K or investments.

      I would expect the tranny to fail, after all its GM, but you can buy a similar car cheaper than fixing the transmission.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Pardon my french, but 12K miles aint shit, even after 100K. It’s just an Olds, be like the Joneses and drive it into the ground.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’ve driven more than one car to literal death. One was due to a collision, one was due to a major malfunction (nylon timing gear shredded, effectively destroying the engine) and one due to a long, hard life. I’m not proud of this last car–in fact, I hated it. But I have to admit the thing ran like a tank in many ways.

    The engine itself simply would not die. It was strong and never needed any work–internally. The body was in decent condition with only a few minor dents that were usually quickly pulled out with a suction cup and ultimately left a wrinkle or two. The interior was reasonably clean–even at over 20 years old. BUT… A bearing went out on an idler pulley for the AC compressor–wiping out three sets of belts in two months before we discovered the cause. The water pump went out causing an overheat that temporarily seized the engine. The alternator died. The starter motor died. Nearly everything attached to the engine started dying during the course of one summer, costing me more on a per-month payment than a brand-new car payment. So now I use that as an indicator to when I will discard it. When it starts approaching the month’s payment of a brand-new replacement on a regular basis, I trade it.

    For me it’s a matter of trust. As long as I can trust the car to perform as I need it to perform within reasonable cost, then I will keep it. I put over 160,000 miles on a ’96 Camaro, though even it went through three torque converters. I put over 120,000 miles on an ’02 Saturn Vue–before I sold it to my father-in-law. I’ve currently put 6.5 years on an ’08 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and 2 years on a 1990 F-150 pickup truck (I typically don’t buy used but needed something cheap, quickly when I bought it). The truck WILL be traded before the Jeep unless the Jeep disappoints me with service issues. I don’t really trust the truck due to some niggling issues that hint at a fairly expensive fix. On the other hand, since the truck isn’t a daily driver–yet–I can live with them. Replacing a timing chain is not something you can do in your driveway unless you’re really good and your community will let you (mine won’t).

    So my advice is to keep it until its maintenance starts getting excessive. When a car payment is cheaper than your repairs, it’s time to trade.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, your line of thinking is what I do.

      If I spend more on repairs in 6 months than I would on car payment, I’ll let it go, so far I’ve only had that hard choice once, with my 325,000 mile 95 Explorer when the trans let go at 225,000 miles.

      If it were to let go again, I’d just junk it, even though its a rust free Texas vehicle, its 2wd so its not of interest to anyone north of the Red River and around here a 2wd X is a dime a dozen.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Don’t junk it, part it out first. If the bed is relatively undamaged and the engine isn’t ruined, you could probably make money off of it. I know I could get $500 at least out of my F-150′s 5.0L and I’ve already been offered almost as much as I paid for the whole truck for the rust-free 8-foot bed. Of course, I’m up in the rust belt, too.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Richard… Some good points have been made already. Number one. There is.. !no!… lasting fix for rust. Save your money. I’ve tried more than once,and spent thousands. I’ve learned this over 45 years of vehicle ownership.

    You can slow the rusting process, with liberal applications of any oil based product. Brake and fuel lines, are crucial, and very expensive. So pay particular attention to these parts. You will never stop rust,just slow it.

    “geozinger”…. a few comments back, gives some excellent advice.

    Lastly… Ask yourself. What feels better? Being debt free, or driving a nice car? Take it from an old guy. If you stay debt free,long enough, you can have enough money to buy any car you want.

    If your paying cash, out of money you have saved up, believe me buying new, or used, is a real nice feeling.

    Good Luck.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      Buying with cash also allows you to drop collision and/or comprehensive insurance, instead of waiting until the loan is paid off. And you’re free to modify your vehicle as you wish.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Personally, I think anybody is foolish to drop collision OR comprehensive insurance on their vehicle until it’s off the Blue Book and maybe not until it’s got more value as junk than transportation. With the current repair pricing on 10-15 year-old cars, if it ain’t totaled physically, it’s usually totaled financially. If you can’t afford to replace your car without a down payment, that insurance payoff at least gives you a down payment.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          I dropped collision on my Alero until my new car comes. Considering it needs a transmission worth 3x the rest of the car, I am cool with it.

        • 0 avatar
          WaftableTorque

          I knew one guy who dropped his collision coverage to save $100 a year. The next month his 1-2 year old Sonata got into a fender bender with over $6000 of damage. He drove that busted up car for the next 2 years. Zero pride of ownership during that time. I’m sure he won’t make that mistake twice.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Ha big difference between a 2yo Sonata and a 12yo 300,000 kms Alero with only 4/5 gears working :)

          • 0 avatar
            eManual

            I keep collision on new cars for about 3 to 4 years and then drop it. Being debt free for over 30 years, I’ve enough money on hand to pay for another good (used or new) car. And insurance companies will raise your premiums after you file to collect, no matter what they say on the commercials. I doubt the $100/year collision/comprehensive – on the $20K new car, it was more like $400/year.

          • 0 avatar
            WaftableTorque

            I’m only going by what he told me. I just had a quick peek at my own car policy. I’m paying $272 for collision and about the same for comprehensive. My 13 year old primary car is still worth around $8,000, so I still consider it a worthwhile value-add.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Lexus?

          • 0 avatar
            eManual

            WT – At that rate, in 4 years you’ve paid over 25% of the $8000 present value. And with the deductible and depreciation, it would be closer to 50% if you have a claim.

            Insurance is a racket – I know, my Dad sold Life Insurance. I see multiple advertisements on this site for this insurance “trick” if your car is over 3 years old. I haven’t clicked on them, but they might be saying something like what I’ve been advocating. (By the way, my newest car is also 13 years old)

          • 0 avatar
            Hillman

            If your car is older you can save a ton by dropping collision and raising your deductible. Really, how much money will you get for a 14 year old vehicle if it is totaled? By dropping collision and raising your deductible to cover a real accident (over $1,000) you can have really cheap insurance with great coverage.

          • 0 avatar
            WaftableTorque

            I’m already paying $800 a year for my LS430 for 2 drivers. I could just pay $300 a year for $1,000,000 in liability, but the $500 strikes me as great value for my needs, even at the current value of the vehicle.

            Oh, and eManual, I’m a life insurance broker. I could write a book on the (legal) abuses of the insurance industry. The secret to coming out ahead is to buy what your dad would buy for himself. Which I bet isn’t what he was selling, because there is no incentive in the commission structure to do so. I don’t sell the rapacious bundled stuff, but I know my agency is the exception to the rule.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Put the amount you’d be using for a car payment in it’s own car account.

    Run the Alero with normal maintenence, fixing only problems that are mission-critical. Replace alternators, ignore window motors etc.

    When it finally dies (which could be years and tens of thousands of miles from now) use the money you’ve saved to get another car.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Keep the Alero!

    Also, $1500 was what I paid for my Skylark. I feel like I was on the losing end of that deal.

  • avatar
    rdchappell

    The Alero has the biggest taillights I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    Hey, that’s my old car!
    Not really, but mine was also a dark red 2001 GL2 with the 3.4 V6. Bought with 98K in late ’07, traded it with 151K in January ’11.

    It was a very reliable car for the three years I had it (never left me walking) and just needed a tuneup during those three years. But after three years of no repairs it needed tires, another replacement intake manifold gasket ($$$$) a driver’s window motor, a new windshield, and a few other smaller items. When I added up the cost of fixing all those issues, plus the fact that I had a hard time getting in a car that sat so low to the ground and wasn’t very spacious in the driver’s seat, I realized the car was worth less than nothing and let it go.

    I’d say keep it if you like it. 100K miles isn’t much for such a car. Odds are better than even it’ll be a good car for you and you’ll have time to build up a nice down payment for its replacement.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I have a differing view from most of you. My view is irrational and I know it. I was the subject of a piston slap a couple months ago. At that time I had just purchased (because of a comedy of errors) an olds bravada that had almost instantly puked it’s transmission. Ina ridiculous chain of events it turns out that the engine developed a lower end knock and the heater core was bypassed and fraudulently concealed. I have would up getting money back from the dealer and keeping the car so he cannot pass it along again.

    This was my fourth Olds and they have treated me disgracefully with the exception of the 1950 model that was my first. Richard, Oldsmobile may have been wonderful to you in the past but it’s no longer your father’s Oldsmobile and I do not trust it. Perhaps I was disrespectful to Ransom Olds in a prior life. I know this is irrational but given the chance I would turn them all into razor blades.

    I now have a 95 Toyota 4runner V6 with manual trannie sitting in the yard and I have hopes it will function a long time. Perhaps with it, time, and adequate medication I will survive the trauma. I have filed the entire incident in my “I should have known better.” file.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Well, if you ever have to do head gaskets or a valve adjustment on your Toyota, you may also be saying “I should have known better” about that engine choice as well! I have known several people with the 1990s Toyota V6, and I have learned enough to know that I will never own one.

      When you do have the engine apart or the heads/intake off, do the extra work of replacing all engine cooling/oil lines/hoses/seals at the same time. You absolutely can’t get to most of them otherwise.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        Yes I read that but remembered something Steve Lang said. Buy the last year of a run. In 96 they went to the 3.4. The forums also said that the 3.4 would slide in place when they eventually crater and be a much better engine.

        I am not very impressed with the speed. Get 19 per gallon which is not worth bragging about either but will work. Tows 3500 so it will get me by. Meets all the same needs that caused me to accept getting the Olds. Has lasted 196k and don’t know if it’s original or not.

        I know what you say is right but hope to have found a keeper. My first Toyota.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I already follow that advice, my Saturn is the only one of the three that was not a final year.

        • 0 avatar
          guevera

          If you’ve got the 3.0 V6 chances are it’s already had the head gasket replaced under the recall. If it hasn’t, you’ve probably got a new engine in there ‘cuz it woulda blown in the last ~20 years.

          Also, recently a recall was issued for one of the stteering components. Not a big deal, but as long as they had it taken apart I got ‘em to put my new tie rod ends on for free :)

          And one reason to love ‘yota: they actually issue new recalls on my 1990 pickup!

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      My 2002 Intrigue went 151k miles without so much as a wrench turned in the engine bay and was as reliable as the sun. It still had it’s original alternator, spark plugs(due by then for replacement), starter, serpentine belt, water pump and all hoes lines, gaskets etc. it was a wonderful car. All I ever had to do to it was normal wear items, one rear wheel bearing and little else. After seeing what happens to other 90′s Toyota V6 owners I would never own one of those. Talk about vehicles worthy of turning into razor blades.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Like redmondjp said, watch the headgasket on your new 4Runner. I think besides that, they are incredibly durable beasts. Too bad the NA market only got the 22RE and the gas sucking, head gasket popping “3.slow.” The rest of the world got some fantastic diesels. They are also quite prone to rust, I can’t recommend “Fluid Film” enough (god I sound like one of those Amsoil shills). 1 gallon costs $40, and should be enough for the underside of the truck. Heat it up in a pot, thin it with a bit of vegetable oil, and spray it from a $10 pump sprayer from Lowes. Hit up the backsides of the bumpers, the frame, basically every crevice under the truck that isn’t the brake rotors or exhaust.

      As to the OP, run it into the ground. Spray some used motor oil into the rusty areas to inhibit it somewhat, but I wouldn’t bother trying to patch it.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    “and she smoked in it” That and that alone killed the resale value.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    I would not put a penny more into that car. The alero is GM’s late 90s accord knockoff. Every part they’re made out of is cheap and fragile. Aleros (and grand ams) are fun to drive in v6 and 4 cylinder form but they’re not reliable. You’re right at the point where everything in them starts to break…plus the prior owner didn’t take good care of it. That’s a double bad strike.

    If you want a cheap reliable vehicle get a GM W body with the 3.8, Saturn S series, Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, or Taurus. GM N cars from the start of N car production have always been junk.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I had a 2002 for eight years. It had a ton of features uncommon in midsizers in 2002: all disc ABS, auto headlights, traction control, speed sensitive steering, coil-on-plug, 6-speaker stereo with sub, etc.

    I found it a screaming good value. It ate brakes, however, and the LIM gasket did get replaced under warranty. Other than that – zero repairs.

    It’s a perfectly good low-cost sedan option that drives as well as any car from 2013. No stability control, but other than that there’s nothing more you can ask for. Plenty of power, quiet, roomy enough. Some of us tech-averse folks would say it’s a nice pre-infotainment pick.

    I’d say it’s like the Buick Regal from that era but even cheaper and just as reliable.

  • avatar
    guy922

    I drove one of these briefly. It was a nice car, just didn’t have the greatest build quality. But it was comfortable and semi-luxurious. Personally I have no aversion to driving an older car, I just make sure I do my homework first. For the last two years Ive been driving a 1992 Toyota Camry V6. 166K. Needed a bit of work (shocks, alternator, miscellaneous cosmetic repairs) but has been a reliable trooper since then. Its nice not having the car payment for a while. Great article.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    My parents are doing this same very thing with there 2001 Bonneville which they still love to this day. It now has 120K miles, owes them nothing, still looks good and drives even better. The rear wheel wells are starting to rust but the rest of the body is still clean and I simply take a grinder each Summer, clean up the lower portion of the wells, prime them and paint with the 6 dollar touch up spray cans and it looks fine for another year until driven in the salt again.

    In some ways the N-bodies are better than the larger GM cars. They don’t suffer the ISS issues nearly as bad and the 4T45 trans axle has proven more reliable and better behaved than it’s 4T65 brother. Also the 2.2 Ecotec and earlier 2000-2001 2.4 seems to hold up pretty well. The 3400 usually needs to intake manifold replaced but other than that and a few random window regulators or interior issues these seem to hold up rather well when sold off to a customer at our dealership.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    GL2 I believe is the top trim, with alloys, presumably sunroof, and a 60V6 derived engine while not being the venerable 3800 is still an acceptable choice. You’ve got the best one, a top trim Olds. I say 200K or bust… assuming the Dexcool monster is under control.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Ya know what you never see anymore, the Alero coupe! Our next door neighbors over at my parent’s house had a visually good but mechanically bad one, sometime before they lost their house.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Alero Trim Level History lesson!!!

      GX, GL, GLS

      The GX is your manual window steel wheel stripper.

      GL1 is uplevel, and the top trim available with the 4cyl.. My 5MT Alero is a GL1, and is fully loaded for a 4cyl. Power windows, mirrors, locks, remote keyless, sunroof, power seat (height only), 16″ alloys. 4 cyl not available with Leather. There were also 15″ alloys.

      GL2 is mid level trim similar to the GL1, but with V6.

      GLS is fully loaded including full power driver seat and leather seating surfaces. GLS also had an available optional handling package with beefed up suspension components.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Ok this makes sense, I had a G/A SE2 which had a V6 and alloys but lacked leather, a sunroof, and the other few options (tape deck in the CD, monsoon speakers etc).

        My best friend had a ’00 GLS which had a series of stupid problems, he somehow broke the pass door lock or handle b/c the door didn’t open, it chewed through tires and wheel sensors, and kept having minor electrical and emissions issues (in which Bowser GMC/Olds/Buick/Cadillac/Subaru stole $1300 from him trying to “fix” the emissions and still failed it. PA waiver stickers are I think $250). The car frustrated him so much he dumped it at a huge loss (I think for a grand) on trade in 2011 for a new Legacy, much to my dismay as I was fully prepared to fix and beaterize it for more.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          By the way 28,

          I’ve decided to sell the Alero to Pick n Pull. The rust is coming back with a vengeance and I am not confident in my ability to donate the required time to keep it roadworthy, even as a spare. It needs a new tranny, and also has some sort of sensor/ECU issue where it wont idle proeprly when outside air temp is under -10 celcius. It has many good parts, that some other Alero owners might be able to use.

          Also, the Alero and Verano have the same bolt pattern, so I am hoping to keep my winter rubber and use it as backup set of wheels for the Verano.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    … Since I got it I have replaced a power window motor, all four struts and tires, both front wheel hubs and bearings, the rear defrost module, the O2 sensor, and had it tuned up…

    Outside of the rear defrost module, I would say all of these things would need replacing in the 100K mile, 10+ year old range anyway. This list seems to cover all of the you should do it anyway things.

    The Olds Alero is pretty reliable (check out the auction data that was shared a couple of months ago).

    Stay on top of the antifreeze – if the tranny fluid has never been changed at this point I wouldn’t.

    As long as you never get close to over heating the engine, I think the feedback is spot on. Eventually the death will either be rust or all of the “other” little things starting to fall apart.

    I would suspect this car has given 55% to 65% of its useful life, and you seem to have a grasp of what it takes to keep it running.

    Keep.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I concur with this but I’ll add water pump/pulley/serp getting toward being due, plugs/wires due at 100K, I might switch out springs/shocks, do the fuel filter if its not in the tank, and drain the dexcool because it is the devil’s fruit punch.

      Tranny with 10yo fluid will probably run another five years or 50K but you may start to notice shift or power issues and possibly mileage starts to drop. This uses a pretty common transaxle could find a nice low mileage one off car-part.com for $600 bucks and have it installed as need be.

  • avatar
    matador

    It’ll probably be fine. We have a 2000 Impala- also with the 3400. I inherited it from an uncle who did NO maintainance. I got it with almost no brake pads, really bad rotors, a tire with a steel cord showing, and a very overdue oil change. I did some work to it, and it serves as a reliable second car.

    It has 216k miles on it. Take care of it, and it’ll last a lifetime. Heck- don’t take care of it, and it’ll still last. GM cars run bad longer than the average Toyota Corolla will ever run.

  • avatar

    “I took it to a couple of dealers last month just for giggles to see what they thought it was worth.”

    You shouldn’t expect a half decent price when you’re wasting their time

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Take all crash statistics with a grain of salt, but the IIHS statistics show the Oldsmobile Alero and Pontiac Grand Am with the highest fatality rates of mid-size cars of that era.

    It’s hard to say how much of that is caused by the car and how much is attributable to the driving of people that owned them, but it is something to consider. Certainly any new car will be much safer, since it appears the Alero was among the worst even among cars of its era.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Wow, lots of replies!

    Let’s see, where to begin…

    I sent this to Sajeev several months ago, so it’s now staring 120k in the face.

    I think this is the most famous Alero out there, as it’s well documented at Curbside Classic, The Brougham Society, was shown at the Oldsmobile Homecoming in Lansing, and now here!

    The reason I have went through a number of cars in the last few years had more to do with life situations than sheer boredom. Some of you may remember the Mercury Mystique I submitted to this forum a few years ago, a car that was given to me, which helped me decide to sell the Chevy HHR I had, so that I would be out from a car payment. Sadly, the Mystique quit just as I sold the Chevy, so I had to buy the Buick LeSabre I had. That car went with me through the extremely tough final months of my father’s life, so it was sold so that I could find closure, as there were just too many memories associated with it. I replaced it with a Chrysler PT Cruiser, that I kept for all of six months because it was just not worth putting more money into. The Olds was sitting at the Toyota dealer in the back, and it just called out to me. I had owned an Alero several years ago and I really liked it.

    Mechanically it drove well. I used to work as a detailer at some car dealerships, so the recondition work wasn’t a big deal to me. I got the smoke smell out-it smells very fresh inside now!

    I failed to mention that I have a copy of the Carfax from the dealer, so I knew a little about the car before I signed on the dotted line…

    The rust is so far only noticeable if you get up close and look for it-it has held up surprisingly well, all things considered.

    I know of the crash test ratings, and they do concern me a little, as I’m not that tall and I have to sit kind of close to the wheel :/

    My biggest concerns at this point are when are the crazy GM electronics going to go nuts on me…as it is when I hit a sizable mud puddle, the wheel speed sensor goes nuts and knocks out the ABS and Traction Control. Thankfully I can reset it by putting the car in neutral, turn the car off and restart it and shove it back into drive.

    Also, I have been noticing lately that I seem to be able to smell coolant when it’s running. The temp gauge stays in the normal range, and I cannot find any leaks. The oil and coolant looks to be okay.

    And, as of the past few months, the gas mileage is terrible! I am not a lead foot, but I cannot get above 21 mpg anymore!

    But despite all that, I thoroughly enjoy driving the thing! It does have the touring suspension, so it handles rather well. The power seat fits me perfectly, the stereo sounds great, and it took to my adding XM and Bluetooth to it like it came from the factory!

    If I should decide to replace it, I want to stick to the under $10k plan, so that I will have little to no car payment-it feels good!

    Thanks again everyone!

    -Richard

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      This is easy. Drive it into the ground. You are in the sweet spot. Enjoy it while it lasts. Your transportation costs next to nothing. Try to keep up the appearance as best you can, and when the time comes, walk away. I made the downpayment on my first house with the money I saved from a car that outlived its normal, natural life by quite a lot.
      By theny You will have bucks for a good down payment on a new car and some left over. They most assuredly aren’t all like that. See Volkswagen thread.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    This article proves, once again, that Sajeev Mehta is one of the best automotive writers in North America!

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    I have a lot of good memories driving older cars. My father is almost 90(he’s still doing well and is active). When he was much younger and I was growing up he would buy $300 cars and keep them going forever because of him mechanical abilities. In the late 70s I was commuting to college in a 60s AMC Rebel. When my grandfather died I bought his 68 Plymouth Fury for $100 from my grandmother and drove it through graduate school to about 86. Then my father gave me his malaise 78 Mercury Monarch. It wasn’t quite as peppy as the Plymouth, LOL. I then bought a very inexpensive 81 Mercury Cougar – another malaise car! I have a real affection for older cars; one of my favorite decades now is the 90s. Give me another Mark VIII, although a Thunderbird or an Eldorado would be OK too! My car heroes are guys who keep the older cars going and achieve super high mileage.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    Use the money from one or two car payments to buy a cheap backup car. The annual insurance cost is probably about one more car payment. If you fix your own cars, you’ll probably be fixing something on one of them all the time, but at least you don’t have to worry about your only car being unreliable.

    Of course, you can take that strategy too far, like I have, and have six backups and always something to fix on at least three cars. :)

  • avatar
    thefastman454

    This thread has sparked me to register and comment due to nobody making the simple financial obvious…..keeping a used paid off car running nomatter what the repair is cheaper than buying any new car. Period. 0% or 2.9% doesnt matter. Need a new engine, replace it…costs you on average 8 car payments and will last you another 15 yrs. Rebuild tranny, 3 average car payments and another 10-15 years life.
    Depreciation isnt an issue with a 10 yr old car, so you wont go to bed crying. Yearly taxes and insurance premium difference alone will add up to another $800+ saved.
    I wouldnt look for a different vehicle until life demanded I get one (job, kids) or the car I had reached 300000 miles.

    If safety is an issue, find another cheap car you wont make a payment to thats safer and sell your alero.

    My 2 cents

    • 0 avatar
      thefastman454

      Id like to add more to my post

      The logic to buy a new car just because you are trying to avoid maintenance costs of a used one is about as logical as a person who takes on a $400 car payment to gain 10 mpg and save money in gas. It just mathematically doesnt make sense.

      Heres a quick rundown of numbers for you. The 19000 advertised stripped brand new car costs you actually 21000 after taxes at 8% and dealer fees. Assuming you put 10% down, youre financing 18900. At 0% for 60 months you pay 315 a month or 3780 a year. Additional insurance for the year and yearly taxes/registration equaling $800. Total cost to own the first year not including the $2100 you put down we are at $4580. These are conservative number folks. Most wont get the payment that low.

      Thats a lot of repair costs on your $2500 paid off beater. More than likely a replacement engine installed and a transmission rebuilt for the said car.

      Hmmm…ill continue to drive my cheap car and repair it as needed.


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