By on March 31, 2017

Project Cars on Craigslist

I was still in my 20s, browsing my local library’s jazz catalog with what I hoped was an open mind, when I found Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Winter In America” tucked between Wynton Marsalis and Chick Corea. I had a vague idea of who Scott-Heron was from my years in school, so I snagged it, put the CD in my Fox on the way home, and I was … struck dumb. This was something new for me, both musically and politically. In the years since, I’ve often thought that if God truly loved me he would have given me Gil Scott-Heron’s steady baritone instead of my over-modulated tenor.

In the years that followed, I persevered as a fan of Scott-Heron through the man’s ups and downs. Shortly before his death, he stunned me and everybody else again with I’m New Here, a heartfelt but judiciously studied effort that was aimed with laser precision at rap fans and the regular-at-Yoshi’s crowd alike. In that album’s title track, Scott-Heron gathers up what is left of his voice and growls, “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.” It was a knowingly ironic statement from a man who could clearly foresee his imminent death from AIDS-related complications, but it was also a final benediction, a last bit of weary advice from a man who had long viewed himself as a prophet without honor in his own community.

That phrase — “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around” — has weighed heavily on me lately, for any number of reasons. I have a few friends, some more dear to me than others, who would benefit mightily from a serious application of that advice. But since this is at least nominally a blog about cars, let’s talk about what it means to our four-wheeled decisions, instead of how it might apply to relationships that should have been dropped in the Marianas Trench years ago.

Yes, let’s do that.

The first Google result, and the most frequently cited paper that I can find, for the idea of “sunk cost” can be found at ScienceDirect. You’ll need to pay money if you want to read the whole thing, but let’s face it: we live in an era where “Science” is to our chattering classes what “God” was to their grandparents, which is to say that “Science” is something to be invoked at every public opportunity while being simultaneously held at arm’s length whenever possible.

I hear a lot about what “Science tells us” from people who didn’t make it through high school chemistry class, and I read a lot of complaints about “Science deniers” from people who couldn’t describe the scientific method for a million dollars in hard currency. A while ago, there was a massive collective giggle from the Internet about a pair of overweight rappers who wondered exactly how magnets work. I made it my personal mission in life for about 90 days to subject anybody who made a dismissive comment about said rappers to some intense questioning regarding the precise nature and mechanics of electro-magnetism. None of my interviewees ever made it as far as the so-called strong and weak force, to my immense and predictable delight.

The typical reader, therefore, will be satisfied if we just read the abstract. Nah. Still too much hassle. Let’s just pick out the important parts. I’ll do it for you:

The sunk cost effect is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made … It is found that those who had incurred a sunk cost inflated their estimate of how likely a project was to succeed compared to the estimates of the same project by those who had not incurred a sunk cost … people will throw good money after bad … The sunk cost effect was not lessened by having taken prior courses in economics.

You can see this effect all around you. At the blackjack table, where people who have lost a lot of money can’t just walk away and cut those losses. In our universities, where people double down on a losing major like history or social science or pretty much anything that isn’t finance or STEM in the vain hope that having a doctorate in feminist movie theory will be somehow more remunerative than merely having a master’s degree in the subject. In the woman who keeps some low-achievement fedora-wearing dog trainer around because she’s already put so much effort into their relationship and she doesn’t want to admit that it’s all been wasted time.

All of these are great examples, even if at least one of them seems oddly specific and two of them definitely would if you had a chance to follow my brother around a casino, but you simply cannot beat automobile owners when it comes to following a sunk cost right into the proverbial ground. In fact, you can argue cars are the number-one examples of sunk cost psychology in the world.

After all, we live in a world where most tangible items are either highly durable — homes, airplanes, shovels, proper dress shoes — or absolutely disposable — electronics, sweatshop clothing, nearly everything made in China. Items in the first category are relatively unlikely to inspire terrible sunk-cost decisions, because you’ll get your value back if you wait long enough. Very few homes are torn down because they are truly beyond repair. Items in the second category don’t inspire any particular efforts at preservation. Does anybody in this country, even the most desperately poor, sew patches on clothing any more? Does anybody try to repair an iPod Touch?

By contrast, nearly every automobile experiences a brief final phase of life where somebody puts too much money and effort into it. Long-time readers will remember the work of Crabspirits, the fellow whose trenchant quasi-fictional observations on the last functioning moments of junked cars were both hilarious and heartbreaking. Many of us recognized friends, relatives, or our own actions in those tales.

In a perfect world, every owner of a vehicle in its twilight years would use a simple formula to determine if a repair was worth doing. It would be something like: cost of repair divided by expected additional months of usage, compared to the cost of obtaining replacement vehicle that does not need repair. The problem with that sensible approach is:

a) the kind of people who would engage in careful equation-pondering are precisely the kind of people who only rarely find themselves in those sorts of desperate straits;

b) the kind of people who find themselves in those sorts of desperate straits rarely possess the intellectual and educational tools to make those determinations;

c) it’s extremely difficult to come up with reliable numbers for any of the above variables.

I think ol’ letter C is responsible for a lot of misery in these situations. The mechanic comes out front, wiping his hands, and tells you that while they were fixing insert name of completely incomprehensible item here they found a problem with insert different, but equally foreign, part or assembly of parts. Or they have no trouble fixing it but the new part doesn’t last as long as you’d hoped. Or something else goes wrong shortly afterwards. Or the $2,000 car your brother-in-law said he would hold onto for you gets sold due to a misunderstanding. It’s very easy for members of the upper-middle class to cluck and criticize when the working poor can’t figure out how to make $500 decisions, but many of these same people found themselves deep underwater on their McMansions nine years ago and they treated it like an act of God that deserved immediate federal intervention.

Of course, none of the above discussion provides an adequate explanation for your crazy uncle who has put five transmissions into his Chrysler minivan, or the guy in the office down the hall who bought an old W220 S-Class, instantly experienced an Airmatic failure, and did anything besides selling the car for scrap. Some people really should know better, and they can afford to know better, but they refuse to know better.

I used to see this sort of thing in Volvos and Saabs that were traded in at my Ford dealership way back in the day. These very tidy professorial types would arrive. Sometimes they would actually be professors. Sometimes they would be professors of business or economics. They would arrive with thumb-thick binders of cost-no-object repairs done with brand-new factory parts to 15-year-old shitboxes with seats worn through to the springs. You would go through the binder and do the numbers for fun; the average monthly cost of repair would have put them in a new Explorer years before they decided to give up.

Rarely was the last bill or estimate (they always brought the estimates, these cautious and purposefully ethical folks) larger than or more complex than the ones that preceded. In fact, it was often the reverse. They’d swap in a new transmission then call it quits over a power steering pump. They would have the engine rebuilt with a factory long block and then give up because the dashboard lights didn’t come on for the evening trips that rarely ranged outside their own neighborhood.

Mark my words, however, the folks who wrote the above research paper were dead-right about one particular thing. The more money that Professor Smith wasted on his ’83 Saab 900, the more money he’d throw in the pit after it. Rarely did the cars come in with five repairs in five years. Either they’d have one major problem that resulted in the trade-in, or they’d have the thumb-thick binder. Good money after bad, again and again. Each repair promised to be the one. After this repair, they would surely get another trouble-free year out of an ancient Eurocar that was never designed to survive a five salt-soaked winters, let alone a dozen. Each promise was a lie.

As the owner of a watercooled Porsche that is just a couple seasons away from a 15th birthday, I’m starting to think about how and why I might sell it. Truth be told, my Boxster S has been inexpensive and almost trouble-free to run — by German-car standards, mind you. If a Civic cost this much to run, you’d bury it in the hole they used for all the E.T. cartridges. It’s fundamentally worthless; I doubt I could get fifteen grand for it. There’s a subterranean floor to its minimal value, roughly defined as “base for a Spec Boxster build,” that will stay steady for a very long time.

Therefore, any year where it doesn’t cost me much money would be a good year to keep it. And any year where it costs me a lot of money is a good year to sell it. As long as I adhere to that, I’ll be fine. My concern is that I’ll have a light rainfall of two-thousand-dollar problems. Control arms. Catalytic converters. Dashboard flickering. And each one of those will feel like it could be the last … but it won’t be.

All I can say in my defense is that I didn’t let my 944 bleed me out like that. I bought it as a no-stories, no-excuses car for $6,000. I put $5,000 into it. It was a $6,000 car. Five years of occasional use later, it was a $4,000 car that needed $8,000 of work to be right. At which point it would have been a $6,000 car. When the clutch slave followed the clutch master into the big parts bin in the sky, I did all the numbers. Then I sold it for a few grand to somebody who wanted a project. It broke my heart to see the car go, but the math of it was incontrovertible.

If I can do it with my beloved 944, everybody else should be able to make the same decision with their old Saab — or even their old Camry. Let’s go back to Gil Scott-Heron for a final comment: “It may be crazy / but I’m the closest thing I have / To a voice of reason.” That’s true for all of us. No matter how far wrong you’ve gone, you can always turn around. But here’s something I’ve learned at my own cost: the decision to turn has to come from within.

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195 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: No Matter How Far Wrong You’ve Gone, You Can Always Turn Around...”


  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Great piece, and timely too. I was just debating whether I should purchase a ’89 BMW 535i as a project car. Certainly food for thought…

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Not unless you hate yourself on some level. BMW’s time has passed. The worthwhile cars they built are now past the age where they work a reasonable amount of the time for a semi-reasonable amount of money. The E34 was never as durable as the E28, and now it’s older than they were when it was time to sell.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    My B5 A4 did me like that. After a couple of expensive unexpected repairs, one of which was shoddy and went bad again, I looked at the known upcoming ~$3K worth of *maintenance* (timing belt and clutch) and traded that thing in the next day. I figured I could handle $300/mo if that’s what the repairs the next year alone would cost.

    Best news? The money I saved on *gas* nearly paid the note on the new car.

    My only regret was that I didn’t do it a year earlier. I was still in the throes of the sunk cost fallacy.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      … what did you trade it in for and how much did you drive, that you saved that much on gas on an A4?

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        I was driving 650 miles per week in a V6 Quattro A4 at (at best) 25 MPG on premium fuel. In 2011 that was about $140 per week in gas. Traded for a 2012 Cruze Eco – 40+ MPG on regular gas that came out to “only” $70 per week in fuel. Saved $280 per month on that alone and I didn’t have to deal with $300/mo (averaging) in upcoming maintenance and an unknown amount in random and inconvenient repairs. Put money and time in my pocket, it did.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      I had one of those a decade ago. It was the vehicle that soured me on VAG as an entity, so I understand your pain.

      In my experience, that 25mpg was generous, and on the highway. With the extra work the AWD system does around town, I was in the upper teens running about and probably 22mpg mixed.

      I owned it for 2 years, put close to $5000 into it (evaporator, engine mounts, brake master cylinder, 2 CV boots, and the abs module all went bad, also did the T-belt, brakes, and tires) and lost half of the $10k I bought it for on the back end in a private sale. It wasn’t even that high mileage, I owned it from 65k to around 90k.

      I bought an RSX-S after that. It cost me my car payment and insurance for the life of it, and only required oil, tires and brakes. I got half of my purchase price back when I sold it with 100k and it was 8 years old too.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    Say what’s the word? Johannesburg.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Aside from many medical disorders (or relationships), almost anything can indeed be turned around…all it takes is money. The only question is how much you’re willing to spend.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      Don’t forget about time. When I was trying to fix my wife’s S55, I was commonly stuck for a few days at a time waiting on parts. When the ABC leaked I had to take it all apart, attempt a diagnosis, order a part, install and because I’m a mediocre mechanic, repeat the process if I didn’t get it right. That thing spent the better part of two weeks on jackstands while I fumbled my way through the repair. Even if I had sent it to a shop, nobody in town had the gear to get the job done in any less than a week.
      The final straw was when it started leaking fuel from a pulsation damper on the main fuel line. I tried to replace the HNBR o-ring myself, but it was an odd size and any replacement would also leak. I broke down and ordered a new damper from MB for something like $60 (for basically an o-ring) and when I attempted to install it I dropped the oddly-shaped retaining clip that holds it in; it pinged off into the ether never to be found again. My attempt to fabricate a replacement from a circlip failed since the original was more of a U-shape. I had to wait three more days to special order in a $2 part while the car stunk up my garage leaking gas on the floor. That was the final straw, a $2 part and the time that the thing had to sit waiting for it.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    “the kind of people who would engage in careful equation-pondering are precisely the kind of people who only rarely find themselves in those sorts of desperate straits”

    I’m trying really hard to teach my wife this lesson… It’s kicking my butt right now with a little beginner class motorcycle I know I shouldn’t be throwing modification money at…

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    ’78 Corvette with a four-speed? Sign me up!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As someone who has devotedly calculated the cost per km to operate nearly 2 dozen vehicles over the years, I can agree with most of this article, while pointing out that Jack misses one key point. The reason why a ‘car culture’ exists is largely because some of us become emotionally attached to a vehicle.

    We put in parts/labour worth more than double the resale value of an old Buick because it was my father-in-law’s last vehicle and my wife felt a tangible connection from the car to her father.

    Not logical, but part of what makes us human.

    • 0 avatar

      This. I had a friend that spent serious money on an MGB that went through six alternators in one summer. But he kept it, and kept fixing it because “the next one would make it right.”

      It never did.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        That is the sort of situation where figuring out what the actual problem is would help a great deal. Because if you put six alternators in six months into a car, it’s a symptom, not the problem.

        For my keeper car, I simply plan to never let it get to project car status in the first place. I fully plan to be driving my ’11 328i wagon when I retire in 20-odd years, and at <3K a year that I put on it, that seems imminently practical. Should just about hit 100K when I start collecting Social Security.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          “Because if you put six alternators in six months into a car, it’s a symptom, not the problem.”

          It depends on where you get your alternators. I know of a guy who has a lifetime warranty on a NAPA alternator in a Mitsubishi Montero. He’s on his 4th now, IIRC. His ‘free’ alternator replacements are now costing him $212.50 in labor every several months.

          I had a tech show me an “if not charging” warning sticker that comes on the worst disposable remanufactured alternators from national parts chains. What surprised him was that it was on a brand new, Chinese-made AC Delco alternator. I told him that he could go to the Buick store and buy a brand new CUV to match. I wonder if there’s an equivalent disclaimer on the Envision’s windows sticker?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Still a symptom. The actual problem being he was too dumb to buy a quality part. If the dealer wants $400 for a part, and you go to McParts store and buy it for $40, you get what you deserve, even with a “lifetime warranty”. The smart money figures out who the OEM is, buys the part for $200, and gets the dealer part service out of it. Or at least after the 2nd or 4rd failure tries something different, even if it costs money.

          • 0 avatar

            Only once have I been burned by a cheap part. Wheel bearing on my Eagle Summitt. Other then that all the hundreds of cheap parts I have bought over the years all worked.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            cheap “remanufactured” parts like alternators and starters are a gamble. some cut-rate rebuilders will just clean them up, replace *only* the component which failed and not address anything marginal.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            I have had NAPA starters and alternators fail over and over (different cars, different times).

            All the old timers claim NAPA is the best auto parts place, but I get sick of changing the same part over and over. I haven’t been in one in probably 5 years or more.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Assuming they are fortunate enough that spending some cash doesn’t put them into the abyss, Does it really matter though?

    If Professor Higgins wasn’t fixing up his Saab, he’d just be spending more on PBS donations and used books and scalp wax. If grandpa loves his 5.8L Grand Marquis, paying for the third AOD rebuild and a new vinyl top isn’t the worst thing even if he could lease a Sentra for the same amount.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      This. Lots of folks do this because it makes them happy.

      And not everything that makes you happy has to make 100% sense, as long as you can afford it.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      That’s what I was going to say. There is another factor in repair cost vs value: love.

      I love my car. While it has not cost me much to keep it going, I know it is well past its life expectancy and I’m taking a chance on it from here on out. I don’t care. When the AX4N §hits the bed, it’ll get rebuilt. When the engine starts drinking more oil than gas, it’ll be rebuilt/replaced.

      The thing about my car is that its value is nominal. If I tried to sell it today, in my area, I might could squeeze more than a grand out of it, but probably not. The miles, the cosmetics, the inop A/C, the age, nobody would want it, but someone might settle for it.

      Some may argue that I keep it going because its easier for me to afford a new fuel pump (made up example) than to afford another car, and that is partially true. But, the real reason I’ll continue to keep it going is that I enjoy the car.

      Its value isn’t in its KBB number, its in the smile I get when I turn the key and watch that tachometer needle come alive. Its the enjoyment I get when I drive it, when I improve it, when I talk about it.

      You can’t put a dollar figure on that.

      Does it make sense financially? So far it has: Nothing I could buy (if I sold it) that I could afford would be any nicer, any more comfortable, any less risky as far as the potential for catastrophic failures at any given moment. And its highly unlikely I would enjoy the car any more than I do this one.

      Lets say I got left enough money to live comfortably and buy any new car I wanted (within reason, say any mainstream car, not a Lambo). Most people, upon receiving such news would be more likely to set fire to their 20+ year old “beater”.

      Luckly for it, I’m not most people. I would likely buy several other vehicles and the Taurus may then be relegated to occasional trips, but it would not leave my possession. It would be restored and tastefully modified to my standards. Give it a month or two, and it’d be the finest 1995 Taurus in existence.

      My point being, even if I could afford to dump it like OMP thinks I should, there is no way in hell I would.

      Throwing good money after bad? Well, it may be “bad” on paper from a cynical point of view, but it isn’t in my heart. Its spending money on something I love, and I don’t care how many people make fun of me or talk §hit. If it was their money I was spending, that’d be different.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Well said! I call my Trooper the Bionic – it has drank more money than it’s worth. But I love the comfort, sight lines and above all, memories. There’s still Cheerios and the imprint from the baby seat. Memories.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I talked to a woman the other day that is running out of patience for her family constantly being inconvenienced and soaked by their fleet of recent Eurotrash. I told her that there are two companies that know how to make cars, and she could forget all about creepy tow-truck drivers and check engine lights. She said she wants to move to a city where she can rely on public transportation. There’ a special kind of mental derangement that makes someone want to experience frottage from a syphilitic hobo with a wet cough rather than buying a car that wasn’t designed by white people.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    I’m the poster child for this piece. I throw good money after bad on cars, most often on cars nobody else on earth would care to own. Why? I’m stupid. But mainly, it is my addiction no different than gambling, drinking, or drug usage except that my follies are parked all around the house for everyone to see.

    I like the challenges cars provide. Even though I almost always lose, I wonder what I can do to them. Convert a car from carb to fuel injection without looking like a total hack, done. Stuff a huge motor in a relatively small engine bay, done. Keep a first year fwd X-car on the road, done. And so on, all at huge financial loss but with a large dose of self satisfaction. The first step is acknowledging the problem. I’m stuck there.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      Its not a problem if it makes you happy, man.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with John. It sounds like you have a healthy hobby. So you don’t have a bag of golf clubs costing 20-40k, you just have your cars. I don’t agree with calling it an addiction… but I get what you meant by calling it that. My project car is my rallycross car. Plenty of sunk cost (mods, event fees, repairs) into that Acura RSX but it has been worth it for me. We need to have things that make our life fun and interesting.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Now I know what that Mercedes is that my neighbor has parked next to his house. I recognize the grille. The rest of the car hasn’t come out from under its tarp in the 3 years I’ve been living there. I’m sure that Mercedes will see daylight again one day… on its way to the crusher.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Well, from the grille it could be any number of W114/W115 bodies; they made them for 8 years with a variety of engines, in coupe and sedan form.

      (Heck, I drove a ’76 300D for well over a decade … starting in 2000.

      And yes, it was falling apart the entire time, more or less.

      Good way to learn mechanic skills, though, which was *the intent*.

      Beautiful cars, but …)

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Great piece.

    Basically, for many of us the emotion of the car trumps the rational signals from our brains. Till they don’t. Then we fire sale the mess.

    Your 944 as an example; I speculate once the decision was made to part ways the car was gone in a matter of days/weeks.

    I find CL entertaining though, as you find folks on there who believe they are entitled to their sunk cost back and ask for it in the ad for the car. Listing everything ever done to the car as if that explains the 7k asking price. They struggle mightily with the idea their car is worth scrap value as is.

    • 0 avatar
      2drsedanman

      “….they are entitled to their sunk cost back and ask for it in the ad for the car.”

      This. Craigslist is a great place to see the sunk cost effect. A lot of times it will be preceded by the word “project”. No matter if you “spent $2500 on engine alone”, sometimes a car is worth $1500, no matter what. Hard concept for people to grasp, especially if you are caught up in it. Sort of like Love.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        I have seen what Jack talked about too, “new engine, trans rebuilt 2 years ago, need a steering rack. $700”

        Some I believe are lying. Maybe the “new” engine develops a knock when cold started or the rebuilt trans has harsh/abrupt down shifts and leaks like a siv.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          the best is always “A/C just needs recharge.”

          Yeah, no it doesn’t. if it did, you’d have had it recharged. besides refrigerant doesn’t just disappear for no reason.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Nahh, Jim

            “Needs a tune up” takes the cake. It means “runs like crap, I can’t figure out why.”

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      The apex idiots on CL are those who use the word ‘invested’ when enumerating the thousands pist away on cars hardly worth towing to the Pic-N-Pay. Never fails to be a case of ‘Read no further’.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yep I love it when its something like:

        “I bought this car a year ago, yesterday the transmission failed. *I only am asking what I have into it*.”

        So you think its worth the *same* today as it was when it ran/drove, was a year younger and with fewer miles (presumably)? Ha!

        Another:
        “Asking $1500 but car is worth 3250”
        Aww, you such a sweet heart giving it away more than half off. That must be why you’ve had it listed over and over for months on end. If its worth SO much, why can’t you get that for it?

        It is ONLY worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

        Call Kelly Blue Book and see if they will buy it for $3250. They’re the ones saying its worth it, so they should be willing to pay that for it. Classic “put yer money where yer mouth is”.

        Likewise, call the Chevy dealer who offered you that on trade and see if he will buy it outright without the precondition of you buying a car off his lot. “Oh, um, well, let me get back to you…(never).”

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          In high school, I sold a car to a neighbor. It was a 70K mile Horizon that needed a water pump and front brake pads and rotors. IIRC, Blue Book was in the low teens of dollars. My car had a river running out from under it, and pushing the brake pedal emitted a loud shriek but slowed the car imperceptibly. I put $650 obo on the FOR SALE sign that served as Craigslist when advertising in the paper would have cost a meaningful percentage of what I hoped to recoup.

          The neighbor was a bit suspect in that she operated a church out of her home and her son was twerp while her daughter would go to prison for embezzling from the commercial bank that employed her. She wanted the car for her son, and said she would like to take it to her mechanic for a PPI. I said fine, just be careful to leave plenty of room to stop. Her mechanic told her to buy it, no doubt already spending his winnings in his mind, unclouded by even token awareness of moral constructs.

          We agreed on a price of $575. A few days later my phone rang. How could I, a Christian and a neighbor, have sold her a car that had hundreds of dollars of immediate mechanical needs? Caveat emptor, said this then-reigning Latin Certamen champion. Actually, I think what I said was that the only problems I knew about were obvious. There was a flood of coolant coming out from under the car and I specifically said it needed brakes. And what about the PPI?

          A few days later she called to gloat. It turns out that she’d found out that the car was actually worth twice what she paid for it. I suppose she thought her virtue had been rewarded by getting my car for half price. I knew it was a $1,200 car. I wasn’t trying to rip anyone off. I priced it according to its KBB less the cost of needed repairs and a few bucks more to get it out of my life ASAP. I don’t recall if she ever decided I wasn’t a horrible person after all, or if she was just happy that a horrible person like me would price my car below market value out of perverted avarice.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Haha awesome story, and beautifully written Todd. It’s telling that the TTAC B&B denizens write better material in the comments of articles than the hand-wringer writers over at jalopnik can manage.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Thanks! Looking at it now, I realize a little effort at editing wouldn’t have been remiss.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    By the way, where’s 28? The Church needs to adopt that Buick.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Follow the KISS method. In 20 years your supposed pinnacle of reliability, a western kept 2017 Toyota Corolla will be impossible to keep on the road.

    A 62 Polara, no problem, and cheap to boot!

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      By that logic, a 1997 Corolla should be impossible to keep on the road now, unless somehow electronics are *less* durable now than 20 years ago (because the electronics are basically the only difference that’s relevant).

      And yet cars of that era are still ubiquitous.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        Electronics are far more complicated now. A 97 corolla wires can be spliced and looms repaired. In 17′ LED tail lights have circuit boards where specific ohms must be matched, side curtain air bags, Touch screen center stack control everything, chipped keys…… I could go on and on. But if something is amiss, the cars won’t start, shift out of park etc..

        The safety systems will bring them to their knees. Now, if you make the case for more premium expensive brand prestige autos to become collectible, oh boy…. now your really getting into fickle, complicated FUBAR electrical situations. How many 10 year old $120K Audi A8’s are stacked up like cord wood in Denver Junkyards with Aspen dealership plates?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Le Sigh…

    1967 Mustang, if I can just keep it together long enough to get ownership of a garage…

  • avatar
    vtnoah

    The story of the old Saab or Volvo is one I’m very familiar with here in Vermont. Back when I started driving in the late 90’s the old 900’s, 9000’s, 240’s, and 740’s were all hitting 200k plus miles. The thing is, it meant dropping a few thousand a year to keep them running. I think it comes back to your story about durable cars vs. reliable ones. The bodies of the old swedes held up pretty well but everything else that broke cost a fortune to fix. I started my car journey with an 89′ 900 with 172kand moved on to a 9000 Turbo of the same vintage a year or two later with 200k. They were robustly built cars but there was always something little breaking on them that cost at least a few hundred to fix. Now everyone and I mean everyone up here drives a Subaru. The subies provide the sure footedness of the Swedes with 1/3 the maintenance cost.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “The subies provide the sure footedness of the Swedes with 1/3 the maintenance cost.”

      ‘Til the headgaskets go, but much like Saab/Volvo owners Subby owners are happy to toss on the cash to keep fixin’ stuff.

      • 0 avatar

        Well considering they were used to paying a couple grand to replace a evaporator on a 850 Volvo most former swedish owners don’t bat at an eye at the engine requiring a couple grand worth of work around 100k miles.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Yes that 850/S70 abomination, ’nuff said.

          • 0 avatar
            caltemus

            I’m in the process of replacing the heater core on my 850, and I’ve gotta say it’s the most accessible heater core I’ve ever seen on anything made after like 1980. No dash disassembly required. 35 bucks for a core shipped. I won’t argue that the evaporator is buried.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Ever need a blower motor for a 240? They break with the frequency of something designed to last the life of a 1986 Hyundai, and they require seven hours of meticulous labor to replace.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            “They break with the frequency of something designed to last the life of a 1986 Hyundai”

            Source?

            Neither of my three 240s ever needed a blower motor, and I’m sure a few of them had their original motors.

            It IS a long process though, at least compared to the 740/940 series.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Nor did mine. But even when they do, he’s right that it is time consuming to do it “the right way”. But the easy way is to take a Dremel and cut a hole in the side of the heater box, replace the motor in 15 minutes, and duct tape the plastic panel back on. Done both ways on friend’s cars, would never do it the factory way again unless the car was a museum piece.

            It’s pretty much a once in the life of the car job, maybe twice if you are driving the thing intergalactic miles. Which 240s do tend to do.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Ask a Volvo mechanic who worked during the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. Some of them did so many they could do the job in less than three hours, which is astounding to great young mechanics tasked with it today. Look up the ‘chainsaw method’ and the ‘holesaw method.’ Blower motor replacement and Volvo 240 ownership go hand in hand. Some owners modify their cars each time they replace the blower motors to make it easier the next time.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            I guess I got lucky with mine, have you spoken with said mechanics yourself?

            I did look up the various methods you mentioned…the drill one I dont mind, but I prefer to avoid hacking up my cars.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I suspect they’re the ones that developed the saw methods. Doing it the way that doesn’t leave the car irrevocably changed takes forever and risks damaging A/C components. I offered one of the old timers $200 an hour plus lunch before and drinks after to put a blower motor and blower motor resistor in a low mileage 1993 Volvo 240 two weeks ago after hearing him boast about how he could do three a day when they were new. He said no thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Having owned more than a dozen RWD Volvos (a number of which were in the 200K mile range), I cannot wrap my head around spending *thousands* a year to repair one. They are roughly as complex as a tractor. I mean I guess if you bought a super abused one and took it to the dealer it might cost you a couple thousand at first… I do agree that old Saabs are death by a thousand cuts though. I’d rather drive a Saab but I would infinitely rather OWN RWD Volvos. Now that I can afford them I prefer BMWs to either.

      Subarus on the other hand, simply rot out before they can cost too much money to actually fix. Other than head gaskets, of course.

  • avatar
    SkookumFord

    This story has me choked up. I am deep underwater on two projects right now. The first is an ’88 Lincoln Mark VII, I’ve had for 10 years, which I have almost $20k of receipts for, which hasn’t been running for the last 5 years. Alllll it needs is to be put back together, I have all the parts for it! After which it will be worth… what? $1500? With Koni Yellows, Cobra Brakes, brand new stroker motor, brand new trac-lock, welded torque box, factory 10-disc changer and a sagging headliner, sticky door panels, oozing steering wheel, weak suspension pump (bags don’t leak (yet)!), ABS light on…

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      Does the car make you happy (well, when you get it back together)? Then its money well spent my friend.

      What could $20k buy you that you would love as much? An Altima 2.5S? Lol and thus my point is proven.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Is this a ‘Sanjeev’ sighting?

      • 0 avatar
        SkookumFord

        <3 Thanks for the pep talk :)

        Sajeev is my spirit animal.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          “It will sure be a lot of fun when it’s done!” As long as it gets done. Seriously, that would be a very nice car. But it’s supposed to be a fun hobby – if it ain’t fun, why spend any more on it? You could sell parts and “lose money” on them, but you already spent that money, so you would only gain money when you compare that to putting the parts on the car.

          But if you do get it together, it will be cool. Maybe you can have a “wrench day” with some car forum folks and get started on one of the “hard parts” you haven’t gotten motivated enough to do.

          The ABS light is probably a fairly easy fix in most cases, even though the Teves Mark II is like alien tech to most shops anymore. Accumulator going bad from sitting is most common, and pressure switches go bad. Pump motor is an easy fix, though hard to get the unit out. Pump and booster might possibly go bad with old fluid in them (or air in them) for too long. Those are the only really expensive parts.

          P.S. – What’s the second project? :)

          • 0 avatar
            cimarron typeR

            If it has a T5 swap it should be Really fun and worth more than 1500

          • 0 avatar
            SkookumFord

            Since you asked! The second project is an ’03 Suzuki SV1000 that I ‘stole’ for $1800, then proceeded to replace the front and rear suspension, brakes, entire charging system (Loose Flywheel magnets!), clutch, chain, sprockets, tires, etc, only to crash it the first day at Road Atlanta. Expensive way to learn that an SV1000 is NOT just an SV650 with more power. I fixed it up and almost had it sold until the buyer took it for a test ride, and suddenly it’s not making power above 6k rpm??? Piece of junk. I parked it in the corner and bought an SV650.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      If it’s been sitting for 5 years, don’t bet on the bags being anything more than place keepers for a set of coils.

    • 0 avatar
      thunderjet

      I’ve seen mint, low mile, 88-92 Mark VIIs with price tags around $10K. Now what they are selling for I’m not sure.

      If you’re car was running and you fixed all the cosmetic issues I could see it being worth much more than $1500.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    We get trapped by the circumstances we find ourselves within. Human nature is such that we make choices within our paradigm or more simply, we don’t think outside the box. We get accustomed to a certain way of doing things and one choice leads us to another. Another aspect of what Jack is talking about is the fact that we tend not to change our path until we are faced with a big shock or hit of some kind. We don’t notice gradual change but we notice abrupt change. Others won’t make a decision to alter their path until they hit that proverbial rock bottom.
    Jack cited examples of those getting rid of the car with the first big repair or plowing in cash for multiple repairs until a little repair is the final straw that breaks the back.
    Our choices are for the most part, governed by emotion. Logic rationalizes the emotional choice. Ever try to tell someone they purchased a sh!tty car?
    There are those that wonder why people chose to be “poor”. Some see it as a series of bad choices but as I’ve said and as Jack has mentioned in his story, that is your “sunk cost” or “paradigm” you find yourself confined within. you are trapped or shaped by your environment which is situational, social, emotional, educational, et cetera.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      This,
      I like to think of decisions as part of a “chain” we forge one link at a time, but forging each leak is completely dependent on how the previous ones were forged. Once in a while, in rare moments of mental clarity, we step back and question how we got here and make adjustments to the next link. This doesn’t happen a lot.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Watch episodes of “Chasing Classic Cars” or “Overhaulin” or “Wheeler Dealer” and most of the old wrecks they dig out of garages and sheds were originally put into the garage or shed because of a needed repair that the owner mentally said they would get to when they got a little extra time or money. 10 to 30 years later the old wreck can be worth serious money in ‘survivor’ or restored or restomoded form, because most of the rest of the breed went to the scrapper because their owners were more rational. As a car enthusiast I am ever thankful for sunk cost owners because otherwise there probably wouldn’t be any Duesenbergs, Packards, Model A Fords, 57 BelAirs, etc. to see and drive around today.

  • avatar

    I’m guilty of poor cost/benefit analysis with, of all things, a 1998 Plymouth Voyager. It was purchased new by my parents when I was a teenager. Since my mom doesn’t drive, and my dad doesn’t drive more than about 5 miles from home, they decided they didn’t need 2 vehicles. I wanted a beater van for my ebay/flea market side business, so they gave it to me.

    It needed a bunch of money to pass state inspection – tires, rust repair, ect. Plus I tinted the windows so people couldn’t see my junk. Then I put a bunch more money into replacing seals after it started dumping oil. Then six months later it threw a rod through the engine block, at which time I donated it to the ASPCA.

    What I dumped into that van would have paid for half of the 2012 Ram CV I ended up replacing it with.

    • 0 avatar
      Coopdeville

      You shouldn’t be putting your junk up against the windows anyway, but if you have to, tinting is the right way to go.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        I believe he ment that it was for security. If a passer-by would-be criminal clearly sees something of value when just walking by, he would break in and steal it. If he walks by and can’t see it without cupping his eyes and pressing up against the glass, that’s far less likely to happen.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        With the proliferation of tall vehicles, I’d recommend tinting even if you just have your junk laying on the back seat.

    • 0 avatar
      Opus

      I think Coopdeville was referring to ‘junk’ in the Urban Dictionary sense of the word…

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    d. the sentimental attachment factor that often overrules all reason.

  • avatar
    Hoon Goon

    I would save my car from a house fire before saving some of the humans I know. Judge me all you will. I am too busy shopping for parts to care.

  • avatar
    pb35

    My wife (the business professor) drives a 2007 XC90, purchased new. We’ve put about 18k into it in repairs over the past 10 years. We came close to finally getting rid of it this spring but she wants to go “one more year.”

    Thankfully, it’s been soldiering on since we replaced the transmission in August 2015. It’s a ticking time bomb, though. I’m waiting for the A/C to die in July.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Man, this was my nightmare scenario with our ’07 XC90. We sold it a couple of years ago with some transmission worries on my mind. Glad we did, but then bought an X5. Doh!

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Funny you mentioned Gil Scott-Heron. I used to hear him at a club on upper either Columbus or Amsterdam Avenue (I don’t recall which) in Manhattan in the 1970s. To say he was great is an understatement. He was a poet-singer who one might in some ways compare to Marvin Gaye, though the idioms were different. Scott-Heron never got the renown he deserved. BTW Jack, this is a really good piece you’ve written here. Many thanks.

  • avatar

    18 years ago, I bought a Porsche 924 for $600. I spent another $600 fixing a bad oil leak, rebuilding the brakes and suspension, and then drove it for two years as a weekend car.

    Then the clutch started going, and knowing it was a $900 job and beyond my skill set, I sold the car for… $600 and counted myself lucky.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      BY FAR the most money I have ever lost on a car was on my ’87 924S. It wasn’t supposed to be a project – it was a one-owner 60K mile creampuff. But the “Porsche Tax” is no joke at all. The VW bits, cheap as chips. But anything that was in any way specific to that Porsche motor, holy Goodness, hold onto your wallet. And of course, with only 60K on it, it had been doing a lot of sitting. In a hot FL garage. So while on the pre-purchase inspection it was not leaking anything, by the time I got it home the 300 miles from the dealer I bought it from it was leaking EVERYTHING. And while I am a very good wrench, there is nothing like a car that has had an engine it was never designed for shoehorned into it for that extra special bit of misery. Even before you get into the fun of cars with transaxles.

      So like Jack, I cut my losses before the bleeding really, really started. Because just like the 944, they are all $6K (or less, for 924s) cars, even if you spend $10K making them right (for a while).

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I learned this lesson early on in life. I was 20 and working part time at a garage while going to school.

    A customer brought in a rusty 510 (that had spent its early years in the salt belt, so it was really rusty) complaining about the way it bounced. The shop owner diagnosed it as needing struts all around and of course an alignment. He managed to convince the customer that he should replace them never mind that the bill would exceed the value of the car. The customer was happy as a clam until a month or two later when the engine let go. Of course he was pissed when he got the diagnosis that it needed the engine replaced. Despite the fact that replacing the engine with a used one was going to cost 1.5 times the car’s fixed value, he “couldn’t afford not to fix it”.

    So I told customers they should scrap their car over the years. Your car is worth X for scrap as is. I twill be worth Y if we fix it. Fixing it will cost 1.3Y. So for 1.3Y + X you can end up with a better vehicle. Fortunately for my wallet most people still said fix it “because I can’t afford to buy a different car right now”. Never mind the fact that I just showed them they can’t afford to not buy a different car right now.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      Go look at what earlier 510s are going for. So long as it wasn’t the late 1970s “remake” model, he should have fixed it.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        Yes, but that’s for a nice 510. Rusty ones aren’t valuable/

        • 0 avatar
          John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

          To hell you say. I’ve seen them with more holes than metal still fetching decent money. Rust can be fixed. Its just if you love the car enough to fix it. He evidently didn’t and neither do you, fine, but people are building incredible 510s out if oil stains basically.

          It has to be something you’re passionate about. If its just a transportation device, then enjoy your new Corolla, and dismiss all us weirdos who believe in preserving once-great cars until they are great cars again.

          In the 1990s, people gave away old Ford Fairlanes, Falcons, Datsuns, Olds, etc. The few that are left are now classics and their following is doing nothing but growing.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            My first race car was a Datsun 510. But you’re right, I don’t have the passion for an old car, I have more of the racer’s mentality, the car is a tool needed to go racing, and if you wad it up into a ball you just go get another one.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            @FormerFF, that’s your prerogative, and I see nothing wrong with it. My train just runs on a different track. I tend to personify cars, I literally treat them like a member of my family (on a car I like obviously).

            If the race, not the car, is your passion, more power to you (lol literally and figuratively).

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No it shouldn’t have been fixed, nor kept. The car would have still got him to class and work without the strut replacement and he would have had a start on buying a car that would be worth what he had into it. It shouldn’t have got the engine replaced but it did because he had spent so much on the struts. Fact is with the rust it had on it it would never have been worth more than $200 at the time you could buy rust free examples for $500 all day long. So he had a car he spent ~$2000 on that was still worth $200.

        • 0 avatar
          John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

          Not what it was worth THEN, what it is worth NOW was my point. If it was just a beater to get him to school/work, and he was not passionate about the car, then perhaps he made the right decision at that time.

          A used Nissan/Datsun I-4 engine is as cheap as the air in the tires, then and now.

          I didn’t see the car, so I’ll grant you that it was too far gone rust-wise, but the fact is that once worthless Datsun cars are bringing in decent (or exorbitant) money today. And as they get fewer and fewer, that will only grow stronger.

          Edit, I also failed to take into account how cheap used cars are up where you are at. I just know the 510 has a strong following was the jist of what I was saying.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            This was the mid 80’s so $500 was a lot of money. For reference the 2bd house I was renting at the time was $225 and it wasn’t the the cheapest place. That house would rent for $1200 today.

            My point was that he didn’t do the right thing hey had us put an engine in since he had spent so much on the struts, alignment and I think tires too. All on a quickly disintegrating car.

            My most recent example of knowing when to cut and run was my son’s 2000 Taurus. It needed a battery and and brakes and tires would be due soon. So in the next year I could have easily spent spent near $1000 and the car with those miles and the body damage it still would have been a $1000 car. Instead I sold it for $500 to someone that really needed a car but wouldn’t drive it more than 5-6,000 mi per year.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            It would have been better to put the money into Apple stock, and it was just as foreseeable that Apple or Microsoft stock would be a boon 35 years later as it was that a used up econobox would be. In the mean time, you could have kept the stock certificates in a safety deposit box instead of storing a junk car everywhere you go throughout your life. There are some people who inherit land and are free to hoard garbage, but most of us need to be rational about not letting our detritus own us.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            @Todd

            Well, Apple was started by white people. You know how THOSE people are. Smh

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    But the point is, getting a $3000 repair will still provide a better car than you can get for $3000.

    Putting a 2500 reman engine in my 25 year old Jeep gave me a car with effectively a new engine. I’ve put another 70k miles since then –over 312 k now.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Dude I’m about to buy a 1997 Passat VR6…why did you do this…from swiss watch door handles to brittle electronics and a glass timing chain…I am optimistic about our future.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      It’s a timing belt. And IIRC the 97 Passat actually uses a 90 degree V6, same as the B5-generation Audi A4.

      • 0 avatar
        tylanner

        1997 is a weird year for the Passat…one of those 1997.5 deals.

        This VR6 is the B4 variety which I believe retains the timing chain. It might be the 1998 (at least in NA) that you are thinking of.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          Avoid this car. This will bleed you dry. This is coming from a former owner of one. Excellent car when it runs right. Unfortunately that will be limited. It will constantly need something.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “or the guy in the office down the hall who bought an old W220 S-Class, instantly experienced an Airmatic failure, and did anything besides selling the car for scrap”

    Coil spring conversion looks to be about $2k and change with labor (guessing on the labor).

    If you really like the rest of the car, it’s not a bad deal (add in a suspension rebuild while you’re there, with new bushings).

    (I mean, the real problem was buying a car with an air suspension in the first place.

    But sometimes it’s not as bad; I read that the old air suspension Allroads can often be fixed with … tire goo, to seal the leaky bag from inside.)

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      But why would you ruin the car? I see this with P38 Range Rovers – you can spend $1500 on a coil spring conversion kit that ruins the truck, or you can spend $750 on the parts to make the air suspension like new again.

      “What it is worth” is not a realistic standard for an S-Class or many other interesting cars – it is probably the way to look at automotive appliances. Rather, “what would it cost you to get into something as nice when it is working properly”, is really the right way to think about it. In that perspective, spending $10-15K to properly fix one doesn’t seem so bad when they are $100K new, or $60-70K newer/used. If I had any use for such a thing, I would infinitely prefer to spend $20K on buying and maintaining a used S-Class than a new Camry. But the difference is that I can afford it. I wouldn’t buy a $5K Mercedes when all I can really afford is a $5K Corolla, but thought the Mercedes is “cooler for the same money”. I bought $5K PeugeotsSaabsMercedesBMWs when I could have afforded new Corollas, and it worked out just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        As the owner of a 210k-mile W220, I can agree. My running speeadsheet says it costs me $320/month in maintenance, which is basically the lease payment on a Camcordima. I’m having a lot more fun in my old land barge than I would in a new midsize sedan.

        Every few months I go to the dealership and drive a new C, E, or S, and so far I’m always happy enough getting back in my own car that I can’t wrap my head around a lease payment that would be 3-4x as much.

        If my spreadsheet maintenance number starts to climb toward the lease payment on an e400, then my land barge will likely get parted out. It’s worth a lot more on eBay bit-by-bit than as a trade-in, and I find taking things apart to be good therapy.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      You could replace the entire air suspension quicker and cheaper.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I imagine working on a 300ZX project would be pretty frustrating if you think it’s a 200SX.

  • avatar
    JohnB

    Great article. Reminds me of my younger days – trying to keep that old Lincoln Mark IV alive, or that Triumph Spitfire (they named it Spitfire because it was spawned in the third circle of Hades).

    Anyway… once I discovered the “oh what a feeling, Toyota” – I just put gas in the tank and drive.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The trick is to avoid projects unless you have lots of time and/or money, and/or just love the challenge of it. I bought a 90% restored Spitfire 20+ years ago (everything was done but the interior), and it has been relatively and reasonably reliable as a summer toy. I typically spend one enjoyable Saturday a year fettling it for the season, then drive it all summer with minimal issues. But I paid real money for it 20-odd years ago, it was not a $500 heap dragged out of a barn. I had one of those Spitfires too – it is now parts in boxes in my garage.

      My Land Rover Discovery is similar – I paid stupid money for it because it was a one-owner, immaculately dealer maintained truck with full service history that spent it’s whole life in San Diego. It’s still needed some work, but it’s worth it because it isn’t the mangy, rotted out wreck that the typical $1-2K Craigslist Disco is. And today you can get Agreed-Value insurance to protect your “investment”.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    It’s true, you can always turn around. Unfortunately, turning around goes both ways. Enthusiasts with an affinity toward their vehicle can end up contorted in mental gymnastics deciding whether they’ll fold or hold. They turn around and around, until they don’t know which direction they came from or the one toward which they’re headed.

    Being a self-proclaimed wrencher, I’ve been in that boat dozens of times. My tendency is to buy a car in desperate need of work that I’m capable of, then fix everything that’s wrong and sell it off because it’d break my heart to watch this “perfect car” go back down the roller coaster of failure and maintenance. Bizarre, I know.

    One thing I have learned, though, is that the care you’re selling never drives quite as sweetly as before you hand over the title.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I definitely have a lot of this in me, you’re not alone.

      In my case, I buy something, fix it up (or make plans to do so), but many times circumstances change, or I just get bored, and I sell the vehicle after putting in a decent amount of sweat equity (if not necessarily a ton of cash) into it. It’s satisfying to fix easy stuff and do some quick detailing tricks that make the car really pop in the ad and to the buyer, and I guess I personally live for the hustle of buying/selling and haggling that goes on both ends of the transaction. Most recently, I had bought my ’96 ES300 for $1600, invested about $800 worth tallying everything up (timing belt at my bro’s place was the big one), drove the car for about 5 trouble free months, and then sold the car for $2200 in a single evening after listing it for $2000. Tax time is a wonderful time to sell I realized. A big selling point I pushed was the t-belt having been done. The maxima before that had likewise been bought for $1600, and then sold for $2350 after a set of struts ($350) and some amateur body work and polishing-up. Didn’t put anywhere as many miles on the Max though, she was a garage queen while I did all the body work and paint.

      Onto the $1700 Ranger, which is seeing daily commuting duty as well as weekend hauling already. I’m going to be willing to put about $1k into it to refresh the suspension, do every single bit of maintenance under the hood and refresh the power steering (leaks), and weld in a new radiator support (rusty). With only 125k miles on it and good cosmetic condition, I figure I’ll get about 2 years of use and will be able to sell for $2500 or so, making TCO very good indeed.

      I could easily afford a nice new car, but I dunno, I have a lot of fun with the car flipping (my nice old 4Runner is the only constant it seems). Once the kids come I will settle down with something new I suppose.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Congratulations that you have the time, talent and place to do that sort of work. However “I had bought my ’96 ES300 for $1600, invested about $800 worth tallying everything up (timing belt at my bro’s place was the big one), drove the car for about 5 trouble free months, and then sold the car for $2200.” That means that for $200 plus your time, plus the time you needed another vehicle while that one was in the shop you got to drive a nearly 20 year old car for 5 months.

        For the average person, is that really a worthwhile ROI?

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Depends on how much you like turning wrenches.

          Personally, I rather enjoy it. I just don’t have enough time to do it, and now that I split between summer and winter homes, a tiny ill-equipped (for the moment) garage for 9mo a year. I’ve never bought a car intentionally to flip, but I have had no problem buying cars that I knew would need a bit of elbow grease to get up to snuff (IMHO, that is EVERY used car).

          Really, one of the big problems is that people are penny-wise and pound foolish when it comes to older cars. You can’t just wait for things to break, then fix them. You need to pro-actively go after the things that WILL break and cause an issue. Do that, and you can very happily run things that the great unwashed around here would consider horribly unreliable. Like my sundry Land Rovers, Alfa Romeos, and Peugeots.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            True, if you have the time, wherewithal, equipment, talent and a place to do it.

            Then factor in the salt/rust factor for those of us in northern climes.

            Plus the unexpected expenses associated with a vehicle ‘out of warranty’.

            Many would rather drive a Mazda, Mitsu, Hyundai or Kia that is under warranty and only have to worry about the pre-negotiated and uniform monthly expense, that they have already budgeted for.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            So buy cars that are not from salty climates like my ’95 Disco – there is nothing like being able to take chassis bolts apart with mere hand tools. Even paying top of the market and then some, it cost about 1/10th of what a new LR4 costs (and I like it better, by far). Which I realize is tougher for those of you North of the border. And you can learn to do this stuff, it really isn’t rocket science, I was not born with a silver wrench in my mouth.

            Or, equally valid options, spend a LOT more money to drive interesting cars new enough to be under warranty, or drive boring beigemobiles that are cheap and affordable. I enjoy cars and driving too much to drive beigemobile dreck. If you have other interests, more power to you but why do you waste time on a site like this if that is the case?

            At this point, I split my fleet. In FL, I have a brand-new ’17 GTI that will need nothing from me but routine maintenance for a good long time. In Maine, I have my British toys and my bought-new now 6yo BMW 328! wagon. Maintaining those is entirely on me, unless I choose not to do it. With vanishingly rare exceptions, it has been years since I paid a mechanic to do anything on one of my cars other than mount and balance tires and a welded in cat on the Rover. An exception may be head gaskets on the Rover, I want them done pre-emptively, but I just don’t have the time for that project. But having three cars in Maine, one can be down for some time with no issues.

          • 0 avatar

            Or buy American or Japanese cars wait till the break keep driving anyways then replace $15 part from autozone and repeat until something goes south for real eventually. Worked great on all the cars I owned up until my Golf and now XC70, they really don’t tolerate that like the American and Japanese cars do. I once put 70k miles on a 10 year old mitsubishi (started with 68k) with one welded exhaust bracket a wheel bearing and oil changes. My golf on the other hand decided to break something the local parts store wouldn’t have in stock every other weekend.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I refuse to drive crap. I actually tried this approach with an ’02 Grand Cherokee, and I just couldn’t stand the thing. It was just so completely junky and terrible to drive. Served a purpose, was reasonably reliable, cheap to fix, and cheap to buy. But it was just such a piece of nasty crap! The Land Rovers that replaced it are much more expensive, much more troublesome, and so much nicer to be in that it is worth every cent and then some.

            Obviously, the cheapest possible approach would be a used base Corolla, maintain it immaculately, and drive it forever. I would rather walk.

          • 0 avatar

            OH I agree. I knew buying my Volvo was a bit dumb but it is very comfortable on the daily haul. So I did it anyways. I can’t bring myself to buy a corolla either. So instead i have to wrench a little more. But I’m a bit different, too me if something is interesting about a car it can have a cheap interior and I won’t care. My Durango for instance has a typical 90’s american car interior. But the thing is surprisingly reliable comfortable and capable so I don’t care.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Maybe many would rather drive a soul-less suckmobile to avoid the inconvenience of having to work on it, but how great is your ROI when buying a new Kia Rio and then selling it when the warranty runs out for pennys?

            Oh, but I got X miles and didn’t have to fix anything! Yeah, and did you enjoy those x miles or was it just an appliance that performed a basic function? You did pay every month during the term of your loan/lease, it was just sent to a finance company instead of RockAuto (example).

            If you would rather enjoy what you drive, and You take pride in doing things yourself, it doesn’t make sense to go from Rio to Accent to Mirage to Rio to…you get the idea.

            Basically, if the car means as much to you as a dishwasher or lawnmower, then you’re not going to “get” spending $1500 to fix an old Volvo or Mustang or pickup.

            In that case, relish in knowing your next Corolla lease will be coming up soon. Don’t worry, it will be SO LONG-TERM RELIABLE for the 3 years you have it, like pretty much any other new car.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            BINGO!

          • 0 avatar

            I work on cars more then I want to at this point. But I don’t have room in the budget for new and used prices are crazy so I just stick to paid for semi beaters. On average they cost me well below what a lease on a sentra would so it works for me. I average having to be towed one every 6 years or so. I usually will drop a car off to a local mechanic once every 2 years or so usually when it’s cold out and the job in annoying (I don’t have a garage and live in New England.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Like I said, it’s a fun hobby. Why do you always pop up to reply with the same diatribe about how “average people” can’t manage this routine? Jealous perhaps? I have no idea.

          “Many would rather drive a Mazda, Mitsu, Hyundai or Kia that is under warranty and only have to worry about the pre-negotiated and uniform monthly expense, that they have already budgeted for.”

          I had a rental ’16 Elantra for work this week. Ultra competent, ultra efficient. The perfect commuter car. But I would simply get bored to tears with something like this. I like working on stuff, shopping for parts, going to the junkyard, etc.

          I’m obviously not the “average person” in this regard. I have a back up vehicle, although in the case of the Lexus it was never out of commission except for the weekend that we worked on it, and I farmed out the bigger t-belt job to my brother with a fairly low (but not unheard of) labor rate of about $60 an hour with me bringing the parts.

          Factoring in that I get a kick out of the labor I do partake in, and a fun junkyard run, and a trip out to see my brother and hang out (zero “cost” as I look at it), my TCO for the ES on a per mile basis was about $.13 not counting gas. Would have gotten a lot lower if I just drove it through this year. My trouble free 1 year old Civic that I drove for 4 years and sold with 53k miles got me a TCO of $.15, the vast majority of that in depreciation and sales tax.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Just pointing out that even on a car site you are an outlier.

            “The average length of ownership for a new vehicle is now almost 6.5 years, IHS said. For a used vehicle, it’s five years. A car with good reliability can go for 200,000 miles or more, which can easily last a decade for some motorists, says Doug Love, a spokesman for Consumer Reports.”

            Not sure why you are getting upset about my merely pointing out these facts. Accusing someone of jealousy who has worked at garages and specialty shops while young and owned well over 50 vehicles? Come on remove the chip from your shoulder.

            At one time I too happily performed ‘shade tree’ repairs. But realize how few can and that the number is diminishing. Auto shop being removed from most schools, proprietary software, more electronics and smaller engine bays. And as Jack correctly stated, (to paraphrase him) it generally takes a lot of money to keep an inexpensive vehicle running.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “Not sure why you are getting upset about my merely pointing out these facts.”

            Because there is no need to keep pointing out the obvious?

            I was just agreeing with another poster how I’m a sucker for going down the rabbit hole of tinkering with old stuff again and again, and here comes Arthur Dailey with his wet towel instructing us all on how unrealistic this style of car ownership is for most consumers. No sh*t Sherlock!

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Depends on the person, I’ve known a few average folk who’ll dump money on fairly mundane cars, in one particular case a late 90’s Nissan (Sentra I think) that had a good $7k put into it over the years, some people ignore the overall costs.

          In another case it was an early ’90s Accord wagon that needed another $900 thanks to the POs wire butchering under the hood.

          Heck, my own neighbor has a 90’s Caddy (Seville I think) that they’ve put a bit of time/money into, looked neat before a Kia backed into it.

          A ’96 Lexus Camry? I can see that, people tend to be forgiving on HondaYotas.

          For some people its a good ROI, for others its nothing more than an inconvenience. When the latter provides many cheap cars to tinker with I cant complain.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      “My tendency is to buy a car in desperate need of work that I’m capable of, then fix everything that’s wrong and sell it off because it’d break my heart to watch this “perfect car” go back down the roller coaster of failure and maintenance. ”

      I’ve done it so many times, its pathetic. This is how I have come to own over 130 cars as I’m almost 35 years old.

      Its usually a car few people give a crap about, Ford Tempo being the most common. I bought the cars I like because I couldn’t stand to see them so neglected. Its a good feeling when I sell it to someone who I know will appreciate the car. It also feels good to know they are getting a car I know is fit for duty. Anytime I have seen one of my old cars still on the road, it makes me giddy like a school girl.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’ve bought a few projects (I’ve had TWO ’69 Saab Sonetts, and two Alfa Romeos). I now know that I simply cannot do projects anymore. Work is just too all-consuming. Hopefully someday…

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          I had an early 70’s Chevelle in the garage for a number of years. Hoped to make it a family type project.

          The guy that eventually did get it going, flipped it quickly when he realized how much quicker and better to drive his new(er) Camaro is.

          And I have mentioned often how much time and money I have put into an older Buick. More in parts than the car is worth. And now am keeping it and paying exorbitant insurance (more per year than the value of the car) as a spare (4th) vehicle simply due to its sentimental value.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        gtemnykh: If it is so obvious than why do some keep ignoring these facts and posting about the cost effectiveness of old vehicles?

        Then please re-read the first line of my original post. It started with a compliment. You reacted like a guilty husband being asked where he was all night.

        Perhaps I should mention that the US auto industry was built on planned obsolescence?

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Again, for ME, it obviously IS cost effective, in the sense that I’m having fun (ie I don’t consider the labor factor a “cost”), and the cost of parts and the car add up to less than the depreciation on even a very slowly depreciating newer Civic. What is particularly difficult about this to understand?

          Sounds like you’re getting burned with your rusty old Buick, and are taking out this anger on us handy old-car drivers.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Nope, could sell the Oshawa built Buick (low mileage) with its 3800 anytime, if I chose to.

            No, what I commented on was that you are an outlier and therefore we cannot assume that what you do is either cost effective or even realistic for the majority of vehicle owners. In fact it can be argued that it is bad for the economy and the auto industry. And possibly even the environment.

            And that governments have taken steps through increased safety certifications, emissions testing and programs like the reviled Cash for Clunkers to take many of those types of vehicles off the road.

            At least we don’t have the same inspection requirements as Japan. But then as we know, a great many people in 2nd and 3rd world nations depended on used cars from Japan.

            Again referencing Jack, many of those older cars, despite their size (Town Car) are unsafe or not as safe as newer, smaller cars.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “In fact it can be argued that it is even bad for the economy and the auto industry. And possibly even the environment.

            And that governments have taken steps through increased safety certifications, emissions testing and programs like the reviled Cash for Clunkers to take many of those types of vehicles off the road.”

            Tell that to the folks living in the working class neighborhoods around Indianapolis and across the US (and the rest of the world) that keep old pickup trucks, crown vics, J-bodies,Explorers, etc running on a shoestring budget. Your “benevolent” policies like Cash for Clunkers took a ton of perfectly serviceable and affordable cars off the roads.
            goo.gl/maps/f8FpDv5kvuL2
            Oh gosh, why don’t these stupid blue collar types get rid of their old F250s and finance Corollas instead?! Don’t they know what’s good for them?

            You have the ultimate “let them eat cake” mentality. It wasn’t poor folks trading in Explorers and Grand Cherokees on new cars in C4C.

            You want to talk environment, how much energy and materials were wasted to break apart the old car and ship the steel to China, and then create a new one from scratch? As far as me not partaking in our “throwaway” culture, too bad. I do buy my fair share of parts, and make a strong effort to buy American stuff, or at the very least avoid Chinese junk like the plague (on principle as well as to not get burned on defective parts).

            This is all aside from your original reply to my post, where I made absolutely no implication in my original post that what I was doing with having fun car flipping was for everyone to partake in. Point to me where I made that claim or implied it.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            gtemnykh: well now you are all over the place.

            Compare the standard of living in the USA and poverty levels now to what they were 40 or 50 years ago, when cars were taken off the road much sooner.

            Using clunkers as daily drivers is emblematic of depressed economies.

            Older cars generally run much ‘dirtier’. The vast majority by weight of materials in newer vehicles are recyclable and recycled

            Then look at things from a strictly miles per dollar approach. A single parent, or someone new to the workforce working retail or similar could actually lease a small Korean or similar auto and the cost per miles could actually be lower or similar than if they purchased a used vehicle.

            Of course that does not apply if they or a close relative can make the required repairs. And had access to a lift, the tools, etc.

            $200 per month, by 48 months by 60,000 miles = 16 cents per mile. Plus the odd oil change. No fuss, no muss and no having to miss work while the car isn’t working/in the shop. And zero unexpected repair costs or replacement of parts.

            A $5,000 car might be cheaper, if they had the $5k and did not need to borrow the money, if it didn’t need any unexpected major repairs or tires and did not break down.

            $5k in our area can get you an 11 to 14 year old Corolla with from 165,000 to 230,000 kms. Or a nice Buick (and some change back) with less than 150,000 kms if you ask me politely.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            You’re avoiding the question: where did I imply that my flipping/wrenching habits were recommended for the average consumer?

            I’d say you’re the one that’s “all over the place.”

            You start off needlessly “pointing out facts,” then switch gears to waxing poetic about how government regulations will save us all from ourselves in the car ownership realm, and have now circled back to crunching numbers on TCO. (btw you’re missing mandatory full coverage insurance, and assuming the person has good credit to get that magical zero down $200/mo).

            Wordly advice: Why not try leaving people alone? Humans are resourceful creatures, they tend to find a way. You seem insistent on showing the unwashed masses that you know whats best for them.
            My family moved to the US with $50 in cash, my dad bought our rusty ’82 Civic for $750 from a coworker, and we owned a sequence of progressively less rusty Hondas over the next 5 years or so, and somewhat nicer used Japanese cars for a decade after that. Never took out a loan, never felt the need to insist on a brand new car, and believe me my dad is not a particularly gifted wrench. I remember taking the cars to the shop, having a muffler detach while driving, etc. Yeah it must have sucked and been stressful for my dad. But we didn’t have any credit, and viewed a new car note as way too frivolous of an expense. Scrimped and saved and put a downpayment on a house instead and paid that off in 4 years or so thanks to more of the same frugal living habits.

            Your “govt should have programs to get old cars off the road” flies squarely in the face of both my own experience and logic. All this program of yours would do is leave millions without any personal transportation, full stop.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            gtemnykh: take a deep breath and re-read what was written.

            For instance I wrote ‘reviled Cash for Clunkers program’. You turned that around and interpreted it as something entirely different. Just as you misinterpreted much of what I wrote.

            Then you started making all kinds of rude accusations that are not based on any fact or anything that was written.

            And your anecdotes do not equal statistics.

            Pointing out facts is never needless. Ignoring facts is self-defeating.

            You have a brother who owns/operates a garage. You were raised in a 2nd world environment where ‘making do’ was required. And where autos were built to tolerances that would not be accepted in other nations. Since I work with two former senior engineers with VAZ, I understand the processes used there. Your experiences, skills and access to equipment are not representative of the majority of vehicle owners in North America.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Like I said, my dad was not much of a wrench. When the (easily accessible) alternator on our ’90 Civic Wagon went, we took it to a shop, and then had to take it back again because they installed a bad one. These days I could do that job with a six pack under the belt. Another time the alternator belt snapped on our ’89 MPV during a trip and he didn’t have any tools packed so we ended up getting the car towed to a shop somewhere along the road to D.C., riding in the tow truck, getting a rental car, etc. So we did take cars to the shop, dealt with overpaying for parts and service, the whole 9 yards. It was more so my brother and myself that got more heavily into DIY stuff (and my brother made a career of it). I think partly motivated by remembering that hopeless/unpleasant feeling of being in a tough spot and depending on others.

            To his credit, my dad knew some old-country tricks. We were on a road trip and he could tell the Civic’s exhaust was getting noisier. He “borrowed” a bit of steel cable from a park’s beach combing instrument, and wired up the muffler so if the pipe detached the muffler wouldn’t fall off. Sure enough the pipe broke. Spent an afternoon hanging out at a local shop somewhere near Long Lake in the Adirondacks while a local shop fit us into their queue, and were able to weld things up for minimal charge.

            There’s nothing that exceptional about us, I saw plenty of “making do” in my old stomping grounds in Indy. Weekends at the pic-a-part are full of all sorts of folks, lots of 1st gen hispanic immigrants, plenty of native white and black junkyard goers (I’d say 50% hispanic, 25% white, 25% black). Of particular note are the non-car people, you’ll see a guy and his girlfriend looking among the rows, maybe a car-savvy friend along with them, sometimes not. When I was pulling steel wheels of a ’95 Camry in the yard (for snow tire duty on the ES), a grandfather was showing his grandson how to pull a door lock actuator off that same car to put on his own 350k mile example. A non-car friend of mine at work went with his wife and cut out a rear window for their ’92 Accord coupe with some piano wire after their car got vandalized (cost of living in the ‘hood). A shop in a seedy part of town did a fantastic job of installing it for $75 cash.

            I just don’t understand the seeming insistence that people are hopeless by default when they’re in a pinch. Maybe that is true in the wealthier areas you are more acclimated to, but I see human moxie on display (in regards to old cars) all the time.

            TL;DR
            I agree that I’m an exception to the general population when it comes to wrenching on cars. You’re right that if one can muster the resources (downpayment and credit) a cheap new economy car on payments is a rational solution.
            However my biggest bone to pick is that you don’t give enough credit to the basic human drive to persevere and figure things out, perhaps as a result of being too long and too far removed from environs that encourage/warrant such instincts.

            BTW my “access to equipment” at my house is a $50 Kobalt socket set, a breaker bar, a pry bar, a $20 butane torch, vise grips, a hammer, a set of jack stands and hydraulic jack from Harbor Freight. PB Blaster is my secret weapon. A few other cheap $10 harbor freight nick-nacks (brake bleeder kit, ball joint separator, brake piston retractor) Now I do have a friend with air tools, that’s how I did the brakes on the ES last time. But I did the brakes on the Maxima under an umbrella in humid 95 degree heat last summer in my own driveway, same for my 4Runner. Body work stuff on the Maxima was maybe $30 in materials from WalMart and Autozone, no formal training whatsoever.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Thanks and I wish that I was indeed fully removed from those worried about every dollar. For over a decade (about 15 years), I have tracked my cost per km for every car we have owned/leased. Just an example of my background and concern regarding expenditures.

            I was once refused entry to the USA because they considered our car ‘unsafe’.

            Drove an old Cutlass with a frame so rusty that we could not put it on a lift so drove it up a curb, crawled under patched the hole on the muffler with high heat silicone and aluminium duct tape then wired it back on with a coat hanger.

            Drove original Beetles that feel prey to frame rot. You knew this when you had to lift up the door in order to close it.

            Patched an old Acadian with cardboard and steel wool before adding Bondo and paint can spray painting the final product.

            Commuted during one of the most severe winters in decades, 250kms each way along the most dangerous route in Southern Ontario on a set of used tires.

            Spent most of my life living in Scarborough, generally derided in Ontario by such names as ‘Scarberia’ or ‘Scarlem’. Growing up we rode in base model (no radio even) Mini’s and VW’s. 3 boys, mother and The Old Man at 6’2″ and around 250lbs.

            I fully understand and applaud those doing the best that they can. However there is such a thing as ‘Poverty Mentality’ and it is generally self-defeating.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “Thanks and I wish that I was indeed fully removed from those worried about every dollar.”

            I find that it helps keep me grounded. We bought a house in a hip yuppie neighborhood in large part for the safety factor and resale, I find I’m perhaps the only one in our vicinity who lifts a hood on a car. We still go to church in the ‘bad’ part of town, a lot of my favorite ethnic eateries are likewise in a seedy area. Wrenching on and driving old cars is also in a way (subconsciously perhaps) a way to stay in touch with where I come from as I progress career wise into less and less technical let alone hands-on work.

            I’d also say there is a difference between “poverty mentality” the sort that encourages loading the EBT card with junk food and cashing checks for liquor and drugs, and the folks of low socio-economic standing that try to scrape out an honest living and get by without much. You’ll see the latter group in the Goodwill store, the first one maybe not so much. The former group might keep an old car running rather than succumbing to BHPH or taking a subprime loan out on an Avenger that quickly acquires whiskey dents (gross generalizations I know).

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            The Old Man eventually became successful, left enough money for his widow and made sure that none of his sons got any because he wanted us to be self-made. He gave the rest away or spent it like Georgie Best.

            I went back to school as a ‘mature’ student and worked fulltime while carrying a fulltime course load throughout my academic ‘career’.

            Later joined a Church because it is known for its devotion to assisting those in need.

            Had to learn to divest my own ‘poverty mentality’. A quick Internet definition is: “A poverty mentality is one that influences behaviors consistent with beliefs that money shouldn’t be spent, opportunities are limited, any risk at all is dangerous, any success is temporary and non-replicable, and generally remaining in the back of the pack is safest.”

            Before that, I missed out on more than a few opportunities that would have made me wealthy, because I was afraid to take a chance, spend or invest my savings/money. Now I realize that mentality is self-defeating and try to treat money logically and unemotionally, as much as possible, as purely a means to an end.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Great post. I started to read back through the lengthy conversation but then my food was ready. Will check back later.

            “on an Avenger that quickly acquires whiskey dents ”

            Why add them? Those come standard on the Avenger DWI.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “Had to learn to divest my own ‘poverty mentality’. A quick Internet definition is: “A poverty mentality is one that influences behaviors consistent with beliefs that money shouldn’t be spent, opportunities are limited, any risk at all is dangerous, any success is temporary and non-replicable, and generally remaining in the back of the pack is safest.”

            Well I definitely have a strong “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” streak along with the “success is temporary” ingrained in me (family lived through Perestroika and ensuing Soviet collapse). But I wouldn’t be where I am today as a “back of the pack” sort, nor would my parents. How else would two people from remote rural parts of Siberia end up at a prestigious govt. university and then eventually make their way to America?

            I’d love to be rolling around in a new Tundra and could comfortably afford it if that’s really what I wanted. But when a $1700 20 year old Ranger functionally accomplishes the same task, why blow $30-35k? I’d rather put that money to work. I have the expenses of a child or three (or four?) to keep in mind for the not too distant future. That’s where I’m putting my money. If anything I’ll be Sienna shopping before I’m ever behind the wheel of a new 4×4. Likewise I could gut and renovate my 1941 house with modern windows and a fancy kitchen and bathroom, but everything is in good condition as it is and I don’t mind swapping storm window frames twice a year. Mind you I’m big on maintenance and upkeep. Where I have learned to splurge a bit (courtesy of my wife) is on travel/experiences. I grew up correlating “vacation” to tent camping exclusively, that’s definitely changed dramatically.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Having kids can change everything.
            By the time that I did finally start a successful business, I had a family. We set up car allowances for myself and my 2 childless partners.

            They leased a succession of German vehicles usually Audis or BMWs including TT’s and an M5. I had a succession of minivans and invested the difference in RESP’s.

            Now my kids get to travel, using my Visa card. I stay home and try to maintain the money pit of a house. Housing prices in the GTA are currently in a ‘bubble’.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Because looking at cars with nothing but cold hard facts would have all of us driving a Mirage G4.

          Author, clearly you don’t get that for some, it is a source of fun, pride and pure enjoyment to fix up an old car.

          You act like a computer that makes decisions based only on facts without any input of emotion. Not all of us are built that way.

          Continue to call us idiots between the lines if it makes you feel better. When its your money we spend on an old car, then it might amount to something. Until then, put your blinders back on and continue with your unabashed criticism of how others choose to spend their time and money.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            John, You are reading things that are not there. As I have written over the past 40+ years, I have averaged well over a car a year. As of this week, for some strange reason have 4 licensed and in the driveway/garage.

            Old beaters, muscle cars, vans, PLC’s, collectibles, domestics and imports. Moved an old American muscle car that was supposed to be a project out of the garage a couple of years ago. Keeping an old Buick out of sentimentality. Ordered a Korean sedan with a ‘stick’, earlier in this decade as my current ‘unicorn’. Often ‘name’ the cars, talk to them and even somehow come to believe that they have almost ‘human’ traits.

            So, yes emotion is involved. Fully cognizant that some try to use cars as ‘status symbols’ either demonstrating their wealth, their mechanical skills, their driving skills or for many here, their extreme ‘thrift’. Even fell prey to that myself when younger.

            What does bother me are those who are irrational regarding the cost benefit of older vehicles, for most drivers. The Baruth brothers have written on this multiple times, as did Steve Lang. Driving is the most dangerous thing that most people do. Many depend on their vehicle for their livelihood. Therefore for them reliability is crucial. As are limiting expenses and eliminating large unexpected costs. Using pure cost accounting methods, we can demonstrate that for many a lease on a cheap, new vehicle is the better financial decision. Plus the added safety of a new(er) vehicle with its required passive safety devices and probably better fuel economy.

            Which is a reason why those marques known for their unreliability, such as Jaguar, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and yes ‘Rover’ continue to be bought by the affluent. Part of the cachet is publicly demonstrating that they do not need a reliable vehicle, that they can afford a vehicle that sits in the garage and requires a small fortune to insure and maintain.

            Of course some less affluent might buy some of the above marques and others like Triumph, MG, etc in order to prove how mechanically adept they are.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    I really think sunk cost is the absolutely the hardest concept for people to actually act upon. They can understand it intellectually, but to actually walk away from something one has put substantial amount of heart + cash into is another thing entirely. As an aficionado of auto auctions, a recurring theme is the family that put $75k into grandpa’s car, and then look stupefied when the bidding keels over at $23k. And of course, the body shop delightedly took their money while neglecting to mention that a 4 door ’48 Chevy isn’t worth a plugged nickel.

    I think we all see examples of cars/whatevers that explode in price at certain point, and think, that’s what is going to happen to me. Look at all the ’78 Anniversary Corvettes that never got driven because they had to go up, yet still haven’t gotten MSRP back almost 40 years later. I do hope all of you are right about E46 M3s being future collectibles, but I think I’ll keep driving mine just in case it doesn’t happen.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Your Volvo/Saab owner bit sounds about right, I recall driving a 840 turbo in particular that just had its AC redone, lots of the wiring worked on since the headlight relays were shot (and impossible to replace), many small 960 upgrades too like a seat adjuster on the passengers side (a stick that protrudes beside the seatbelt, apparently Volvo saw this as a luxury item), headlights were taken from a car that had been garaged for ever.

    Despite all these touches the owner would regularly smoke inside of it, the headliner (heck the whole interior) was loose, I’m fairly certain I smelled the smell of burning oil on a drive too.

    You know, considering that 7-900 series usually had wiring for foglights, extra speakers, heated mirrors, cruise control, a slot for a stick, you could say they practically invented “crippleware”!

  • avatar
    silentsod

    I’m currently experiencing this same thing with an air-cooled Porsche. The engine is getting tired at 250k mi and rebuilds are not cheap. The water cooled one is relatively cheap and has cost me consumables (struts, rotors are due right now and I think the coil packs are originals so I’ll change those out), a tensioner, a couple of $30 trim bits (which were broke when I bought it), and an oil fill tube. Then again, I might just be lying to myself about the newer car.

    My wife’s Mazda3, on the other hand, has cost me an oil filter and oil at 4k miles in and that’s it so far. It’s nice not to have to repair one of the vehicles, just maintain.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Ha, very timely piece. I gave up on the Civic after a second engine replacement, and my wife’s Rabbit has just Farfegneugen’d us after 4 years of faithful service. I had an Accord “build” from hell that soured me from car ownership completely for a few years and since then I’ve learned to be cold, objective and DECISIVE on when to get rid of cars. The stress of owning a car with problems is something I just don’t have the time or patience to deal with anymore.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Well, it’s true that “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.”

    I guess you also have to think about “When you are in a hole, stop digging.”

    I fondly remember my old 1960 220S sedan that had the insides of the windows practically etched from off-gassing from either the seats or the STP or whatever that someone put on them; that when I stopped at my wife’s workplace to show it off on the way home from the car lot where I bought it sprung a trunk hinge; that my gas station guy referred to as a Bosch….

    Then there was the Rover 2000, but at least I soon recognized that I had to stop digging, and sold it on.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    It took us a little too long to make the right choice a number of years ago with my wife’s B6 A4. When the warranty ran out, we figured all the expensive parts had been replaced under warranty, including the transmission and most of the interior. Previously she had a D2 A8 that we never opened the hood except for oil changes. Shortly after the warranty expired on the A4, it was: alternator, entire PCV system, window motors, 2nd valve cover gasket, timing chain tensioner, brake master cylinder, the engine dipstick, the dipstick tube, the ignition coils, etc. Shortly after the 2nd right front CV axle was replaced (with OE parts), I tried to open the hood to decide whether I wanted to do the oil soaked timing belt and cam seals myself, or if I wanted to take it to a shop, the hood release broke. That was the straw. I fixed the hood release and took it to the BMW dealer. At 67K miles, that 4-year-old car had cost more per month to maintain after warranty than the monthly payments to purchase it. This was supposed to be the money saving car! My wife loved it, I liked it well enough, but it was impossible to trust and had enough persistent oil leaks that I was concerned it might catch fire any time I turned left.

    Now we are in a totally different situation, the replacement car has been mostly trouble free since ’08. The only out of warranty repair has been a cooling system replacement that was PM except for the $50 leaking part. We wonder, will we ditch it when the first major repair is required? I’m pretty sure that if she bought a new 5 series in 2017, it would probably not make it to the nine-year mark with under $1,000 in unplanned maintenance, as her current car has. Do we dump it while everything is good and plan on keeping the next car until the warranty runs out? That was the plan with this one, but there was no evidence of imminent failure. She currently is well over 100K and still has the original brake pads and rotors. The Audi chewed through rotors and pads annually with the same commute. The BMW did require an alternator and valve cover gaskets under warranty, but even if those had to be replaced again now, the overall cost is still low. What if the DME or Audio system quit? I suspect either of those would be over $1K to fix. What if an adaptive headlight quits adapting? Probably over $1K.

    I don’t know. Each year we decide to take the chance and go another year. After the Audi, we will be quick to send this car on its way if we see the future looking less than sunny.

    My cars, on the other hand, I will continue to pour money into until the morale improves…

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “The only out of warranty repair has been a cooling system replacement that was PM”

      sounds like a BMW alright :p

      • 0 avatar
        cbrworm

        Yes it is, but it has been much less maintenance than I expected. It was an easy job (easier than a traditional water pump by far), and not particularly expensive using all OE parts. Many people complain that the electric water pumps fail between 80K and 120K miles. Since we were approaching 120K, and we planned to keep it for a while, it seemed like a no-brainer when one of the fittings started leaking. And to bleed it, you just press a button on your laptop! (assuming you have the software and can muddle your way through a foreign language)

        The reality is that on my two year older Japanese SUV, I have spent far more on brakes alone than the BMW has required so far. The BMW still has the factory pads and rotors on it, iDrive says they have over 20K left in them.

        Starting this summer, my wife’s basic commute is going to go from 50 miles a day on surface roads with mild traffic to 120 miles a day, most of the additional miles being highway time. When you add in kid sports and errands, she will probably be back up near 40K a year – that will surely cut the useful life of this car. If she hits 200K, all bets are off.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Oh I had assumed you had to replace a radiator. The “replace entire BMW cooling system every 80k miles as PM” is a bit of a running joke around these parts. Certainly I’m no stranger to replacing water pumps, hoses, thermostats preemptively.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            It wasn’t a running joke for people who bought them during their first decade of plastic-tanked aluminum radiators and plastic-impellered water pumps.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “It wasn’t a running joke for people who bought them”

            I was my introduction to the concept that an aftermarket replacement could be better than the original. You can order Meyle water pumps with an upgraded metal impeller online:

            https://www.bavauto.com/313-011-2001

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            mcs interestingly enough the impeller on the original 20 year old (208k mile) water pump that my brother pulled from my ES300 had a plastic impeller, and everything was in fantastic shape. I actually sort of regretted installing the new Aisin part, which had some questionable finish on the aluminum housing of the body.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            208k out of a water pump? Most impressive.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Toyota has engineers. BMW has art majors and marketing flacks.

  • avatar

    Haaa I have the best solution. I’m always broke no money to spend on sunk costs.

    I do have sunk labor at times thou. I still have the Ramcharger I bought as a Teenager parked behind my parents house. But really I haven’t sunk any money in that for years. Even when I was driving it I hardly spent anything on it. SO really all the sunk cost is emotional. The sunk labor had me hold onto a couple of boats longer then I should have etc. For the most part I’m not bad at getting rid of a car when it costs to much. Of course with cheap Chinese replacement parts and my own labor that takes awhile.

    I have relatives however who have this problem big time.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    The big issue with vehicle end of life calculations is that the future is unknown. Really, the cost of the repairs vs. the value of the car isn’t the determinant, it’s how much more reliable life you’ll get out of that car after the repair is done.

    As an example, I had an old Focus hatchback. Let’s say at age of 8 years and 98,000 miles it needed tires, brakes, struts and shocks, and a clutch all at once. If you add all that up, the car is totaled, but if you did all that stuff, you’d have a car that has another five or six years of relatively reliable life, maybe. From a purely economic standpoint, what’s important is how many more miles you’re going to get out of the car until the next repair. Obviously that’s unknown.

    I look at the cost of maintenance, repairs and depreciation over the total period of ownership. What I’ve found is that buying new and keeping the vehicle for 10 years or so isn’t much more expensive than buying an older car and having to keep it alive, just a few hundred dollars a year,and that’s well worth it to me.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    About the Saab/Volvo thing, I remember reading a story about what cars people traded-in their Saab for (after Saab shut down), and one notable thing was the absence of the Big 3.

    For the most part, former Saab owners went to Volvo and Audi-BMW-Mercedes.

    I wonder if the tweed-wearing Saab traders of your recollection were the original owners. If so they were statistical oddities.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Wasn’t Volvo a member of the Big 3 back then? Volvo lost most their own customers to Prius and Subaru. I suspect many of Saab’s lower priced customers also went that route. Sure, the Saab convertible and 9-5 buyers I knew went to German cars, but the people who drove 9-3 sedans and hatchbacks were too anti-establishment for that.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    As a young curbsider, I’d fall into the sunk cost pit all the time. I’d get myself out of it by discounting my own labor. If I was honest about what that time was actually worth, I lost on many more than I’d like to admit.

    I’m way better with my personal vehicles. The Ram Laramie I bought earlier this year is still worth $7-8000 more than I paid for it, company cars are basically free, and all my older cars were bought very right.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “The Ram Laramie I bought earlier this year is still worth $7-8000 more than I paid for it”

      I’m curious, how did you manage this?

      As to your first point, my car flipping labor costs I write off as an enjoyable hobby :)

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        A limited time clearout deal, plus many stackable discounts, plus a dealer that was willing to give up ALL money on it plus accessories at dead cost.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I see low mile 1-2 year old SLT 4wd Hemi crew cabs selling in the low $20s on cars.com all the time. Even a Chrysler-averse person such as myself can’t deny the draw of that bang for the buck. is your Laramie a 5.7L? When I was half-ton test driving last fall just to get a flavor of the current field, I preferred the Hemi+8spd powertrain to just about everything else I tried (was a fan of the Tundra’s 5.7L as well).

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Cars? The medical industrial complex does this to *people*.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Ladies and gents, here’s my philosophy: always strive to sell a car while you are still happy with it. The extra turnover means I’ve probably made a few purchases I could have avoided, and I hate sales tax as much as anyone, but as of yet, few money pits have come my way. And before someone jumps my arse: I’m not a car slut; it’s not like I am flipping vehicles every 2-3 years. I just maintain them until they are close to used up, and pull the rip cord a little early. Try it, you’ll like it.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    I had a boss who was a big Land Rover Discovery fan, and part of my job was to follow him to the shop to drop it off for repairs.

    One day, the owner asked me why I didn’t have a Land Rover like my boddy. “Then who the hell would drive us to the shop?” I said.

    Pretty sad when the owner of a Saab can score points on you like that.

    Flash forward a decade or so, and that boss is now my best friend. He passed away suddenly, and left me his 2006 LR3. I’m a couple hundred into it for the registration fees, so the transmission could fall out of it and I would still break even. But, proving Jack’s point, I’d do that three times over, for the satisfaction of remembering him every time I turn the key.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    when i got my own place, i sold an MG midget i had. partially because i wouldnt have room for it at the new place. mostly because one look at the moss motors catalog told me there was a LOT of stuff that was N/A anymore.

    i lucked out getting a new smog pump system at the pickapart, but knew that luck wasnt going to last.

  • avatar

    Last year I spent $11,000 rebuilding my 944S engine to factory specifications.

    I am a problem.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    ‘Never give up, never surrender’

    A colleague of mine is almost finished fully restoring a 1976 Opel Commodore (as he was last year, but trying to save money on a cheap respray turned into extra work instead)
    I think was his first car, he bought it in ’86 if I recall correctly, and then garaged it soon afterwards to ‘fix it up a little’.

    Cars are not always just appliances, as a Porsche owner you’re already far gone whenever you buy the car in the first place, and only very few people have ever made money on a Porsche they have bought with their own money.

    Luckily, once in a while we have the situation turned, where someone is so afraid of throwing too much money on a car (mostly because they are mechanically challenged, and a garage has given them an outrageous quote either to try to rip them off, or to make sure they never come back)
    giving those of us who knows clockwise from counterclockwise a chance to get a
    car for about half of what it’s really worth, even when calculating the few man hours and parts needed to fix it.

    And, if you in these rare cases manage to not grow any emotional attachment to said cheap vehicle (which can be hard to avoid as soon as it’s your own money and hours that has gone into it) and manage to get rid of it before it starts acting up again, you’re on a roll.

    Theoretically you can achieve close to free car ownership this way (not counting gas, insurance, road tax and ‘normal maintenance’ (like oil and tires and brake pads)
    In practicality though I have managed to do this one ‘right’ in about 5 out of 32 cases so far…(I still use a lot less money on cars than my peers though)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I mad a lot of my money in college by picking up broken cars on the cheap fixing them and then selling them for a profit after driving them for 3 or so months.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        My biggest problem is that I have almost never bought a car that I didn’t ‘want’ in the first place. I’m was also quite bad at hiding that fact, and I hate working on cars that I don’t like in the first place.

        On the other hand, most people I have known who made money fixing and selling cars lost a lot more money on cars they kept for themselves for some reason.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    https://youtu.be/u-LyxrqdSNo

    Just for this thread: “If She Wasn’t On Blocks” – The New Duncan Imperials.

    It should be the “Project Car Anthem”.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    I know someone that does this. He buys cars that are used up then has to fix things at the side of the road on long trips. Like power steering.

    Wish I had a nickel for when I was in the car biz for all those that I encountered that wanted a “tune-up” on a old car that they just bought. When it needed serious engine work.
    At the opposite end were those that got in a lather over a repair estimate for a broken engine or transmission, “That’s more than the car is worth!” they would complain.
    My response was, “Now your car is worth scrap value, as you’ll be lucky if someone won’t charge you to take it away. If you have the — fixed then it will be worth at least several thousand $ more than the repair cost. Your choice.”
    As mentioned in the article, logic and rational decision making play little part in this.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “then has to fix things at the side of the road on long trips. Like power steering.”

      Why would you be on the side of the road working on failed power steering? Just drive the darn thing to where you’re going and worry about it later.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        You never know! While replacing a high pressure power steering hose that had almost worn through due to abrasion, I actually contemplated whether the small collection of tools, tape, and cable ties in my trunk would be capable of allowing me to route the hose back into the reservoir so the pump could maintain enough lubrication to survive the few hours it might take to get to the next city.

  • avatar

    What if you effectively have no sunk costs?

    I bought my ’66 Lotus Elan many, many years ago for $1,600. Drove it for a while and then took it mostly apart after someone backed into it and the collision shop broke an axle. Sold it to my dad for money to start a (very) small business for $1,000, inherited it when he died.

    At this point, I’m not sure that I would be upside down on fixing it. I know the rule, cheaper to buy restored than restore it yourself, but at this point I have about zero dollars I care about into it.

    I’ve done the math. A running Lotus Twin Cam engine is worth at least $5,000. It won’t cost me nearly that much for machining and parts to get the engine back together and running.

    It needs some bodywork, but that panel is about $300 (but God knows how much shipping from the UK would be, though it’s not a large part – front corner under the bumper where someone probably hit a parking curb. I found a shop near Lake St. Clair that does fiberglass work on boats and won’t charge me exhorbitant automotive restoration rates.

    A lot of the parts are cross referenced to mass produced Brit cars, mostly Ford with some Triumph bits. The Lotus specific stuff is in serviceable shape.

    A rare exception perhaps.

  • avatar
    BaBlogger77

    First, let me say that I always enjoy reading Jack’s articles. There is a certain down-to-earth, real style to them. I even try to hunt for his writings on other forums.

    I read this and his other piece about getting rid of certain aging luxury vehicles (i.e., post 80’s used S-Classes) and realized that he must be clairvoyant, as I drive a ’90s S-Class, and just bought a bunch of parts to fix several issues that I had lived with for about a year. I have also owned a variety of older Euro cars and can confirm that most of those brands once their vehicles reach 10 years old need more care than a patient in an intensive care ward if you want to keep them running perfectly.

    There are some issues that I will probably never fix. I think if your standard is perfection, then you will always pour more money into them than a night in a Vegas casino with the same ultimate luck.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    We need to reread Jack’s article, he is not saying it is wrong to fix and run an older vehicle that we like but that it is not a decision always based on practicality and rationality. If gtemnykh enjoys keeping and fixing older vehicles then that is his right and that is something that he gets satisfaction out of. It can save you money and provide years of inexpensive reliable service but a point will be reached where the cost will exceed the savings. I have kept a couple of cars on the road longer than it was feasible and have learned that there is a point of no return.

    Less energy is used and less pollution is generated by keeping vehicles well maintained and on the road longer. The manufacturing of vehicles is highly energy intensive and contributes to pollution itself. Having said that newer vehicles are cleaner and more energy efficient and over a period of years replacing an older vehicle with a newer one makes good economic and environmental sense. For those who enjoy wrenching and keeping older vehicles running that is there choice and they are being rewarded with the satisfaction of keeping an older vehicle running and the enjoyment of owning a vehicle they really like.

    Jack’s point in this article is from the experience of being the car salesman that takes these vehicles as trade-ins. Jack is giving a pragmatic approach to spending time and money on an older vehicle versus getting a newer vehicle. I believe that Arthur Dailey is just addressing these points in in his posting and not intending any disrespect to those who want to keep older vehicles running and doing their own wrenching. As for Corolla’s being boring appliances there is value in that particularly for those who need a reliable vehicle for commuting to work and for parents that need a reliable vehicle for the young drivers in their households. I don’t really see any argument here. As human beings even the most rational among is has done something that others would think was irrational. Humans are not 100% rational.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Interesting you mention Saab’s. The security module in mine just quit, so it won’t recognize the chip key and start. The analysis I’m doing now is to sink $1-2K into it and fix it, or replace it.

    On one hand it’s an 18 year old car, but if a grand buys me a year’s motoring, that’s a lot less then the depreciation on the much newer car I want. If I can get another year from it, I’m better off to delay the purchase of a newer car for a year and net I’ll come out ahead.

    That’s assuming I can fix it, since the new part needs to be programmed to the car, and there are no Saab dealers any more. That means recreating the dealer computer tool. It’s been done, but lots of work.

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    As far as a daily driver goes then, yes, by all means weigh the cost of ownership for the repair. If you’re thinking about putting a $2k transmission into a $1500 car it’s probably not the best way to spend your money. Fortunately I have the means to purchase my cars new. I hold onto them until they are used up or it doesn’t make economic sense to repair them. To me it seems like I get “more for my money” by buying new and keeping for 10+ years vs. buying a $2-3K beater and fixing all the little problems that come along with them. That’s where the “I already own this $2000 car so might as well drop $1500 on a suspension rebuild” comes from.

    Hobby cars are a different animal. I have an ’88 Ford Thunderbird. I’ve owned the car for 15 years. In that time I’ve rebuilt and modified the engine, transmission, rear end, and suspension. After 29 years the factory paint is starting to show its age. The car is getting repainted with a quality paint job in a few weeks back in the factory colors. Over the years I know I’ve spent far more than the car is worth but for me that’s ok. It’s hobby money. If I had some other hobby that money would end up getting spent on something else. I don’t plan on selling the car or recouping my investment. Is it a stupid financial decision? Sure. But aren’t all hobbies? This car isn’t a daily driver. That’s where rational financial decisions come into play.

    On the other hand a reason that “project cars” are always for sale is that those particular cars are more than likely bought by someone without the money/knowledge to actually complete the project. They get in over their head financially or skill set wise and have to give up on the project. The old adage is “it’s always cheaper to buy a restored car than to restore a car yourself”.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @thunderjet–Completely agree with your rational, I tend to buy new and keep for over 10 years. I have a 99 S-10 that I bought new 18 years ago that is still running strong and that has not required large expenditures. As for hobby cars there is nothing wrong with having one and yes you do spend more than what they are worth but if you enjoy it that is all that matters. Few of us are totally rational and if we were then we would be very boring. Overall I agree with Jack’s analysis but I too have had my moments with certain vehicles that I got attached to and spent more money on than they were worth. I have reached the point of diminishing returns on a few vehicles and finally decided to rid myself of them. I maintain my vehicles and would just as soon get a new vehicle and keep it till it is used up. I have had one late model vehicle I bought and kept for 14 years–I got my money out of it in use with 200k miles.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    MIATA IS THE ALWAYS THE ANSWER… well actually a separate dedicated fun car is the answer.

    Over the past 6 years I have been driving my 1987 Audi 5000S Quattro 600 miles a week for my work commute. I seem to average about $3000 a year in costs to keep it sorted and that does not include basic maintenance. This is a mix of my own wrenching and using a shop for the difficult stuff or when it’s too cold.
    The definition of German reliability is: The car will be reliable if you continually work on it and throw parts at it. So, rinse and repeat sorting.
    Each time I threw money at it I said to myself, “there, it is all sorted now and it should be good for long time without any significant needs”. That was never the case, I should have learned.

    Recently I purchased a 1992 Miata NA6 and realized how much I enjoy driving it over the Audi.
    Now I am re-thinking my Audi ownership experience since the Audi sucks up too much of my garage time. Looking back, I should have had a dedicated fun car for the weekends and a ho-hum car for my work commute.
    With that thinking my work commute changed from almost all freeway driving to some congested surface streets. (Rouge Bridge repairs in Detroit) Driving a stick-shift is now a pain. That pushed me over the edge to make the decision to sell it in a month. Then I will start driving my other Audi 5000 Avant that is an automatic. I plan to sell the Audi Avant early before 140,000 miles before I need to wrench on it so much. Then I will get that ho-hum car.

    For that ho-hum car, my philosophy is now to buy a low mileage car with a proven drivetrain.
    Rear wheel drive preferred since they seem to require less repairs and are easier to fix. Then maintain the heck out of it and sell it at 140,000 and start over. That should spare you from any extensive transmission, suspension, or engine work. Spare the wrench! German cars are off the list.

    I think a low mileage 2005~2010 Mustang V6 4.0 would be about perfect.
    Well here I go again, I need therapy!

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Trend shifter, if the focus is on a durable and comfortable transportation vessel that handles bad quality pavement, with some modicum of fuel efficiency and bad-weather manners, a well taken care of 15-ish year old Camry or Avalon is not a bad way to go. Suspension bushings, balljoints, CV axle are freakishly long-lived, struts can be affordably and easily replaced as whole assemblies with Monroe quickstruts of acceptable quality. Very rust resistant as well, particularly the subframes.

      An argument could be made for a Panther here, at a cost of some mpg and winter-driving confidence, and I’d argue a few more minor issues, but parts would be even cheaper.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    Jack: perfect article. Best comment: “The definition of German reliability is: The car will be reliable if you continually work on it and throw parts at it. So, rinse and repeat sorting.” My son’s 3-series was two years of constant fixes. Today, I looked at a 944: “only” $2,800 and “below Haggerty” in value. After reading your article, I think I’ll pass…

  • avatar

    You have to give up eventually. My 03 BMW has over 300k miles, and needs a new clutch. (on the first one)…but. lots of rust…and the heater fan needs replacement. I’m pretty good at fixing small parts and large ones but to put 4k into a car worth 2k at that point.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    This is a masterpiece Jack. One of your best!

  • avatar
    Sphagnum Opus

    Not a correction, just wanted to let you know that I’m New Here is a cover of a song by Smog aka Bill Callahan on a phenomenal album called A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. Also, I’ll continue putting my money into my Roadmaster until Earth figures out how to make a superior automobile

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Guilty as F’n charged, Jack.

    This was brilliant. I have an empty space in my garage and a binder full of Porsche 911 repairs to prove it.


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