New or Used: The Real Pistonheads of Orange County

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used the real pistonheads of orange county

Keith writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

God, I hope you can help me out with this one. I’m not much of a writer so I’ll skip to the relevant points:

1. I have a 1993 Chevy S-10 with ~100k miles that I paid about $1500 for. I just found out it needs $2000 in transmission/brake work (it also needs a new muffler at some point, but that’s not urgent). Many are urging me not to put money into the Chevy, but use my $3000-ish in savings to buy something else. I’ve always had terrible luck with beaters– I’m on car #8 at 22 years old– and I am very reluctant to buy another collection of unknown mechanical problems. Apart from the work needed, the truck is otherwise in pretty good shape.

2. I’m a student by night and an office worker by day, live in Orange County, so there are no real weather or space considerations. I just need a commuter car that *works* and possibly has some hint of style or sportiness.

3. My credit is absolute shit. As far as I know, my score is around 610 currently. I know that the credit markets have supposedly thawed somewhat, and if I were to use the money as a down payment I could hopefully swing a loan for a car in the $10k-13k range.

Right now I’m leaning towards a Miata on the beater side, financing something in the $10k range such as a used Mazda 6 or Fusion, or stretching things and getting a new Kia Soul around $13k-14k. Alternatively, I could spend the money on the truck and hope that engine problems don’t develop anytime soon.

Thoughts? Saving up more money isn’t really an option since without the transmission work the car doesn’t really have much longer. Thanks for any advice!

Steve Answers:

I would have this vehicle checked out by another independent shop. Also feel free to tell the ‘Best and Brightest’ what the problems are. Many of us here can give you an approximate idea of what your costs should be. $1500 in repairs for a truck that’s extremely easy to work on is a bit unusual but not unheard of.

I’m inclined to think that most of what you need can be done by a shadetree or part-time mechanic. The S-10’s had GM’s most common components for that time and most everything is easy to replace. Parts for them are cheaper than dirt and you can easily buy what it needs and then simply pay for the labor.

Refer to, eBay, or even type in the part you need on Google. Your parts costs will go down dramatically. Labor wise, most mechanics working in their off-time will charge between $20 and $50 an hour depending on what you need to have done. 9 times out of 10, your out-of-pocket will be half the expected amount if you go this route.

If you do this, chances are you will come out ahead in the long run. You will ‘own’ the car instead of being a perpetual debtor paying thousands extra every year. But start by getting a second opinion on the truck’s issues and long-term durability. Given the price you paid for it in Orange County, I’m not too surprised that this truck needs a bit of repair work.

Sajeev Answers:

My gut is telling me to keep the truck and fix the bare minimum. Like Steve said, shop a couple more mechanics. Brakes are usually a cheap fix with normal wear items, unless the master cylinder went out. GM’s transmissions are easy to rebuild for just about any transmission shop. Not so if this were a Ford or Dodge automatic, that’d require a pause for the cause.

Because of your honesty and candor, I won’t indulge in a long-winded “cycle of debt” rant, but paying down your debt now (with a payment free S-10) is a smarter move. The more I consider the alternatives, you better keep truckin’ along: if the rest of the S-10 is clean and well sorted, it is worth good money. And always shall be.

You’ll really appreciate the better credit rating in the future, when that night school pays off and your career really takes flight. And the S-10 will still be worth $1500 when that time comes.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 42 comments
  • Steven R Grove Steven R Grove on Feb 12, 2011

    I have a 91 Miata that I have driven over 40,000 miles in the last 6 years. I believe it is unbreakable. Also more fun to drive that either of the two Covettes I have had.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Feb 12, 2011

    Keep the truck just dump the money in it and rebuild your credit. My dad has a 91 S-10 Blazer 2 dr 4.3 4X4 that he bought new, back then it ran for about $18K most options including the aux oil cooler and tow pkg. It has 100K on it and still runs fine. Just normal maintence. The front suspension is a weak spot on these he had to do the ball joints and torsion bars.

  • Oberkanone Does GM build anything to compete with this? Does GM build any competent hybrids?
  • Dukeisduke So, it'll be invisible, just like all other Gen 6 Camaros?
  • Alterboy21 The gov't has already mandated control of your vehicle. 10 years ago they required cars to have ABS and traction control.I am not sure I agree that automatic breaking is ready for primetime, but taking control of a cars driving behavior is not new ground for the NHTSA. 
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