Piston Slap: The Minima-Maxima and The Circle of Life
Fred B. writes:
You recent article about racks prompted me to write. I am the proud owner of a 1996 Nissan Maxima. I’ve had it since about 30k miles. Over the course of its 209k mile life it has garnered additional accouterments along with its original generous kit. Specifically, the paint has gracelessly aged in the Texas sun to a rosy multi-hued patina that varies from nearly bare steel on some of the flat parts to the original red on the sheltered parts. The car hasn’t lived in Texas all of its life. Its formative years were spent in Indiana, where the salt festooned winter streets customized the underside. In fact, it used to make such a racket that I removed the heat shields from the exhaust system.
The interior has also received the gentle blessings of years of use. The leather rear headrests are cracked, and just recently the driver’s side seat has ripped. The ebrake boot is shredded, although that is more a function of a poor design, every model of this vintage I have ever seen has a shredded boot. Otherwise, this car seems to have been built out of lifetime parts. (I did swap out the stereo, another problem with these models, and I simply stopped changing oxygen sensors after I spent my thousandth dollar doing so. That was more than ten years ago. Otherwise, original transmission, engine, pretty much everything. New belts and other consumables at 100k, regular synthetic oil, probably need to replace the transmission fluid.)
To the point, I no longer take the car out of town. I pretty much drive it back and forth to work and take two of my children several days a week for a low speed commute and to soccer practice in a medium sized town. The steering rack is leaking fluid. It has been leaking fluid for two years. I top it off every once in a while, and it doesn’t give me a problem. However, the fluid is apparently dripping onto the front control arm bushings, causing them to deteriorate. My mechanic says that they will eventually go, but that watchful waiting is ok, and that it is not worth replacing just the bushings because I would have to replace the entire arms and the new bushings would simply be destroyed by the leaking rack.
He is quoting me $1500 for the rack and $700 for the control arm job. Here’s my question: At what point do I give up on this sun-mellowed beast? I don’t think it is worth north of $2k for the repairs. It is still pretty sprightly, comfortable to drive and gets me around. I can afford another car, but I need five seats and the nothing about the possibilities (other than last chance at a Panther) leap out at me (I am half waiting for the G8 GTs or the 2010 Maximas fall below $20k, but that is at least a year away in my estimation.). We have a minivan for trips and schlepping the whole family around. I thought that something like the transmission would give out and make my decision (relatively) easy. I doubt that the bushings couldn’t just be replaced, but I am not sure how much risk I am taking by simply waiting for them to fail. If the transmission or engine isn’t going to fail, it means that the car will fail when the bushings go, and I’m not sure I want to be there when that happens.
So, what are your thoughts on doing something with the front end like what you did on your Lincoln vs. just waiting for it to fail? Also, I haven’t shopped the front end job, but do those prices seem ballpark reasonable?
Since you mentioned it, I don’t hesitate to fix (just about) anything on my rust free, 170,000 mile Mark VIII. The black leather interior is original, smells kinda luxurious and still gets compliments from random people. With modifications to its air sprung chassis and 330hp on tap, it drives better than most new cars. If I keep my wits about me, I can hyper-mile it to 32 MPG, even on E10 gas. And I drive it anywhere I want, usually with a grin on my face. Mess with a good thing?
No way. I don’t want another daily driver, much less the associated monthly payment of a newer luxury coupe of this caliber. It’s worth every penny for a Mark VIII in this condition, with an owner so motivated to make it happen. But I am the exception, not the rule. I don’t expect anyone to be even remotely like me.
And for your ride, I’m not feelin’ it. There’s not enough Maxima love in your letter, and this Nissan needs a lot of work. Suspension work is expensive, but worth it. Interior stuff for cars with no aftermarket restoration support is fiddly and pricey, you’d need a clean parts car (or some luck and a 50% off sale at a junkyard) to do this in a reasonable budget. So this is a car you run into the ground, sell it to the junkyard and start all over again. That is, after all, the circle of automotive life.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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