By on December 21, 2011


T.J. writes:

Hey guys,

The day I knew was coming but hoped would never arrive is here.  I have to decide whether its time to replace my trusty ride, a 1996 Infiniti I30 with estimated 235k miles (odo was broken years ago, repaired, and reset to a mileage amount we now think is low.  actual miles is probably around 250-260k).  The issue is an oil leak.

It’s now leaking at the rate of about 5 quarts every 3000 miles.  I’ve been content to keep topping off the oil, but now the leak is causing other problems; specfically, the a/c and alternator belt will not stay on because the pulley is soaked in oil.  Fixing the leak would be over $1000, and this would the third or so leak that we’ve plugged, only to have another pop up, so I’m convinced that if I was to fix it, a new engine is the way to go.  I have an estimate from my mechanic (a very reasonable, trustworthy independent shop) for $2200 or so ($850 for a used local engine with 90k miles, $200 in other parts, and 13 hours labor).

That estimate will probably go up to around $3k (my guess) as I told him I’d also want to replace the transmission (original, never been rebuilt), and engine mounts (needed to be replaced years ago).  The book says to remove the engine from the bottom, so since all those pieces are coming out anyway, he said there wouldn’t be additional labor, only parts.  I’ve sunk almost $2k into this car this year for new shocks, a new harmonic balancer, and 3 new tires less than 3 weeks ago.  A/C was replaced only 1-2 years ago, radiator, I’d say roughly 50-60k miles ago.  Nonessential functions are a mess, though.  Cruise control and radio don’t work (I have a 45 minute highway commute, so those aren’t luxuries), and I can’t use the trunk due to being rear-ended by an uninsured driver, which caused about $1200 in damage to my rear bumper and trunk lid, which has never been repaired.  I have more than enough saved to do this repair, and at my current savings rate, it would take me about 3-4 months to recoup the $3k.  I’m now driving about 15k miles a year.  If I was to replace the car, I would not be getting rid of it.  Due to its condition, its worthless to anyone else except me.  Plus, this is the only car I’ve ever had.  I’m almost 28, and I’ve had this car since I got my license at 16 and put almost all the mileage on it (it had 42k miles when we got it), so it feels like a high school sweetheart I ended up marrying.

My plan if I was to replace it now would be to park it until I had sufficient funds in a few years to get it fixed up and running again.  If I do replace it, I’d likely be waiting for a couple more months and driving an extra family car my parents are willing to loan me till then (I recently started a new job and probably won’t be off new hire probation for 2-3 more months and do not want to be buying a car till then).  Thanks for the advice.

Sajeev Answers:

Since you will keep this car forever (I LOVE HEARING THAT!) do not fix this motor, instead grab a low mile motor from an auto recycler, put fresh gaskets on it, and install. The extra cost incurred is totally worth it, as you’ll get a ton of extra life.

This is also a good time to consider LS4-FTW, but that’s because I haven’t said that in a long, long time.

Restomodding is the name of this game: I was in your shoes when I was 23, with a similar car…a fairly undesirable Fox Body Mercury Cougar XR-7.  Now, almost 12 years later, the Cougar is a bit of a cult classic, and everyone seems (pretends?) to love mine.  Sure, it isn’t a daily driver anymore, but it was at one point and I saved a ton of money driving it.  I call it “my soldier” as it always stood behind me and always impresses bystanders. Hell, I drove it for weeks while waiting for my new 2011 Ford Ranger to arrive, even though it needs a lot of work. It never did me wrong, and I love it for that reason.

Screwball Restomods are insane amounts of fun.  And since the Infiniti I30 is just a Maxima in nice threads, you can do the same. My Cougar woke up quickly with 5.0 Mustang parts, among other items from the Ford parts bin.  Your Infiniti can be a real 4DSC with a lot of forum searching and patience from both yourself and your mechanic: suspension upgrades, 5-speed stick, etc. It’s all in the palm of your hands. Ask stupid questions with respect.  Read the posts of smart people on the forum. Absorb everything.

Buy a newer vehicle whenever you need it…but keep it cheap.  You, by your own admission, are married the Infiniti. So don’t let any schmuck stop you from keeping your I30.

Listen to the madman typing behind the scenes on this webpage, you will NEVER regret this.

 Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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46 Comments on “Piston Slap: 4DSC goes to Infiniti and Beyond?...”

  • avatar

    Iv’e done more than a few restomods and while they were always fun, they were never cost effective. the minute you start swapping parts around that were never meant to be there, you must admit to your self that the car will be at many points in the near and mid term future, a lawn ornament. So even though you love this car, you will end up driving a car you hate while you work on (but not drive) the car you love. This rarely makes sense, and at the end of the month when you ad up all the bills, rarely is cheaper than replacing the car.

    Cars don’t lat forever. They are not meant to last forever, and they are hideously expensive to make them last forever. You are fighting entropy.

    • 0 avatar

      I also have the goal of reaching 240k miles (the distance to the moon) and believe it’s important to really enjoy in every sense the car you’re driving. But also consider that crash safety has significantly improved since 1996 and that a car accident is the single greatest cause of death in most age groups….

  • avatar

    So, to bring it up to somewhat functional condition, fix the radio, cruise, trunk, the 2k you already spent, 3k for the engine, 2k for a new tranny you’re looking at 7k, in one year, on a car with almost 300k miles?

    If it were a dog, the humane thing to do would be to have it put down. Do it, yourself and the world a favor, send it to the crusher and buy a new car.

    Infinity will be happy to sell you a brand new one for $27k (with 1.9% and 2,000 cash back.) add in the $7k you are about to dump into this heap and you can have a nice new infinity for the next 15 years for very short money.

  • avatar

    Think about.. EVERYTHING on the car has 235K miles.
    You will only chip some ice off the tip of the iceberg changing out the engine.
    Sell it and move on.

    Search for a low mileage replacement. Then spend the cash to have all the maintenance performed.

    The end result should be a car that is in better condition in every category and more reliable.

  • avatar

    Guess how much your (or the other driver’s) insurance policy will pay out if your Infiniti is totaled. That’s right – next to nothing. Can you afford that?

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re driving a 15 year old car, you should not be carrying collision coverage anyway, only liability. That way, if your car is totalled by your own fault, you get nothing. But you save a lot of money on premiums…as long as you don’t total your near-worthless car every few years you should come out ahead.

      What you said still holds true for the other driver’s insurance though. If someone else hits you and totals your car, they will pay enough for you to get a replacement I30 with 250k miles. Keep in mind that “totalling” a car means the repair costs exceed the market value of the vehicle, not that it is damaged beyond repair. That may not take a very big accident on a car of this vintage.

      That said, if your car is in like-new show-car condition, and you have receipts to prove all of the maintenance and repairs you have done, you might be able to convince the insurance company that they need to give you enough money to buy another like-new condition I30 (mileage irrelevant). But it doesn’t sound like that is your car.

  • avatar

    “…so it feels like a high school sweetheart I ended up marrying.”

    I think you could easily find your same car from 1996-1998 with under/around 100,000 miles for your estimated repair bill. Speedy divorce for a girl that’s exactly same (but hasn’t been around the block as much).

  • avatar

    Change the engine?????

    If you do , you better keep the old one.

    Because years down the road you will regret it when the car no longer has matching #s for a collector.

    Best bet is to put Old Yellar down. Come on Yellar, let’s go for a ride!!!!

  • avatar

    Cougar, cult classic? Right! Toss that Infiniti, that’s a no brainer.
    Get a new or newer car and make your own ‘fish story’ about that wonderful Infiniti you used to own….cougar, cult classic? something like a ford probe cult?

  • avatar

    If the body was perfect, I could MAYBE see doing all this work. But this poor car is well past it’s sell by date, well into hooptie status.

    I do get the “I’ve had it forever” feelings though – I have had my Triumph Spitfire for 17 years now. If anything happenned it would be hard to let go.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Find your next ride and then figure out what to do with the Infinit. If you really want to keep the luxury 4DSC, then by all means do, but understand it will become an expensive hobby.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    $7k will get you into a pretty decent Maxima 5-speed from the 2000-2003 generation if you like the 4DSC. Might as well go that route if you like V6 Nissan sedans with some performance (and if you don’t care to pay $27k plus interest expense – if financing – for a new one).

    • 0 avatar

      and if you don’t care to pay $27k plus interest expense –

      What are you talking about? Nissan is offering 0% on Maximas.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    I have to disagree with Sajeev and agree (almost) with most of the commenters. Based on what you have said, it is time to move on. Almost. However, your comment about having just started a new job could be a problem. If it were me I’d find out where I stand on getting a new car loan. If, as I suspect, it’s not that good but getting past 90 days or even 180 days will make it better I’d try to find a way to make this car last that long and then get something new. Buying new seems a better financial proposition these days as opposed to buying used. Good luck.

  • avatar

    This one’s easy. hit CraigsList, and buy the same car with ~100k on it. There are many to choose from on any given city’s craigslist. You can probably even find the same color, swap a few bits for nostalgia’s sake, and all will be right with the world.

    Then give your beloved i30 the sendoff she deserves. “Sell” her to your best friend for $500, and RACECAR. 24 hours of LeMons.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinkin the same thing, except I’d keep it for parts. Get the same car with no (or less) body damage and fewer miles. Talk about nostalgia–it will feel like your car felt ten years ago.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    With all due respect to Sajeev, with whom I almost always agree, I think he’s jumped the shark on this one.

    The fundamental question is this: What do you want to do with your time, and your money? Do you want to spend a lot of time . . . and some money . . . keeping an old car to which you are sentimentally attached running? Is that really the best use of your time and money at this stage in your life?

    Keeping older cars going makes good economic sense . . . but trying to keep them going forever does not. It sounds like you are at the point where everything in your car (which hasn’t already been replaced) is subject to imminent failure.

    Time to move on.

  • avatar

    dude, seriously, you are hanging on to a I30 in this bad of shape? Put it out if it’s misery and move on amigo. It sounds like you have enough money to move on so why for the love of god all this drama for a junked I30? Perhaps I am missing something here….

    • 0 avatar

      +1. Get rid of this cash vampire NOW.

      And may I ask… THREE tires?? Why not just get a matching set of four since you’re already spending your hard-earned cash hand over fist on this god-forsaken moneypit? Actually… why did you even bother to change them at all if you’re already adding five (FIVE!!!) quarts of oil every 3000 miles just to keep this lump running? Though on the plus side, you may have accidentally created a car that never requires oil changes!

  • avatar

    At least put in new control-arm ball joints in while the engine is out and check the steering shaft U-joints while they’re easy to get to. Also check tie-rod ball joints. Heck, just put in a new steering rack if it’s gonna be buried once the engines/trans are back in. The motor oil leak probably ruined its boots and mounting bushings anyways. Probably ruined the control arm and radius arm bushings also. Can’t just keep soaking rubber in oil, ruins it. Should also replace half shafts because of it. This may be why the motor mounts are done.

    In all, I’m with the others. Keeping this car on the road and safe will cost you way more than pulling the trigger on a newer, lower mileage Infiniti or Maxima. If you must keep it, save it as a parts car.

  • avatar

    Add one more to the chorus. Newer cars are safer and better. Get a lightly used Maxima with all the airbags and you won’t regret it. If I thought that an I30 could become a classic (if say, this were an M5), that would be different. You’ll never get back the hours of your life you’d spend on this thing.

  • avatar

    I understand the connection, I’ve had 2 Q45’s, but it’s time to move on. I even changed a motor in one of them, so I’ve been down that road too. (In my case the car was pristine, no body damage and it was still a stupid decision)

    The body is damaged and you are now throwing good money away by fixing and/or replacing the motor, and the tranny because the entire car will need to be replaced over the next couple of years. Everything WILL go wrong, at all at the worst possible time.

    It’s time to let it go and buy something else. You will never be able to keep up with all of the repairs on the car and it will drain the life out of you financially at a time when you can really not afford it.

    It’s been a great ride, now it’s time to send it off to the junkyard while scrap metal prices are high, and move on.

  • avatar

    I’m seeing a trend here.

    The car in question wants to die. Let it go with dignity, before it lashes out in its agony and eviscerates your wallet and your sanity.

    The suggestion from “Thinkin…” is the right medicine for your pain; find another I30, swap some parts for the sake of memory, and move on. You can’t go home again, but you can keep a few knick-knacks from the old place.

    Give it a decent burial and move on, my friend.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ……the verdict seems almost unanimous, don’t spend another dime on this thing. Like others have noted, it’s never going to be even remotely collectible, every system on it has a quarter million miles, and it’s in rough cosmetic condition to boot. Stick it in a barn if you must, but don’t listen to that “madman” who hijacked Sajeev’s site this morning.

  • avatar

    Dump it if you haven’t already. I am driving an ’04 G35 with 62k on the clock that the CD changer and power drivers seat are both dead and I am ready to move on. I am only keeping it for sentimental reasons at this point (oh, and it’s paid for haha).

  • avatar

    Unlike bolting on some decent fenders or doors, rear end body damage is beyond the capacity of most non-professionals to repair. Even thinking about dropping $7000 for a 16 year old car with a smashed trunk is nuts. Did Jesus do a miracle in it or something? It may well be a valuable collectible some day, just not in your lifetime. Ask yourself: If you saw this car in front of someone else’s house with a for sale sign, would you even consider buying it for seven grand as is? Because that’s what you’re doing.

    I’ve had lots of cars that I remember fondly, and have some great memories to associate with them. However, I have never let sentimentality override judgment and when it was time they all went away.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    Let it Go.

    Body damage, tired engine, accesories worn out.
    This is not a collector car. Everyone has a connection to their first, but we have to let them go at some point.

    Don’t keep it around for the inevitable junkyard look that will happen and piss off your neighbours having to look at a vehicle that they know will never be restored. Or you keep it in your garage and park your actual ride outside.

    Old girlfriends and old cars always seem better in our memories. Keep the good thoughts and let the rust go.

    Let it Go.

  • avatar

    You are starting a new job, and while being loyal to your car and keeping debt low are admirable you also face two career related problems:

    1. Your car does make an impression, and the impression that your current car makes is probably not good. You don’t need a BMW, but a clapped out sled may make your new boss (and co-workers) wonder if they hired a looser.

    2. This car is going to fail at the worst possible time, and that probably means on your way to work, at your new job, while you are a probationary employee. Being a tardy employee is not the way to make a good impression and/or survive your probation period.

    Your car has served your well, but it is only a machine, and not a collectible one at that. Beg or borrow a better car until your probation period is over, then buy a new one and keep it for 200k miles.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with other commenters: You are starting a new job now, and you need to spend all the time you can learning the job, doing what you can to make yourself needed there so you can maximize your future prospects. Unfortunately spending time and money on an automotive project – and c’mon, that’s what this car is, a project car – doesn’t fit with that.

  • avatar

    I agree with the others, and I say this as one who kept our 1971 Ford LTD in the family and running for 30 years before I finally let it go. It was rear body damage that finally killed my dreams of restoring it.

    If you absolutely have to keep it, buy an identical one with lower miles and no body damage. Scavenge the good stuff off of your old one and stash in the rafters somewhere before getting your $200/ton scrap out of the remaining hulk (or keep the whole thing if you or a friend has room to store it).

    If you’re going to go for an older used car, read up on the discussion forums so you know what to avoid (ie: Honda V6s with crappy automatic trannies, sludging VW or Toyota motors, disintegrating catalytic converters that can ruin an engine, etc).

    It’s time to move on. You need reliable wheels to get to work.

    • 0 avatar

      I sure understand how you feel, T.J. It’s definately a good instict; hell, it worked really well up until this point. But this thing’s daily driver days are over. So I’d get a new to you daily driver; like people have suggested, you could even snag a newer Maxima.

      Then, your transport problems are solved, anyway. As long as you know the costs involved and you feel like it is worth it, keep it and fix it up. Cost effectiveness is not the be all end all in decision-making, but you should not be blind to the extra costs this path will create, either. What happens to ol’ Faithful is up to you; it really is decided by what you feel is best.

  • avatar

    I also have to disagree with Sajeev, no way this car is worth keeping. For $7k you can get so many better cars without all these issues, its just a crazy deal. I get it, you are attached to your first car… my first car was a 1981 VW Scirocco and wow do I wish I had kept it. But the i30 is not a classic VW, and it never will be. And my Scirocco was practically mint when I got rid of it, except for the blown engine, which are cheap and plentiful even today. The Scirocco was simple, not too much to break on them. Your car will be a money pit, and it sounds like a beater already. You would have to spend thousands just to get it looking good. Even Sajeev forgets that his Cougar is a RWD Fox-body under it all, thats as classic as my Scirocco. Your car? Not so much.

    For $7k you could have bought my daughters completely mint condition 1998 240SX with under 100k miles that she sold a few months ago for $4500. You could have then driven it daily and been very happy, the cruise and radio worked perfectly, along with everything else. You could then have spent the $2500 on upgrading the entire suspension, brakes, wheels and tires, and had a hell of a fun car. Whenever you had the money or desire, any number of engines and trans will bolt right in… including Sajeev’s LS4-FTW! You would then have a true “classic” Nissan thats upgradable and sustainable, somewhat valuable and still modern enough to drive daily without much sacrifice.

    Thats just one example, you have your pick of dozens of better options than your i30. Someone already suggested just finding another Maxima/i30 thats still in mint condition, they are out there and easily under $7k. Then this time, take care of it!!! Even putting $7k down on a new car isnt a terrible idea if you can swing the payments and keep that car forever. They are practically giving away new Sentra SE-R’s, if you can find one.

    Sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders and are in a really good financial situation for your age, so I am sure you will make a smart decision here.

    • 0 avatar
      Downtown Dan


      If you’re motivated to keep the car because you’ve recently put big bucks ($2000 or so) into it, remember that you can get some of that back by donating the car and getting a tax writeoff– if private party book value on the car is $1800-2200, your tax savings would be around $600, depending on your income.

      That would be the route that I would go– pass on your high school sweetheart to some other deserving soul, and shop around for something new– a motor with 235k probably isn’t getting terrific mileage, so if you replace it with something a little more fuel efficient, you should be able to recoup the rest of your sunk costs fairly soon:

      15,000 miles at 20 mpg at $3.75 a gallon= $2812
      15,000 miles at 30 mpg at $3.75 a gallon= $1875

      So you’re getting a grand back on fuel in the first year alone.

      • 0 avatar

        Note that the IRS has largely shut down the “donate the car” tax loophole. The way it works now is the amount of your deduction is ONLY what the charity actually sells the car for (if anything), not “book value”. So no more taking mint retail book value for your $100 to tow it away hooptie.

  • avatar

    Long ago, I had a VW beetle (air cooled) that leaked a quart of oil every hundred miles. Since I was a poor college student at the time, I bought the cheapest possible oil and poured it into (or through) the engine as needed to keep it going. This won’t work in your case because the oil is affecting the belts.

    The engine is far from your only problem. You have mentioned several other things that need to be done, too. For the total cost of fixing everything that’s wrong now, with no guarantees about the future, you can get yourself something newer with fewer incipient problems. Therefore, it’s time to give the I30 to a junk yard. If you can swing it, buy new since used cars are not a bargain right now.

  • avatar

    I have to disagree with the majority. I have an Infiniti G20 with 120k miles that I plan to drive for another 120k, but I think we have missed an important point. This young man is only 28 years old and he is driving an Infiniti!!!. He is the prime age to be attaching the love of his life and a I30 is just not going to do it. Here is my humble advice based on 40 years of marriage. Sell the Infiniti and buy an old British sports car. Preferably an MG or a Lotus. The car is quirky and different enough, that you will meet the love of your life. You will get married and have about 10 years of bliss. Then you will drift apart. You will dream about your lost freedom and fantasize about just getting into your sports car and heading down the highway. Free at last. But, since it is a British sports car, it won’t be running. So you will say, “As soon as it is fixed I am leaving” but by then, you will be over whatever was bothering you and be glad you stayed. This will repeat itself for about 20 years until you realize how lucky you are. Best of luck to you

  • avatar
    Andy D

    High miles cars acquire a kind of laissez faire . They never run perfectly, but with varying degrees of TLC, you get some pretty high miles out of a car. Out back under a car cover is my original 528e. I bought it with 150k miles on it and kept it running for 12 yrs and 200K more miles. I maintained it myself in my driveway. Not perfectly , but well enough so that the car never broke on me. Not once. A buddy of mine has racked nearly up 500 k miles on his big six E 28.

  • avatar

    You can keep dropping 2 grand here, 3 grand there to repair your hooptie. Just shred the receipts as soon as you get them, and drink heavily to get the numbers out of your head because even a child with a rudimentary understanding of math will bring up to you that you will soon spend enough money to buy a very good used car and instead you choose to spend hard earned money on (even by your admission) a POS with a quarter of a million miles.

    And let’s not even get started on the fact that if you take a really old crappy engine and swap it with a less crappy but still old engine to the tune of 2 grand that’s in no way a guarantee that the new engine will give you the same amount of life. You could just as easily get stranded on the side of the road with a 2 thousand dollar hole in your pocket and a “new to you” engine that decided to call it quits. That’s a lot of cash to spend on something without a warranty.

    Having kept Land Cruisers way past their expiration date I can only tell you that for every 1000 dollars you spend on repairing a crapped out old car, 1 NEW thing will undoubtedly break–often undoing your heroic attempts at life support.

    Also, it’s one thing to keep a half-dead beater alive with duct tape and u-pull parts that rarely cost 100 bucks, it’s completely different when you take a pretty bad car and throw serious cash into it to make it slightly less so.

  • avatar

    WOW! Looks like I screwed the pooch. Or not.

    I was in TJ’s position back in 1999. Almost everyone was against my resto-mod Cougar plan, but these days I get a lot of love for my oversized Fox Body Mercury. It was worth it. And I’d do it all over again.

    Matter of fact, I am. But that’s a whole ‘nother story, for another Fox Body.

  • avatar

    Hey I was the LW here, so first up thanks everyone for your help. Couple things changed since I originally wrote in. My probation at work ended earlier than expected, and then I found out I was actually getting a promotion in January that will see my annual income go up by at least $10k. The Infiniti has been replaced, as some of you may have seen in other comments here, by a 2004 BMW 330i zhp. Car was in excellent shape with good maintenance history and documentation, and I should be able to pay off the car and save up for a downpayment on a house (my other major financial goal) within a year (and that’s not counting all the work I’ve been doing at the occasional part time job I have). I did keep the I30 though. My grandparents have about 6 acres of property and they and their neighbors already have multiple vehicles (jet skis, boats, cars, trucks, tractors) strewn about, and the I30 is probably the nicest one in the group. In a few years I’ll throw it on a trailer, drag it to my mechanic and sink and ungodly amount of unecessary $ into gettting it running again, so It’ll be a nice second car to the Bimmer (or third car if my sports car cravings don’t put a first gen Miata or MR2 in the driveway first). Since I know this get’s mentioned on here, esp when dealing with people in my age group, GF’s, wives, kids/howler monkeys, and families are not anything I have to worry about anytime soon. Oh, and since I got Sajeev in a lot of trouble , I’ll publicly make his day by stating that there was a Panther in all this, and it was part of the solution to the problem (are they ever anything else?_. The loaner car from my parents that I drove for a couple months was my mom’s 1996 Lincoln Town Car Cartier.

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