New or Used: Replacement for Rusty Rocker'd Ride?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used replacement for rusty rocker d ride

TTAC Commentator bigev007 writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Been going back and forth on my buying decision for about 8 months now and I’m hoping to glean from the wisdom of yourself and the collective.

My situation:

New job last December, 100km from home. Mostly highway (very hilly) only one stop light where I have to wait (but it is about 2 minutes at the bottom of a long hill so it is great on my rotors.) Currently driving a 2000 Impala, averaging 26-28mpg so I am spending about $520 a month on fuel.

The Impala just turned 250k kms yesterday and is running well. I am all about keeping the old car running, and was about to take it to have strut mounts and brakes done. I decided to make a rust check underneath, and found that the rockers have moved beyond swiss cheese to something like rusty mud. Love those plastic covers they put over the rockers so you can’t see it. I really hate to have to get rid of a car (driving 14 years and owned 2 cars) but this made up my mind for me.

So, time for a replacement vehicle. Safety is up in November so I might be able to stretch until then, but I’m on borrowed time at this point.

Here are my needs. A combination of fuel and payment that keeps me under about $650 a month.

  • I’m 6’3” and fairly big, so a Rio or similar is out. Haven’t tried the new accent yet though.
  • Stick is ok, auto preferable. Want a hatch or wagon, but will get an accessory hitch either way so not a huge deal.
  • Looking at: Cruze ECO. Right around 21k puts me in the right spot for payment and gas. Wish the auto got the same mileage. I will drive 275k in the next 5 years, will this hold up?
  • 2010 Prius. A few around locally for 21k with about 50k on the odo. I know these will live until the rust kills them.
  • 2009 Civic hybrid. 15k. Cheaper, mostly reliable, but worried about all the battery problems I have heard about.
  • 2011 Elantra Seem to be getting closer to 28mpg on True Delta. Not much of an improvement for me.
  • 2011 Focus hatch. With sync, well over 23k. Too much
  • 2010 Versa about 12k. Again, seem to barely be getting 28 on true delta.

I’m sure there are lots I haven’t thought of, so help me out here guys.

Also, moving is not an option as she does not drive, and would not be able to get a comparable job in my new area. I could move about 20k closer, but would spend $300 more on rent a month.

Steve Answers:

You are getting the average highway MPG’s on the Impala. Plus I do have to mention that rocker panels are notoriously weak in terms of rust resistance during this time period. The rest of your car should be perfectly fine although I would expect the wheel bearings to be the next to go. Not much rust protection for those things back in the day.

I wouldn’t encourage you to be too focused on fuel economy. given that your depreciation costs may become greater than gas costs. A brand new Cruze ECO bought at 21k may only be worth about 5k after 5 years and 170k miles. That’s about $16,000 in total, or $3,200 a year. If we throw in a 3% lost opportunity cost, higher insurance, and higher taxes and fees you may be looking at an extra $4,000 a year in higher costs before the gas is factored in.

Gas savings between the Cruze and your current ride? Roughly $2000 a year. I’m assuming $5 gas since you’re in Canada. A Prius at 48 mpg may save you an extra $750 and the lower maintenance costs of it’s components may add another $250 over the Cruze, and likely about $500 more a year vs.the Impala.

On paper it would make more sense to keep what you have so long as the powertrain is structurally sound. But you may be truly wanting to move on. So I would just try them all and see which one you like the best. Then as a long-time used car guy I would wake up from my fear induced haze. Get the Impala inspected. Replace the rocker panels. Give the undercarriage a bit more rust protection and detail the rest of it.

Sajeev Answers:

Steve is right, once again. As I am currently writing checks for a restoration that includes moderate rust repair, I wouldn’t be surprised if replacing the rockers and grinding away any other significant amounts of rust elsewhere (followed up with ample rustproofing) would be much, much less than $2000. This is assuming replacement panels are easier to find than my Fox Body Lincoln using Fox Body Mustang patch panels.

But maybe it is time for a new car. It sounds like you probably drive more highway than city: so stick with vehicles with taller gearing. Obviously the Honda Fit is out. And since you are a larger guy putting a lot of hours in your ride, you should get a bigger car just to treat yourself.

Get another Impala, or maybe its plush Buick cousin on the same W-body. The 2008 Ford Taurus-Sable gets 28mpg highway according to the US EPA cycle, but maybe you do want a little better. Or maybe you’d never want a smaller car.

That said, the Prius is quite roomy for front seat passengers, and it might be the best combo of size and efficiency on the planet. Question is, will you actually enjoy driving it? Not that the Impala is an S-class Benz, but let’s face it, those W-body products are a smooooth, effortless ride.

Spend a lot of time in a Prius before you pull the trigger. You might not like what you experience.

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2 of 80 comments
  • Littleautos Littleautos on Apr 01, 2012

    I have a 80 mile round trip. I am looking to a replace a 01 focus with 160k later this year. I have been looking at Mitusbishi Lancer ES and the Nissan Cube. Both get over 30 on the highway. And plenty of room inside. Used of course.

  • Mikey Mikey on Apr 01, 2012

    If it ain't broke don't fix it. Okay, but "bigev007" has a broken Impala. As others have pointed out,if the rockers are rotten,the brake and fuel lines arn't far behind. Dump it, and buy a newer Impala. If the car has been exposed to, salt and no rust proofing, buy nothing older than three years. Rust spray,rust spray, and more rust spray, [personally, I like Krown] I live in Southern Ontario and I saw the first W car down the line in 87. Yes, and they are still churning them out,about 5 miles away from where I sit. I retired from GM in late 2008, and as part of my package, got a $24,500 after tax, car voucher. I could have put it toward any car, or truck I wanted. I love my Impala.

  • THX1136 Maybe Mark Worman/Graveyard Carz will see this, buy the thing and restore it to it's original condition.
  • THX1136 Fain's comments are ridiculous to these ears. "Struggling to get by. . ." - really? The only reason any would be struggling is due to living beyond said individuals means (spending money like the gubment does). Both political entities 'visiting' the situation is one more reason for this baby to vote for neither.
  • Sgeffe 400 horsepower? In a German 2-point-zero-tee?My God, that'll blow sky-high the day after the warranty expires!
  • EBFlex Did he deboard the plane with the baby steps? Anyway I called it. Right yet again:Jeff-“”I doubt President Biden would join striking UAW workers. It’s one thing to give support to strikers and another to join strikers on the picket line.”Well he’s a complete and total moron. So it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he joined them on the picket line. If an idiot would do it, then it’s something Brandon would do..”
  • Fred Trump's "concerted effort" will be to speak at a non-union plant. Don't forget he promised to keep Lordstown open.