Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater?
TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:
I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap. Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.
The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.
(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)
So I figure my choices are as such:
- Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
- Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
- Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.
Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.
#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith. Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…
Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty. Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price. Why? Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.
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All this Saturn talk makes me nostalgic for my old '94 Saturn wagon , with the SOHC and a 5-speed . Bought it used with 60k miles , had somewhere north of 300k miles 5 years later when it was rear-ended and totalled . Bit of a rattletrap and absolutely awful front seats . Pretty reliable though and it used no oil between oil changes and never needed a head gasket either .
I think you should sell the Saturn and put winter tires on the Grand Prix. Unless your nice car is something that makes no sense in winter (think S2000), just drive the thing and enjoy it. Why spend time in the Saturn just to forestall the inevitable with the Grand Prix? I can see owning multiple cars when they each serve a different purpose (pickup truck, roadster, commuter sedan, etc), but I don't get having a "winter beater" when it is so similar to the other cars in the stable.