Piston Slap: When is the Olds Too Old?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap when is the olds too old

TTAC commentator supremebrougham writes,

For the first time in a long time, I am 100% debt free, and it feels great! It’s so great that I have decided to try and keep my car going for a while yet, instead of trading it for a new one.

Last December I found a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero GL2, with the 3.4 liter V6. The miles weren’t too bad (104k) and the price was right. The previous owner, a girl from what I can tell, had the car for around eight years and while she didn’t drive it far, she didn’t take very good care of it. It was scratched up pretty bad, and she smoked in it and burned parts of the interior. However, the car ran great. Since I got it I have replaced a power window motor, all four struts and tires, both front wheel hubs and bearings, the rear defrost module the O2 sensor, and had it tuned up. I replaced a lot of the interior parts that were burned, and had the paint buffed out.

I love the car, and have so far put almost 12000 miles on it, and have taken it on several long trips. I’m thinking of having some of the rust spots fixed soon. But here’s where my question comes in…with the car now being thirteen years old, and about to roll over 116k, what should I be concerned with as far as any potential problems that might arise, and when should I just call it enough and not invest any more money into it. I really enjoy driving it, and I get lots of compliments on it. Plus, I am LOVING not having a car payment! I took it to a couple of dealers last month just for giggles to see what they thought it was worth. One wouldn’t even make me an offer, said “it’s just an old car”, and the other one said $1500. I could never replace it with something equivalent at that price!

Thanks in advance,


Sajeev answers:

Before I go any further, I’d like to tell everyone that Richard is the broughamiest of Brougham fans: and his well curated, maturely moderated Facebook page proves it. Join The Brougham Society now! That said, you’d want to keep the Olds running as long as possible, as the only truly broughamy things you’d replace it with are Panthers, luxury SUVs/trucks or certain South Korean sedans (DAT GRANDEUR) to do a fine job taking the reigns from defunct American brands that you (and I) so truly adore.

Far and away the worst thing that kills high mileage vehicles is rust. Pouring water in all seams/folds and letting it freeze out the road salt is one idea I do like (in theory) but people have tried other avenues (undercarriage coatings, like used oil) for the same desired effect.

Rust aside, the little things that drive you nuts will eventually make you sick of the car. Or as I once said to a similar query, do you own the car, or does the car own you? Read that link for more answers to your query.

Now you are a handy guy, I bet you can procure parts on the cheap and install some of them yourself. And this isn’t a high mile European car needing minor repairs that cost more than the value of said whip. But still…there’s a moment when you will want a newer car.

Or need a newer car.

  1. When you have a job that demands a 100% reliable mode of transport, lest you get fired/backstabbed in office politics.
  2. When the time value of money is more valuable than any love of old cars and their quirky habits.
  3. When you meet a great girl, and you don’t want to look like a fool when your hooptie breaks down.
  4. When you have kids and are horrified at the mere thought of being stranded somewhere and helpless. Even worse, your family being stranded and you aren’t there to help.

All valid reasons to give up, and make that car payment. Now the Olds is a good car, and it will always do its best for you. At some point, well, that simply won’t be good enough.

Best of luck with that.

[Image provided by reader]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. 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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3 of 101 comments
  • AllThumbs AllThumbs on Feb 06, 2014

    Use the money from one or two car payments to buy a cheap backup car. The annual insurance cost is probably about one more car payment. If you fix your own cars, you'll probably be fixing something on one of them all the time, but at least you don't have to worry about your only car being unreliable. Of course, you can take that strategy too far, like I have, and have six backups and always something to fix on at least three cars. :)

  • Thefastman454 Thefastman454 on Feb 09, 2014

    This thread has sparked me to register and comment due to nobody making the simple financial obvious.....keeping a used paid off car running nomatter what the repair is cheaper than buying any new car. Period. 0% or 2.9% doesnt matter. Need a new engine, replace it...costs you on average 8 car payments and will last you another 15 yrs. Rebuild tranny, 3 average car payments and another 10-15 years life. Depreciation isnt an issue with a 10 yr old car, so you wont go to bed crying. Yearly taxes and insurance premium difference alone will add up to another $800+ saved. I wouldnt look for a different vehicle until life demanded I get one (job, kids) or the car I had reached 300000 miles. If safety is an issue, find another cheap car you wont make a payment to thats safer and sell your alero. My 2 cents

    • Thefastman454 Thefastman454 on Feb 09, 2014

      Id like to add more to my post The logic to buy a new car just because you are trying to avoid maintenance costs of a used one is about as logical as a person who takes on a $400 car payment to gain 10 mpg and save money in gas. It just mathematically doesnt make sense. Heres a quick rundown of numbers for you. The 19000 advertised stripped brand new car costs you actually 21000 after taxes at 8% and dealer fees. Assuming you put 10% down, youre financing 18900. At 0% for 60 months you pay 315 a month or 3780 a year. Additional insurance for the year and yearly taxes/registration equaling $800. Total cost to own the first year not including the $2100 you put down we are at $4580. These are conservative number folks. Most wont get the payment that low. Thats a lot of repair costs on your $2500 paid off beater. More than likely a replacement engine installed and a transmission rebuilt for the said car. Hmmm...ill continue to drive my cheap car and repair it as needed.

  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh These ''dealerships'' can go eff themselves. "Wahhh, were overcharging by 30% on new EVs and 4x as much on used cars since the pandemic but we can't afford this .. wahhhhh " .. die in fire dealerships ... die ...
  • IH_Fever Brightdrop is the fastest growing seller, even beating the almighty Tesla! Aren't statistics just grand?
  • SCE to AUX A rebuilt engine that leaks oil after 4000 miles? Not a very good rebuild.
  • Kcflyer Surprised a NY judge sided against the EV agenda.
  • Lou_BC Stellantis sales are down even with Ram and Jeep? That's more typical of a constrained economy. Those products tend to be more expensive to purchase and fuel. Mind you, Ford and GM are heavily reliant upon trucks and SUV's but are doing okay. Time to break out the solar powered popcorn maker ;)