Hammer Time: How Old is Too Old?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time how old is too old

She seduced my soul.

She is a a 1989 Jeep Wagoneer with just over 200,000 miles and a fantastic maintenance history. With beautiful, thick leather seats and a working A/C system which is a huge deal here in Georgia, the old woody Jeep could only have been better if it had a stick and a four-wheel drive system mated to its iron-block 4.0-liter inline-six.

I started the bid at $700, a dealer who specializes in the Latino clientele bid it at $800, and then another fellow jumped in at $900. By the time bidding was at $1100, I waited a few seconds, and did a slicing motion with my hand which knocked it up to $1150.

Would I get it?

Hell no! Someone jumped it at $1250 and I walked out gracefully to find something else worth my time.

For me, the numerical equation was simple: Could I make a good profit once I threw in all the costs that come with running a dealership along with the hopefully minor mechanical repairs and fixing little things such as the headliner and the interior carpet? The short answer was probably not, and probability is the one factor you always have to weigh beyond all else when buying at auction.

On the nostalgia side, I already had an ace up my sleeve: a 1994 Jeep Cherokee Sport with enough patina on it to look like anything from the 1980s.

If I had bought the woody Wagoneer, I would have one more vicious reality to deal with in the movie business. They don’t want white cars. Ever. White and red cars are considered too distracting for a background scene and are usually avoided at all cost. I’m not sure if this Jeep would have squeaked through that rabbit hole thanks to the fake and fading wood, but the risk of it was just too much. Plus, with four cars now pulling heavy duty at the movie shoots — a ’79 Caddy, a ’92 Volvo (that looks old), a ’94 Prizm, and this ’94 Jeep — I already have my hands full with not quite ’90s cars that can help impersonate a Reagan era parking lot.

But this whole experience brought me to a lingering thought that has revisited my mind over the years: How old is too old for a daily driver?

Back in the ’90s, I used to believe that a 20-year-old daily driver was an ancient, black and grey, smoke-belching turd. God knows I saw thousands of 10- to 15-year-old cars at the auctions that were usually worth more dead than alive — but these days cars hold up. The best examples in long-term quality seem to hold onto their bodies better than most folks keep up with their own bodies.

So for you, personally, how old is too old?

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7 of 189 comments
  • Kmars2009 Kmars2009 on Oct 31, 2015

    I'm craving a 90-93 Accord for a DD/beater car...simply because of their million mile reputation. I've also beel looking at early LS400's for the same reason. Here in Phoenix, there are plenty examples of both vehicles...as well as others, you never thought would still be on the road. Older Corollas, Civics, and Sentras are everywhere on the freeways. My Accord and LS400 desire keeps flip flopping. One day Accord, the other LS400. I guess it will depend on condition, price, and lithium levels that day. LOL

    • See 1 previous
    • Beelzebubba Beelzebubba on Nov 01, 2015

      If you go for the Accord with 5-speed manual, you'll get a lot further for a lot cheaper! The transmission lasts forever, the clutch is good for up to 200k miles if you baby it and, as long as you feed it synthetic oil and timing belts at proper intervals, the engine will go well past 300k without needing a thing. The valves tend to get noisy around 250-300k and a valve job before 350k is not a bad idea. Otherwise, they're good to go. The most fascinating things about the '90-'93 Accords to me is how well the interiors hold up over time! Even after 300k miles and 22 years, you won't see faded plastics or cracks. The seat fabric looks great but somehow has the durability of Kevlar. It doesn't wear or fade....ever....even the dark colors. Love those cars!

  • ATelBrad ATelBrad on Nov 10, 2015

    I still have a 1995 Acura Legend Coupe. Purchased about 9 years ago... I have about 238,000 miles on the odometer. It was purchased with all service records by Acura in as pristine condition as one could expect. I have kept up the maintenance (though at a local Japanese Honda/Acura specialist) I have to say I can't believe how well the Legend has held up - It runs and preforms and looks as new with minimal effort. I very often get asked if its for sale by strangers when I am out. There are so few out there it's hard to gauge but my mechanic tells me it's more then likely actually increased in value considerably in contrast to what I paid. And of course it's subjective, however really think the design of the Legend Coupe has, if anything, kept pace and looks better then most brand new designs. Additionally, most people I know are quite surprised to hear how old it is.

  • Inside Looking Out Enforcing laws? It is so yesterday! Welcome to California!
  • Lou_BC You'd think cops would have an understanding of the laws they are supposed to enforce.
  • Merlyn I’m on my second Spark and love it! I can pass any car I’ve never had a problem going up a hill it does just fine. As for cargo I can fit three suitcases, two book bags and still have the front seat for a passenger. Not sure what point this guy is trying to make. I have hand free phone service and Sirius radio plug in my phone and have navigation. I would buy another spark in a heartbeat.
  • Buickman I won't own one and I'll be happy!
  • Jeanbaptiste Ever since y’all started sending your damn geese down here we’re just been waiting for one of you to show up.