By on November 16, 2018

2003 Mercury Grand Marquis, Photo: Ford Motor Co.Elliot writes:

I have a 2002 GMC Yukon with 165k and a 2003 Grand Marquis with 150k. The plan is to keep them running forever. Any thoughts regarding products or services to accomplish this goal?

Your loyal reader,
Elliot

Sajeev answers:

This is a simple query since we aren’t talking about fully-depreciated Eurozone iron that could bleed you dry as time goes by. Provided you don’t live in rust-prone areas, there’s little needed besides replacing worn parts and fluid changes as per owner’s manual.

So perhaps the question isn’t “how to keep a vehicle running forever” but “do you want to keep a vehicle forever?” If so, buy replacement parts that are both high quality and give you pride in ownership.

The first happens when you:

  1. RTFM and do all the necessary fluid changes.
  2. Use synthetic engine oil, although switching at this mileage implies leaks are just around the corner.
  3. Stick with factory-quality replacement parts or remanufactured items from trusted brands: harder to determine these days as many times the same parts live in different branded boxes, but that’s where research is paramount.
  4. If neither in #3 exist, get your parts rebuilt locally (alternators, steering racks, etc) or specialty rebuilders (speedometer cluster, ABS brake module, etc) with a good reputation on Google My Business, auto enthusiast message boards, etc.

The second notion is more complicated. Consider tires: I take pride in running summer tires, as I can run them all year and the performance benefits make an old car move like a new one (or better). The same applies to replacing a busted stereo with the latest aftermarket replacement sporting cameras/bluetooth/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.  Then remember luxuries you don’t need, but you should keep: power window/lock motors for rear doors, faded paint, worn armrests, peeling/cracked interior panels, etc.  The cosmetic parts are easily procured online or at local junkyards, especially when you find a part number!

Modern-ish cars are far more durable than most consider, so remember the items that slowly fail, with reduced performance before failure:

  • Shocks and (sometimes) even springs.
  • Headlight bulbs.
  • Speakers

What say you, Best and Brightest? What am I missing?

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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110 Comments on “Piston Slap: Do You Want to Keep a Vehicle Forever?...”


  • avatar
    gtem

    Single most important thing in the rust belt is an oil based undercoating. Everything else is just replacing parts, and for common domestic cars like an Envoy and Panther, that won’t be a problem for years to come. Sticking with quality aftermarket and OEM will minimize frustration.

    I’d say a coolant flush every 5 years or so doesn’t hurt, and use something decent (not “Peak”). Change diff fluids, grease u joints, ATF drain and fills, replace power steering fluid every 5 years or so (just did it on my 4Runner, stuff that came out was nasty).

    • 0 avatar
      brettucks

      gtem is spot on with the fluids and greasing u-joints.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Not sure why I said Envoy instead of Yukon there… you’re much better off with the fullsized Yukon as far as long term ownership is concerned!

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      Soooooo … never flush/change brake fluid???

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      #1: Talk to Irv Gordon.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Th most important point is in your throwaway line about parts, and alluded to by Sajeev: pick the right car you want to keep. THEN give it an undercoating.

      I held onto my 1995 Altima way too long. Even with abnormally low mileage (I racked up miles on company vehicles) and Southern California climate, parts gave out at an accelerated pace. The years take their toll, not just the mileage.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        There’s an old saying as valid in cars as it is in everything else: “Use it or Lose it.” Cars last longer when they’re properly cared for AND driven regularly. A car that’s been sitting for months on end, only to be driven 25-50 miles before getting parked for another several months, is guaranteed that more frequent breakdowns than one that is driven (actively driven) at least once per week.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Gtem, replaced the distributor in the 2001 Altima today, it fixed the issue, now a good running car again. I drove it around the community I live in and it performed well. One of the front tires developed a knot, I guess from sitting, so that has to be replaced.

      I ordered it a new valve cover gasket (one of the grommets around the plug is leaking), along with a set of NGK V-power plugs and a Motorcraft oil filter.

      Very happy that my diagnosis proved correct!

  • avatar
    brettucks

    Headlights are a good suggestion with the degradation over time Even sealed beams can separate and degrade and you wont notice until you actually remove the bracket that keeps them together.Tires are very significant- dealing with crap tires makes you think the car hates you.

    I would say keeping an eye on things often if you’re in it for the long run. This means being proactive . Things like removing ground wires under the hood, cleaning up the contact points and re-tightening. Taking a stethoscope to injectors once a year if you can reach them. checking plugwires/coilpacks with a meter occasionally. Touching a rear drum occasionally to make sure it is getting warm as drum brakes are kinda hard to inspect.

    One thing Ive liked is keeping up on the interior – if a rip appears I dont mind removing the seat, going down to the upholstery shop and finding the closest match (suprising how close you can get) and getting a local shop to replace the panel (and add foam where needed) – its money well spent.

  • avatar
    claytori

    I am a big advocate of getting the most out of my vehicles. However, as I live well within the “rust belt” I know that I won’t be able to keep them forever. I have a slightly flexible rule that a car should be retired on its 16th birthday. This means 16 years of service. Remember that the car’s actual in-service date or “birth” may be in the previous year to its model year. Even with oil spray, there will be areas subject to rust that will eventually show up. My cars are road worthy one day, and then driven to the wrecking yard the next because rust has compromised something, usually at the rear suspension attachment points. The one I took in last week looked very good on the interior and exterior, but had structural rust issues. At that point you need to decide if you want to spend the large $ for structural body repair, how reliable the car will be afterwards, and how much you like, or love the car. Extensive restorative body repairs are not economical except for exotic or rare/valuable vehicles that are eligible for collector interest.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I try to wash my DD vehicle at the DIY coin-op wash every couple of weeks. I get them oil-sprayed at Krown every fall. Also, one weekend a year in the fall, before the weather turns lousy, I handwash our vehicles, thoroughly inspect the body and use touch-up paint on any new stone chips or scratches before the winter roadsalt has a chance to get into them and cause rust.

      Keep an eye out for identical-model vehicles and note where they are rusting-out. That will tell you where you need to pay special attention with paint touch-up or rustproofing.

      My 1994 Dodge pickup still looked great and was solid underneath when I sold it to my brother about 3 years ago. While I owned it, one of the rear leafspring shackles rotted out so I replaced both with Dorman parts. My brother says that this year one of the front shock mounts broke and he had to weld it back together. Not too bad for a 24 year old daily-driven pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      16 years is a good rule. I live in Minnesota, and my experience with vehicles of that age is that it gets hard to find a solid spot on the frame to jack it up.

  • avatar
    Jon

    My advice if for those who live in a hot climate. If you live where temperatures routinely reach over 100F, change engine oil more frequently and use synthetic oil. I live in Phoenix and change the oil in all of my vehicles every 3.3k. Extended oil change intervals in hot climates contribute to accelerated engine oil breakdown which leads to costly repairs. Use one half – one quart of Lucas Engine Oil additive with each oil change. My 03 Sierra has 230k with no tick on start-up (even on cold mornings). I have used synthetic and Lucas Additive since i inherited the truck with 55k.
    Change diff and t-case fluids every 30k – even if they dont smell burnt or appear cloudy.
    Flush the trans every 30k and replace the internal filter 15k after the flush.
    Rust… Whats that?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Interesting thoughts on the transmission. I have an 08′ Suburban with 120k. Late summer I finally swapped all the fluids; both diffs, transfer case, transmission and filter. The filter was/is a bear to remove with out a lift as the tranny pan makes a mess so I had a shop handle this for me. The owner of the trans shop advised that if their is no visible break down of the fluid (color and odor) that I should leave it be for at least another 100k.

      • 0 avatar
        Jon

        Transmission fluid breakdown depends heavily on its operating temperature. Towing and external temperature are the two biggest factors in determining trans operating temperature. If you routinely tow 30%-50% (depends on transmission) or more of the rated capacity or drive in HOT temperatures, then the trans fluid will break down very quickly. If the transmission fluid operates at a lower temperature, it will not break down as fast.

        Please take my advice with a grain of salt since i was not present to inspect your trans fluid, but i HIGHLY doubt that 10 year old trans fluid with 120k on it was not the slightest bit cloudy or burnt. But i also do not live in a cold climate. Therefore I dont know how long trans fluid lasts in cold climates.

        Years ago, I had a customer come in with 150k on a 99 tahoe whose trans fluid had never been changed. The trans fluid was burnt and black. There was so much clutch material in the fluid that if we had replaced the fluid, the trans would need an immediate rebuild. When we eventually did rebuild it, the clutches has very little material left on them. The fluid was acting as a quasi “liquid clutch” and was keeping the trans shifting.

        My point is that you should be careful in servicing a high mileage transmission that has never been serviced before. Always check to see how cloudy the fluid is before it is serviced. Any color darker than dark red and you should proceed cautiously with any trans service.

        When my truck reached 150k, i no longer performed flushes, only filter replacement services every 20k. Performing a pan-off service instead of a flush for your suburban was a wise idea.

        • 0 avatar
          TOTitan

          I do a trans fluid exchange every 30K on my 04 Nissan Titan with fact tow pkg.. Completely exchanging the fluid is the only way to go because every bit of the fluid is replaced. My truck has 160K and in the last year has towed my 14′ enclosed trailer loaded to the gills from socal to Denver four times. Only mods are Firestone air springs and the 2 drgree timing bump.

          • 0 avatar
            Jon

            The RE5R05A is a transmission well suited for towing. It has a low first gear and a low overdrive. It is also OVERBUILT for the power that the 5.6L puts out and quite tolerant of neglect and abuse.

            Trans flushes are an excellent way to change as much fluid as possible. However, even with a trans flush, only about 80-90% of the fluid is actually changed. This is due to mixing of the old and new fluid in the pan.

            As a transmission ages, changing the trans filter becomes more important and changing the fluid slightly less important. I am not saying that you should not flush the trans. Im recommending that you alternate flushing and changing the filter every 20k instead of flushes only every 30k.

            Either way, a truck with 160k will likely be due for a trans overhaul within the near future.

          • 0 avatar
            TOTitan

            Jon I do a complete fluid exchange. Disconnect the return line and connect a long hose that goes into a gallon bottle. Mark the bottle at two quarts. Start engine and let it run until you have pumped out two quarts. Stop and add two quarts of fresh atf. Repeat until you have used 12 quarts. This is the best way to completely exchange your ATF.

          • 0 avatar
            Jon

            This a effective method for a garage trans fluid flush. I use a similar method but with two five gallon buckets. However it still does not remove ALL the used fluid.

            I assume you top off the trans through the dipstick/fill tube. The fill tube empties into the pan. When you put new fluid in through the fill tube, the new fluid just mixes with the old fluid in the pan. This mixture is what travels through the transmission (valve body and torque converter then cooler) and eventually gets pumped into the gallon jug you use.

            As you progress through your process, the ratio of new fluid to old fluid becomes greater every time our top off the trans. As the trans fluid travels throughout the transmission, mixing of the old and new fluids occur. It it impossible to obtain 100% new fluid in a transmission. The “professional” flush machines at most shops do not really do a better job than your garage methods.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Starting with a good car is most important and it would seem the writer has that covered with the Yukon and Grand Marquis, two notoriously long-lasting cars. Next is an almost religious commitment to maintenance and not abusing them with anything other then frequent driving of at least 10 miles per run. Everything else should easily fall into place

  • avatar
    redgolf

    still driving my 97 Grand Prix 3.8 178k miles (22 yrs.), I bought it new, original plugs and wires, use reg. oil, only one trans. flush, 3 bad window regulators, 2 water pumps, 3 alternators, got rid of the Dexcool years ago! so much about saying not to buy a car in it’s first year of a model change! everything still works – air, cruise, power seats, radio cassette, even the heads-up display, still looks decent. I did keep it garaged for about 12 years, living in the south helps also.it does need rear tail light lenses, maybe in a few more years!

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      You and 28CL should compare notes.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Still driving my 95 Ford Thunderbird LX with the 4.6
      Modular. The body and interior are in great shape with a bit of paint fade. I keep up with the normal maintenance from the suspension bushings to brakes WD-40 spray of the undercarriage and the 3-4K mile oil change.
      Recently I needed a door ajar warning light switch, not the dome light one in the jamb but the one in the door latch. I had to search and found a out of state Ford dealer with one.
      I think about upgrading to a Mustang, 3 series coupe or a Saab convertible but the book value on it is only around $2k so I keep it maintained. Though family and friends do try to nudge me to buy something newer.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Would love to add this one to my collection.

        https://tallahassee.craigslist.org/cto/d/beautiful-garnet-1994-ford/6747588644.html

        I’d honestly rather have a 1998 Mark VIII, but that is a beautiful Thunderbird.

  • avatar

    Rust and plastic rot got my BMW. 2003-2017. The plastics could be worked around, mostly. The video screen in the dash began to de-pixellate. The key was when my mechanic told me he was afraid to put the car on the rack, because the front sills were rotten. Sure enough, the front jack points had rotted, from top down, so somehow water/salt got in, sat, and despite loving washing and care, was never flushed out. Layers of compressed metal, flaking into bits….everything has a service life.

  • avatar
    arach

    The rust issue was glossed over real quick.

    The single thing that is most likely going to take that car off the road is RUST.

    Either stay on top of the rust or consider undercoating it. I’ve undercoated cars myself by cleaning them very well and then spraying them myself, and you can do it for less than $25, but you have to keep your eye on it because rust will keep coming back for more!

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      One of the few reasons we sent our Mazda 5 down the road. I took care of it, but never had it rustproofed in any way. Western PA loves salt, the wheels arches were rusting. I’m not a bodyman, I fixed it, but that was the end of the line. Other than that, it was entirely sound mechanically and inside as well.

      But the real reason is that I can’t drive a car forever. We had the Mazda 9 years and that’s the longest I’ve ever had any car. Personally, life is too short to drive the same car forever.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I will echo what most have posted, but Lie2me really nailed it. If you want to drive your car forever or what is in reality for as long as possible you need to start with the right car. You read every now and again of some unicorn German sled that went 500k or better. It would seem to me to be an extremely expensive proposition to keep a 07′ Audi A6 road worthy for 300k, but I suppose it is possible. Avoid the hype of it has to be toy or Honda as well. The OP’s selection of ride is spot on but many other domestic options are out there. Fun ones too. Plenty of Corvettes out there with 200k+ on the original equipment.

    The key is maintenance, I am not certain you have to be all that obsessive about it, just do it when the manual says to. Finally, don’t believe the comments (especially the ones you read here) about the cost of DD’ing and old(er) car. I read some posts the other day that new was cheaper way to go to avoid costly repairs. Nonsense, even if the motor in the Yukon lets go there exists literally thousands available that will bolt in and many who can and will perform this work in less than 3 business days for a reasonable sum.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      +1. If you’re banking some money for repairs on a paid-for car instead of making a payments on a new car, you can easily break even or come out ahead. Especially if your job allows for sudden disruptions for repairs.

      What you need to avoid like the plague is what I call Used Car Purgatory wherein you’re making payments on a used car while simultaneously running into maintenance / repair bills as parts wear out. I’m stuck there right now because I vastly underestimated my annual mileage when I purchased my last used car…never again.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      The one (non trivial) silver lining of things like older Audis is that they are much less rust-prone, and various under-car brackets and fasteners and things like brake lines are made of alloys that are just about impervious to rust. Now, the mechanical systems and interior trim and accessories tend to fail sooner and more expensively (especially when repaired at a shop) than other makes, so it’s “pick your poison.” Most people pick the non-European route and are probably better off for it.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        For sure. I picked Audi A6 on a whim. Insert VW, Porsche, BMW, MB as you wish on this….I guess my thinking is cost of repair has to be figured in if the plan is forever or as close to it as you can get. While I think you could drive an Audi for 300k or better, it is more of a question as to if that is financially prudent. Again, a starter for a 5.3 GM is a whole different ball of wax vs a starter for an Audi. One can be done in your own garage with a Napa part for $50. The other? Probably a $500 trip to the mechanic.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I have every intention of keeping my BMW 328! wagon forever. There is no universe in which it won’t be cheaper to keep it vs. buying new ones at $55K+. Not that they will sell me one like mine anyway. It cost me more than $1000/mo to pay it off in less than 4 years – there is simply no way repairs and maintenance will come anywhere near that. It’s been out of warranty for 4 years now, it has cost me ~$500 in maintenance. A set of Nokian tires and the 40K service, done DIY in my garage. I don’t know Audis at all, but I find BMWs to be pretty simple to work on.

          You can keep anything forever. Use it sparingly but not too sparingly, Trying to keep a car forever you are pounding 25K miles a year on is a fool’s errand unless you are Irv Gordon (RIP – he was such a nice guy, met him several times at Volvo events). Keep it far away from salt. Maintain it properly, and use good parts. My BMW has 46K on it now, and I am adding about 2500 miles a year, all in the summer.

          Ultimately, what a car is “worth” is not a good metric as to whether it is worth fixing. What will it cost to replace with an equivalent car is a better metric. But used cars are always a roll of the dice. Never let the car get decrepit, and fix things before they become issues.

      • 0 avatar
        redgolf

        Yeah gtem, look what the Cubans are able to do!

    • 0 avatar
      MartinAT

      Interesting that you mention running an Audi up to a high mileage, as I’ve managed to do exactly that. I was once the happy owner of a 1997 A4, base spec, non-turbo 20V “four”, manual, FWD. Eventually sold it on at 560k km after owning it from 220k km. My father bought the car new, and I became the second owner. Can concur that it’s not that easy to keep it running, but seeing as I’m handy with a ratchet set and with widespread aftermarket parts support (and some connections in the auto repair trade), I managed to keep it working for a long time.

      Only one significant engine problem (the notorious cam belt tensioner), necessitating a head rebuild just before I bought it. Only replaced the clutch throwout bearing once, and replaced clutch plate at the same time. Damaged the gearbox (my fault, not the car’s) at 450k km and the replacement clutch plate wasn’t halfway worn through… The plastic things were a different matter: there was always something broken or cracked among the cooling system’s multitude of plastic fittings. Only the driver’s window regulator packed it in, strangely. And then those suspension control arm bushes….

      But here’s the thing: it still cost me less to keep going than to buy a replacement car of similar attributes. The only real reason I sold it was because I stopped driving it, leading to its slow deterioration under African sun. When the wheel bearings (3 of which were still original, ex-factory) let go at the same time as the control arms, engine mounts, shocks and subframe/axle bushes, it kind of forced my hand: it would simply have cost me double the car’s insured value to fix it up again. At that stage, I had neither the time, nor money, nor workspace to do the job, so I sold it on to someone who would repair it properly. The last I heard of it, that A4 was well past 700k km, and still going.
      I still miss that car… So many memories.

    • 0 avatar

      Depending on your dedication you can keep most anything on the road. I remember reading a story in the 90’s a of a guy who bought a 51 Plymouth Savoy new and was still daily driving it 40 years and 400,000 miles later. Lots of bolt on parts were changed and one head had come off for a valve job but it was mostly original. But he had a timetable for replacing every wear item on the car and also mentioned he would take the wheels of the car once a month and clean all dirt and salt from the undercarriage in his garage.

  • avatar
    NoID

    With luck you’ll develop a mild engine or transmission oil pan leak around Year 10, which will serve to continually renew your oil-based underbody coating. I’m three for three on my used cars.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Various rubber bits like seals, trim, weather stripping, etc are always degrading and will eventually fail. Finding replacements will become increasingly difficult. Just getting access to certain seals in the engine or transmission will likely be more work (IE: expensive) then the part itself is worth. Unlike plastic or metal that can be mended rubber moldings or seals are not really serviceable items. So at some point something small be the death of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      MartinAT

      That’s what killed my 1982 Lancia Beta HPE: a small rubber bush in the gearchange mechanism. I couldn’t source it anywhere, neither could I find top strut mounts. These led to an otherwise excellent, rust-free (!) Lancia shooting brake ending up stripped for spare parts.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I think for anything with an enthusiast’s following, this is MUCH less of an issue today. I owned an Alfa GTV6 for a while – Alfa only made about 10K of them, and they had a decent number of unique to them parts. nearly all of which have been remade by sundry people – the Internet makes finding them much easier. You might not like the price, but available is better than not available. There is also the simple ability to adapt something – once someone figures it out, the Internet allows easy spread of knowledge. I’ve owned my Triumph Spitfire since the very beginnings of the Internet, and the ease of finding parts and information today is just a completely night and day difference. Back then, I had a mailing list to turn to, and paper catalogs. Today, there is a YouTube video of every possible thing you might need to do, a zillion forum postings, on-line catalogs and diagrams. And that same old mailing list, which I am still on. :-)

        Another few years, and we will be printing those unobtainium parts. And replacing electronic modules with generic programable ones.

  • avatar
    AK

    I definitely don’t want to keep a car forever. That sounds awful.

    • 0 avatar
      sco

      Agreed. I think you could keep many cars running forever if you kept on top of things and were willing to continue to spend money on repairs that were worth more than the car. Case in point, my 2006 Xb had 272K mile when the tranny gave out. Could probably fix it for maybe $1000 but the car was worth practically nothing and i could (and did) buy another low-mileage Xb for $4K. So I’ve got the car i like and i think I’ll come out ahead financially in the long run too

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I used to be like that, bought a car every 2-3 years just because I could, but as I’ve gotten older and have the time and desire to look after my cars it’s almost becoming a badge of honor to see how long I can keep them running and looking good

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        There is something special about having a car(s) that are well beyond shelf life and still work well and look good. This is something you either understand or don’t.

        • 0 avatar
          volvo

          Amen

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          golden2husky, I agree.

          With my (bought-used) 1989 Camry V6 now being the only vehicle we have, and still running great and handling well, it’s like getting a dividend on my $100 investment every time I start it up to go somewhere.

          But I’m not fooling myself. Ye olde Camry will eventually die. And it has gotten to the point where I’m not going to put any money into it when things stop working, break off or fall off.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Amen x2

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          @golden2husky

          Agreed. My CTS-V is 12 years old and has 191,000 Kms on it. It spent its early life in sixth gear between New York and Miami so, while the odometer is up there, the car is rock-solid. Well, after a starter motor; a windshield; both front rotors ( don’t track these things on stock brakes, no matter what the bumf says in the manual ); and most fluids, I now need to install my new water pump – but the statement stands! It’s parked for most of the Winter, barring Chinooks, so the mileage isn’t ramping up as quickly as it once did. I’d very much like to get 400,000 Kms out of this modern classic sleeper. It might cost a few bucks but not nearly as much as a Gen III CTS-V – that doesn’t even come with a manual transmission. Eff that.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      +1. I’ve enjoyed every car I’ve ever had, but I get bored with them. There’s nothing I’ve owned that I wanted to keep “forever”.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I’m just to the point where I know what I like, and the car makers don’t want to sell it to me anymore. I am literally down to three new cars sold in the US market that I have ANY interest in buying (VW GTI, 2-series BMW, Porsche Cayman), and I already own/have owned two of them. And will probably order the last next year.

      So I might as well keep what I have otherwise. Not like I put many miles on any one car a year, and none of them see salt anymore. Actually, of the five cars I currently own, none of them have ever really been driven in winter. One year for the BMW, two for the Land Rover. Zero for the other three.

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    If you have the room to store the parts, keep an eye out for someone that has an identical model vehicle moldering in their driveway/yard. Knock on their door and see if you can make a deal to buy all of the interior electrical switchgear: headlight and HVAC switches, power window and lock switches, overhead console map light assemblies, etc. If they’re in decent condition, try to get the composite headlight and taillight assemblies too, and the power mirrors if so equipped.

    I spotted a Dodge pickup the same vintage as my ’94 sitting behind someone’s garage, paid them a visit and came away with all the interior switchgear, the pull-out cupholders, speakers from the door panels, etc. I think he only wanted $50. That small investment of time and money paid-off very well over the years.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Simple solution for both vehicles: Convert to electric drive now. Many of your highest future costs will be eliminated by this one change. Sure, it will be expensive up front but with electric you cut your ‘fuel’ costs by nearly 75% (and possibly more, depending on where you live.) Engine and transmission repairs become a thing of the past. Then all you need to concern yourself about is the physical aspects of the vehicles… appearance, corrosion control and structure.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Just how “simple” of a solution do you think it would be to convert these things over to electric drivetrains? It would never be economically feasible or rational for what they are (common domestic vehicles from the turn of the century).

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        That’s your belief, gtem. There are already businesses doing it for both new cars and antiques more than twice these vehicles’ age.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          And they routinely pick some of the biggest, heaviest vehicles on the road, with some of the longest lasting drivetrains on the planet, to convert.

        • 0 avatar
          road_pizza

          Antiques? Seriously? Why in the hell would anyone ruin the value of an antique car by converting it to electric? Blasphemy!

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @road_pizza: Some cars have no real antique value–at least, none that makes the expense of restoring them profitable. Cars of that sort are better off being rebuilt as resto-mods, letting you have the look of a classic car you can actually enjoy, rather than having to keep it under cover for the rest of its life.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        It’s actually reasonably simple. If you google Dave Arthurs amazing 75mpg car you will see that folks have been doing it since the 70s. I did a variation in a class I taught although vandals soured the experience. I found the mother earth magazine article with these search terms. It involves spare parts and home mechanic skills and his was used as a daily driver. If I could do it I’m sure you could Gtem. Just a matter of do you want to. Not sure how popular it is.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Keep an eye on the swaybar links and suspension bushings also.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      The only time I’ve had a swaybar link wear out and break from fatigue was my 1997 Escort wagon.

      Good reminder for him (especially on the Grand MA.)

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Lol, before you even said, “Escort wagon” I knew it would be some small Ford. They are notorious for bad swaybar links

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          But interestingly a good handling car when everything in the suspension was working. I actually treated it to new strut assemblies front and rear when it was about 10 years old.

          A decent chassis that desperately needed more power. I’m probably the only one who wanted an Escort GT Wagon.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Werent 97 Escorts based on Mazda Proteges?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @Ryoku – yes which is why I was saddened when Ford and Mazda broke off their relationship.

            Mazda was doing the heavy lifting in small car chassis development and Ford was reaping the rewards.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            1st and 2nd gen Escapes are basically Mazda 626s with, yep, bad swaybar links

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            The last two generations of the North American Escort lost Ford a lot of money. It cost more to build than what they could sell them for. I dont think that classifies as “reaping the rewards”.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I used to think I was a “keeper” where cars are concerned due to my first three vehicles being lost due to someone in the family needing it more than me, theft, and divorce. I fantasized about buying new and keeping for 300,000 miles.

    But after purchasing my F150 (kept 12 years but sold in perfect shape because I just wasn’t using it enough to justify ownership) and my Highlander (20,000 miles a year will make you bored with a vehicle very quickly.) I realize that I cannot be an automotive monogamist.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I like the idea of keeping a vehicle forever, but the reality, at least for the vehicles I choose, is that at some point you will get into an unending process of replacing bushings and rubber bits, dashboard cracks, seat tears, and other parts that just wear out. I feel comfortable with about 180K or ~12 years, because during that time it is mostly regular maintenance with an odd wheel bearing or U-joint and lots of tires and brakes. It seems like after that, you really have to decide if you want to commit to spending the money as you see your operating costs rise, or put that money aside and let your car degrade into hoopty status while you plan for a replacement.

    Unfortunately for me, I have to keep everything perfect until I am done with the vehicle, so I end up spending more money towards the end.

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    My Daily Driver (’98 Accord, 4Cyl Auto, 196K Miles) just celebrated its 20th Birthday. I still love driving it and look forward to my commute every day (Maybe I’m weird).

    I have personally done the following…

    – 5K oil and filter changes w/ Mobil 1
    – Replaced both drive axles, Alternator, AC Compressor, 2x Distributors, Radiator, Evap Canister, Idle Air Valve, VTEC Gaskets, Oil Pan and valve cover gasket, Timing Belt, Water Pump, Tension Pulleys, Cam / Crank Seal, Lock Actuators, Door Handles (broke in the cold), Window Seals, stereo, a/c temp and fan speed knobs. I think that’s “all”.

    It sounds like a lot but it’s been paid off since 2002 and wrenching is kind of a hobby, at least until I get rid of this car.

    I will keep it until it hits 200,000 miles. I don’t like transporting my kids in it because structurally it isn’t as safe as modern cars.

    I love it and don’t expect to have another car…ever that is as reliable,

  • avatar

    Always interesting to hear the case for and against keeping a car for a long time – cost of new with standard maintenance vs old with cost of repair. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest both approaches are valid as it really is based on your personality type and affectations. I suck at the cosmetic (rust avoidance) and do pretty well on repair and maintenance. Got over 400k on an ’84 I had – and got rid of in 2004. Only reason I got rid of it at that point was due to structural rust. The car was not safe to drive from that point of view. I couldn’t even raise the car with the OEM jack; the jack points just bent when I tried. Mechanically it was in good shape – motor, manual tranny (needed attention as it was starting to slip a bit after 375k miles), steering, etc.

    Looking at it from the cost – for me I’d rather upkeep old than pay for new. Spent $2250 on my 98 Stratus this year. It’s obviously not worth that much, one might say (and they would be absolutely correct). BUT, I could have paid $6000 out of pocket making car payments for the year (assuming a $500/mo payment – even at $300/mo.=$3600). I personally chose the less expensive route. I drive 23,000+ a year, by the way. It does not make it a best choice for anyone else but me. That’s the cool thing about it for all of us. Maintenance recommendations are always welcome and I learn a lot from others experience. Heck, that’s why Sajeev does this column. Our approaches in implementation are ours alone.

    If and when I get another vehicle I am going to pursue the under body oil spray/rustproofing route in earnest. That’s my biggest downfall and where I need to step up my game.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I’ll go out on a limb and suggest both approaches are valid as it really is based on your personality type and affectations.

      Thank you for not giving us a Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman style lecture about debt etc. :-)

      I think I’m entering a phase of my life where I’d like to buy new, keep until paid off, lather rinse repeat. Spend the majority of my time (for the next several years) under warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Say what you will about Ramsey’s over-simplified approach to deathly fear of any kind of debt, but he brings up some truly insane numbers for the average car payment in America. I think his favorite trope is something along the line of “if you take the average American’s $500/month car payment from age 30 to age 70 and put it in a mutual fund, you will have $5 million dollars.” There’s more nuance to these things than that, but I’d say he brings up a very valid point about how much income the average American is throwing at something with basic A-B transportation utility that can be served MUCH cheaper.

        Heck, his basic rule of thumb of not having your family’s vehicle fleet being worth more than half your annual salary (and bought for in cash) is really rather lenient if you ask me. That would be a husband and wife both making $50k a year each driving a $25k car, hardly sounds frugal or smart to me.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          Debt is bad, but debt is also a tool to be used, which is not something well understood. It took me a long time (and a ton of debt paid off) to understand that.

          Financial literacy is a challenge, but I don’t care for Ramsey or Suze either. “You’re wrong if you spend anything on yourself!”. I could be dead tomorrow, 5 million (or for most folks 5,000 or 50,000) in the bank would be great for my family, but what about me? I busted my butt to make that money and now I can’t enjoy it?

          A 25k new car is now a high-end compact or a low trim sedan or crossover. Yes, you can buy used, but some people can’t or don’t wrench on their own cars, so buying used (of an type) is not an option. So many variables to this, discussed exhaustively here and the interwebs in general.

          The real problems are wage stagnation and lack of financial literacy, plus our whole consumer culture which preys on those issues.

          I say spend it if you have it, but don’t spend all of it.

      • 0 avatar
        redgolf

        Lease Dan, lease, it’s only money, keep em under warranty.I keep my Grand Prix for a spare andlease a little Buick

  • avatar
    jhefner

    I am wondering about the “forever” part; namely how long do I really want to keep the Blue Goose, my 1995 Ford Taurus wagon with 205,000 miles on it.

    On the plus side, we live in a community where I just have to drive it around here, with an occasional trip into town; no more round trip commuting into DFW anymore. I have driven it less than a thousand miles last year.

    But it is getting tired. The A/C was working for awhile last summer, but is out again. I succeeded in cracking both bumpers (not hard because they made out of PVC, and have become brittle with age), and automatic car washes took the paint off of part of the front bumper. The front headlights are seriously cloudy and have water in them. All of the electric windows worked until a couple of months ago, when the left rear passenger window went out. And the transmission is original; not a strong point in the Gen I and Gen II Taurus, I am afraid to make these repairs only to have the transmission go out. I only found two sources for Taurus station wagon rear bumper, one real expensive ($400 plus shipping), and one real cheap ($110 plus shipping). Not sure if the cheap one is legit or not.

    We also don’t have a lot room for parking; so how much longer will the Blue Goose be around, I don’t know. At least it is running; so it can bring the Christmas Tree home one more year.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      If you decide to replace the headlamps, go with those from a 1994-1995 LX or 1995 SE. They’re the crystalline type that make a remarkable difference in both aesthetics and performance. Kinda expensive, but I found them to be well worth it.

  • avatar
    volvo

    All interesting comments As someone who tends to keep cars for 15-20 years other considerations I see are:

    In addition to monthly payments a new car will have OTD sales tax, significantly higher registration and insurance costs. In my part of California sales tax 9.5% and registration on new car based on value so a new $35K car might have 6-8 times the yearly registration fee of a $2K value 15 year old car.

    Some old models are just built better than newer models from the same manufacturer. My 95 Avalon is an example. Currently looks and drives like a 5 year old car and I can’t identify items that are likely to fail. Living in a southwest temperate climate helps longevity.

    The suggestion that the boneyard is a source of failing cosmetic parts I find fallacious. When I go to the yard and look for these parts which are aging due to time and UV exposure the same part on the 20 year old boneyard car is in worse shape than the same part on my car. With my old volvos that was not the case because lots of trim was metal or built to a very high spec.

    All in all I keep cars until failure starts to appear in multiple systems. A single failure I will usually have repaired.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      In addition to monthly payments a new car will have OTD sales tax, significantly higher registration and insurance costs. In my part of California sales tax 9.5% and registration on new car based on value so a new $35K car might have 6-8 times the yearly registration fee of a $2K value 15 year old car.

      Move out of California.

      NM vehicle sales tax (new or used) – 3% (actually LESS than the state sales tax)

      NM Registration – based on GVWR and has NOTHING to do with the age of the vehicle.

      My insurance agent has all my vehicles, AND renters insurance AND life insurance. My insurance is pretty cheap and I’ve got one vehicle bought new, one 8 years old, and one 50 years old. (My insurance when I lived in MI on the other hand… OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE that was expensive.)

      • 0 avatar

        One of the things that keeps me out of newer cars here in CT. Insurance is OK and reg is a flat rate but I would pay 6.35% sales tax plus about 4% a year in property tax. with a pair of cars worth less then 5K each no big deal. New car big deal.

      • 0 avatar
        redgolf

        you can have Michigan insurance with their NO Fault and harsh winters! Tennessee is the place to be! been down here 27 years (from Mi.), just outside of Nashville, I ain’t going back!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Taxes are much of the reason why I am a Florida resident these days. Insurance is more expensive than Maine, but that is about the only thing. A nice house for $90K, no state income tax effectively makes the house free. As I have said before, house expenses make even expensive cars look like chump change. $77 for two years to register my GTI, vs $1600+ for the same period in Maine.

        The tax situation alone in Maine makes leasing a non-starter if you like anything beyond poverty-spec cars. You never get out of the “bend-over” area of excise taxes. But even my now 8yo BMW is still about $250/yr in reg and taxes. And it will never get any cheaper.

        Best financial decision I ever made was moving to a low-tax/low cost of living area. But I am lucky enough to have an extremely portable job. I just need to be reasonably near an airport. I compromised on that a bit – it’s an hour drive to either of two. But it would have cost me $100K+ more to be 40 minutes closer to either, so it was a good tradeoff.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          It cost me $38 to renew the tabs on the Taurus, about the same to put a tag on the GMC and the Altima (which was required for title transfer, very annoying since the GMC isnt a driver right now).

          Your point is quite valid. Not only are there car payments and higher insurance, registration fees are far higher on newer and more valuable vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      You make a great point. Here in CO registration fees are based on the age of the car. Newer is higher, and a lot higher at that.

      Case in point. My vette’ the tags (paid for in October so it is still front lobe) were $77. I can live with that. Business parter and his MSRP when new BMW 118k but now four years old plates are $845. No thank you.

      Use tax and sales tax are quite expensive here; 8.25% sales tax on a 50k car is a serious amount of money,($4,125) heck for most people that is $57 of their monthly payment right there if they went 72 months zero percent interest.

  • avatar
    TCowner

    I’ve had to get rid of two Panthers, my 89 due to paint (although waxed religiously the Silver Frost Metallic eventually just started to fade away) as I couldn’t justify a paint job, and my 97 due to frame rust.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    We started building our last home (as in retirement) on 10 acres in Colorado in March. Before that the search started for a safe, powerful 4×4 car for my wife. Since I had already owned a 335d with the strong twin turbo diesel and loved it I starting looking for X5 diesels. I lucked out and fount a one person car with all the options that had been used to drive between Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach a 160 mile commute. It had 120K but I picked it up for just $13,000. I changed all the fluids, belts, hoses, thermostat, and crank damper. Now it has 150K and has handled the worst weather CO could throw at it with ease and zero malfunctions. In my experience the trick to owing any diesel car is to run it hard, often, and never use it for short trips where it doesnt have a chance to properly warm up.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Anything will keep running so long as you keep fixing it.

    You can count me as an advocate for keeping a car long-term. Yes, you will get annoyed with replacing little things here and there, but if you love the car, it won’t be so bad.

    Most of you know what I drive daily, it’s now one of four vehicles I own, but it’s still the daily. It has over 245k on it, and yes, I’ve replaced a lot, but the engine and transmission are still original.

    I bought it with 181k, and since then, the (Denso made) window winders (not the motor which was stamped with Ford logos, I mean the actual mechanism that spins the regulator up and down, which was made by Denso) all failed. I HIGHLY recommend going with original parts here. I bought a Dorman unit for the driver’s window and it lasted a whole 3 days. I replaced all four with Motorcraft units after that.

    I have rebuilt the front and rear suspension. This car has McPherson struts at all four corners, but replacing them was not too bad. I did go with aftermarket, but so far, it’s a remarkable improvement over the heavily worn OEMs. Yes, did the sway bar links as well. Also replaced one motor mount and the two rear subframe connectors.

    Yesterday, I ordered a remanufactured Motorcraft wiper motor, mine has got to where it doesn’t want to “park” the wipers correctly (gets worse in the cold). This is very common on Panthers as well. The circuit for “parking” is in the wiper motor itself. After so many years, it’s just worn out. Yeah, they still function and I could technically live with it, but I’m a bit OCD about my cars, there’s no way I’m going to live with the wipers stuck in the up position or some crap like that.

    Let me tell you how I find good deals online for quality parts. With the wiper motor, I just copied the part number plainly stamped on my old unit. But, if I don’t know the part number, I can look it up on RockAuto because they usually offer the OEM parts as well as aftermarket.

    So, you have your part number. Google it. Many times, you’ll get a match on eBay or Amazon, sometimes other places as well. When I first searched for a wiper motor for my car, there were some for $19 (no-name aftermarket) up to over $100 for others. After I searched just for the part number, I found a unit reman’d by Motorcraft for $44 including shipping on eBay, by a well established and highly rated seller. Bingo.

    I did the same thing for my cousin’s CRV’s A/C relay last night. I plugged in the part number and found an original Honda unit, new in the package, for $7.99 including shipping.

    I do plan to keep my Taurus forever, baring some disaster that destroys it beyond repair. I know the transaxle will fail one day, the engine will need rebuilding one day, and the car will never be worth anything on the open market. I dont care. It’s not that I’m ignorant of these facts, they just dont matter to me. I’ve always wanted one of these from this body style, I got one, and I plan to keep it from now on.

    I’m curing the boredom of driving the same car all the time by owning other vehicles. I got an old truck, a 4×4 truck, and once the Altima is fixed and sold, I will try to find me a fun little older Honda with a stick shift. But, the Taurus isnt going anywhere. Whatever breaks, I will get it fixed.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Rust !!… Others have mentioned it, but it bears repeating . Even with annual oil based spraying , rust can ,and will impact critical structural integrity . Another guy did mention this earlier , and he’s absolutely correct.

    Even with BOF construction, the frames can rot out . GM “A” and “B ” bodies from the 60 ‘s were notorious for frame rot . My buddy just dragged a not bad looking 03 Grand Am to the wrecker. You could stick a screw driver through the weak spots in the Sub Frame.

    I have my 4 year old Mustang ..Krowne sprayed every year. I did RTFM and especially the part concerning maintenance . My plan is to drive it till its not economically feasible , or I croak ! ..Whichever comes first ???

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Ten years is long enough for me. I replace my cars once a decade or so because I figure that is the age at which point something significant could go wrong (like the power steering failure I had in one ten year old car), and also because I feel that the technology tends to evolve sufficiently in ten years to make replacement worthwhile.

    Plus, one only lives once, and as an automobile aficionado, I do want to experience several vehicles during my lifetime. So far I am on my sixth car; I hope to make it to eight in my lifetime!

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I tend to trade frequently because I get bored and my goal is much more mundane. I’d like to break my habit and make it to 5 years at which point I’ll assess how I am liking the car.

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    My Focus has been utterly reliable but eats swaybar links to the tune of a pair per year.

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    Treat your car right and it will treat you right. Maintain it well and it will last. Simple rules which have generally proven true.

    My ‘98 E300 Turbodiesel is still going strong at now 270,000+ miles with only minimal and surprisingly “cheap” maintenance. I do not want to keep this car forever, even though it has been very good to me. My issue with the newer cars is that the interior ergonomics are all so unnecessarily confusing. In my E, the cabin is simple, the controls are where they should be and their functions are instantly recognizable. It’s like slipping into your favorite trousers, shoes or such in the morning; you know every part of it and instantly feel at home. I guess I simply don’t like change.

    Recently I sold my rare ‘97 E420 because I barely drove it. Great car with a powerful but lazy V8. I hope the new owner will take great care of her and keep her forever!

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I want badly to keep my 2000 GS400 forever, the the bloody roof has rust from a sloppy windshield replacement. Otherwise, I know this car will easily go 750,000KM.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Guess what car I want (and plan) to keep forever?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My wife’s MINI Cooper S is about to turn 16 years old with only 93k miles on the clock. It’s the creaks and groans, not to mention the lack of Bluetooth, that annoy me. And some rust has began to form on the passenger door. And the paint fade. And the oil pan and oil sensor leaks. And the seats are worn, as long with many other interior parts.

    The car is actually pretty reliable – hoping to get another year out of it as a city runabout – but it really is due for a replacement. But my wife, bless her soul, refuses to give it up. She wasn’t impressed by the second generation of the new MINI, and I don’t think the third will be up to her standards either. The electric steering in my departed ’09 Clubman or the 2012 Countryman just doesn’t have the feedback like the weird hybrid of the ’03.

    She does enjoy my – new to me – 2014 Mustang V6 even though the steering is a little numb. It’s the engine note and the retro design I think. So my car may be her next car so I can get a Mustang GT or Challenger R/T for 50th birthday. But we shall see what happens to the MINI first.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      You should be able to replace that radio with a bluetooth, Apple Car Play/Android Auto one from almost any of the aftermarket vendors. That takes care of your apparently-primary complaint. Me, I’d be more worried about the rust.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Others have mentioned, but it is important to change rubber parts; suspension bushings (a-arm, sway bar, steering rack, strut mounts, etc), and of course belts, hoses, o-rings and seals.
    The suspension bushings can look fine, but the rubber will get hard over time. New bushings will often make an old car much more enjoyable to drive. Less noise, better steering and better ride over bumps.
    Then there’s motor and trans mounts. They may also look okay, but over time will transmit excess noise and vibration. Many of these are a composite mount filled with silicone fluid which can break down or leak out. These tend to be more expensive than rubber only mounts so it gets into that area of “do I want to spend that much $”.
    These days you have to be very careful of copy parts, such as mounts, that don’t work or last very long.
    Also there are the window and door seals that will crack and harden over time. Some are easy and inexpensive to replace. Others will be big $ or hard to find. When those fail water can leak in as well as wind noise.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      A lot of good suggestion and advice there. Great post.

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        Vehicles seem to have individuality in this area. I recall Asian and BMW cars had trouble with rubber exhaust hangers breaking.
        The first version of the VW front drive cars in the USA had a very short life for the right side engine mount.
        It would sag and the car would shake a lot at idle. Many drivers wanted to send their cars to the scrap yard thinking major trouble was at hand in the driveline. Replace the mount and car was “like new”.
        Of course the designers had to put it behind the timing belt, but when the mount failed the belt was due for replacement as well.
        Those same cars had failing exhaust hangers until one became available with a loop of bicycle chain molded inside the rubber.
        While those did not damp noise and vibration as well as the all rubber mounts, it was better than having the exhaust crack open, drag on the ground or fall off completely.


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