Should I fix old car

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  • Avatar AcademicMD 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 2
    Joined: 09/03/2019

    Hi WCI community,

    This is for all of the “car people” out there who WCI references frequently. I have a completely paid-off 2009 Subaru Impreza, 73k miles, good condition until now, and was just informed that it needs a new head gasket and timing belt – to the tune of $2800. It has been in good condition, and even though it doesn’t exactly fit my family of four comfortably, I’ve been dutifully driving it per WCI’s dogma.

    I’m a sub specialist with a wife who is an attorney, won’t list our salaries here but easily able to max-out tax-advantaged funds and have plenty left over. Have been putting $$ into home repair recently, could cover the cost of a new (or at least new-to-me) car in cash but would rather not. No student loan or other non-mortgage debt.

    Not looking for diatribes about “investing in a depreciating asset,” but as a family-man in my second year of practice I’m not inclined to buy the $5,000 Dodge Durango that WCI recommends – my last Dodge Durango equivalent blew some kind of nut on the axle and lost all power while going 65 on a six-lane highway, so I think I’ve closed that chapter in my life (I appreciate WCI argument about number needed to treat vs. better safety features in newer car, but to be honest, I’m happier to take risks when it’s just me who is affected and not my wife/children). If I were to sell our Subaru, would probably replace it with something model-year 2015 or later. What I’m wondering is: would you spend the $2,800 to fix the car? Or would you pronounce it and get something new?

    #243425 Reply
    Avatar Peds 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 4447
    Joined: 01/08/2016
    What I’m wondering is: would you spend the $2,800 to fix the car? Or would you pronounce it and get something new?

    Click to expand…

    completely depends on you. as long as you pay cash no one here (should) care.

    realize a newer car is 5-10x what the repair is. so this isnt to save money.

    10 years is where i wont argue w/ someone looking for a reasonable upgrade (spouses car almost at 20y).


    i wouldnt get a subaru though….


    #243457 Reply
    Liked by MPMD
    Avatar DCdoc 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 562
    Joined: 06/14/2016

    If you’re doing what you need to do financially, no shame in upgrading a 10 year old car.

    #243458 Reply
    Liked by MPMD
    CordMcNally CordMcNally 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 2851
    Joined: 01/03/2017
    Earnest refinancing bonus

    It’s a 10 year old car and “doesn’t fit your family comfortably” so I would look at getting a more practical vehicle for your family. You’re a subspecialist and attorney, a newer car is not what stands between you and your financial goals/freedom.

    As an aside, why did they say it needs a new head gasket? Do you have coolant in your oil? A timing belt is more of a maintenance thing but 73k miles seems pretty early. I’m not a big Subaru guy but it seems that most other vehicles get at least 100k out of a timing belt. The actual cost of head gaskets and a timing belt are not very much, it’s the labor that gets you.

    “But investing isn’t about beating others at their game. It’s about controlling yourself at your own game.”
    ― Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor

    #243462 Reply
    Avatar ajm184 
    Status: Other Professional
    Posts: 637
    Joined: 07/14/2017

    Transmissions and engine ‘issue’s is my red line for a vehicle.  Expensive to repair without any reasonable guarantee for the whole vehicle going forward.   The repair cost you describe is like 90% labor/10% parts, time to walk away.

    As long you you don’t classify a 928 S4 as a ‘family’ vehicle, I’m sure you’ll make a good decision on your next vehicle.

    I thought this thread was going to be; ‘I purchased a 1966 X vehicle, should I go OEM/factory or resto-mod?’

    #243467 Reply
    Dreamgiver Dreamgiver 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 871
    Joined: 03/09/2017

    I’d get a newer to you used car. Unfortunately Subarus are well known in mechanics’ circles for the very issues you are experiencing.

    #243478 Reply
    Avatar G 
    Status: Physician, Small Business Owner
    Posts: 1799
    Joined: 01/08/2016
    Splash Refinancing Bonus

    We have two imprezas and have had the same issue with my wife’s.  As far as I’m concerned the imprezas are complete freaking lemons…between the two, I’ve spent many many many days screwing around at the auto shop and/or setting up shuttles.

    In fact, I literally just got off the phone with the shop about mine which has blown a radiator (I know, this is more of an age issue).

    We chose to fix the head gasket and got another 3 years out of the car.  It just recently needed a new starter and radiator (yup), which we elected to fix to help to resell (I learned my lesson to never do that again).  We also went ahead and bought a new car.  Much to my chagrin, wife had her heart set on an Outback.  <insert vomit face, insert angry face>

    You’re only putting 7k miles/yr on it?  I would probably fix it since you’re looking at another 5+ years til you run into other wear-tear issues.  BUT, I would not bat an eye at using this as a chance to justify a new car.  See what carmax will offer.  Consider fixing and keeping for kid.

    #243485 Reply
    Liked by Tim
    Avatar mjohnson 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 54
    Joined: 05/05/2019

    I would either fix it and keep or get a new non-luxury vehicle of your choice.  Later model vehicle prices for used cars are quite high, I personally would just get a new one at that point unless you luck into a screaming deal.

    #243486 Reply
    Avatar nephron 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 227
    Joined: 05/09/2019

    Your trade in value is about the cost of the car, definitely time to turn it in for something new and not pay for the repairs.   I have always purchased new cars, I’ve never found carmax cars that good of value compared to new ones from the dealer, the last that I looked, I feel like their prices were only 5-10% off what you would pay for a new car at the dealer.  The best deal you are going to get is from a private sale person, but I’ve never considered the discount of 20-30% for a 2-3 year old car worth the risk associated with the used car (of getting a lemon or needing repairs earlier or worst case scenario getting in an accident because something fails).  You also lose the best, no maintenance years of the car which is the most valuable time to have the car as well.   I’ve never owned a luxury car, I currently own a subaru legacy, you do get a little bit more leg room for the higher end models, but I don’t see the difference between owning a honda accord vs an acura, which my wife actually drives, other then the higher maintenance cost.   As long as you are paying cash for the car and your other finances are in order, I don’t see anything wrong with buying a new car.

    #243489 Reply
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 2509
    Joined: 05/01/2017

    Here’s what I would do (kind of what I did):

    1. Fix the car, I wouldn’t try to sell it broken.

    2. Take the time you now have to start really doing research into a $15-20k vehicle and figure out what you want. A few evenings on the web will really give you a good idea of value and what’s out there. For this car I would get something boring and ubiquitous but family friendly – Highlander, Explorer, Pilot, etc.

    3. Drive that for 5-10 years and then get whatever you want.* Two years out is a bit early for a cool car for most of us on here. At 6 years out I treated myself to a 7 year old SUV w/ 100k miles on it.



    * this assumes that you are meeting all of your financial goals.

    #243520 Reply
    Avatar JohnW 
    Status: Small Business Owner
    Posts: 9
    Joined: 08/30/2019

    I think you’re in good financial shape and are obviously being thoughtful about it – so if you wanted a nice new or used car and think you’ll have it for a number of years, go for greatness.  The better reliability of a newer car, modern safety features and creature comforts are all things you will appreciate.

    As far as your current car, it’s not a clear cut case – I’d probably fix it, then sell it.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if that ended being the wrong move (but if you didn’t fix it, how much more than scrap could you get for it?).

    #243556 Reply
    q-school q-school 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 2629
    Joined: 05/07/2017

    honda pilot or mazda cx9.   it sounds like you keep your cars for a while.  you can take your family around in comfort.  you can carpool when you need to.


    #243579 Reply
    Avatar Gomer 
    Status: Physician
    Posts: 8
    Joined: 07/22/2019

    Many non-luxury vehicles made in the last few years have great safety tech and comfort features that were only on luxury cars ten years ago.  If you get into a new (or late model used) CX9 after driving a 10-year old car you will be happy with it unless you need to have a luxury badge on your car to feel good.  Having kept old cars past their prime and broken down on the highway etc… I no longer try to nurse along unreliable cars.  Especially w kids riding in them.  And there’s the time/hassle too.  You seen to make smart choices and I doubt getting a new or new-ish reliable Honda, Toyota etc… is going to prevent you from achieving you long-term goals. I would give it the Marie Kondo thank you hug and treat yourself to something nice, practical and worry-free.

    #243582 Reply
    Liked by octopus85
    Craigy Craigy 
    Status: Spouse
    Posts: 2059
    Joined: 09/16/2016

    You have driven it long enough.  Consider it an achievement.

    Wholesale value of the car is about $3,600 assuming no repairs.  Don’t spend $2,800 on it.  Trade it in for whatever they’ll give you or sell it yourself for a grand or so and move on.

    Go buy yourself a Toyota SUV of your choice (highlander, 4 runner).  Or better yet, buy your wife the new car and take hers.  Don’t bother shopping used, just shop hard for a good deal new.


    #243651 Reply
    Liked by Tim
    Avatar adventure 
    Status: Spouse
    Posts: 1183
    Joined: 10/24/2016
    What I’m wondering is: would you spend the $2,800 to fix the car? Or would you pronounce it and get something new?

    Click to expand…

    I would, and did headers in a Subaru too. Got another 130k out of them. Then decided it was time to move on. The shop here rebuild the headers and I had the car back within 24 hours. Was worth it to me. Same cost too.


    I could see some folks justifying something else too. There is probably a financially correct decision, then there is the decison that works for you. Do what works for you, I don’t think this will make/break you.

    #243830 Reply
    Liked by Peds

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