The joys (?) of older cars – NOT!


Miss D. and I headed down to Big Texas Metroplex a couple of hours from us yesterday, to take her car (an old-model Subaru) to the dealer there for a major service.  We get routine services done up here at a local shop, but for the big stuff (every 50,000 miles or so) we prefer to use the dealer.

We left the car at the dealer, asking for a detailed quote before they went ahead with the work.  It’s a good thing we did.  We were sure we’d be facing a bill of a couple of thousand dollars, but when the quote came back late yesterday, it was for over $11,000!!! Turns out all sorts of little things had accumulated that our local shade tree mechanic hadn’t picked up on, so their cumulative effect has reached very expensive proportions.  Some of what the dealership wanted to do was cosmetic, rather than really necessary, but even so, the laundry-list of repairs was a shocker.

The car’s not worth more than a thousand dollars or so, even in today’s market – it’s sixteen years old, with over 180K miles on it – so it’s out of the question to spend that sort of money on an overhaul. I guess we’re going to have to shop around for a replacement. Dot loves her Subaru (she’s an Alaskan lady, remember, and its snow- and ice-driving competence in that environment is near and dear to her, even though she no longer lives there), but I don’t think we’ll get another Subie.  The nearest dealer is over 100 miles away from our home, and we need something with a local dealership that can check on such problems before they get out of hand.

Needless to say, this is just about the worst possible time to be looking for a replacement vehicle, given the current state of the car market.  Still, when one doesn’t have a choice, that clarifies the position wonderfully.  We may try being a one-car family for a while, if we can make that work between us.  It’ll be tricky, given conflicting demands for transport in different directions and/or at different hours of the day, but we’ll see.

I suppose I could always take the engine out of the Subie and replace it with bicycle pedals and a chain to the rear differential, or even a nest of tightly wound rubber bands!  There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of them – not yet, anyway . . .



  1. I would suggest having a good non dealer mechanic look at it. There is no reason or need to take a car that old to a dealer for anything. I'm surprised they were even willing to look at a car that old that they haven't serviced before.
    I am NOT surprised theie estimate is huge – I've personally seen dealers give estimates for thousands in unneeded work.
    I have a friend who was given an estimate for $5,000 of work including replacing the radiator and transmission when all her car needed was brake work of less than $250.

  2. Just drive the thing. Obviously it does drive, or you could not have gotten that wonderful estimate. If it breaks down quickly you have lost nothing. Every mile is money not taken out of your pocket. As long as the brakes work. Don't take chances with safety. Just don't get the new car fever. Much worse than the china flu.

  3. Owned a Subaru Crosstrek, love it for 75,000 miles. Then the oil leaks began. It's a result of inferior piston rings, which eventually bring on a cascade of other problems. Gave it to my grandson (who was enthusiastic about Subie's back when they produced real rally cars, but became disillusioned as the marque deteriorated). He traded it after about six months. I am no longer a Subaru fan. Of course, at this point, I can't say I am a fan of any brand of automobile.

  4. That sucks. My 2011 f250 is worth more than I paid for it at the moment. Will never sell it though. Would sure hate to be looking at a car right now with these stupid prices. You know Ford has that new Maverick truck that has a 4×4 option. They are under 30k brand new decked out. Just a thought from a Ford guy. If you can find them the older Rangers can be found for under 10k.

  5. I was smelling exhaust fumes in the car while I was at red lights, so I'm having my catalytic converter replaced Sunday. Hooray.

  6. I'll echo some of the above.

    1) have them do an oil change and brakes if it needs it, then drive it.

    2) find a better shade tree mechanic unless you trust yours, in which case give him the list from the dealer and ask his opinion
    I would not buy a new car because of this unless the old one is broken down.

    Even then might be worth finding a friend to haul it back for you and get that second opinion mentioned above.

    Finally, I like how 2004 or so is now an "older car". I still have never owned anything newer than 2009. My newest Harley is 2003 and I actually refer to that as "my new Harley". Gotten to the point where it used be that "older cars" were the ones you can work on. Now classic cars are the only ones you can work on.

  7. Two years ago friends decided to sell their sons car because it needed a lot of work. The local Chevy dealer gave them an $8000 list….
    They sold the car to us over two years ago for $500. I've done nothing but keep the fluids topped off and the tires aired up. Nothing else.
    I was ASE master certified for twenty years. I had a huge investment in my career when I walked away from it rather than be associated with a shady industry. Run as far and fast as you can away from the dealership.
    Take the list to your local mechanic and get his opinion. A lot of what is marketed as preventative service or manufacturer recommended service is snake oil.
    It wont hurt your car but it will hurt your wallet.
    Fluids and filters are the best warranty you can put on a vehicle.
    If you're really concerned about reliability then just change the minor items that leave you stranded:
    Belts and hoses.
    New alternator and starter. Not reman, NEW.
    New water pump and oil pump.
    New flex lines on the brake system and new master cylinder.
    The impossible to find information that you need for this vehicle is the data for 'mean time between failures'
    Big fleets turn over their units based this data. YMMV.

  8. As long as my old 08 Toyota corolla continues to pass inspections, I shall keep her on the road.

    She gets every two years an undercarriage oil coating as I live in salty roads NH, new tires as needed, oil changes and brake repairs as needed.

    I've replaced two headlights, one taillight, and the serpentine belt so far.

    Still gets me 30 mpg mixed driving.

  9. I'm with the herd here. Most dealers are thieves. And some of the service shops are little better.

    I had a '94 Camry once upon a time. At age 14 I brought it in for tires and got a litany of all its ills as a courtesy check. I was staring at the dude like he was a babbling moron as he read the litany.

    I told him the car was 14 years old and had 200k on it. It's an old man, and old men die. When it does I'll have a drink in its honor and get another. Far as the main seals go, when I see oil on the ground, I'll think of doing something about it.

    Long story short, my kid got in a fender bender with it and the insurance totaled it. Knowing what I know now, I'd fix it.

    Like others say, go over the list and get done the important stuff – timing belt (if it even has one), hoses and belts (If they need it), fluids and filters. Look at the driveshafts, are the boots cracked or split?

    Both my son and I bought tires recently. Both shops told us our rear brakes were worn, and should be replaced. We had just replaced his a year ago or so. I told him that was horse-sht. He bought the pads anyhow, and wouldn't you know, when we took them off they had only worn a millimeter or so in the year.

    1. I once had a shop push me to do a service package on a car. I laughed because they told me the power steering fluid needed changed – on a car that didn't have power steering!

  10. I’m with the others in thinking if it runs, keep it, and use a local mechanic when needed. We had to buy a new (used) car because my husband hit a deer and it was ridiculously expensive.

  11. I'd get a second opinion on that $11k.

    We had the same thing happen when we took a car into Midas for a tire rotation and they said they wouldn't even do it and gave us an $11k estimate, claiming the car was unsafe.

    Brought it to another mechanic and lo and behold, the actual things that needed to be done were $1,800, the car was indeed safe to drive, and the car has been fine ever since with regular maintenance.

  12. Hey Peter;

    We are having to look at a new or "Newer" Edge for the wife, my wife loves her Edge, the vehicle has 250,000 miles and with the 3.5 liter engine, good motor except for the water is internal and that is a $3000 job and the car is worth $3000 so we have a "Borrowed Time" issue with her car, and yes the waterpump is getting crusty so it will eventually fail leaving her stranded so we have started looking. And the next Edge will NOT have the 3.5 liter. The Subie has been good for Dorothy, have someone else check the car and get a 2nd opinion from a good reputable shop(I'm lucky I have one near my house). I have been looking at "AutoTrader", it seems to work well for me as far as car searches goes, perhaps you will hear of through family and friends of someone selling a nearly new car and you can work out a deal with them. Just a thought.

  13. My family and my husband's family have been in the car repair business for decades.

    I concur with those calling for a second opinion.

    Even those who work at dealerships wouldn't just automatically take the word of a service manager on what needed to be done. There's too much, "well it's been x number of miles and so my manual says we need to do xyz for you" regardless of the actual condition of xyz.

    Your regular mechanic should be able to look at the list and tell you what is actually mission critical based on the actual conditions.

    Good luck!

  14. In my world a 2006 with only 180k is middle age. If it needs the timing belt done ask your shade tree guy otherwise keep the oil changed and the brakes working and just drive it.

    The math says you're putting just over 11k a year, that's a good 6 years driving until you hit the 250,000 mark (my arbitrary and ballpark mileage point for modern cars to be finished).

  15. Dealers have a liability to find all things the manufacturer recommends. Some can be handled by the owner, and some are only suggestions. That, and dealers use a list of costs, which may add hours of time to items that can be performed concurrently. Their costs may be for items that don't involve safety, or how long the vehicle will last.

    My Fall trip to the dealer had an estimate of over one thousand dollars for the items they found. Included were filter changes, the transmissions serviced, new pads, and brake fluid replacement. I did the brake work, and replaced the filters, for $120 in costs. I let them do the transmission service later in the year for a cost of less than $259.

  16. When you positively want to pay the most possible for a repair anyone can do; take it to the dealer. You misery is self inflicted. My 19 yr with 400k miles runs just fine and has never seen a dealer.

  17. Still driving my 1998 K1500 Suburban.
    266,600+ miles.
    I've replaced the transmission ($1490).
    Original engine (good old Chevy 350), no discernable oil use between changes.
    I had the intake manifold gasket replaced ($600).

    Not as easy to repair as my 1983 K1500, but still doable.

    Good gas mileage? lolololol

    My 2012 Prius got totaled by a log truck in Sept 2021. My fiancée (and cat) were unhurt).

    6 days later, I'm in a 2018 Prius Prime (PlugIn Hybrid).
    On 2 lane roads at 55-60 mph, I get an honest 60+mpg. I use the electric (battery only) to accelerate from stops, lights, then I go to hybrid after I'm at speed.
    25 miles on electric only with smooth STRONG acceleration!
    10 speaker JBL stereo , heated seats, heated steering wheel, leather, roomy, comfortable.

    The Prius Prime doesn't even look like a Prius.

    Between the two, I can cover hauling/4X4/great mileage (over 500 miles in an 11 gal tank).

    Point to this long-winded dissertation is don't fear driving an older car/truck.
    Get it repaired a a local shop you trust, WHEN IT NEEDS IT (or do it yourself if you can).

  18. Recommend the youtube videos of Scotty Kilmer … he has several that tells you the pluses and minuses of various makes and models of used cars.

  19. Using a dealer service department only makes sense when you are having your brand new vehicle maintained. Once that new car warranty coverage ends, find an independent repair shop. As others have noted, what drives the dealership is different than what motivates an independent shop. Frankly, the smaller the shop, the better customer service one tends to get.

    One of the aggravating things about dealers is that they tolerate "come-backs" in the shop much more than independents generally do. A come-back is when the mechanic makes a mistake that requires the vehicle to be brought back to fix bad workmanship. This occurs due to them working too fast, in most cases. The shop is charging at the book rate for the particular problem, but the mechanic can usually work faster, and make more per hour as a result. Most shops work this way, but dealers tend to see the same mechanical problems, and the techs get complacent while rushing the same old problem fix, and overlook a detail or two. The tech works on that re-do without pay, but it still is an aggravating situation for the owner.

    You would think that the dealer would be doing better work than the others because of their knowledge base, but that is seldom the case.

  20. I worked with a friend who used to be a dealer mechanic. He has told me many stories about the crap the dealer service managers pull. It sound like you keep the car well maintained, so it should be good for at least another 70K miles. As others have noted, belts (including timing belt/chain if so equipped), brakes & lines, hoses, fluids, water pump, & axle boots are the main items. The other big things are front suspension and frame/unitbody rust.

    You don't want the structural members failing from rust. I have a 31 year old pickup with over 300K on it. I have had to have the frame repaired just ahead of the rear wheels because of rust from all of the road salt. I will likely have to retire the truck before very long due to rust issues. Since it is my backup vehicle, it doesn't get much use. If anything major dies it will go to the scrap heap. I think I got my money's worth ($7,100 new in 1991).

  21. Fix what's needed and drive it until it drops. New Subies suck, as do almost every new car.

    Mrs. Freeholder has a 2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk that she adores. Given she drives about than 6k/yr, it will probably last her forever, especially if I can keep it away from the dealer. And maybe figure out how to keep it from "phoning home" (

    I have an 07 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Just had the hybrid battery replaced for $2k. If the one that I got lasts half as long as the original, I'm making money. My 01 GMC Sierra and 97 Chevy Suburban can both be worked on in the driveway for most things, though I do tend to pay to have the work done. None of them phone home.

  22. I am shocked you took your vehicle to a dealership. I have only known 2 dealerships that didn't rip off customers but that was back in the 70s and early 80s. You know somebody local that works on race cars? For some reason those guys tend to be the best mechanics and aren't interested in padding the bill. Drive it until it dies and whomever drives the least, drives the Subie.

  23. I agree – I don't take my 2014 Jeep GC to a dealer unless it needs software updates, which local shops can't do. And even then, it's a question of whether I can live with the problem or not. Currently, the compass and radio don't work right but who cares?

    However, any vehicle repair is brutaly expensive these days, no matter where you take it.

  24. just don't buy anything new. Prices on used cars are crazy right now but new ones are worse and you don't gain anything but a possible security vulnerability over a good used car. Can't go wrong with a Jeep XJ if you can find one with reasonable mileage.

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