Car Problems – Repair or Replace?

Picture of a car bumper with leaks on the pavement.It all started with a little steam coming from the front of my car after the short two-mile trip to the train station one morning last week. I checked to see that it wasn’t on fire or a danger to others and left it to cool off until I returned that evening. Using what I learned from listening to the Car Talk show and reading their blog over the years, it appears that the water pump – radiator system is the source. (There’s a sweet smelling odor, white smoke and only a little of it, green (not pink or black) fluid diluted with water leaking out.)

Repair or Replace?

My car is about 12 years old and has 138,000 miles / 222,089 kilometers and already had strange body squeaks and rattles going on as well as parts of the seat breaking down. The value of the car is about $1,200 and I already needed a couple hundred dollars worth of maintenance done. In my experience, once major mechanical systems and the body starts to go, it’s a domino effect until you either fix all of them or replace the car.

Other than trips out of town to see family a few times a year, I only put 3,500 miles / 5600 kilometers) on the car. I never use the car Monday through Friday except to go to the store or the train station (both within a15 minute walk.) Because of traffic, I even combine trips on the weekends and bring along a friend to visit with while making the trip.

Maintenance Check List for A Rarely Used Car

Because my car moves only once a week (if that) I came up with the following list of chores to keep it safe. There are more that I’m supposed to do, but this is what I actually have been doing.

  1. Condensation can form in the fuel tank and gas can go bad if the car sits for too long.
  2. Battery can discharge if it’s sitting unused for too long or you don’t get a good charge while driving.
  3. Still have to perform maintenance and change fluids every 3 months as the fluids deteriorate whether you run the car or not.
  4. Still have to wash car and vacuum interior on a weekly basis or else the car will get dusty and have bird/tree sap droppings on it and get a musty odor inside.
  5. Sitting idle in DC area traffic as you crawl down a congested road or sitting at a red signal at all 5 lights installed in a ¾ mile area to regulate traffic. (Despite the fact that the city has told you the lights are timed to keep traffic moving. They’re timed all right, but never in my favor..)
  6. AC condenser will lose lubricant causing you to not have AC if not used on a regular basis.
  7. Tire pressure must be checked obsessively as tires seem to deflate more when they not used. Also, they go flat in spots that remain flatter than the rest of the tires if not moved often. This causes a strange bumpy sensation to happen while driving (it’s as if the tires are square.) This only goes away with a set of new tires.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share the results of running the numbers and whether I decided to fix up the car, buy new, or live car free.