Friday, October 18, 2013

When to Say Goodbye to a Car

I've owned cars that I couldn't get rid of fast enough.  There was the 1973 VW Thing which had the speed and weather protection of a Conestoga wagon; a Porsche 924 with a failing clutch; and a tan 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme...  Just because it was a tan Oldsmobile.  Each time, I had some regret selling the car for sentimental reasons.  But in all those cases, I knew it was time to say goodbye for practical reasons or because I had a more favorable option.  Usually both.  

Now it seems I'm again reaching the time to make that choice.  My 1999 Nissan Pathfinder, a truck that my wife and I have owned for over 11 years, is starting to break down in ways that make me question its reliability.  Normally I would just keep driving it until it died and then take the plates off it.  However, since my wife uses it to commute to the airport twice a month, where it sits for 4-5 days, I need a reliable car.

But at what point do I say goodbye to the Pathfinder?  It's a question that nags at me for two reasons:  First, it's an honest, capable SUV that's been a solid, reliable workhorse.  It has a real 4x4 transfer case with a mechanical linkage connected to both hi and lo drive ranges.  I've used it for camping, hauling lumber and tile, the occasional lawnmower, and even stuff to the dump or the Salvation Army.  Not that I really need all of the Pathfinder's capabilities, but it's nice having an old truck around when you need to just throw some stuff in the back of it and go.

The other reason is sentimental.  It's the first car my wife and I bought together.  Our son was two months old at the time and we were looking for more reliable transportation to replace Nicole's old Bronco II.  (Yes, there seems to be a pattern here...)  Over the years since then, we've taken the Pathfinder on trips to Iowa and all over Kansas and Missouri, racking up 140K miles in the process.  Through all that time it's been a reliable, faithful companion requiring nothing more than gas and occasional maintenance.

Until about three months ago...

The first sign of trouble was when the Pathfinder refused to start in my driveway.  It was towed to a local repair shop which discovered that the electronic ignition had failed.  Now lately it's been sputtering and losing power on the highway.  And in addition to whatever is causing that problem, I know I'm due for another round of tires, bakes, a transmission fluid service, and possibly new struts.  Added up, I have a nice down payment on a newer car.

To me, the time to say goodbye to a car is when the cost of repairs, other than routine maintenance, adds up to more than the value of the car.  Or when you know that the next $800 repair bill won't be your last and that you're about to spend more over the next year at the mechanic than you would making car payments.

I don't think I'm there yet--close--but not yet.  Besides, I'm doing yard work this weekend and have some home improvement project coming up, so I'll need an old truck to haul mulch/rock/lumber and miscellaneous supplies.      

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