The Joys Of Driving An Old Car

My car is 12 years old and now has almost 160,000 miles on it. I’ve owned it for 7 years and 70,000 of those miles. The biggest joy occurs every month when I don’t make a payment on it.

And… over those 7 years, I’ve spent money on a new radiator, new shocks, belt, and hoses. Each one of those things was less than the average monthly payment on a new car, so I am happy.

Yet… when the Service Engine Soon light came on and stayed on just 50 miles short of my destination on this last trip… and the engine was obviously in distress, I figured my happy cheap driving days were over. As I parked the car in an out-of-the-way place in my daughter’s driveway, I decided I would not even think about it again until after her baby was born.

Priorities, ya know?

Of course I thought about it anyway. I googled the symptoms and got results indicating it could be a blown head gasket. Or not. The oil was clear. I checked the value of the car in great condition and tried to decide what would be a reasonable amount to spend on repairs. It was all depressing.

And then there’s the problem of finding a reliable shop for not only the diagnosis, but also the repairs. The only thing I was sure of was that a Cadillac dealership would cost me more than I could afford.

I stopped at a Checker Auto Parts store located between my 3 year old granddaughter’s pre-school and the Taco Bell she always wanted to go to for lunch. I asked the clerk where he would take his car for repairs and he referred me to his boss who sent me to Dr. Dan in Apache Junction, Arizona.

Frankly, had Dr. Dan suggested any repairs under $1000, I would have been content. But Dr. Dan made me very happy. He fixed my car (replaced a coil and fixed a coolant leak) for under $150.  And rotated my tires!

Dr. Dan restored my trust and faith in my fellow man… these were running a little low after my horrible experience with a stinky hotel room rented by a hateful innkeeper and dealing with my Amazon, Facebook, and gmail accounts being hacked. Those are topics for another post or two.

And owning a car that old is probably good for another post or two also. There are some electrical problems that I have to decide whether I want to live with or not… no cruise control, one window that can’t be rolled up from the driver’s door controls, no windshield washer, no moving the passenger seat… all electrical problems that scream $$$ to me to fix. Maybe it’s time to be looking for a newer car.

But… will I find a newer car that is as comfortable, as powerful, and gets 30 mpg highway?

7 thoughts on “The Joys Of Driving An Old Car

  1. My own ride is ten years old and has 123,000 miles. She’s up for some diagnostics herself; I suspect, though I have yet to pull the codes, that there’s a vacuum leak. Beyond that, the CV boots need to be replaced, the seat motors are a little wonky, and – well, that’s really about it.

    My usual calculus on such matters: $1500 is four to six car payments. Which beats the heck out of forty to sixty.

  2. I missed this before…glad AVI linked to it. What kind of car, getting 30 mpg? I hope it has AC, given the hot place you live…

    Years ago,we inherited a thirdhand Mercedes diesel station wagon my mother in law had bought from a leg prosthesis salesman in California (so no rust from New England winters) at about 150,000 miles and nursed it along til about 240K when I began throwing up every morning at work after driving 5 miles. My coworkers thought I was pregnant but I knew otherwise. A month of carbon monoxide poisoning and we found that not only the exhaust was leaking but all the 15 year old wiring had decayed. It would have been over 5000 to fix, and the Mercedes dealership was rapacious, even if they did give away Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts to their helpless victims…er…clients. So we sold it to a mechanic and got something else.

    ANother old car we drove a couple of years as a second family car was a blue Rambler about 15 years old also, only about 130K. It rattled and rumbled and exhaust leaked but we drove with the windows open. In the summer, you had to blast the heat or the radiator would blow up (no AC). It would sometimes stall out. After stranding me and three kids under 5 in rural NH (mercifully only two blocks from a phone), my spouse gave it to a charity for scrap.

    I currently drive a VW turbodiesel I got new that gets 48 mpg on the highway on long trips. ONly 25-33 on my everyday commute and stop and go shopping etc. But it has good safety features which is more important now where I live as the roads are permanently clogged and constantly slowed by accidents. We have never found an honest mechanic around here, so have been driving newer cars (ie under ten years) lately.

    The last car I made payments on was a Ford Explorer that I got one of those 0 percent deals on. But that was when my job was more secure. THese days, I’d rather save up for a car than be afraid of losing one if I lose a job and can’t make payments.

  3. Ah… diesel fumes! One of my daughters bought a diesel VW Passat 5 years and still loves it. My Dad was impressed with it too, and recently bought a Jetta. He loves the mileage he’s getting.

    My car is a 1998 Cadillac Sedan Deville, the basic model. Since I wrote the post, the cruise control and window have been fixed. Also got some new sway bars and new tires.

    As for the 30 mph highway gas mileage? That’s what I get driving it. I think it’s rated at 26 or maybe 27, which is what my husband gets. One huge difference in our driving styles is that he uses the cruise control a lot. It drove him nuts not having it on the way back from AZ. I use it only when faced with a drastically lowered speed limit (such as the drop from 80 to 65 when we got to Monahans TX at dusk) or when my foot needs to stretch and change position.

    The cruise control accelerates faster than a normal driver would and more often, especially when there are hills (even slight ones). One key to getting good gas mileage is to drive smoothly, maintaining a near constant speed but not trying to maintain an exact one as cruise control does. I have never understood people who fail to take their foot off the gas when they see a red light a block away. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to the light just as it’s turning green and avoid having to accelerate from a complete stop. Plus you save wear and tear on the brakes.

    Another key is to make a game out of it. Just how many miles can I squeeze out of this tank? It’s especially fun on a long trip with another driver. Unless that driver is my husband. He doesn’t like losing :-)

  4. Original sticker on the DeVille was 17 city, 26 highway. (The “revised” 2008 figures are 15/24.)

    Weirdly, both my previous car (a four-cylinder Mazda 626) and my current ride (an Infiniti I30 with a honking V6) had 28-mpg highway ratings. (Both have four-speed automatics.) I got about 30 with the Mazda, and spot-on 28 with the Infiniti.

    The charm of the Cadillacs, I think, is that they’re competent and confident without encouraging one’s boy-racer side; given my own tendencies toward hoonage, I perhaps should look for a Caddy next time around.

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