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Is It Time to Get Rid of Your Old Car?

Rust, dry-rotted rubber, leaky fuel line — all things to think about when evaluating your old car.

by Chaya Milchtein
September 5, 2019 | Living

This time last year, I was driving 90 miles to work every day, and my old Toyota Camry was struggling.

I knew it was burning oil, but I couldn't decide if it was worth putting any more money into. I needed to weigh the pros and cons before I could make a decision.

Are you in this situation? Maybe you've already poured lots of money into your car, and aren't sure if it's time to upgrade. Maybe you found out your car needs even more repairs or you're putting off taking it in to get checked out for that squeaking you hear?

While I can't answer the question for you, I'll share what I considered last year when I was working through my decision.

Is it rusted?

Rust is one of those things that happens to a car that can't really be prevented. It's caused by exposure of steel to water and/or salt over time.

While rust is not always a reason to get rid of an old car, it can pose a safety risk in some cases:

1. If your brake lines, fuel lines and/or fuel tank are rusted

Rust can cause your brake lines to break which can cause you to end up without a functioning brake system. Rusting in the fuel system can cause fuel leaks which leads to increased chances of a car fire, dangerous fumes inside the car and other problems.

2. If your frame is rusted

Rusting of the car's frame or system structural support, like radiator support, can be a serious safety concern as well. You should have the extent of the rust evaluated by your mechanic to help you determine the safety of operating the car.

Can you buy replacement parts?

Have you reached a point where finding replacement parts for your car is like going on an endless scavenger hunt?

Older cars often have parts that are discontinued and no longer readily available. Sometimes you can find them if you search hard, but what happens if you really can't find a part you need?

When parts start becoming scarce, it might be time to throw in the towel. It's much easier to buy a car when you have time to get one. Once your back is against the wall because your car isn't working anymore, you can end up settling for something you don’t really want and spending more money than you need to.

Is it safe?

Ever heard someone say, "My old car is way safer than newer ones. It's built like a tank!"

You don't want to go car shopping when you're in dire straits. Have a plan for getting rid of your old car before it breaks down entirely.

They are so wrong. In the event of an accident, newer vehicles look like they end up with a lot of damage — but there's a reason for that!

Newer cars are made to absorb energy and have built-in crumple zones. That means the metal crumples in specific places to prevent the damage from going further and to keep passengers safer.

Older cars weren't built with these things in mind. While they look like they're more capable of taking a beating, the people inside the car are more likely to get hurt.

Newer safety features aren't necessarily a reason to get rid of your older car, but they're definitely something to consider when making a decision.

Is it cost-effective to repair?

This is a big one that's often hard to figure out. If things keep breaking and repairs are often necessary, at what point does it stop being cost-effective to keep an older car?

Let's say you have a car worth about $2,000. The sentimental and practical value may be higher. You might not be able to afford the purchase of a newer vehicle, or don't have enough credit to get a decent loan.

Still, consider whether repairs are cost-effective. If you've put $1,000 into repairs so far this year, do you have a plan for further repairs? Determining how much the car is worth to you and how much you're willing to put into it needs to be done before the problem happens. In the heat of the moment, paying for more repairs might feel easier. You might not have the time or energy to get a new vehicle.

Make a plan. For example, if this car needs another $1,000 in repairs this year, you'll buy a new vehicle. Or maybe you decide that spending more money on repairs is in your best interest. At least you have something decided.

[ICYMI: When (and How) to Say No to Your Mechanic]

Does it have worn rubber components?

Hoses, belts and tires are prone to cracking and wear with age. If you're considering the purchase of an older vehicle or deciding what to do with yours, these components should be considered.

Worn, cracking (dry-rotted) tires need to be replaced. Tires can be expensive, running $90-plus per tire depending on size and brand. Dry-rotted tires are more likely to cause blow-out and to have slow leaks. High-speed blowouts are one of the leading causes of accidents on expressways.

Hoses that are worn can begin to leak coolant, causing a vehicle to overheat. Overheating can lead to engine failure.

If you are driving an older car, make sure you have a mechanic who advises you of things like worn rubber components before they become major problems. A thorough, regular multi-point inspection will help keep your older car running smoothly.

Are the seatbelts safe?

Do you ever wonder why car seats expire but seatbelts don't?

Car seats are made from durable plastic. As the plastic experiences fluctuation in temperatures, it eventually can no longer do its job properly. In addition to this, safety standards for car seats change and you want to have the most up-to-date seat possible.

Seat belts, on the other hand, are made to last the life of the vehicle. Made of polyester, the heavy webbing is there to protect the passenger in the event of a crash.

Seatbelts need to be replaced quite rarely:

1. If the vehicle was in a serious collision

After a collision, the seatbelts will sometimes stop working, requiring them to be replaced. Many manufacturers require the replacement of all seat belts in use if airbags deployed.

2. If they’re worn, stretched out or have runs

If a seatbelt exhibits any of these characteristics, it should be inspected and almost always changed. A seatbelt in poor condition won't protect you.

Chaya Milchtein
Chaya Milchtein writes about cars, culture and queer life. She empowers people to do the impossible and be authentically themselves. Follow her @mechanicfemme.
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