How to Tell When It's a Money Pit

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man

I would like to see you do a column on how to take care of your car to make it last as long as possible. Also, how do you decide when a car is no longer worth the investment of making repairs? My husband drives a 1991 Isuzu Rodeo with over 70K miles on it. So far, it has needed no major repairs, but eventually it will. We were burnt very badly on the car I owned when we got married. We kept pouring money into this car, at first because it wasn't paid for yet, and later because of all the money we had already put into it. When we finally got rid of it, I figured out that it had cost me over four dollars a mile to drive over the time I had owned it when it wasn't in the shop! In hindsight, it would have been much cheaper to get rid of the car at the first sign of trouble. But how do you know when to do that?

Well, I am going to answer two readers questions in one here. Marta of Virginia asked me "how to tell when that car is the money pit?" I answered one similar to this a few weeks ago... look through the archives for my detailed answer, but to summarize it's actually a very personal thing. If there was a cut and dry number, then that would make life so easy. But as with everything else, it is not. But you might way to consider this, if you are spending more than 25% per year of what the car is worth today on repairs, then it's time. Once you reach the 10% mark, then it might be time to start thinking. But don't take these figures to be exact! A tranny job might cost you around $1200-1500 but could extend the life of your car a few years... You actually have to look at your particular situation and see. If you see no end to the repairs, then just dump the thing and get something with a warranty!

The next reply is to Pat D of Washington:

You failed to mention some very important factors in your letter about lost compression. One is, what size engine? you mentioned that there is a compression loss in 3 cylinders, is it a 4, 6 or 8 cylinder engine? If it is an 8, then it probably is not so bad. If it is a 4, then you have something to worry about. You also failed to mention how much compression was lost or how old the car is. what you want to see is cylinder to cylinder compression to be about the same. It could vary from car to car but somewhere around 150-175 should be okay. Now to find out what is leaking, you need what's known as a leakdown tester. What this is, is a series of air pressure gauges and a valve and compressed air. What you do is get the cylinder on top dead center, and pressurize it with around 50 psi of air. if it maintains within 40 psi, then you should be okay, but what this will also do, is help you find out what is wrong. You have to listen all around the car for the escaping air. First remove the oil filler cap and listen there. If you hear something, then it's the rings. Next, listen at the air intake. Here it's a burnt intake valve. Next at the exhaust pipe. Here a bad exhaust valve. If all these are okay, open the radiator and look for bubbles. Now if you see bubbles here, this is a blown head gasket and this is bad. So there is some more information that you really need to give me, but at least now, you know what to look for.
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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