Old Car Blues

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man

Dear Bob:
Every week I look forward to your article in the Dollar Stretcher. I have a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. The first 78,000 miles were primarily city miles put on by my parents. The car has 143,000 miles and the 350 engine appears to be strong and preventive maintenance has always been done on this car. (The engine uses a quart every 1,200 miles, considerably less on long trips.) My 17-year-old son put several thousand miles on the car last year.

When it is cold, below 45 degrees, the automatic transmission slips for a second on the first upshift starting out in the morning. I had the transmission fluid changed. There were small metal particles and clutch pieces in the pan. I was given dire predictions as to pending disaster. Two other transmission places also gave warnings when I described the problem to them. None of these places wanted to give any estimates because they have to tear it down first to find out what's wrong. I have seen that game played before. (What do you do when given a high price and the transmission is laying there in pieces?) A shop with a good reputation offered a fixed price of $425.

Since I have driven the car in this condition for at least six months including a 3,000 mile trip, I didn't feel overly threatened that the car would fall apart on my way home. Trying not to spend more on this car at this time than I have to, am I pushing my luck in continuing to drive this transmission in this condition or should I replace it soon? (We will have hot weather here for the next six months.)

I have a 1981 Toyota Corolla that my son is currently driving. It seems to be running fine but it is burning a quart every 200 miles. Should I look for something that is malfunctioning? How long does a car in this condition keep going? (In trying to be frugal with these cars, I don't want to get in the position of putting money on a dying horse.) Thanks for your answer.
Jim DeV.

In regards to both of the cars that are using oil, are they burning it or leaking it? In either case, this is a terrible thing to let go on. You, I mean you personally, are responsible for the pollution in your area. You may say, oh a quart a week is nothing, but where is it going? A quart of oil can contaminate thousands of gallons of drinking water. Now that is not very frugal. Let's also talk about what you are doing to the air that your son breathes. For that matter, what about every other son and daughter out there that need to breathe that air. No, I can not sit back and say that a car that uses oil is frugal to keep. I am also not saying to scrap it, just to fix it. Frugal living and automobiles do not always match up very well.

Now, for your transmission, what I have been telling people what to do is the following: Contact several tranny shops and ask what the cost for a complete overhaul is going to cost. Now you know that absolute max that this will cost. Find the cheapest estimate and go there. If, by some act of the almighty, the final bill is less, then take the saved money and invest it in something (like getting that oil problem fixed!).
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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