My husband never wants to throw anything away until it's completely used up. While this probably is a good idea for most things, I am concerned about our 2002 Toyota Sienna minivan. It has 260,000 miles on it, and except for an oil leak (we keep adding oil), it runs great. The problem is, I'm nervous about driving my daughter around in it for long distances. She has dance competitions that cannot be missed, but every time we go, I wonder if this will be the day that the van dies. My husband won't discuss replacing it until it dies completely, but that could be at a really bad time -- e.g., on the way to a far-off dance competition, in a bad section of some city, or on a night when it's 30 below (we live in Minnesota). Can you tell my husband that, for the safety of the family, we should get a new car?
RAY: We can tell him. But you can withhold something from him that we can't. So you probably have more leverage.
TOM: We agree with you. You should be driving something newer and safer. We have a number of customers who have cars of your vintage, and they always tell us they want to get "one more year" out of them.
RAY: And that's fine if you're driving around town, in areas in which you feel safe, and are always close enough to home to get back there easily if the car breaks down - which it will.
TOM: But it's not a good idea to count on a car with 260,000 miles to get you safely and reliably to adjoining states and back, or to get you to a warm, safe place, far from home, when it's 30 below out.
RAY: Plus - and maybe this will help sway him - at some point, it doesn't make economic sense to keep nursing along an ancient car. Typically what happens when a car gets this old is that it suffers a sequence of failures.
TOM: Two or three large, but not fatal, things will break - the radiator, the transmission cooler lines, the power-steering rack. And each time, the owner will decide to make the repair, because $500 or $800 is still cheaper than a new car.
RAY: But then, a year later, you realize you've spent $2,000 keeping the car limping along. And then the transmission goes.
TOM: So there's an economic argument for giving up on the Sienna, as well as a very good safety and reliability argument, given the type of driving you do.
RAY: If it were my wife and daughter, I'd give thanks for the 260,000 good miles I got out of the Sienna, sell it for a few hundred bucks to a guy who delivers pizza and get something much newer and safer for you guys.
TOM: If he can't be persuaded to do that (I'm guessing from your description that he's cheap and stubborn), then the next-best option is to tell him you'll drive it locally, but when you have to drive your daughter to faraway dance competitions, you'll rent a car.
RAY: That'll cost a hundred or two hundred bucks each time you have to go out of town. And you guys will have to weigh spending that money on rental cars versus investing it in a newer, safer, more reliable car. But either way, you'll be safer on those long, out-of-town trips.
TOM: And if he refuses to go along with even that compromise? Well, far be it from us to suggest anything underhanded. But if you happen to drive to, say, Montana for a dance competition, and are so stressed about the car breaking down that you forget to top up the oil before heading home, and then you keep driving after the oil light comes on, you'll seize the engine and finish off that Sienna once and for all.
RAY: We're absolutely not suggesting that you do that. But if you do, bring a credit card, sandwiches and plenty of space blankets with you. Good luck.
A friend in high school back in the early '70s would occasionally borrow his dad's Ford Pinto to cruise us around in. On odd-numbered days, he could use only first and third gears, and on even-numbered days, he could use only second and fourth. His dad was adamant that this would double the life of the transmission by using only half of it at any given time. My immediate question is: Do you guys think this is a sound method for increasing the life of a transmission, or was the boy's father a bit too obsessive? And second, would anybody want to own a '73 lime-green Pinto for that long anyway? Thanks, and love your column!
RAY: Your friend's father was absolutely right. By using each gear only half as much, he was extending the life of the synchronizers on those gears and delaying a transmission rebuild.
TOM: But he was halving the lives of his clutches! Well, maybe not halving, but he was shortening the lives of his clutches considerably. So this was a bad trade-off.
RAY: When you start out in second gear, you have to use more gas and release the clutch pedal more slowly to get the car moving without stalling it.
TOM: And all that time when you're revving the engine and slowly releasing the clutch pedal, you're essentially sanding down your clutch disc. The clutch uses friction to connect the engine to the wheels. When you wear off the friction surface and make it smooth, the clutch is done for. Kaput.
RAY: Plus, whenever he was driving in too high a gear (every time he shifted to fourth when he should have been in third), he was lugging his engine. That builds up carbon, causes the engine to run hot and generally shortens the engine's life.
TOM: And he's doing all this presumably to extend the life of the transmission, even though transmissions are designed to last the life of the car (and often do).
RAY: Clutches, on the other hand, almost always wear out during the useful life of the car (generally between 75,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on how they're used). So he was preventing a repair he might never need while shortening the life of the engine, and adding an extra clutch job or two to his bill.
TOM: Maybe he added more than one or two! It depends how long he suffered with this lime-green Pinto. He sounds like the kind of guy who likes to keep his cars a long time. So maybe he's still driving it now? On its fourth engine and 41st clutch!
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
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