Ev­ery rust-bucket has its day

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By Brian Turner

OF all the things we buy, main­tain, use and even­tu­ally scrap at the end of its life cy­cle, noth­ing in­volves emo­tion like our re­la­tion­ship with our ve­hi­cles.

Per­haps it’s be­cause of the cost and sac­ri­fices we make to own and op­er­ate them or be­cause they rep­re­sent in­de­pen­dence and mo­bil­ity. But re­gard­less, all this emo­tion can cloud our de­ci­sion-mak­ing when it comes to part­ing with our beloved daily driver.

Many au­tomak­ers in­vest as much time and en­ergy in cre­at­ing and de­vel­op­ing an emo­tional bond be­tween their prod­ucts and their cus­tomers as they do in de­sign­ing and build­ing the ve­hi­cles them­selves. If you doubt this, con­sider the amount car­mak­ers spend on ad­ver­tis­ing each year com­pared to what they spend on re­search and de­vel­op­ment. While ev­ery auto man­u­fac­turer will sup­ply an end­less list of rea­sons why you should buy their prod­uct, few will help you de­cide when, and if, it’s time to leave your wheels by the curb and buy or lease some­thing new. Here is some ad­vice to help make that de­ci­sion eas­ier.

Time and dis­tance. Of all the auto ex­ec­u­tives I’ve met over al­most four decades, only one ever ad­mit­ted to the life­span for which they de­sign and build their ve­hi­cles. While no auto com­pany will ad­mit it, the use­ful life of the ma­jor­ity of main­stream, non-lux­ury ve­hi­cles is about 10 years and/or 250,000 kilo­me­tres. While many cars, light trucks and SUVs may ex­ceed that mark with­out ex­cep­tional re­pair or main­te­nance, a good per­cent­age are rel­e­gated to the junk­yard much sooner. A ve­hi­cle’s re­li­a­bil­ity takes a marked down­turn once these mile­stones are passed.

Does this mean we need to rush to the near­est deal­er­ship when the odome­ter clicks past that fateful mark? No, but it means it’s time cre­ate a suc­ces­sion plan. No mat­ter the many vari­ables when it comes to our re­la­tion­ships with cars, there’s one con­stant you can rely on: When you are forced to make a rushed de­ci­sion on pur­chas­ing or leas­ing a ve­hi­cle be­cause your cur­rent char­iot is dead in the drive­way, it will cost you more than if you planned ahead.

Ma­jor re­pair es­ti­mate. Ev­ery­one dreads this call. They’ve had the fam­ily car towed to the re­pair shop be­cause it failed to start/move/stop, and they get the es­ti­mate to over­haul/ re­pair/re­place some­thing big. A good rule of thumb in these cir­cum­stances is to re­view your op­tions of re­pair­ing or re­plac­ing your ve­hi­cle if a sin­glere­pair es­ti­mate ap­proaches or ex­ceeds its whole­sale value.

A quick In­ter­net tour of just about any used-ve­hi­cle sales web­site can pin­point this value. Just take the aver­age ask­ing price for the same ve­hi­cle in your area with iden­ti­cal equip­ment and mileage and sub­tract around $1,500 from a re­tailer’s ask­ing price to come up with a whole­sale value. A ve­hi­cle, un­less it’s a col­lec­tor clas­sic, is a de­pre­ci­at­ing as­set. Spend­ing its en­tire value in one re­pair won’t dou­ble its worth.

Don’t get stuck with an or­phan. The econ­omy isn’t al­ways kind to au­tomak­ers. As a re­sult, the mar­ket­place has a few of them miss­ing in ac­tion. Think Saab, Saturn, Suzuki and Dae­woo (the lat­ter two not dead, but no longer ac­tive in Canada or the United States).

It’s a myth that au­tomak­ers must guar­an­tee a sup­ply of parts and ser­vice sup­port for their prod­ucts for a cer­tain length of time. While re­source­ful types can scour the auto-re­cy­cling yards and af­ter­mar­ket sup­pli­ers to keep just about any­thing on the road, for the aver­age car owner with limited time on his or her hands, it may not be worth it.

The ab­sence of an ac­tive re­tail deal­er­ship chain doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you should start shop­ping now, but you should keep this in mind as age and mileage ac­cu­mu­late on your lit­tle or­phan auto.

Get some in­de­pen­dent ad­vice. Ask­ing a deal­er­ship if you should re­tire your ride is like ask­ing for an ex­tra side or­der of bias. But even in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops or na­tional af­ter­mar­ket ser­vice-cen­tre chains will have dif­fi­culty pro­vid­ing ac­cu­rate ad­vice un­less they’ve been ser­vic­ing your ve­hi­cle for a good part of its life.

If you have a reg­u­lar shop you trust, ask for an as­sess­ment of your ve­hi­cle and be pre­pared to pay for it. Most garages that ap­pre­ci­ate your busi­ness won’t charge an arm and leg for this, and it can save you un­nec­es­sary ex­penses and ma­jor headaches.

Take your time. If you are sud­denly faced with a se­nior ve­hi­cle in need of ma­jor life sup­port, don’t make a snap de­ci­sion. Beg or bor­row some wheels from fam­ily or friends, pick up a daily rental or take pub­lic tran­sit if avail­able. The cost of rent­ing a car for a few days while you re­search your op­tions can be mi­nor com­pared to the cost of mak­ing the wrong choice.

Junked cars at Toronto’s Hol­ly­wood North Auto Parts and Re­cy­cling.

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