When to keep and when to scrap a car

My 10 year old Hyundai Santa Fe was running along just fine at 100,000 miles when the timing belt shredded. The engine is apparently a complete loss. I’ve already spent $800 to an overpriced mechanic to be told this.

The car’s blue book if running is only about $3000 (though on Carmax and other used sites they sell for a lot more). Currently it’s worthless. It would cost at least $2500 to get a new engine installed, which added to the money I’ve already spent would make it over blue book. Once installed, there’s always the chance that its timing belt will go or something else will break down.

OTOH AC and transmission and everything were working perfectly in the car before it died. And to scrap the car would only bring me about $350-$400- the tires and battery are damned near worth that.

I’m not able to buy a new car or anything close to at the moment. I can spend in the $3000-$4000 range.

Sorry- more venting than opinion asking. Here’s the opinion asking:

Any rule of thumb over when you should scrap a vehicle vs. repair it?

My rule of thumb is, repair it when the cost to repair is less than what it would cost to replace.

Yeah, you may end up paying more than the car is worth in resale, but if you get a good reliable car out of it that would be better than what you would get if you spent the same money on buying a replacement, then it’s a good deal.

I once had a mechanic quote me about $300 to install a new engine, and a junkyard engine was about a grand. However how reliable would that be, I don’t know. A rebuilt engine was slightly more, I can’t remember the price.

I’d say junk it. But you’d assume it would be worth more than $400 bucks. I’ve had to buy car parts from junked cars and they aren’t cheap. I spent about $80 on an AC compressor, about $60 on a drivers side mirror, bumpers are at least a grand.

Who is only offering $400 for the junked car? You should (I’d assume) get over a grand in parts on places like ebay if you took it apart piece by piece.

Also consider the cost of buying another used car. First, you have to pay for it. Then you must pay registration or transfer fees as well as sales tax. If you like tinted windows or whatever, you have to pay for it.

All used cars have some issue or have something that surprises you after purchase. You pay for those surprises.

If, other than a pistons-met-valves engine, your Sante Fe is truly in excellent condition, it might be worth finding a salvaged engine and having it installed. Another 4 or 5 years of life out of your car would be cheaper than replacing the whole car.

To my knowledge that’s all it is.

Could somebody more mechanically inclined than I am (which is pretty much anybody) tell me if there’s any way to determine the condition of a salvaged engine? Or a maximum number of miles you should consider? Or if you can tell if the timing belt is in danger of fraying?
(And an unrelated word of advice: never use a business with Christian in its name until you’ve determined it’s the owner’s surname.)

The trouble is, sometimes those costs come severally in quick succession - what’s your rule of thumb regarding frequency of these costs?

If you replace the engine, you’d surely replace the timing belt - to do otherwise would be foolish. And while I’m not expert, I was under the impression that timing belts or chains are not readily visible and do not get inspected. There’s a recommended replacement period based on mileage.

Are you familiar with Car Talk’s Mechanics Files? People can go there and recommend good mechanics by area. You might find one there who can give you straight, honest answers. Come to think of it, you might find the answers to your questions somewhere on the site - I know they’ve addressed timing belts/chains in the past.

We had an Aerostar van for 235K miles. I was meticulous about regular servicing, and for a while, our rule of thumb was that once a repair cost more than 2 or 3 car payments, we’d give serious consideration to dumping the vehicle. In the last few months we owned it, we decided that if the transmission went, so would the van. As it happened, I sold it to a coworker for $600 and he gave it to his daughter who lived out of state. I have no idea what became of it at that point, but for all I know, it’s still running.

Years ago, we scrapped a Jetta when it literally fell apart in a parking lot. The CV joint self-destructed. In reality, we probably should have put the money into it because it was a pretty good car, but at that stage, we didn’t want to deal with it and we were able to afford a new car. So from our experience, cash on hand or willingness to take on a loan determined the car’s fate.

Others are giving some good advice, to which I would add:

Forget the $800 you already spent, for the purpose of your decision making analysis. It’s irrelevant. In the simplest analysis you can spend $2500 on a new engine and wind up with a car worth $3000, so it’s worth it. However, it is near the borderline, so it would be reasonable to scrap it if you have other incentives to scrap it.

If you place a value on the reliability of the car, does this change things? When my car dies, all kinds of other things in my life go wrong, and I don’t have people who can easily lend me their car or carpool with me, so I place a big price on reliability. But I can imagine not being too badly inconvenienced, in which case reliability would only be worth a small price.

If you look at where you are financially now, is it a good time for a change or a bad time? If you spend $4000 and you’re set for a while, it might be good. If you are taken care of by spending $2500 and you don’t want to bust the bank now, that argues for fixing.

Finally, I assume roughly that cars are worth keeping for about ten years. But I also think it’s a rough guide. Again, like you posted about, you’re near the borderline. One thing nice about that is you really can’t go wrong in either direction.

I’d normally agree with stui magpie and even go a little further that it’s worth even paying a little bit more to fix what you’ve got than buying a theoretically “equivalent” used car because yours will end up being more of a known commodity.

The only thing that gives me a little bit of pause is that this is an '04 or '03 Hyundai? That’s just a little bit before Hyundai got the worst of its problems sorted out. I don’t think the Santa Fe was ever terrible, but I still might be a little bit wary of sinking too much money into it, especially since it’s probably not quite done depreciating. Still, I think if you like the car otherwise and plan on keeping it for a few more years, I wouldn’t hesitate to re-power it.

The junkyard you buy the engine from will have done a compression test on it which should tell you that at least the rings and valves are in okay shape. Some yards will give a 15 day warranty or something like that in case it does immediately blow up, although you may still be out the labor. With mileage, it’s generally a good idea to get an engine that’s close to the mileage of the rest of the vehicle.

There isn’t really a good way to inspect the timing belt, so unless there’s some clear evidence that it was recently replaced, it should be done before they put the engine in. Luckily, it’s much easier to do with the engine out and the coolant already drained, so it shouldn’t cost as much as it would normally.

My one other bit of advice is to definitely shop around and get some quotes on this job. There are some shops that are really good at changing engines and will be able to save you a bundle in labor. They may also have the inside line on the local junkyards and be able to get you a better deal there.

Good luck!

A quick internet search (Ggl) tells me the manual states that the belt (and other items) SHOULD have been replaced at 60,000 miles.
This reveals that the scheduled maintenance wasn’t done on your car.
This GREATLY lowers the expectation of reliability and value of your car.
Sell it for whatever you can get, buy another car and start saving ASAP for a better car (and/or for repairs of the car you buy).

Yes, you can sell the parts for more than you can sell the whole car - in theory.
You need:
somewhere to park the car, pics and descriptions of ALL the parts, tools (and knowledge) to remove the parts, time to deal with a lot of questions about the parts, cost of shipping some big and some heavy parts, and then you need a way to get rid of what’s left of the car.

Here’s how I suggest looking at this:

While it’s good to be mindful of the book value of the car, that’s really only important if you were to turn around and sell it after fixing it. What really matters is the car’s value to you as transportation, compared to the transportation value of a replacement vehicle.

You can spend $X and you will have your car, fixed. Alternatively you can spend $X plus whatever (if anything) you can get for your car, and buy a replacement. Which car would you rather have?

In this case you can also factor in spending more than $X (which your figures suggest is possible) with the idea of upgrading to something better. Would you be happier with the result if you go that route?

Generally the way to do this is to be picky about where it is bought. In a metro area with dozens of salvage yards, there is only one I buy used engines from. I’ve been dealing with them for decades, and I know I can trust them to provide a good product (with a guarantee, as no system is 100% foolproof). Unfortunately this is not true for every salvage yard.

With some minor disassembly, the timing belt can be visually inspected, but this is not often helpful. It can usually be determined if the belt is close to new (<10K miles) or if it’s in obviously questionable shape, but 80+% of the time it just looks somewhere in between, with no way of knowing how close it is to needing replacement. To really tell something, the belt has to be removed for close inspection of its teeth – at which point most of the cost of replacement has been incurred and it would be foolish not to put a new one on.

I have long been amazed at those who believe that claiming to be Christian is an indication of being honorable. There are plenty of fine Christians who are honorable, but often the ones who trumpet their Christianity the loudest are the ones to be most wary of.

Can we take a step back for a sec? When the T-belt pops and the pistons smack the valves, how likely is it the pistons actually got damaged? Isn’t it just as likely the vales got bent or unseated, and all that’s really needed is to get the head overhauled?

I don’t recall ever hearing of a case where the pistons needed to be replaced. They may get some little dents in them, but the real damage is bent valves. Like you, I would assume cylinder head repair would take care of this.

I assume you ask because the OP related that the engine needed to be replaced. Why he was told this, or why it cost $800 to figure it out, is unclear. The last line in post #5 raises questions about the shop’s trustworthiness.

Ok, that’s what I thought.

Still, a Santa Fe is a V6 so will have 2 heads to remove, inspect, and overhaul at like $1,000 each ya? Even a DIY job with free labor (or a 12-pack of Blackened Voodoo) in the driveway will be close to $2,500-$3k (water pump, head gaskets, etc.) once it’s buttoned up. But then you’d have a fresh engine of known provenance as opposed to a $3,000 unknown out of a wrecked car. NADA books a 2004 Santa Fe at between $5500 - $6500. Alternatively, $3,000 can get you back on the road in … something somebody else wants to sell.

Sampiro, how well do you know your neighbors. :wink:

Look at Craigslist and see what you can find for no more than $3,000 to $4,000 or so (your buying limit). Do you see anything better than a 10 year old Hyundai with 100,000 miles? If so check it out. If not probably fix your Hyundai.

Only thing I would add to what others have posted is that all else being equal a car with a new (rebuilt) engine is worth more than an otherwise identical car with 100K on the engine. So your car with a rebuilt engine is a better deal for the same price than a used car you would buy from a dealer with the same mileage.

That would be an incorrect assumption. The markup on used car parts is very big, probably because the likelihood of selling any particular part is pretty low. So if you actually try to buy these parts they might sell for what you suggest (although you can get them for less too) but no one can buy a car assuming he’s going to sell all these parts at these prices.

There are online junk car buyers, who are generally really just agents for local purchasers. I had a very positive experience with an outfit called peddle.com.

Having recently done this, I can confirm that this is true. I took apart a car, sold the shell for about $275, and sold a bunch of parts on eBay. Proceeds so far (net of shipping and 15% eBay/Paypal charges) are about $550, for a total of $825. Plus there are some parts that I’ve used myself in other cars.

The downside is that it’s a lot of work, taking apart the car, creating the eBay listings, and then shipping out the stuff, and in addition you need to keep a lot of car parts lying around your garage for quite some time. I myself thought it was a cool thing to do as a lark, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was strictly in it for the money.

Hmm, not sure I totally agree with this. One of the big drawbacks of putting a new engine in a car is that it doesn’t affect the book value of the car at all. In practice it MIGHT have a very small effect on the value if you’re trying to sell it to a private party.

Unless the OP is planning to put at least another 100k on this car, a similar-mileage used engine (or a used car) is going to be the way to go.

That might be true. I didn’t mean “worth more” as in “has a higher book value” but “worth more” as in “worth more to you”.

I’m not sure why a rebuilt engine wouldn’t impact the book value - possibly because after a while a lot of other things go anyway - but the engine is a pretty big component of a car, and having 100K of more life on the engine should be worth a lot. It would be to me, anyway.

I don’t know if I would agree about a similar-mileage used engine. There’s a pretty big cost for labor in installing an engine, and putting one in that has a significantly decreased expected lifespan doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources to me.

The thing is that these days it’s the whole car that wears out, not the engine. So long as you don’t abuse it (like by not changing your timing belt) the engine will last longer than the car will. A 200k car with a 100k engine is still going to feel worn out.

I agree try to go for a lower mileage engine if it’s doesn’t cost more, but realistically it’s not adding any appreciable value or extend the life of the car by any great margin.

Friends of ours were in this same boat a couple years ago - an older car, needed a new engine; the cost of the engine was enough for a down payment on a new car. Their logic was: would that same money (3 grand or whatever) buy them an equivalent or better car? Not outright, but it would have been a down payment - at which point they would have a new(er) car and a car payment.

They opted to spend the money on the older car. It gave them some additional trouble, as I recall, but it settled down some after that.

A financial columnist I read regularly has said numerous times about cars: “Buy used, and keep it until you have your mechanic on speed dial”. But you have to weigh the peace of mind factor as part of the “expense” in keeping up an older car.

I would probably have made a different decision than our friends did. Hell, I did so - when my 10 year old Caravan developed random electrical problems that never seemed to be fixed (new battery, new alternator, new starter…). When I called the shop on my cell phone as I’d just barely managed to coax it into starting, and didn’t have to look the number up first, I started new-car shopping that weekend.