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The good news is... - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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The good news is... [Mar. 4th, 2008|04:03 pm]
John
... that I was right about the car. It needs new rings. However, the tech at Saturn seems to think that, at the mileage of the car (165+k), it wouldn't be enough to do rings and such; she said that it'd be time to go straight to a remanufactured engine. So, hey, I'm learning enough about car engines to figure some stuff out. I was right about my car needing engine work.

The bad news is, yesterday, it wouldn't start. Cranked like a sonofagun, but didn't cough, sputter, fire, or (obviously) turn over.

The worse news is, they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Everything tests just fine, it started on the first try for them, etc..

So now I'm stuck with the only thing more troublesome than "no car", and that's an untrustworthy one. I mean, with no car, I'd do some searches, make some calls, find a car I couldn't exactly afford, but whose loan payments wouldn't kill me, and I'd get a car. Now... well, now I'm not quite sure what to do, because I don't know when (or how often) my car will decide not to start.

I guess, first and foremost, it's time to stop reveling in having money, and start living by a tighter budget. (Not that I've been spending unwisely, but I've been feeling the pull of "I can buy stuff!".) I have to get my debt down to 0, ASAP.

Then... well, I don't know. Conventional wisdom says never put a remanufactured engine inside a car that old. It's not worth it.

That's because conventional wisdom keeps thinking of cars as salable assets. Put a (wild guess from the Saturn tech) $3500 remanufactured engine into a 1997 Saturn SL, you don't have a $3500 car to sell, so it's a net loss. You'd have been better off selling the Saturn, and using the $3500 (+ whatever you get for the Saturn) to buy a better car.

But you don't buy cars for resale; you buy them to use them. And just because a car is worth more at retail doesn't mean it's any better. If I spend $3500 + (a bit) to buy a used car, I'm risking having a car in much, much worse shape than the Saturn. If I spend $7000 on the used car, and the engine would have lasted as long as the used car does, I'm potentially losing money.

And all of this is complicated by the fact that I want to go back to school, and need a reliable car to consider doing that. I have the money right now to get a car loan and make payments, but I don't want to be making payments for three years.

Ah well... no point in worrying about this right this instant. But if anyone has any advice to offer, I wouldn't mind hearing it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: karenkay
2008-03-05 12:51 am (UTC)
Some cars are well known to last forever and be reliable, but I don't think Saturns are among them. I'd buy a new used car at this poin.

And, if you don't have AAA, you might think about getting it, because your car may strand you.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 01:14 am (UTC)
For a while, I'd heard Saturns were reliable, and mine's been pretty good to me. But now I'm hearing less flattering things about them (not *bad* things) and I'm wondering if it's exactly the kind of stuff I'm running into... the engines start breaking down after 10+ years.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2008-03-05 01:22 am (UTC)
My sister just got rid of a 10 year old Saturn. It was very reliable until it wasn't, and I think they had a similar decision to make.

My Volvo is 17 years old, and I expect it to last for another 100,000 miles. But--it's a Volvo.
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[User Picture]From: ztrooper
2008-03-18 06:24 pm (UTC)
Pretty much my experience.. 10-ish years, and the SL series engines start to go. Burning oil is common. Though, in the grand scheme of things, most cars are planned to last for 10-12 years, maybe 100-150k miles, unless it's a honda or toyota.

We got my car in the middle of 96. I sold it off for 875 dollars (based on a blue book value of 1200) in September of 2007, and it had been burning oil since probably mid to late 2006... it's got 145k miles on it. the new owner just feeds it a quart or three of oil once a month and will probably drive it till it dies. It's reliable.. it just burns oil.

However, I got my nissan in July 2007.. already put 15k miles on it. Other than it handles lousily in the snow, and only gets 30mpg avg instead of the 33 I was getting with the saturn, it's a great car.

Honestly, the new saturns in the 13-15k range? I think you can get more for your money elsewhere.
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[User Picture]From: decx09
2008-04-07 11:59 am (UTC)
I would agree on that. That's why my dad sold his Saturn SL lately and never missed it even though he treasured it when he had it. We ain't a fan of Saturn, that's why. In fairness to the buyer of my dad's car (Saturn SL), he need no worry 'coz dad just replaced the Saturn SL parts with all new.
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[User Picture]From: brooksmoses
2008-03-05 12:53 am (UTC)
I tend to be of the "fix the car" philosophy, personally, though one useful thing to do may be to have a mechanic pull the transmission pan and go through various other bits of it to see whether you're likely to need a new transmission or various other high-cost bits in the near future.

One thing to consider is that there is always some risk of unwillingly selling the car, to an insurance company if it gets totaled. Although, if that's a serious consideration, there is such a thing as "agreed value" insurance; I haven't actually looked into it, though.

Incidentally, I think you're using "turn over" differently from how I've always heard it used -- to me, it simply means that the engine crankshaft physically turns. Since "crank" means that the engine turns under the power of the starter, then that implies turning over. (One can also turn over an engine by physically hauling on the fan belt or such, so the inverse relation is not true.) There is a failure state where the starter doesn't "engage" (it's got a small gear on it, that connects to a big gear on the engine's flywheel when you're starting the engine, and disconnects when it's running); this is characterized by the started making a high-pitched whirring noise rather than the usual engine-cranking noise.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 01:11 am (UTC)
You're probably right about terminology; most people know better than I :-).

I'd always thought the engine turning over was the "vroom" at the end of the "rererererer", and if that happened, but then it died, it was "turning over but won't keep running". But, whatever was happening, nothing fired. I'd assumed it was a gas problem, since I wasn't even getting a sputter.

And thank you; that's a great idea about the transmission... it'd be awfully stupid to spend big bucks on a new engine when the tranny's due to die, and I wouldn't have thought of that... but I'm sure that the cost of a transmission inspection will be cheap compared to the panic I'd go through if I hadn't thought about it *before* making a decision :-).
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[User Picture]From: brooksmoses
2008-03-05 01:26 am (UTC)
The other options are for it to be an electrical problem (no spark) or an air problem (no oxygen). Assuming you didn't entirely flood the engine -- which seems unlikely, since flooded engines still tend to splutter -- that eliminates it being an air problem. Electrical problems aren't uncommon, though; the last time I had a car do something like that, the problem was that moisture had gotten into the distributor, and once it dried out, things were okay until the next time it got damp.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 02:42 am (UTC)
(Be warned: as long as you keep talking, I might keep doing so, if there's a chance I'll learn more. Feel free to tell me if I'm wrong about, or missing, something. And feel free not to get sucked into this :-).)

Nod. The car's been tuned recently, so with the cranking hard, I figured spark probably wasn't the issue (I did check my spark plug cables thinking, I dunno, maybe someone pulled them as a prank, or something.) If it cranked weakly, I'd suspect a low battery, but with no general problem starting until then, I'd kinda guessed spark wasn't a problem.

I hadn't thought of oxygen, because the engine was cold and hadn't shown problems when running hot.

But that last bit... yesterday was a very wet day. If moisture could have caused the problem, that might have been it. It would have had all night to dry out (and half of a sunny day, to boot). Is there any thing to do to fix that (or diagnose it)?
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 01:18 am (UTC)
Nod. That's what's got me nervous. I've heard of people talking about engine work and replacement casually, but I've also heard of nightmares. I don't know what to expect, or how to be prudent.
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[User Picture]From: kightp
2008-03-05 03:38 am (UTC)
I'm speaking only from second-hand knowledge here, which is to say, out of my ass. (-: But if my car-savvy friends are to be believed, it *used* to be a lot easier to overhaul and replace engines and other parts, because the major problems were generally mechanical, and the machined parts were big and sturdy and relatively easy to understand and deal with.

With all the electronics in modern automobiles, I'm told, the mechanical stuff sometimes gets short shrift, and becomes more complicated to troubleshoot and fix. So replacing is often the better option.

It's kind of like the old tubed TV sets we had when I was a kid - when those things got broken you called the TV repairman and had them fixed. With modern TVs, the fixing is more bother and expense than chucking the broken one and buying new.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 03:47 am (UTC)
Okay, but are you saying that you understand that it's better to replace *the engine* (instead of working on it piecemeal), or *the car*?
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[User Picture]From: kightp
2008-03-05 03:56 am (UTC)
The car. (-:
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[User Picture]From: wcg
2008-03-05 03:53 am (UTC)
What year Saturn is it John? I ask because since 2003 the Ions and some others have had an anti-theft system which disables the fuel injectors for 10 minutes if it doesn't sense the proper resistance in the key. This is supposed to prevent thieves from punching the ignition cylinder with a screwdriver and driving off with the car, but sometimes it causes a problem like you describe. Especially if the key or the car is cold.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 04:26 am (UTC)
Ah, the wonders of security...

No, this is a '97 SL, purchased in August of 1996. If she's on her way out, she's had a pretty good run.
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[User Picture]From: wcg
2008-03-05 04:33 am (UTC)
That's pre-lockout, though it still sounds to me as if you weren't getting either fuel or spark. If there was no code in the onboard computer I'd guess the fuel somehow got shut off for a while. Might be a loose electrical connector at the fuel pump.

In any case, with the bad rings I'd say trade it in and get something newer. Much as I loved the earlier Saturns, I wouldn't recommend anything they're selling new today. I think my next commuter scooter is going to be either a Honda Fit or Civic.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2008-03-05 05:18 am (UTC)
They said no code in the computer, and it sounded like they did whatever digging they could. (And with the prices they get to charge for service, I suppose that's a strong incentive.) I wonder if the idea of a loose connection to the fuel pump is worth mentioning to them. I'll find out, I suppose....

The Honda Fit has me pretty excited; if I end up deciding I have to have a new car, it's my top choice. Back when I thought I'd be pulling down decent money and living with kightp, I was all-but set to purchase one. But I'll probably end up scouting out used cars and hoping I can find a local, decent mechanic.
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[User Picture]From: ztrooper
2008-03-18 06:26 pm (UTC)
I looked at the Fit. It almost was the commuter car I bought, but I went with the Nissan Versa. Civics are also nice, but I found I would have had to pay a premium for the Honda name. For the same money, I could get a much better equipped Nissan, and still have the quality levels I wanted. (just my 2 cents)
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