Dear Car Talk:
I have a 1994 Geo Prizm that has been reliable for four years. It was in a wreck before I got the car, so it has no airbags and a cracked windshield.
I was told by a mechanic that I need to have the front axles replaced, which will be $788. I also know I should get my windshield replaced, which will probably cost around $200. Should I just get another car? -- Joy
Joy, your name stands in such stark contrast to your automotive circumstances. The answer is, yes, it's time to get another car -- and has been for a while.
The price for the axles sounds high to me -- unless it's for more than just axles. And the price for the windshield sounds low -- unless you plan to install it yourself with mucilage. But regardless, I'd be leery of putting any serious money into this particular car.
Let's say, just for the sake of argument, you put $1,000 into the axles and the windshield. You'll still be driving a 25-year-old wreck with no airbags.
At the absolute minimum -- with so many enormous SUVs on the road these days -- you should be driving a car with working air bags. And I'd prefer to see you in something a little more substantial than this Geo Prizm, too. Ideally, you'd also like to have antilock brakes and stability control, two very effective safety features.
I can tell you're a frugal person, Joy. And I admire that. But not when it compromises your safety. So I'm going to suggest you move up to something from at least the second Bush administration.
If you can get something that's 10 years newer, you'll be able to take a big leap in safety, and, if you choose carefully, reliability.
If you have a mechanic you trust, ask him to keep his eye out for something reliable that another customer is getting rid of. If he's worked on the car over the years, so much the better. He'll know exactly what's wrong with it, what needs to be fixed, and what you need to keep an eye on and be prepared to fix later.
Plus, you'll know your favorite mechanic can work on it. And you might get really lucky and get something with electric windows and a working radio, Joy. We hope so.