Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2005 Dodge Stratus with about 95,000 miles. As it gets close to 100,000 miles, I'm wondering what maintenance is recommended and about what it all will cost? (I don't think that there are any particular problems.) I had the oil changed yesterday and asked these questions at the dealership, but the answers were vague and didn't inspire my trust.
The man I spoke to listed a few things, including a transmission flush, and said I should expect to pay $600-$1,000 for routine maintenance at 100,000 miles. I want to do what needs to be done to keep the car running well for as long as possible, and I want to get ahead of any problems. But I am clueless. I don't want to do unnecessary things, and I don't want to overpay. Many thanks! -- Molly
Because this car is now of bar mitzvah age, I'd recommend that you do what we call the "Blue Plate Special." That's a service we provide for customers who are thinking about buying a used car. They bring the car to us, and we'll spend a couple of hours going over it from stem to stern. We'll test everything, from the headlights to the tailpipe. We'll check the engine compression, the emissions, the suspension, the brakes, the exhaust. We'll look for leaks, cracks, fungus, even ingrown toenails -- though we've yet to find one of those on a Dodge Stratus.
Then we'll give the customer a complete report on the car. We'll start out by reporting any "terminal conditions." If there's a serious engine problem, the transmission is slipping or there's coolant in the oil, that's often a sign to abandon the car and move on to something else.
But if the car is basically roadworthy, we'll tell the customer what needs to be fixed right now, what likely will need repair in the next six months or a year and what we can predict down the road.
So you should get yourself a Blue Plate Special. Find out if the car is basically sound enough to invest in, going forward.
If it is, find out if there are any safety issues, like bad ball joints or steering issues. There certainly could be safety-related repairs due at 100,000 miles, and those things would need to be addressed right away.
Then find out what needs to be done in addition to the recommended fluid and filter changes. For instance, if you haven't done it already, you're probably due for a timing belt and water pump for $500.
Once you have that information, you'll be able to make an informed decision as to how much money it's going to take to keep this car going, over what period of time, and whether you want to stay in this relationship or bail.
To find someone to do the Blue Plate Special, I'd suggest going to www.mechanicsfiles.com. That's a database of mechanics that our readers and listeners have personally recommended. Put in your ZIP code and see if there's a highly rated independent mechanic near you. That'll almost certainly save you some money, as opposed to the dealer.
And at 100,000 miles, don't be surprised if you have to put $1,000 into maintenance. So brace yourself, Molly. Hey, it's a small price to pay for the luxury of an '05 Dodge Stratus, right?