, Gloucester, MA

January 1, 2013

Hard choice: New transmission or new car?

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Larry Rubenstein

---- — Q: I have a friend who owns a 2002 Mercury Sable station wagon with 130,000 miles. She has been told she needs to replace the transmission. A friend of hers, who is a mechanic, confirmed that this was the case.

She was recently divorced, has four children and is trying to sell her home and downsize to cut down on expenses. Her job, as a social worker, requires that she drive during the day. She was told that it would probably be $1,500 to $2,000 to replace with a rebuilt transmission. She can’t afford this but will need to do something. She asked me if, based on the age and mileage of the car, it would be better to look for another vehicle.

She doesn’t know of anything else that is wrong with the car. My initial thought is that a decent replacement vehicle would cost a minimum of $5,000 and you don’t know what may be wrong with that replacement vehicle. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on whether she should fix her current vehicle or look for a replacement. If you believe she should replace it do you have anyone you could recommend that might have decent used cars for sale?

A: Research on this vehicle shows it to be worth around $4,000 in a private sale. With the Sable, she knows what she has concerning brakes, engine, body, chassis and steering. Buying a used car for $5,000 could end up being a car with even more problems. If the $2,000 needed to replace the transmission is not in the budget, a credit card specific for this repair may be the way to go. Some of the larger transmission shops may even have a credit card application at the sales counter. Also, I recommend a second opinion on the need for a transmission. Before she decides to go ahead with the transmission repair, I suggest she have the car checked out from bumper to bumper for any other near-future needs. With all this information, she will be able to make the most intelligent decision. If it turns out that repair is not the best option, and a different car is in her future, then I would advise the used car be checked over by an independent repair shop before a purchase is made. Some used-car dealerships also offer warranties on the cars they sell. In short, I guess I want to say look before you leap into either repair.

Car Care Tip: Last year our region had no snow for most of the winter, and this winter is starting to look the same way. We still need to stay sharp when driving on wet, cold roads, as last week I witnessed three spin-outs off the highway when driving north of Boston. Always use caution. From my family to yours, happy New Year!


Larry Rubenstein is a master technician who owns a North Shore service station. Write to Larry at The Salem News, c/o Auto Scanner, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915, or send an email to