Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a 2000 Mercury Mountaineer with 178,000 miles. I have a wife who also has many miles on her. I love my car, even with all its dents and its worn interior. It runs great and gets 16 mpg. My wife hates it. She says that it drives like a truck (it is a truck) and that she is embarrassed to be seen in it. I have customized it to be towed behind our RV. It is great for hauling stuff, which I seem to do on a regular basis. It was paid for many years ago. Why should I buy a new car when the current one works perfectly fine? She says that it will break down any day and then I will be forced to buy a new car. How do I handle this marital/auto problem? — Howard
Tom: Gee, Howard. I would have thought your wife would see your devotion to this old, ugly heap as a source of great comfort.
Ray: Right. Now she knows she's not married to the kind of shallow guy who would dump an old car — or an old wife — just because it's seen better days. And is in need of some body work. But I guess she's not choosing to see it that way.
Tom: I sympathize with you, Howard. You've got a perfectly good car that serves your needs. Why add a car payment to your life when you don't have to?
Ray: On the other hand, your wife hates this car and is embarrassed to be seen in it. And when she's not happy, nobody's happy, right?
Tom: So here's my suggestion. First, have the car thoroughly inspected by a good mechanic, and find out what kind of shape it's really in. If the compression is low and it's burning oil, and the transmission fluid is black, then you'll know its days are numbered, and you can be gracious and tell your wife that if it makes her happy, you'll start planning for a new car.
Ray: But if the Mountaineer is in good shape overall, then consider an inexpensive paint job and some interior detailing.
Tom: It may just be that if the truck were one color again and the inside stopped smelling like manure, she might be more inclined to put up with this truck for another couple of years. Ask her.
Ray: But in either case, you'd be wise to start a new-car savings fund right away. With 178,000 miles on it, it might not be ready for the boneyard yet, but it's circling for a landing.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)