A reader named Nicholas emailed me on Monday asking for advice on which of his five dilapidated vehicles he should keep, and which he should sell. The vehicles are: Isuzu Rodeo, Ford F-150, Chevy Cavalier, Toyota Camry, and Ford Ranger. Let’s see what shape these cars are in, and give Nicholas some level-headed Jalop-advice, shall we?
Am I the right person to be asking about fleet management? Given that my fleet of 12 cars has gotten so out-of-hand that the city has had to step in, you might think the answer is a firm “no.”
And maybe you’re right, but you could also argue that I’m a bit of an expert on automobile hoarding, given that I’ve covered two of the most prolific hoarders in the state of Michigan, and that I’ve become one myself (This was done purely for research purposes, of course).
I know all the symptoms of car-hoarder-itus, and I think I know the remedies, though admittedly I’m still in the process of brewing the final elixirs (pre-clinical trial samples have consisted primarily of automatic transmission fluid, straight 30-weight motor oil, and CV axle grease, in case you were curious), as I haven’t yet brought my fleet into compliance.
Still, even if I haven’t cracked it yet, I’m still always willing to dish out advice. So, Nicholas, close your eyes, put your feet up on the couch, and tell me what ails you:
My dearest david tracy,
I live in St Paul minnesota, at the top of a hill, with an alley that never gets plowed, additionally I go to work as an arborist in all weather conditions.
I have 5 vehicles that fill a variety of needs and all have their own quirks and charms. And they’re all as rusty as anything you own.
I need to trim them down to 3-4 because
1) my wife would appreciate it
2) it would make winter parking easier
3) having fewer vehicles to work on would give me more time and money to allot to each one.
These are some important issues, here. Nobody likes struggling to park at their own home, nobody enjoys neglecting their vehicular children in favor of others, and number one in the list is obviously the biggest one. You definitely want to be on your spouse’s good side, since, theoretically, you two plan to hang out quite often, I suspect.
Anyway, let’s talk through what’s causing these issues. Again, relax, keep your feet on the couch, and let it all out, Nicholas:
In ascending order of weight we have
1) 2005 chevy cavalier 2 dr 160k miles
This car came along right when we needed it, it had good tires, a new battery and it’s started right up every time I put the key in it for 2 years. It did not come with.a front bumper.
Needs: tires, and to be safari’d and to have a much easier engine to work on. I have sworn that if the alternator ever goes out I will sell it to the first person to come along.
Do go on, Nicholas. What else do you have?:
2) 2001 toyota camry 2.2l 230k miles
I love the xv20, you can buy the most abused specimen around, change all of the filters and fluids and get another 50k miles out of it.
Needs: a little more pep(I suspect the fuel filter is restricted) and some winter tires. Soon a new alternator.
Got any trucks? Oh, you do?
3) 2002 ford ranger 4.0 4x4 200k miles
I bought this last winter from a friend. It needed alot, and I’ve given it everything it’s asked for thinking it would make a good daily driver for my wife.
Needs: a new thermostat housing. The oem one delaminated and is spraying coolant all over the engine. Intermittent long crank.
Oh, there’s another Ford Truck?
5) 1995 ford f-150 xlt 4.9 4x4 150k miles
I love/hate this truck. It’s a regular cab long box automatic. it slid into a tree on the passenger side at one point and the door doesn’t seal, the sheet metal is rusted through all over, there is expanded foam under the driver seat that is uhm.... Structural. Only one gas tank works, and in the winter it will only start with 3-5 shots of ether. I love this style of truck. I hate this one.
Needs: a better mechanic.
What about SUVs?
4) 1995 Isuzu rodeo ls 3.2 4x4
I bought this years ago for $200 and have limped it along ever since. It starts right up and is a profound pain in the ass to work on. It gets 12 mpg and has no OBD2 port and is unstoppable in the snow.
Needs: tires, exhaust from the cat back, new ps rear brake caliper, various holes patched, ps CV boot replaced, moon roof gets stuck open sometimes, leaks a little water from the moon roof.
Okay, so clearly, you’ve got a pretty bad case of shitbox-itus, but before I tell you what I’d do, I want to know what you think you should do. Go on, let it all out:
1) cavalier. Sell it now while it’s worth anything. Buy a toyota solara, similar power, similar wheelbase, safari the crap out of it.
2) camry. do nothing. It’s imperfectly perfect. Keeps my wife on the road
3) ranger. Make peace with the complete lack of wrenching space in the engine bay.
4) rodeo. I have no clue. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s awful, it’s great, I’m uncomfortable selling to anyone but a wrencher or a scrapper. I’d consider keeping it. I love this shitbox, it’s Soo bad.
5) f 150. Strip it, keep my eyes peeled for a 96 with the 4.9 and a stick, enjoy the magical powers of the OBD2.
I’m going to address these points one-by-one, starting with the Cavalier, a vehicle with a hood being held down by a ratchet strap (Nicholas: “The hood latch works and does hold the hood shut, but it does vibrate slightly at higher speeds, which makes me uncomfortable. Hence the strap.”)—a malady that you somehow forgot to mention in your list.
Nicholas, if you’re going to get past all of this, you’re going to have to be honest with yourself about these cars. This Cavalier clearly has more issues than just a missing bumper and bad tires. Is that a dent in the rear quarter panel? What’s going on with the front of that hood? Clearly the passenger’s side headlight isn’t on right, and there’s no grille, and while these are likely a consequence of not having a bumper, let’s just be real: This thing’s a total shitbox. You know this, of course.
You’re totally right in your realization that you should get rid of it. I don’t suspect you’ll get much for it, though.
As proud of you as I was when you said you thought you should ditch the Cavalier, I have to say that what you said next made literally no sense: “Buy a toyota solara, similar power, similar wheelbase, safari the crap out of it.”
How does this solve your problem, Nicholas? You have too many cars. You’re trying to get rid of some. So you’re going to ditch the reliable Cavalier for perhaps the most “Meh” car in history.
Get rid of the Cavalier. Don’t buy the Solara. Get that thought out of your head. (Though I have to say, I like where you’re at with the “safari the crap out of it” idea).
Even though that Cavalier might be reliable, and you might not get much for it, I still think you should ditch it, and the primary reason why I say this is that you’ve got an XV20-generation Toyota Camry. It’s one of the most reliable cars of the modern era, and swapping its alternator should be no big deal. I think you and I are on the same page, here.
The Ranger, also, looks great. It’s got the 4.0-liter V6, which is a good motor, and honestly, the body on this thing looks nice in the picture. It’s your most “like-new” automobile, aesthetically speaking. Not that that matters. It might matter to your neighbors, but who cares what they think.
Initially, I thought you should hold onto the F-150, because it’s equipped with the unstoppable 300 inline-six. But given that you’ve got that nice Ranger pickup, and given that the F-150 is so rusty, I say just let it go.
I don’t know about “Strip it, keep my eyes peeled for a 96 with the 4.9 and a stick, enjoy the magical powers of the OBD2.” Do you really want to strip this truck down? What’s the point? Even a ‘96 with the 300 inline-six and five-speed isn’t going to cost a ton of money. Plus, you’re trying to reduce your car count.
If you sell one, and buy another, there’s no net loss! I even checked this with my Ti-89 calculator to be sure!
Keep the Rodeo. You bought it for $200, so throwing a bit more cash into it isn’t the end of the world. But more importantly, you clearly like this thing.
It’s not a logical choice to keep the vehicle that needs significant exhaust work, a rear caliper, rust holes patched up, a CV boot swapped, and so many other repairs, but if you’re not driving cars that you love, are you even driving? Clearly not.
Keep this Rodeo. It’s awesome, and you know it.
So what have I told you here? Not much. I’ve pretty much told you what you already know: You should ditch the Cavalier and F-150, and keep the rest. I can’t stop you from buying a Solara or a nicer F-150 with a five-speed (of the two, get the truck), but remember that, as far as fleet reduction goes, selling a car and then buying one yields no change.
It took me a while, and lots of soul-searching and math tutoring to realize this, but I’m happy to impart this wisdom to you.