That truck in the picture is a 1995 Dodge Ram, and it’s the only brand-new vehicle I’ve ever purchased. I bought it back in October 1994, and I still have it.
That it’s still in my driveway is a combination of a few factors. For one thing, I utterly despise selling a vehicle, to the point that I’d rather trade it in to the dealer and take a bath on the value, than tolerate the insufferable stream of tire-kickers and bargain hunters who show up to a private sale.
And I really like not having to make a car payment every month, especially since I really don’t drive my truck all that much. I’m usually in a test car, assessing it over a week for a review, and so my truck sits around a lot.
I need a personal vehicle—I have to drive to the manufacturers to get the test cars—but I can’t justify payments and insurance on a newer vehicle that’s also going to simply sit in the driveway most of the time.
But that doesn’t mean my truck doesn’t regularly reach into my wallet, and I’m now looking at the big question many owners of older vehicles face: when do you stop putting money into your ride, and move on?
My Ram’s actually been pretty good over the years. It had relatively few issues in its first decade, most of them minor, save for a wonky air conditioning condenser (A/C has been the chronic issue for some time; we’re still trying to locate whatever tiny leak is the current problem, and after replacing a couple of components recently, I enjoyed a couple of weeks of cold air before returning to my regularly-scheduled program of the not-cold variety).
But just as the human body develops ailments as it ages, my truck is complaining more and more about its aches and pains. Into its second decade, it needed new calipers and brake lines, a water pump, and two lower ball joints. In the last two years, I’ve replaced the exhaust, added an upper ball joint, swapped out a leaking transmission pan, replaced the lower steering shaft, changed the heater core, and popped in a new EGR valve.
And even as I write this, it’s in the shop, having blown out a rear brake line on the way back from the grocery store the other day.
Only one of its repairs has ever exceeded what I’d pay to finance a new car for a month or two. And while most trucks its age are rusting away, mine is solid, thanks to an annual oil spray and a couple of repairs when blisters broke out above the wheel well.
But there will undoubtedly come a time when all the little repairs will pile up into combined major money, or, heaven forbid, despite all of my diligent maintenance, something major goes “clunk.”
I don’t think I’m near the tipping point yet. The tough part is knowing when I am, and knowing when it’s time to let it go. You can keep your dreams of flying cars, or engines that run on salt and Coca-Cola instead of petroleum.
My automotive fantasy? A Magic 8 Ball that lets me know the exact moment when I’ve started throwing good money after bad.