As a car ages, it’s wise to give it a once-over

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, 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

RAY: 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.

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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 mechanic near you.

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?

Ray’s picks for the essential safety options

Dear Car Talk:

I am not very interested in cars, although I enjoy your column every week (it’s always funny). I have a 5-year-old Hyundai Sonata. Given all of the recent improvements in safety technology that you regularly highlight in your column, do you have a recommendation for a new or relatively new used car that has all of the updated safety technology at a reasonable price? Make and model don’t matter very much to me. Thanks. – Steve

RAY: It’s still a little early to see the best modern safety features on used cars. You might find a demo or a car returned from a short lease, but this stuff just hasn’t been in circulation very long yet.

Fortunately, the technology is increasingly available (at least as options) on modestly priced cars. If you Google “IIHS Top Safety Picks,” you’ll find this year’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s list of cars that have the good stuff.

For instance, on the list, you’ll find certain versions of the 2018 Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Prius, and the new Hyundai Sonata, by the way.

If possible, you want what they call a “Top Safety Pick Plus,” which is the IIHS’s top rating for overall active and passive safety.

Whether you look for a new or used car, you want to make absolutely certain that you get the following equipment:

  • Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking (both city and highway speed)
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Lane departure warning

We also recommend the optional butt scratcher, but if you have to give up something to afford the safety stuff, you can pass on that and do it manually.

Good luck, Steve.

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