Get another estimate

Dear Car Talk:

Should I repair or replace my 2004 BMW 325xi with fewer than 24,000 miles on it? It’s red and the body and exterior are in excellent condition. But the following repairs have been suggested:

–Replace the power steering reservoir, which is leaking, and flush the system

–Fix leak in rear differential cover

_Replace rear brakes (3mm, rotors, sensors)

–Replace original tires

–Four wheel alignment.

The estimated cost is $7,000. Should I sell it or do the repairs? I’m 75, and I did not get another estimate. – PD

RAY: The first thing you should do is lose the address of this repair shop, PD. That sounds, to me, like an outrageous amount of money for that work. I’ll give you an idea of what it would cost in our shop.

Replacing the power steering reservoir and flushing it out should cost a few hundred dollars. Replacing the differential seal should cost no more than $150. For a four-wheel alignment, let’s say another $150. The rear brakes, being generous, let’s say $700.

And for tires, even if you spent $250 per tire, which is what you’d pay for top-of-the-line performance tires, that’s $1,000. So let’s see. I get $2,300. Even if you went to the dealer, where they charge a premium, that repair order shouldn’t cost more than about $3,500.

So unless you left something out of your letter, the guys you went to are charging you at least double. That puts them in Nigerian Email Scam terrain. So the answer is, if you like the car, PD, and it still serves your needs, you should keep the car, and trade in your mechanic.

If you need help finding a better mechanic, go to That’s where our readers and listeners have shared the names of mechanics they like and trust. You can search by ZIP code and read the reviews. And then go get another estimate or two. I think that’ll make you feel a lot better, whatever you decide.

The best measure of a car’s useful life is mileage

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2003 Honda Element EX. I love the vehicle. It’s the best vehicle I’ve ever owned (and I have owned 17 cars total). My wife offered to buy me a new 2011 Element when I turned 40. At the time, I told her my 2003 Element was perfect. The interior has dog hair in the cracks, the dash is scratched from loads of lumber and pipes, it was the car we took on our first date – and it was paid for in full.

Honda stopped making the Element in 2011, and I now regret declining the offer. My 2003 Element has 197,000 miles on it. It runs well but burns and leaks oil, and the transmission is slipping. And in 3,000 miles I’m due for a major service. That service and some now necessary repairs will cost me about $4,000.

Or I could buy a 2008 Honda Element EX with only 37,000 miles that has some front-end damage for about $3,000. I think I can fix the 2008 for about $3,500. Should I keep and fix my trusted and beloved 2003 Element with all the problems I know well, or buy the younger, lower-miles Element and sell my current one, which is worth about $3,500 as is? Thanks. – Bill

RAY: Cars are not spouses, Bill. They don’t love you back. Nor do they keep your house. So when it comes to cars, we fully endorse trading for a younger model. Especially in your case. Despite our romantic notions, cars don’t get better with age. They wear out.

They have a useful life. And for a while, you can replace parts and keep them serviceable. But at some point, they start falling apart faster than you can put them back together. And at that point, the cost becomes prohibitive, even if the inconvenience doesn’t.

And the best measure of useful life? Mileage. It’s not perfect, because some people beat up their cars with stop-and-go traffic and potholes, and some people baby their cars on smooth highways. But generally speaking, a car with lower mileage will have more useful life than a car with higher mileage.

And in your case, it’s not even close. You’re talking 197,000 miles vs. 37,000 miles. That’s 160,000 fewer miles! Think of it this way: If you were sponsoring a life insurance policy with your own money, would you write one for a 90-year-old or a 20-year-old?

So absolutely grab the 2008 Element with 37,000 miles while you can. And you can either sell your 2003 Element for $3,500 (although with a slipping transmission, good luck), or you can keep it as a parts car. Keeping it as a parts car has a couple of advantages. You’ll still be able to sit in it, breathe in the old car smell and reminisce. And you can take your time transferring over all the old dog hair.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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