Recently, I wrote about my wife’s “new” car. After rolling over the sixth digit on the odometer a third time, it just seemed like it was a good idea to put her in a car with less than 320,000 miles on it. As well as I’ve maintained that car, it’s not impervious to the damages of time and long-term wear and tear. The engine is starting to show signs of being tired and the transmission seems to be showing the first vague hints of slipping. So, I went out and bought her the best used car I could get my hands on.

Of course, knowing me, I didn’t go out and buy a car in mint condition. Instead, I decided to save some money by buying a car with solid fundamentals (good engine, transmission, and body), and save some money by fixing minor problems myself. Even at 115,000 miles, the “new” car had more than its fair share of minor problems.

The goal was the get the car running as close to new as possible. As such, I’m starting with engine-related items. Due to lack of records on the car, the first item on my list if a full tune up, and I do mean full. I’ll be putting in a new timing belt and belt idlers. From there, I’ll be replacing spark plugs and wires, as well as the air and fuel filters, both accessory belts and all the hoses. Basically, every wear-and-tear item I can find is getting replaced with a new one. In addition to the parts, I’ll also be replacing all the fluids: engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and differential oil.

The work doesn’t stop under the hood. The car test drove OK for the most part, but it was noticeably loud. As the exhaust system looks recent, I don’t suspect it on the whole, but rather suspect a leaky gasket at the catalytic converter. As such, I’ll need to replace that, too.

Once the car is caught up on its general maintenance items, I’ll be turning towards overall ride quality. The car drove well on local roads, but reacted harshly to every bump on the highway. As such, I’ll be replacing all four struts and strut mounts, as well as ball joints, sway bar links and sway bar bushings. Also, as I spotted torn steering rack boots, I’ll be replacing those, too.

True, it’s a lot of work, and a lot of parts. But, as the car’s engine, transmission, and body are in overall good shape, it’s worth it if the end product mechanically approximates a new car, and still costs under book value.

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