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Ask Joanne

When should I cut my car repair losses? Add to ...

I have a 2005 Toyota Sienna with 160,000 km which I bought new. Now that it’s out of warranty, it seems like a lot of expensive systems are failing – I have replaced the transmission, replaced motorized sliding door motor and now the other side is broken. I have just been told I need a new rear-differential. I generally believe that it is less expensive to repair an old car than to buy a new one. But how do I identify a dud? I keep hoping I just have to fix this “one last thing,” but then the next thing pops up. At what point do I cut my losses? – Ken in Toronto

Toyota Motor Co. was a pioneer in quality control: it received Japan’s top award for quality control management in 1965. Toyota’s reputation spread to North America with sales of its high-quality compacts in the 1970s and 1980s, and the rest – with production of more than one hundred million vehicles to date – is automotive history.

The reviews tell us that the 2005 Sienna is generally a safe and reliable vehicle. This is augmented by the fact that the Sienna’s resale value is holding well, and many of that year’s model are still on the road today.

So, given all the positive reviews and accolades, have you just been unlucky? The vehicles you refer to as “duds” are also commonly dubbed “lemons” or “Friday afternoon cars.” This last phrase suggests that workers aren’t as dedicated at the end of the week, resulting in cars that are substandard. Further speculation invokes the “law” of averages: if a million vehicles of a certain model are produced, the odds are that at least one of those vehicles won’t turn out as well as the rest.

What does a veteran with 33 years experience in the automotive industry have to say about “duds?”

“Some vehicles have more problems than others, some are built better than others, but is there a dud on the market? No, I don’t really believe in duds,” says Mike Salkus, owner of Speedy Auto Service in Victoria.

“The government regulates a lot of the features and how new cars are built, and the quality controls by manufacturers on vehicles these days are as stringent as it gets. It would be pretty hard to identify a vehicle as a ‘dud’ when there are a whole lot of other things which come into play – such as how the vehicle is serviced and maintained, and whether you’ve done the recommended maintenance.”

Vehicle breakdowns and malfunctions can also be the result of the way a vehicle has been driven, the environment and road conditions it’s endured, or simply the number of kilometres on it.

No automobile, however, is built to last forever. Each component is designed to fulfill a function only so many times, whether it’s the opening of a door handle, or the press of a starter switch.

Whatever the reason for your issues, the bottom line is you’ve spent a lot on repairs, and you’re trying to decide what to do next. You could cut your losses and get rid of the vehicle now, or roll the dice again on “one last repair” and win – or dig a deeper hole. My advice is to stop digging.

“The rule of thumb is that if the repairs are worth more than the value of the vehicle, it’s time to get rid of it,” says Salkus. “You probably won’t be able to sell it in a private sale when the repairs exceed the value of the vehicle, but what I recommend to customers is that there is always someone willing to give you some value on a trade-in.”

I contacted Toyota Canada to get its comment on your situation. At the time of writing it has made no comment, but has indicated its intention to contact you directly.

My advice? You’ve had seven years and 160,000 kilometres from your vehicle, and at the moment (knock on wood) it’s still running. Kelley Blue Book still lists good trade-in values for the 2005 Sienna, so now sounds like a good time to trade it in, and perhaps, on a newer model.

The 2011 Sienna earned a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If you can wait until the 2012 models appear in September, there may be a deal on a 2011 model awaiting you. Should you opt for a new vehicle, though, don’t forget to consider an extended warranty.

E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com


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