Dear Car Talk: I have a 1990 Ford Ranger with 110,000 miles on it. The chassis is thoroughly rusted – in fact, the charcoal canister tube rusted through and fell off. It leaks oil, burns oil and smells like coolant, which probably means that it has a cracked head. The shock absorbers are almost rusted through, and the truck makes noises when going over bumps (maybe the suspension is rusted through?). I do change the oil every 5,000 miles, but I add oil more often than that. I use it only to haul mulch, coal and wood, but it is my second vehicle, so it is important. It costs only $300 a year to insure, and I drive it fewer than 5,000 miles a year, so I don’t need to have it emissions-tested (thank goodness, because it stinks). I also don’t drive any farther from my home than my insurance’s towing package covers. I plan to drive it until it just gives up the ghost. What should I do to prolong its life? Are there any recommendations beyond praying? Should I be concerned about it catching on fire, since it leaks oil and really stinks? What about the gas lines, since they are rusted, too? Thanks. – Phil
A: You should pray that this thing catches fire, Phil.
I know you’re afraid to take it to a bona fide mechanic, because you know that the news is going to be awful. But if you want to keep this truck, that’s what you really need to do. You have to find out if this is still a viable, roadworthy vehicle. And I think we both know what the answer’s going to be.
At the very least, you need to make sure the brakes are not about to fail, the wheels aren’t about to fall off, the frame isn’t held together by dust and the engine isn’t about to do its impersonation of the Burning Man finale.
Seriously, it’s not just that the truck could disintegrate around you if you hit something, leaving your face as the bumper. You also could be – and probably are – a danger to all the other drivers on the road, because if your brakes fail or a wheel falls off, you could take other people with you.
So my suggestion is that you thank this truck for its many years of service, say a Hail Mary over it, and drop it off at the junkyard. And instead, buy a used trailer. You say you have another vehicle; if it has any kind of decent towing capacity at all, you can put a trailer hitch on it, buy an old trailer and use it to haul your wood, coal and mulch. Or rent or borrow a truck for the times you actually need to haul stuff.
But this truck sounds like a danger to you and others. Rather than haul mulch, I think it’s ready to become mulch.
Of course, I know you’re going to ignore my advice, Phil. I’ve known determined cheapskates like you – Exhibit A was my late brother. So when you do ignore my advice, at least wear sneakers when you drive so that when it catches fire, you can run.
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