Many times we are asked to assess a vehicle from the aspect of “should I fix it or should I get rid of it?”. Unfortunately this assessment costs money and a very accurate assessment may require spending more money than the customer wants to spend.
It is a lot easier to give a good and accurate assessment of a vehicle that you have serviced most of its life. When you have history it is a lot easier to make predictions on the service life of certain components.
Worst case scenarios are when a vehicle comes in with a major failure and we have no history on the vehicle. Engine failure, or transmission failure are two examples. A decision to replace an engine on a vehicle we have no history on is very difficult. A failed engine can mean the vehicle cannot be driven. Driving a vehicle is one of the most important parts of making an assessment. Without that test drive it is very difficult to quickly judge the overall condition of the vehicle.
The owner may suggest the vehicle was in great condition before the engine failure but many times owners are poor judges.
Another important step to vehicle assessment is determining why the major component (engine or transmission) failed. The detective work to find the cause of the failure may not be very evident and thus require labour time to figure it out. When an engine fails because it was severely overheated the resultant damage is likely not to the engine alone.
In many cases ancillary components to the engine are now compromised by the excess heat. Many engines have plastic cooling system fittings, plastic intake manifolds. Once overheated many of these components will fail soon after being put back into service.
A plugged radiator or a non functional cooling fan may have caused the engine failure. These components are not inexpensive but must be replaced along with the engine to ensure a long life and therefore must be considered in the cost of engine replacement.
A severe overheat may not only have damaged the engine. Automatic transmissions use the same cooling system as the engine to hold their temperatures in check. The transmission may still be working once the engine is replaced but its service life may have been shortened significantly by the overheating event.
Maybe your engine is still running but your transmission has failed. Replacing a failed transmission is an expensive proposition. Again this may mean the vehicle cannot be driven for a proper assessment. At least the engine can be started and idled but rolling down the road is not an option. Are the differentials good? Does the all wheel drive transfer case work? These are major components. Major money.
Many times early major component failures are indicative of a lack of regular maintenance. We are more likely to not want to spend money on a vehicle that shows symptoms of poor maintenance.
So coming up with an accurate assessment and a dollar value for repairs can be challenging. When dealing with a vehicle with no maintenance and repair history and a failed major component predicting the future without spending some significant labor dollars can be no better than staring in a crystal ball.