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Hagerty Employee

Knowing when to back out doesn’t mean chickening out

First, an update on “Flirting with a Mercedes-Benz SL500 in Craigslist,” my piece from a few weeks ago about what my next car might be. Sadly, my brief infatuation with the $2800 R129 SL500 in Burlington, Vermont, ended without fulfilment in either the spiritual or acquisitional sense.


The seller texted me the VIN, and I ran a CarFax. It showed a flood event in Houston in 2001 that generated salvage titles for the next four owners, stopping with the current owner since Vermont doesn’t issue titles for cars older than 15 years. On the one hand, the car has been running for nearly 20 years since the flooding incident, so you could argue that any gremlins had likely been worked out and the history and salvage title were factored into the low asking price. On the other hand, if I bought the car, used it for a bit, and then wanted to sell it, anyone running a CarFax would see what I saw and be equally concerned ... Read the full column on


Intermediate Driver


I myself am currently at the back-out point with my 1992 Lexus SC400. It died (stalled) on August 2nd, and has not been driveable since. I've chased down and checked out every conceivable likely issue, without cure. MAFs, IACs, EGRs; you name it... I finally caved and brought it (towed it) to my mechanic, where after about ten days, still no actual diagnosis of the problem. My financial situation (poor) no longer allows for further spending. I will likely be donating it to some Public Television outlet. Maybe I’ll see my name in the ending credits of a show, (probably not Motor Week… maybe Secrets of the Dead.)


And Rob — stay away from those R129s. 


We have all been there, I have had to let more than one car that could have been repaired go because the repair was beyond my budget, skills, equipment, or motivation.


I don't know too many people that mount their own tires, I doubt that you do either. There are just some jobs that you have to step away from and there is no shame in that.

Advanced Driver

On that Lexus,its the ECU needs rebuilt.Join club lexus,its all there

Pit Crew

I had a cat, sadly now gone, that was my companion while "wrenching". When I would get out of control on the stuck bolt or deciding to go full tilt/all in, he, invariably by his persistent calm attitude would bring me back to the reality universe where decisions can be made with the whole brain. I always reserved the right to contradict some of which are in the south 40.


My wrenching cat is gone too. He would go to sleep on the air cleaner. And as if by esp he would know when I needed a break and gently tap my hat bill as if to say, "Stop. It's time for a break".


Then schedule it for the future, Rob, and collect all the parts to do it once.


I only have one project car, and I've found that works for me.

Pit Crew

glad to see your still messing with 2002's've been at it almost as long as me....;-)

Pit Crew

If you can get 2 hammers in there, loosen the nut on the top of the shaft then beat both sides of the steering arm at the same time. Tapered shaft in tapered hole, add compression (hammer blows) = lateral movement.

Intermediate Driver

Sometimes, the best tool for a task is a checkbook.

Advanced Driver

Excellent insight Rob!  I agree, we've all been there, at least those of us who've been in this hobby for a few years, or more...; sometimes on the other side...  That's when someone gets to that point, on their toy, and says, it's time to back out and let go and we're there to grab it and add it to our fleet.  🙂  Then we find a way to do what the last guy couldn't or wouldn't do and move it forward.  


It does help to have a lot of friends with knowledge and experience to fall back on when confronted with a difficult repair or problem.  I've learned a ton of tricks by just listening to stories and helping friends with their sticky moments.  Love this hobby.


Always have an expert or forum to ask. No matter what you are working on, there is a person who prides himself with his extensive knowledge of the same car you own. Usually, that person will enjoy sharing his knowledge and timesaving shortcuts with you. Save yourself grief and frustration; find that "guy" as he's out there. He'll know who can rebuild and/or repair and who has the parts you need.  

Pit Crew

I recall seeing Bertha at the Vintage a couple of years ago. Great car...

While I agree with your concept of “slowly backing out”, I have so many of those events I backed out of still resting on my mind. Every time I walk past something I’ve backed out of, I recall the “commitment” to get back to it. These are what I think about when I awake at 2am and can’t get back to sleep. There’s got to be a better way!!

Sure enjoy reading your thoughts, experiences and research, especially your description of the Massachusetts bill that passed. Very well done!


Intermediate Driver

On that Lexus SC400, that was my thought as well (regarding the ECU).  Sometimes you can find a SC400 at the u-pull-it.  I pulled a spare ECU for my 1UZ at a place south of Portland.  89661-24230, luckily, the federal version, not the California version.  $50.  Super easy;  pull up carpet in passenger footwell, 10mm socket and off to the races.


As to "all-in" or "back out of the cave", the Supra rear suspension after 34 years was at the same point as Rob's steering.  Once you realize it's not as tight as it should be, it's all you can think about as you're going through some curves.  On the rear subframe assembly, I'm going "all in."

Advanced Driver

My 91 Allante had a nuisance leak that the seller thought was oil pan. i did a little more investigation and determined it was power steering hose. a murderous hose in a bad place which required disassembling half the under side of the car, all the other hoses from the steering rack (including ones you don't normally remove), and a brake line. My messy nuisance leak is gone, but now i have a small air bubble in the brake system that i just can't get bled out. Still glad i fixed the leak but i would probably have thought twice about it if i knew things beforehand.


Never, never, never buy on emotion. 

So many people buy and let the emotions take control and the never look at the car with clear eyes. 

You need to see the true condition and if it needs work the true cost. If there is any doubt about serious issues walk away! 

Too many fail at this and end up with cars that go unfinished with junk piled on them in the garage. They even have shows on 5bese cars like Garage Squad where they come in to get these failures back on the road.


There is no chickening out here just making a clear assessment and choice. 

A man just has to know his limitations! 

If you are weak in this area always take a level headed buddy!


Unable to just pull the pitman arm off the box? And I've mentioned here in the past what a wonder an inductive heater is. You might think you can't justify the cost but I used mine just this past weekend to complete a job on a fuel line, without burning the car up, with the whole town blanketed in dry leaves. The gadget paid for itself AGAIN.

Intermediate Driver

Tie rods, drag links, pitman arms and idler arms can all refuse to come apart.  But everything is easier when the car that you are restoring has never seen salted winter roads.  Rusty cars are always a headache to rebuild.  Like the 2002 in this article, those nasty cars are the ones that are most likely to get us into a "back out of the cave" situation.


When I was younger, I was invariably attracted to the neglected and abused cars.  Part of the attraction was in the mistaken belief that my sweat equity would transform the rusty wreck into a desirable car for a bargain price.  That never once proved the case.  I also had this urge to save abused cars.


Today, I still rescue abused and neglected shelter dogs.  At least they show gratitude for the effort.  But I no longer take a second look at a rusty, abused or neglected car.  I spent many years snapping rusty bolts and chasing rusty threads.  Those chores add many hours to a restoration.  I've welded floors and rocker panels back into cars.  But it simply pays to start with a car that has a solid body and nuts that come loose. 


Some desirable classics simply aren't worth the time and effort to save.


Should be a criminal offense to turn a flood title into anything else, state sponsored or not. Shame on Vermont and others.

Intermediate Driver

Rivets holding that ball joint connection together? Is that original? Maybe that’s your problem.