Vehicular Repair and Convenient Inconveniences

I suppose I should count it as a blessing when inconvenient things happen in the most convenient way possible. As an example, our Chevy Venture broke down this morning. Howard and I were on a run to Sam’s club together to confer about patio furniture. We stopped for gas, but when Howard turned the key to restart the car, nothing happened. The same nothing continued to happen the next twenty times as both Howard and I kept trying. We ended up pushing the car into a parking space and calling a neighbor to come retrieve us so that Howard could get back to work while we considered what to do.

In the end the car was towed to an automotive place within walking distance of our house. They determined the starter motor had died. An hour and $525 later, we have a functioning vehicle again. It was inconvenient, and more expensive than I wanted it to be. It also underlined clearly that our van is pushing twelve years old and 100,000 miles. It is show its age and moving out of the realm of quirky and into being unreliable. So I’m contemplating the further expense of replacing it. Not something I really wanted to do this year. But it didn’t break down in Goblin Valley last week, when we were 150 miles from the nearest tow truck and automotive repair shop. It didn’t leave my seventeen year old daughter stranded and in need of rescue. It didn’t fail on a day when I needed to rush down to a school to help with a child emergency. It even failed early enough in the day that I was able to arrange alternate rides for my kids after school, and I had the car back before the time that Patch and I picked for his special Mother son outing. The inconvenient thing happened as conveniently as possible.

Similarly, we’ve incurred quite a few extra expenses this month. The process of evaluating Gleek has not been covered by health insurance, nor will her therapy appointments be. Howard’s visits with a psychiatrist for depression have also not been covered. Link and Kiki both had minor medical issues requiring visits and lab work which are somewhat covered. Gleek got braces. The car needed repair. Our vacuum cleaner died. Sometime in the next month or two Kiki’s college is going to start asking for payments against her tuition and dorm registration. Yet, we have the money to cover all of this. It arrived before all of this did, in a completely unexpected level of success during the challenge coin kickstarter. My ballpark mental math says that even with all the unexpected expenses, we’ll be in better financial shape than we were before the kickstarter. Though I will be happier when the flow of bills and money has settled down enough for me to really see what is going on.

Patch and I were able to go on our planned date this evening. It was a special outing that we’ve been planning for a week because he needed it. So we went to see The Croods, which we’d both seen before, and out to sushi. It was a lovely time that I’m extremely grateful I did not have to reschedule at the last minute. Now I have to start shopping around and considering options for a replacement vehicle. I’m not looking forward to having payments again.

7 thoughts on “Vehicular Repair and Convenient Inconveniences”

  1. On car payments…

    Start making the car payments now, to yourself. Go to you bank/credit union, and set up Yet Another Savings Account (it should be free, if you’re with a decent institution). Call it “CAR”. Money that goes into this account should be considered to have already been spent on the car, you’re just floating it.

    Start with about half of what you’ll accept when you *do* finance a car. This will hopefully ease the shock on the finances, as it’s two smaller adjustments, a few weeks/months apart, rather than one big adjustment.

    When you actually finance the car, you can take most of that money and apply it to the car, reducing the payments. What’s left in the car account can be a buffer for unexpected car expenses, or if you’re really good with book-keeping, a buffer you add to in the fat months to make up the difference in the lean months.

    When the car is finally paid off, go back to making half-payments into that account. Hopefully, by the time you need to purchase another car, you can simply write a check for it. That’s a wonderful feeling, and it does wonders for reducing anxiety when buying a car.

    Of course, all of this relies on a fairly stable income, so it may not be appropriate. (When I was doing contract work, which is very bursty w/r/t income, I varied the payment as a percentage of my paycheck that month.) It also doesn’t work if money “just sitting there” freaks you out.

    This idea did not originate with me; my parents told me to save for a car his way back in my distant youth, but to my knowledge, they never managed it themselves. I’ve done it five times in twenty years, as it remove so much of the stress and annoyance when it comes to buying a car.

    Plus I get to look at that number climb every month when I review the bank statement. That’s not an intangible number like ‘retirement’ or ’emergency fund’, that’s “my family’s next car”.

  2. We buy vehicles with cash, they may be old and look funny, but they run and we love not making car payments. According to our car mechanic friend, 100k miles isn’t a big deal on the right vehicle. I have a 13 year old pick-up truck with 200k miles that still runs fine.

  3. Jerimiah Harrell

    My wife and I had been dealing with needing a new to us, larger vehicle for a while. With 2 kids, 1 in a booster seat and 1 in a infant seat, we had discovered that her car was crowded. Throw in 2 adults, normal support and logistics for the 2 kids, and it became a game of tetris to pack groceries in. We did several trips out of town to visit family over the holidays, and our plan of ‘keep looking, we may need a larger car’ turned into shopping actively for a new vehicle. We wanted a vehicle that was a proven design, no ‘just released, all new model’ for us, and one that had good reviews AND was going to be a continuing model. Its always hard when a car gets discontinued right as you buy it, and can make it hard to get parts. We went to test drive a Toyota van, since they and the Honda minivans seemed to get the best reviews, and the full size passenger vans like I grew up with, the ford 8 and 15 passenger monsters, are now only available as a commercial model.

    We walked in, test drove, and walked out with keys in hand at the Toyota dealership.

    WE had gone in with cash in hand for a down payment, planning to look at preowned models. We found that the cost difference between a new model on sale, and the private party and dealership cost of the 1-2 year old version of the same was in the $2000 range at best in our area. The big selling point for us was that Toyota was offering 0% for 60 months on minivans. We paid a down payment, though the deal at the time was pushing to do sign and drive no money down. In this day and age, it is hard find a good loan rate on a used vehicle. The best our bank would do was 6%, which on the used vans was still going to cost us 3,000-4,000 in interest over the life of the loan. Several other companies, including ford and others have done similar 0% deals on suv’s and mini vans in the past few months, at least here on the east coast.

    I have biought used before, both with financing, and buying an older model with cash out of pocket. I learned the hard way that for a ‘need it every day’ car, that my steal of a deal used car was a less than stelar deal. I spent as much as my initial cost for the car in the first year on parts and labor keeping it running. My truck is a dealer offlease vehicle, no warranty, and has run for 80,000 miles with me putting… tires brakes and brake rotors on it, plus normal oil changes. I have learned that having no car payment is nice, but that a car payment was often cheaper than my attempts to keep my ‘deal’ running. And that you should always have your own mechanic go over any used car you want to buy,m even one sold by a dealer.

  4. I like the used car option (raised with that bias) but we maintain two cars and can afford to have one car out of commission for a week or so. But with used cars it is essential to have your own mechanic check it out, ESPECIALLY if it is from a car lot. I prefer to buy from owners. They are less likely to be lying, and less likely to have practice lying.

    Keep in mind that any “new to you” purchase probably needs at least $1000 mentally added to it’s price for immediate maintenance. Things tend to break when they change owners.

    Honda and Toyota are pretty long lasting vehicles, going to 200,000 on the same motor and transmission (our Toyota just went over 200,000 and needed a new transmission).

    Toyota parts are pretty expensive compared to Honda parts. But maybe not compared to Chevy. $525 flabbergasts me for a starter motor. That’s exotic.

    But Vans are a different beast. A lot more weight and power and etc. I’ve no experience with them. So? Good luck with your research. I hate car shopping too.

  5. I had a fairly similar experience on Wednesday, involving my dentist and a flat tire. Inconveniences that came with built-in workarounds.

    As for vehicular replacement, 100k isn’t too bad, but you’re right to be keeping on the lookout. I also prefer buying from owners rather than dealerships, although I’m guessing that gets a little trickier if you need financing.

  6. It’s wonderful when between friends, hard work, and luck, you can cope with things. It sounds like you really built a heck of a good foundation for that to go not badly. I

    It sounds like at the very least, the Venture should hold up so you can bargain hunt patiently. The tips here are pretty great. I’m going to have to remember that adaptation of the car savings trick.
    As a note, if you want a vehicle to be as care free as a new one, you can focus on cars that the dealer is willing to offer a multi-year warrantee on. The cost difference up front is usually more than $1000, but it is way less than the extra 30% for a new car. If you’re lucky, you may have a better used car chain (like carmax) within driving range, which offers warrantees as good as the dealers. If you want a new one, you have the opportunity to wait to end of model year, and get dealers to bid against each other. I’m surprised that no one else has mentioned using Consumer Reports. They include their estimated costs to operate a car per year in their reviews, and that has really helped me a lot. Last time we went shopping, we were looking at two similar cars, and realized the annual cost of operations was very different, more than $600 a year. Our propensity to take road trips made the difference even more significant. We’ve been really grateful not to spend a lot on repairs, and to be less hurt by gas prices.

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