My car worth $750 needs $1000 in repairs

Right now we have 3 cars.  DH’s shiny new Honda Clarity (which he continues to be delighted with, but I’m not sure I would have allowed him to buy had I known there was faux wood paneling in the interior– I suspect their interiors designer is a hipster Millennial who does not remember used station wagons from the 1970s), DH’s old Civic (worth $1,300 as a trade-in, $2,300 in private sales, and may need a new expensive hybrid battery within the next 6 months), and my tiny 2005 Hyundai Accent which has 47,000 miles and needs a new timing belt and front brakes and a back brake rotation or something.

While DH was getting the Civic ready for a private sale (he spent a couple weeks detailing it– you can barely tell it once housed two carseats in the back), my car’s check engine light went on.  We took it in.  It now needs about $1K worth of repairs.

We decided to get those repairs done.  Every time we do this, I keep thinking, I hope this will be the last time for a while!  Because it takes a few days for the shop to have an opening and then they hold onto it for a few days (or weeks, now that the parts are older and harder to get) and I’m without a car and that’s irritating.  This time the hassle wasn’t such a big deal because I was able to just drive DH’s old civic around town.  If we had a third parking space that didn’t block our garage, I’d totally just keep all three cars and allow for one to be in the shop from time to time.

I really am not up to buying another car right now, even if we can (barely, if we don’t have any additional major money emergencies) afford to get another Hyundai Accent for 15K to replace my ancient one.  I still kind of want a Prius, but I’d like to refill our emergency funds before spending another 27K on a vehicle.  If it only costs $1K/year in upkeep, we’re still coming out ahead keeping the old car, even if it isn’t worth what we spent on it.  Other used cars worth $750 are going to have worse problems than this one does.  In a lot of ways it would be worthwhile just to get rid of these two cars to get one that’ll be problem free for the next five or so years, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with that right now.  Hopefully this repair will kick that can down the road until I have the energy to deal with it (and, presumably, more money in the slush fund).

And then we hopefully won’t be posting about car repairs or the when to get a new car dilemma for a few years!

28 Responses to “My car worth $750 needs $1000 in repairs”

  1. Leah Says:

    That’s an impressively low number of miles. Do you just do in town driving?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah. I don’t live that far from work (15 min drive). It would also do half the daycare pickups and drop offs, but apparently that didn’t add much (another ~5-10 min).

  2. bogart Says:

    Sounds like a plan, sorry to hear you need to deal with it. Always a nuisance!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is! And I’m always wondering, at what point does the uncertainty of nuisances overcome the cost of (and getting used to) a new car? Right now, if I want to get a Prius instead of another Accent (and another Accent would leave the emergency fund pretty vulnerable), then I really do need to wait.

      I have been getting better at parking in DH’s big Civic Hybrid (these are more Accord sized than Civic sized). And I’m getting used to power locks and windows. But I think we’re still going to sell DH’s car instead of mine…

  3. What Now? Says:

    We just made the decision to get expensive car repairs on my 2000 Camry — more than it’s worth, but we figured that the cheapest car is the one you already own. But we need to do some serious saving, because a new-to-us car is clearly in the not-too-distant future.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used to think we should replace the car when repairs cost more than the car was worth, but apparently I no longer feel like that! I guess I get attached to things? (Also attached to having a big emergency fund.)

      • Katherine Says:

        I recently listened to an old Fresh Air podcast in which Terry Gross asked the guest (who is a female mechanic whose shop caters specifically to women) at what point people should replace their cars. This woman said her rule of thumb is when it needs repairs that cost more than twice the value of the car. I don’t know that that rule is any less arbitrary than the “more than the value of the car” rule, but it sounds like you’re not there yet.

  4. Debbie M Says:

    You could use your strategy of paying to reduce inconvenience by renting a car whenever this happens. Part of the car rental industry is geared toward travelers, but part is geared toward people getting their cars fixed. For example, I don’t know if it’s still true, but Enterprise used to pick you up to bring you over and then drop you off again after you dropped off the car (unless they were closed).

    Meanwhile, I am a huge fan of making repairs to old cars I like, regardless of how other people value them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The big hassle is not in car sharing (generally only one of us actually *needs* a car at any point in time, emergencies excluded) so much as getting to the car repair place and back and sitting there and so on. There’s a little bit of inconvenience about pick-up and drop-off, but that’s small in comparison.

  5. Leigh Says:

    I do wonder at what point we should drop comprehensive coverage from our car though. It’s worth under $5,000 now and we wouldn’t file a claim unless the cost is more than $1,800. I guess that means we should drop it when KBB says the value is less than $2,000?

    I’m also surprised at how few miles your car has! It has proportionally about as many miles as my 2011 with 30,000 miles. I don’t really do much city driving but I do a lot of long distance driving. I say that for $5,000 we couldn’t easily find a used car with 30,000 miles and this few problems, so it’s a plenty useful car to us.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We mostly use DH’s car for longer stuff.

      I think we still have comprehensive coverage, mainly because it’s pretty cheap out here. (When we live on a coast we drop it!)

    • Katherine Says:

      We dropped comprehensive coverage on my car, and were glad we did – even after I hit a deer and the body work to repair it was expensive. I currently have about 75,000 miles on my 2009 sedan (currently worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000). The body shops my DH took it to for quotes told us that if we had been filing an insurance claim, it would most likely have been declared totaled, but since we weren’t one of the shops put in the time to find us used parts and the repairs ended up only costing about $2,300.

      Like you, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to find a used car in similarly good shape for $5000. Since it’s a relatively low mileage car that has never needed anything other than routine maintenance, it’s worth much more to us than to the insurance company. With that reasoning, comprehensive coverage wouldn’t help us anyway.

    • Leah Says:

      We dropped comprehensive coverage much earlier — we figured we could drop it once we had the money saved and were willing to buy a new one if needed. Why keep paying for insurance for a cost you don’t need? I have a 2004 Corolla. Not sure what it’s worth now, but I think it’s been at least 3 years, maybe more, since I had comprehensive coverage.

    • chacha1 Says:

      We had comprehensive coverage on the 99 Accord that got totaled in 2014 … and we would have been better off (financially) just putting that money in a “new car” savings account.

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    My car has returned to me. DH’s Civic Hybrid really is a much nicer car (it has better brakes, it accelerates faster, I will miss the power locks, etc.), but this one fits me. It’s so nice having a headrest that actually fits where my head is. Plus I can do a much crappier job of parking and still be well within the space.

  7. chacha1 Says:

    Our market is so high-priced for insurance AND for repairs that there is no good answer. I’m using the “is this a safety issue” to decide which repairs I get. Because you know the dealership will tell you that you “need” XYZ adding up to $4000 every year if you let them. (And there are not enough 2010 Insight hybrids on the road for me to feel like an independent shop will have the expertise required, even if their rates were cheaper, which isn’t necessarily the case.) If it’s just a performance issue I’ll kick it down the road.

    The KBB gives numbers for trade-in values that are complete fiction in this market. According to them, my 95 Accord should have been worth $2000. We got $200. That $2000 valuation, the dealer said, would have been applicable only if the car had never been driven.

  8. Joe Says:

    We only have one car so we need it to be very reliable. I can’t have it in the shop for 3 days. Hope your car will be good for a while after this fix. Repair and maintenance is a pain. Someday, we’ll have self driving car and never have to drive again. Just call it up on an app.

  9. pyrope Says:

    If you think you want a prius, we just went through a similar process as with your clarity for the prius prime. (we test drove the clarity too, and liked the added features, but I couldn’t deal with the wood interior). Anyway, big factory discounts right now on 2017 prius primes – I guess Toyota is trying to clear them out before the 2018 models arrive (late). We got an out the door price of $23.5 k for a base model, and that’s before the Fed $4500 incentives for plugins (plus state if you’re in a blue state). Trading in my 1997 Camry, which has definitely given me my money’s worth :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is tempting! But we should really let our emergency fund build up. And who knows what will be available when my car actually bites the dust. DH didn’t like the prime, but I think he just didn’t find it comfortable, which means I might since I’m way smaller.

  10. Victoria Hay Says:

    Well, let’s see if lets me comment…it usually decides to block you if you want to sign on the way YOU want to sign on. Here’s a try:

    Recently went through the same exercise with a 17-year-old Toyota Sienna. My thought is this: if you know the vehicle is likely to crap out and leave you stranded somewhere, it’s time to get rid of it. Otherwise, think twice. The math involved in the trade-in calculus is complicated by the fact that even though repairs may look high, they’re defrayed by lower costs of insurance and registration/taxation on an older vehicle. More important is the risk of being stuck in the middle of nowhere (possibly in a dangerous district, as happened to me — though I must say it was interesting to watch that couple tweaking in the parking lot where they were hiding behind my becalmed car) and having to wait not for minutes but for HOURS for a tow truck (in my case: 5 long, scary hours).

    Another thing to keep in mind is that you basically have to learn how to drive all over again with the newer cars. The all-electronic controls for everything from the door lock to the radio to the transmission are crazy-making; it takes some time and a fair amount of annoyance factor to learn how to use the junk. Cars are now unnecessarily complicated; you can’t see out the side mirrors and back windows to make lane changes; the electronic programming invades your privacy; and all sorts of unexpected weirdnesses will demand your attention for several weeks as you relearn the art of driving.

    Also bear in mind that car dealers are aggressive to the point of criminality. Get a car broker or buy through your credit union, bank, or Costco. If I ever have to buy direct from a Toyota dealer again, I will take a lawyer and a police officer with me.

    Good luck! Having to buy a new car after years of driving a reliable ride is the pitz.

    Funny about Money

  11. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    We wasted half of 2016 dealing with car issues, I’d wanted at least five peaceful years before we dealt with any more.

    Now you’ve got me wondering if we should drop comp on our cars, they’re both 14 years old and their worth is mostly in their inherent utility for us. Mine is turning up a range of $2000-3200 trade-in range. We normally sell privately but I bet we wouldn’t get more than $4000 in that case.

    I found myself wondering how much I’d be willing to pay for a hybrid minivan because we’re considering a second dog and we’d like to have the room for humans and canines, however many we end up with.

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