RBOC

  • Can I say again how much I hate it when people mess with kerning on grant applications?
  • My (recently retired) FIL called DH to tell him to be sure to put money in IRA Roths.  DH told him we’ve got that covered.
  • DH helped break up a dog fight that happened across the street from our house (intact pitbull being walked by a ~10 year old girl slipped its halter going after a Labrador) and got bitten.  :(  He had to get a tetanus booster and 3 days worth of topical antibiotics. The dog was super friendly to humans, but accidentally got DH’s finger as DH was trying to help the laborador’s owner separate them.  The woman who owns the Labrador stopped by our house to say her dog had to undergo ear surgery and that the pitbull’s owner (the grandfather in this scenario) was a total jerk and wanted to know if we’d seen how the fight had started, which we hadn’t.
  • My January conference reimbursement for doing job interviews for a position in our department was audited because I bought $21 of folding chairs and left them there instead of flying them back to the university.  (The chairs were because the hotel ran out and we didn’t want the job candidate sitting on a bed with the interviewers(!))  Fortunately I didn’t believe the hotel when they said that getting extra chairs wouldn’t be a problem (hence neither reservation nor wait list) and got advance permission from both the department head and the dean in case of emergency.
  • We got a big tax refund this year, even after paying next year’s estimated taxes, not unexpected given we had a $7,500 credit from buying the Honda Clarity last year.  In terms of how the Republican tax bill affected us:  we’re paying slightly less tax but not a huge difference.  This is mainly because we live in a Red State with low state income etc. taxes (high property taxes, but low property values) and we’ve finished paying our mortgage so we weren’t getting big federal deductions anyway (some of the self-employment tax changes also helped, I think, and we weren’t deducting business expenses which would have hurt).  People in blue states with high income taxes and high property values are going to be hurt much more.  We didn’t bother adding up our charitable donations this year for the first time because there was no way we were going to hit the limit, so I guess it was a bit less paperwork.
  • Strongly considering using a slightly different specification in this graph because it currently looks like a condom.
  • My car is gradually succumbing to plastic fatigue.  Another door handle broke this week, this time the part that you open from the inside rather than the part from the outside.  $45 to replace ($35 part plus $10 s/h), and easier to replace than the other part (in that it doesn’t require as much strength to unscrew all the necessary bolts).  I really should just get a new car.  Maybe this summer.  I will miss it.
  • My mom is retiring!  At age 72 it will cost her retirement money to keep working based on how her public pension is structured.  (They don’t structure them like that much anymore.)  They’re planning on staying put for a while.  Part of me is surprised because they are West-Coasters at heart, not midwesterners (despite having lived there, as my mother has pointed out, for 34 years).  Part of me is not surprised because their inertia is very strong and anything that takes planning can take a decade to actually happen if they’re not given an external deadline.  My mom hopes to devote her time to politics and research, which are both good things.
  • In case you’re wondering what’s happening with the kitchen renovation… we’ve paid for most of it so far (months ago), our dining room is full of appliances in boxes, and we are stuck on the step in which someone removes our ice maker and replaces it with cabinets.  Home Depot is like, we can do drawers there but we can’t do cabinets that look like your current cabinets.  The place the cabinets came from is like, yeah, we don’t make those anymore but you can get them custom-copied from this other local business.  But the other local business is only open M-F, 9-5 and has been playing a lot of phone tag with DH.  And so we wait…
  • My BIL is getting a full back and shoulders tattoo.  It’s a reminder of the generation gap between X and millennial about how normal that is for someone just a little bit younger than us and how unusual for us.  (How daring and hidden most Gen X tattoos are/were.  How expressive they are for younger folks.  I don’t think I know a single millennial other than my sister who doesn’t have at least an ankle tattoo.)
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What car should I buy this summer?

I currently have a 2005 Hyundai Accent that I like very much.  I would keep it forever except that I am getting really tired of having to take breaks from it for little repairs.  3 days without the car waiting for a door handle replacement was the final straw.  (I could have driven around anyway and opened the door from the outside via the window, but we would have had to put the door back together for me to do that.)

The car landscape has changed a lot since I last looked for me.  Last time I looked for me, there was one very obvious only choice.  The Prius was at the top of every list and nothing else compared in the compact/sub-compact range.  If I didn’t want to go hybrid, then the Toyota Corolla was the top of every sub-compact list.  (And the Honda Civic if I wanted to go bigger.)

Things have changed quite a bit since then.  The Hyundai Accent, which we bought in 2005 because it was literally the only car we could afford to buy with cash, is now as high as #3 on some lists!  The hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.  Honda has the Insight, Hyundai has the Ioniq.  And there are plug-ins with tax discounts!  (I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a bolt the weekend before the April 1st deadline for the $7.5K discount, but opted not to.)

By summer I should have up to 35K saved to play with for this new car purchase.  I do not *want* to spend $35K, but I will be able to if necessary.  (The money will find another home if not spent on this car.)

Here’s what I want:

I want a small car.  Sub-compact preferred, Compact as a second choice.  I like small cars because I am small and because they are easy to park.

This car will drive me 7 miles to work and 7 miles back 5 days a week (occasionally stopping at DC2’s school on the way home).  My current 14 year old car has just a little over 50K miles on it.  I just don’t drive much.

I do not care about “performance”.  I do not want a sports car.  I do not need vim or vigor.

I want a new car.  Dealing with the used car market is not something I want to do.  I will keep this car until it, too, starts succumbing to plastic fatigue or otherwise dies.

I want a four door automatic with air conditioning.  I’m not sure if it is possible to get a new car that doesn’t have those attributes, but that was something that was really important when we bought the accent.  The back needs space for two kids including one in a booster seat.

I am really not a mini-cooper kind of person.  I am a boring middle-aged female.  I do think the new lines on current models are sexy, but how the vehicle looks is really not a priority.  Except I would prefer not to have something with a personality.  Nondescript is where I’m at.

I want at least 28 C/35H mpg.  Those are arbitrary.  My current Accent still gets something in the 30-33mph range (I guess because my commute is partly highway?)  If I go hybrid, then I want at least 50mpg.  I know that given how little I drive my mileage isn’t that important, but I dislike stopping to get gas (especially during election season when I avoid places advertising evil people).  I currently do it about once every 2 weeks.  I don’t hate it enough to go completely electric though.   I can afford an electric, but it seems like they’re more than I need given the higher price-tag (which is why I didn’t buy the Bolt before the subsidy got cut).  Plus with DH having the Clarity we might need to get an actual charger if we went electric.  Still, something like the Leaf, which still has the $7,500 credit, might be reasonable, except that I would not be able to make it to the city and back without recharging if something happened to DH’s car.  So… I guess I don’t see any all-electric vehicles that I like enough to buy.

I don’t want a luxury car.

I don’t care about electronic bells and whistles.

The beep beep beep beep that the Prius does when reversing DRIVES ME CRAZY.  (Two of my colleagues have Priuses.)  (#2 notes that you can turn it off.  We had a link in Link Love, I think.)  (Yep, that’s why I put it in link love.  But I do worry that somehow that ability will get disabled.)

What should I test drive?  What am I forgetting?  What sub-compacts and compacts do you love or hate?

 

 

Sometimes the dealer isn’t the best place for repairs: How I finally got a new starter for my car

My 2005 Hyundai Accent has been having trouble starting for a while now.  Back when I had to get the last big set of repairs, the dealer quoted a new starter at $800, and we forwent that.

So, DH left for a multiple day business trip.  While running late to get DC1 to hir violin lesson because it took longer than expected to get DC2 out of daycamp and into the car, I tried to start the car.  And I tried again.  And again.  Usually at the third again the engine turns over and all is well.  This time it wasn’t.  After several more false starts, a couple in a tow truck came by and offered to jump it for me, though I didn’t think that was the problem.  Then they grabbed a guy from a repair shop (he noted the shop was already closed for the day, but he was being helpful anyway).  That guy said that it was probably the starter (I agreed, since I’ve known it’s been a problem) and if I waited until the sun went down and the car cooled down I could probably get it to start again.  He said that replacing a starter on my kind of car usually runs around $400.  The tow people offered to tow me for free over to his shop, so I let them.   The kids then had cupcakes for dinner in the airconditioned cupcake place on the other side of the daycamp while we waited for an uber.  (Our town doesn’t usually have uber/lyft drivers in the summer when the university is out and cab drivers you usually have to book at least 24 hours in advance, but I got lucky.)

When DH got back from his trip, we went to pick up my car.  Total cost:  $369.  Waaaay less than what the dealer was going to charge.  And no nasty comments about how old my car was.  Since this repair shop was technically in the lower SES town next to ours, most of the cars on the lot were older than mine.  My car starts beautifully on the first try now no matter how hot the engine is.  It’s pretty amazing.

While DH was out and my car was in the shop, I did get to spend quite a bit of time driving his Clarity.  It is a really nice car.  Extremely smooth drive, easy acceleration, nice bells and whistles (I could get used to not having to even press a button to open the car door).  I see why he likes it so much.  But I’m not yet ready to trade in my Accent for a Prius Prime, so there we are.

And hopefully we have a new mechanic!  The reason we’d been taking my car to the dealer in the first place was because our previous mechanic screwed up an oil change (and then recently screwed one up again when DH decided to give them another chance).

Where do you take your car for repairs (if you have a car)?  How did you choose the mechanic?

Networking: Not just for job seeking, also for used car selling

After DH bought his Honda Clarity Plug-in, we had 3 cars, a 2 car garage, a 1 car driveway, and a HOA that doesn’t allow overnight street parking.  Mornings involved a car shuffle so I could get to work since I was often in the garage instead of the driveway.  We decided that even though DH’s old Honda Civic Hybrid was a far nicer car than my older Hyundai Accent that I’d keep my Accent and we’d sell the Civic.  This is partly because the Accent only has 47K miles, partly because I get strangely attached to things I’ve had a long time, and mainly because I’m a small person and my Accent fits me whereas the Civic is just uncomfortable.  (I am a little bit concerned that the universe is telling me that I should be worried about my safety as we know a couple of people IRL and there are a couple prominent people online who have recently gotten physically hurt in car accidents, but not quite enough to replace the Accent with something bigger and newer.  Not that we have the cash to do so right now anyway.)

Regular readers may recall that the dealership lowballed us a number even lower than what KBB said was the lowest dealership number for our Civic.  The lowest amount DH had been willing to accept was $1,300 and they came back with $1000.  Then DH spent a couple of weeks after work detailing the interiors of the car to get it into selling condition.  Then before he’d finished, my car went into the shop and I started driving the nice clean Civic to work, for about a week.  (I told him he could add any extra he made above what the dealer offered to his adult allowance.)

One day during this week, I was walking out to my car after a presentation so as to get to a restaurant for the speaker’s post-talk dinner.  One of the guys also going to the dinner was going to carpool with another guy in his department because the first guy had biked to work that day.  As I walked past, the second guy was brushing some brown dirt-like substance off the passenger-side seat telling the first guy, “Wait a minute, I need to clean the manure off the front seat of my car,” at which point guy 1 asked if maybe he could carpool with me instead.  Once in, I mentioned that this wasn’t my regular car and that we were looking to sell it.  The guy who I was giving a ride said, oh really, my 15 year old nephew in the Midwest needs a $2000 car (the kid has $900 saved up and his parents are paying the other half– the uncle is throwing in the missing $100 for the kid), and he’d been planning to start looking but was worried about rusted out bottoms in the Midwest and hurricane flooded used cars in the South.  $2000 was a little less than the bottom-most private-sale price quoted by KBB, and we could have probably asked for closer to $2,500 or $2750, but it was also a lot more than the $1300 DH had been holding out for in order to avoid selling on Craigslist when he decided to decline the dealer’s offer.  And since this is a kid with parents and not a random college student, we feel a bit better about what happens if the electric battery dies, the tires need replacing, etc.  (The guy was like, you expect those kinds of things in any car less than $2K– the important thing is the fame isn’t bent, the engine isn’t flooded etc.) The guy in question is pretty easy-going despite not wanting to sit in manure and shares a lot of the same Midwestern sensibilities of responsibility that DH and I do, so we felt like we could trust him to be solidly dealing with us and he felt the same way about us.

So after my car came back from the shop, DH offered this guy our car for $2000.  The guy took it to a local mechanic who declared it to be in good shape (next expected repair:  replacing the tires).  DH looked up how to do a private sale.  We signed over the title and dealt with a bunch of documents.  He wrote a check (if it had been someone on Craigslist or Facebook, we would have insisted on cash).  I said a fond farewell to the Civic.  We didn’t have to deal with Craigslist.  And some kid in the Midwest is getting a much nicer used car than he would have been able to get without his uncle’s intervention.  (It’s even been detailed!)

So… I guess the moral is:  When you need to do a transaction of some kind, it’s useful to just mention it to people before dealing with social media sites.  That is, of course, assuming you’re willing to satisfice rather than optimize.  If we’d been set on $2,500 or more, we probably would have needed to go the full Craigslist gamut.

Have you sold a used car before?  How did you do it?  Have you ever networked your way to something besides a job?

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!

I think we’re going to buy a new car: Any advice before we pull the trigger?

DH’s 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is starting to make unpleasant putt putt putt sounds.  It’s possible that the hybrid battery is going to run out in half a year or so (replacement cost:  more than the car is currently worth– 2-3K), and the brakes will probably need to be replaced (~$300) sooner rather than later.

When my sister’s Mini-Cooper, bought around the same time as we got our car, committed suicide on the highway in a cloud of dark smoke (after a few months of unpleasant putt putt putt sounds…), we started looking around at new cars as she decided what to get (she ended up with a gently-used 2016 BMW for 29K, though I am not remembering what model– her second choice was a new 2018 Mazda 3 for 25K ).  While doing this, we discovered that Honda has a new plug-in Hybrid called the Clarity.  This qualifies for the 7.5K federal tax credit, we’re pretty sure.  (We will make sure.)  DH drove it and decided he liked it very much, except that fancy new cars no longer have spare tires and the trunk is oddly shaped and won’t fit our big cooler that we take when we drive into the city (we do have smaller soft-bodied coolers and could get a smaller hard-bodied cooler).  Then he drove the Hyundai Ioniq and the Toyota Prius and decided he did not like them as much at all (we will still probably get a Prius when we swap out my car, although my sister says the new Accents are much nicer than the model we got, so it is tempting to just replace my car with another $15K Accent, even though we can afford a Prius… and I could in theory get an all electric vehicle since my car just tools around town).

It is not cheap.  MSRP is $33,400.  But there is that $7.5K tax credit that brings is more in line with what we were expecting to pay for a new car for DH.  This is also the first year that this model has been available, and there are some small annoying things that reviewers and current owners say about it.  Like, they wish there was a knob for the stereo instead of a button (DH doesn’t mind the button– he uses the steering wheel button, but I LIKE the knob as a passenger).  They think the middle of the car looks kind of weird (DH doesn’t mind).  The lane correction isn’t as good as in other cars that have it.  These and probably many other small annoying things will probably be fixed in the 2019 and 2020 models if the Clarity stays in production.  It really isn’t like us to buy a first of anything– we generally buy the most popular and tried item that we can afford within the set of what we’re looking for.  We got a Honda Civic Hybrid, but not until they’d ironed out the kinks.  Of course, by the time the kinks are ironed out, that phat tax incentive is gone.

If/When we do pull the trigger, I’m planning on emailing all the dealers in a 2 hour radius to ask for a walk-away price to see if I can get them to compete.  This is the same strategy that I wrote up for a guest post on Get Rich Slowly many years ago.  Some dealers are making it harder to find an email, but generally they do provide emails of individual sales people even if they don’t have an easy to find inquiries email anymore.

My work has a free plug-in station for electric vehicles, though over the past year it has started getting actual use meaning one cannot just drive up and plugin anymore.  I assume that they will start charging for it eventually (all the other plug-in stations charge!)

We also have to figure out what to do with the Civic.  We can’t keep it because we have a 2-car garage and a 1-car driveway and our HOA tows cars that stay on the street overnight.  Kelly Blue Book thinks we’ll get something like 2-3K for a trade-in and 1-2K if we sell it.  Donating it would probably get $45 (that is not a typo) *if* we itemized, which is unlikely.  DH also considered giving it to his relative who is down to one car (as a hobby, his relative’s father likes to drive and pick up and drop off cars and people all over the country without getting anything in exchange), but after thinking it through he realized that giving his relative something that is soon going to need $300 brakes and won’t work without a $2000 battery is probably not a great idea.  On top of that, the Civic Hybrid needs a pit to do oil changes and the closest Honda dealer is 40 min away.  I feel a little bit guilty about springing all that on whatever unsuspecting college student would end up buying our car as well, though there’s also the chance that the car will be fine for the next few years and DH is too pessimistic, and if things aren’t fine for this hypothetical college student, there’s a dealership in town.  Most likely we’ll trade-in and take very little for the trade-in because it’s too hard to negotiate that part.  Oh well, we’re not trying to completely optimize money here.

So, what are your thoughts?  What are we missing?

Car troubles: How to fix a Hyundai that won’t move out of park and why you’ll probably keep seeing me wondering if I should just buy a new car

Just last week I was congratulating myself on the decision not to buy a new car after my last irritating repair session.  The car had been driving nicely to and from work and daycare and I was attached to it.  I made the right decision, I thought.

Just like letting the universe know that you are done with referee reports, it sent me a warning not to get too cocky.  As I started up the car and tried to go in reverse, I failed to be able to move the shift thingy out of park.

I googled “can’t move out of park hyundai”, and came up with a couple of useful pages– the first said to remove the cap on the shift lock override button, which I could not do.  So I called DH and he brought a flat-head screwdriver while I took his car to get DC2 from daycare.  He used the screwdriver as a lever to pop off the cap and then stuck a pencil down into the recesses to press a white button, and then was able to move the shift into reverse and drive without problem.  Before I’d made it out of the parking lot, he was reversing the car and driving it home.

Once home, he used the second useful page  and probably some pages after that to diagnose what the problem was.  Generally when a Hyundai won’t get out of park that indicates a problem with the break lights.  And, in this case, the break lights definitely weren’t working.  Since DH is an engineer who works from home, he has various meters that allow him to check cables and things to make sure they’re ok.  All the fuses were fine, the cable itself was fine.  However, the cable connection was loose, and when DH pushed it back together more tightly, the break lights started working again.  It’s been fine for ~a week at this point.  So DH canceled the service appointment he’d made with the dealer and we’re assuming the connection got too loose and it should be fine.  Just in case, I’m driving around with the shift lock override cap off in case I need to stick a pencil down there.

DH’s company still hasn’t gotten their contract signed and it’s unpaid summer for me, so we’re living off savings.  We have enough in the emergency fund to buy a new car, but I’d really rather not.  I like my little car and feel comfortable with it.  But I don’t like the way my life is disrupted whenever there’s a service problem, even a cheap one.  If I could just predict how many technical problems we’ll be having and when then I’d better be able to decide when to get a new car.  But, sadly, I don’t have a crystal ball and even if I did I’m not clairvoyant.  Given that with DH (temporarily?) unemployed we’re no longer wondering what to do with extra cash, I think I’ll continue holding onto my car for a while.  Maybe I’ll feel differently when the school year starts and it’s more important that I get places on time.  But the longer I wait, the more likely one of those sleek new Civics will be affordable, or maybe a low-range Tesla, or perhaps another technology will have improved.  Most likely we’ll just get a Prius, but the longer I put the shopping off, the better my options will be for the next car that I will drive for (hopefully) more than a decade.

So most likely you’ll be seeing more posts in the near future asking, “Should I replace my car?”  Hopefully not, though!