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!


In which we do not have to buy a new car (yet)

So I don’t know if you remember, but when we got back from Paradise this summer we had some cash moneys left that we hadn’t spent.  I’d been worried that I was going to need to spend it on a new car in case my 2005 Hyundai Accent hadn’t taken well to storage.   My sweet little Accent was doing well enough that instead I paid $1K+ to fix the cosmetic problems that I caused when trying to park the car on 2 hours of sleep right before leaving for paradise.  It’s currently having some problems starting right off, but I assume that we just need to replace the spark plugs or some kind of cable and it will be fine.

Because we didn’t think we’d need to replace my car any time soon, we put the $30K we’d been saving into the stock market.  It is now worth less than 30K as of this writing.  (Oops!  Probably should have waited until October, oh well.)

A couple weeks after doing that and well before I got my first paycheck for the school year, DH got rear-ended at a stop sign.  In his lovely 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid.  He and the kids are fine, but the car could no longer close the trunk.

The other driver was at fault but apparently that doesn’t really matter, at least not in the short term.  (Liberty Mutual says they will seek compensation from the other company, but they have to pay out first, so it may happen.)  So we owe a $1K deductible.  The repairs were initially set at ~$2500, but after the take-down of the car (which took a week and a half) they found another $850 or so in additional needed repairs for the frame, which put the total cost of body shop repairs at just under what the insurance company would declare the car totaled at.  I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.  Then another week and a half to do the repairs.

So… we’re not going to buy a new car.  DH decided he wanted a Prius (~25K walk-away price).  I figured if we put off the actual Prius buying until October we could pay cash by using my entire October paycheck plus most of our emergency fund.  Or maybe we could float it on credit cards earlier since the next payment wouldn’t actually be due until after I got paid.  But now we don’t have to do that.  Whew.

That’s our story.  I kind of like driving our 10/11 year old cars.  I’m not really big on change.  I mean, some of it is the expense, but a lot of it is me being kind of attached to our current cars so long as they’re not giving us too much trouble.  But we will probably have to replace one or the other of these cars at some point in the not too distant future.  I just always thought it would be my Accent first.  I mean, it has a tape deck in it(!)  (The Honda at least has a cd player…)

How did you decide it was time to get a new car?

What to do when your car starts looking a bit… worn?

I’ve had my little Hyundai Accent since graduate school.

We paid cash for it new and it’s a great little car.  It’s had batteries and tires replaced and other sorts of mildly expensive routine repairs, but for the most part it’s been remarkably stable.  Well, there was that time a couple years after we got it where we smashed in the front and had to get stuff replaced, but after that it was as good as new.

It still looks mostly fine on the outside.  A few tiny dents and scratches, but no rust or missing paint or big dents or anything.

The inside, on the other hand, is starting to look 70s-style bad.  The glue is coming unglued on the fabric on the doors, leaving it hanging loose.  No tears yet, but I can see them in the future if we don’t do something.  Everything that gets touched regularly is coated in a brown-grey grime.  And then there’s dust and crumbs and other sorts of detritus.  It could use a good cleaning.

Before I let DH at it with a glue gun, any suggestions?