My Car Is Dying, What To Do

Mercedes 550SL 2013In a rush to get to a meeting, I managed to bash Moose’s right side mirror into a garage side wall and blow the mirror off.  Crap.  That’s what happens when you have a large car, in a small garage, and do things in a hurry.  This little accident cost $135 to fix and 30 minutes of time.

While I was at the dealer, I used the opportunity to ask several other questions regarding what’s wrong with Moose.  For the past 12 months, there’s been a progressively louder rattling sound every time I drive, or slam the door shut.  After a little inspection, the service agent said that it looks like my middle muffler connected to my catalytic converter is wearing out and needs changing.  OK, good to know.  “How much?”, I asked.  The service agent said around $1,200-$1,500!  YOWZA!

LET MOOSE LIVE OR DIE?

$1,200 to fix a muffler is ridiculous.  The service agent agreed and recommend I just go to a muffler shop and have them replace just the middle portion.  Parts plus labor will probably equal to $600 instead.  OK, that’s somewhat more reasonable I guess.  I certainly don’t want the muffler to fall off while I’m on my way to Tahoe when it’s dumping snow!

The issue is, Moose is an 11 year old SUV that is worth maybe $4,000.  My main concern is operability and safety, hence the muffler should be fixed.  In addition to the muffler problem, I’ve got three yellow lights on my dashboard that is indicating the traction control, ABS, and hill decent functions are out!  The reality is all three functions are working, it’s just the switchboard fuse that is broken.  I’ve tested all three and reconfirmed with a mechanic friend of mine.  To fix the switchboard, that will probably cost another $1,200 bucks which is not worth it.  Instead, I just got some black tap and stuck it around the dashboard glass to block the lights so I don’t see them!  Finally, my brakes only have 30% left on them and will likely need replacing in 6 months.  That’s another $600-700 that must be spent.

All in, I will have to spend a minimum of $600 (14% value of the car), and perhaps up to $2,500 (62% value of the car) to get things nice and good again.  Oh yeah, I also got my DMV car registration renewal yesterday to the tune of $109.  Adding everything up, it just doesn’t seem worth it…. or does it?

THE ALTERNATIVES

I’ve been thinking about buying a new car for the past couple of years.  It’s just that every time I see a new model, I get bored of it in one year, which means spending tens of thousands of dollars on a car is not a good idea.  When the BMW 335i coupe first came out in 2007 for $47,000 I was determined to have one.  By the time 2008 rolled around I was bored because I saw the new Audi S5 coupe roll out for the similar price.  And then I got over it because something better kept coming along.  It’s a never ending cycle of desires.

It’s strange, but to cure my car-lust, I go to car dealerships.  Sometimes, I just slide on into one of them babies and inhale the intoxicating new car small as I pretend she’s mine.  Other times, thanks to very aggressive salespeople, I always respond “Oh, twist my arm and my nipples, OK!” when they ask me to go for a test drive.  By the end of the session, I am so thrilled, that the desire to spend any money on a car dissipates!

So let’s say your car is dying, you are by nature a frugal person, but fulfill the important 1/10th rule and can pay cash for whatever car it is that you desire.  Do you spend 20-62% of the value of the car ($500-$2,500) fixing it to a level which can last another 5 years?  Or, do you spend perhaps 35-150X that amount and buy a new, safer, more reliable car which has a 4 year, worry-free warranty?  OK fine, I could also spend $20-$30,000 and buy a cheaper car too, but then I’ll really get bored with the car after a year.  By the way, don’t forget about higher car insurance, crying if you ding your new car, sobbing if your girlfriend or boyfriend dings your new car, and never feeling at ease when you park at the grocery store!

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Updated: 5/2014

Regards,

Sam

 


Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I would not save Moose for 2 reasons:
    1. There are no guarantees that you won’t have to spend another 20%-50% of the car value in a relatively short period of time.

    It happened with my first car where I ended up spending more in repairs than the car’s worth in 1 year.

    2. you can afford a replacement
    Why risk getting stranded or wasting more time at the garage? Chances are, your problem might not be over with Moose as it is nearing retirement!

    • says

      That would be a REAL bummer if I had to spend more than what the car was worth. I’d kick myself in the pants. The money I DON’T spend on Moose is money I save on the other car.

      115,000 miles though… that’s relatively little from all the 200K mile cars I hear about!

  2. says

    After 11 years, problems are going to accelerate, or so I would think.

    So if I were in your shoes, I would casually start to look at nice used cars that I would like. Perhaps similar models to the ones you talk about above. No pressure though, just casually look around with a replacement date of Moose sometime in the next few months…

    Moose sounds like it has been an awesome SUV, probably useful too!

    But really, it’s all about those spending ratios that you mentioned before. Go for it if the vehicle is less than 10% of your income…

    • says

      I think I have literally visited the various car dealers 60+ times in the past 4 years. I find them that fun, especially since 3 are on the way home from work.

      It’s weird. I feel odd even spending 1/20th of my gross income on a car. I don’t know why I feel that hesitant to spend money on a car. Maybe b/c I know it’s just gonna depreciate in value.

  3. says

    I think BeatingTheIndex has it right. If you can’t count on your car to be reliable after this fix that it’s worth considering a replacement. I’d get something used, cheap and practical if it were me.

    My current car is a japanese gas sipper, 2003 with 141k miles on it. Got it five years ago for under $10k. No troubles at the moment so hopefully I’ll be able to put another 50-100k on it. If I had to replace it now I’d probably just go without for a couple years since it’s feasible and buy another used japanese gas sipper later.

  4. says

    If the car means so much to you and if you can afford it without reducing your existing quality of life go for it, but make up for the splurge by being extra frugal with your other expenses!

    I usually reserve this speech when someone asks me ‘Why do you need a Mac’, but this is applicable to a 335i as well! :)

    • says

      I donno if I can be more frugal w/ my other expenses as I’m already saving 70% of my after tax salary. I refuse to be frugal on vacations though. That’s where I will SPLURGE BIG TIME!

  5. says

    You’re on a 7-8 year path to retirement, right?

    Sounds like it might be a good time to ditch moose, grab a new ride, and drive it around like a champ for the next 7-8 years of your working life. A new car should last that long without too many major problems, anyway.

    I’ll play the part: go buy a new car. It makes sense for your timeline. Do it!

    • says

      This really is a good point and something I’ve exactly thought about. If I’m hanging up my boots in 7 years, this could be the perfect time to get a new/used vehicle, live it up and ride it off to the sunset!

  6. says

    With no guarantee that you are going to have to throw more money into it…or worse getting stuck in a snow storm up to Tahoe I would say it is time to have a party for Moose-Man. He gave you a great decade let him go

  7. says

    Haven’t had a car since I moved to NYC but can relate to your story: a year ago I was informed by a tech person my Mac was on life support and on its way to Apple heaven. Decided to wait till it was an actual corpse before springing for a new one (model already decided on). And here it is with all its’ eccentricities still working fine.

    In your case, however, things seem to have reached a point where safety concerns might be on the horizon. As for how much you want to spend on a new car, the question is, where are your priorities now?

    • says

      I would never ever ever have a car in Manhattan. Their subway system is too cheap and good!

      I have a lot of priorities, and a snazzy car isnt one, but I wouldn’t mind. Safety, reliability, then comfort!

  8. says

    It always seems like you are a bit addicted to being frugal with regards to your SUV. Like you always say, what’s the point of making money if you can’t spend it, especially when you, from time to time, really want the new cars?

    Another thing is if it’s true that you can actually cultivate business relationships at your club, having a car that’s TOO old and falling apart is going to be a turn off to your potential clients. You don’t want to go too far, but having a car that’s too old is sort of like wearing a super worn out t-shirt every time you play. I’m sure you see those people sometimes at your club, and it just doesn’t present well…

    Of course, I can tell you first hand that even if you get your dream car, you will get used to it very quickly and wonder if the purchase was ever worth the price but if you can afford it, then you should spend a little once in a while because being addicted to looking at an increasing account balance can be worst than a drug addiction.

    • says

      Actually, frugal is the new “in” for members at my club. We have a Member who is worth $1.5 billion and he drives a 8 year old Honda Accord. His mansion is another matter.

      • says

        Ahh I see, but does his Honda Accord have a black tape that covers 3 otherwise glaring warning lights? It’s a fine line and you know the situation much more than me obviously, but be careful!

        • says

          Ha you got me then. I’m known to be quite frugal (and I got my fair share of people calling me cheap before) but I think at that level of wealth ($1+ billion), I do think he is being cheap when he is sitting on ripped seats. It’s one thing to buy Japanese cars because after all, luxury is mostly for show, but it’s another when he is hoarding money for no reason. After all, a cushy leather seat is more comfortable and probably a little bit better for our backs.

          I totally agree that it’s cool to be poor while you are rich, but on the other hand, I wonder how the poor really thinks about these acts when he drives up to the rich person, sees his japanese car, talks to him and realizes that he’s wearing a tailor made Armani suit and a IWC watch with the face a size of a tennis ball and cost as much as the poor person’s life time earnings.

          • says

            Ah, but the rich wear Seiko watches and suites from Ross Dress For Less. :). Like I said, visiting his house is another matter though! I think it’s in the $30 million range.

        • says

          I heard the secret to seeing someone’s wealth is to see the stuff that the wife wears, which is true at least with many of the Asian population :) So perhaps it’s a St. John night gown with a suit from Ross Dress for Less? :)

          The $30 million dollar house must be nice! Though I’ve toured a few around where I live in Southern California and I must say that some of those people have “unique” tastes :)

  9. says

    You have expensive taste in cars my friend. My Corolla LE was about $17,000 if memory serves and gets 30+ MPG. I love me some Toyota.

    Where you live, can you live without the car? I can’t live without because of where my job is, but when I worked downtown I only used it for groceries and rarely otherwise.

  10. says

    A car that begins to fall apart rarely recovers. The manufacturers design the cars to last a certain amount of time, there’s no point in having a transmission that can last 250K miles if the engine is only good for 100K. Therefore, once you start seeing multiple issues, you know you’ve reached the end of it’s life.

    Dump it.

  11. says

    From Car Negotiation Coach:

    Sam, If I were you I’d keep the moose until it just won’t go. When I get to that sub-4k value range every big repair is such a big % of the value, so I try to stick with the minimal amount of repairs to keep it functioning until it’s dead. You can probalby suck another year or two of life out of that bad boy (assuming you enjoy the ride still) and save several grand in payments. As for your dashboard, I have the exact same problem with my saab. Thousands to fix the display, but nothing structurally wrong….so I did the same thing….just cover it up….after a while you don’t even notice it’s missing.

  12. says

    If I spend over $1,000/year on repair, then I usually start looking around for a newer vehicle. I think you should find a newer car. It’ll be safer especially if you go skiing pretty often. New cars has many more safety technologies. I guess that’s both good and bad. It’ll be even more expensive to repair…. :)

  13. says

    Fix the car and save your cash…Or buy the newer, cheaper car and be bored. I used to be in love with my car until it hit me – a car is a means of transportation. It’s purpose is to get you from point A to be safely. It doesn’t love you.

    Or you can just splurge and get something that you’ll be in looooove with. I’m no help, am I?

    • says

      I have a feeling that guys are much more enamored and attached to their cars than gals. I know I won’t be in love with any new car for longer than a couple years since there are always new awesome one’s that come out.

  14. says

    Sam
    If I were you, I’d drop moose. It sounds like it’s rapidly approaching the stage where old cars just stick a siphon to your wallet and start to drain it. You’d probably be a bit worse off in the near term, but after about 18 months, youll probably be money ahead of the game. I do have one question – how come you are looking at sports cars like the bmw 3 series or audi when you go to tahoe so much? I know that audi’s are awd, but they dont have the ground clearance that moose probably does, and may not get over donner pass as well during those spring storms that dump 1′ per night on the tahoe resorts. You could leave yourself stuck in the city in tears because you cant go on vacation! :)

    • says

      Tis a good question mate. Because I’ve always been a fast car kinda guy, but that got lost after I started going up to Tahoe a lot and the snow. So, after 4 years, I’m kinda itching again, and have thought of just renting a 4X4 during the winter seasons. Zipcar is only 4 blocks away from where I live I think. So pretty convenient!

  15. says

    Right now may be an opportunity to snag a great car that is out of favor. My friend offered me his 4 years old Infiniti G 35 for $12k. It was in great condition although it had 80K miles on it. He wants to sell it because it get poor MPG. If you don’t drive a lot, this type of car can be a real find.

  16. Eric says

    You should follow through and buy the 335i, you can pick up an 07-08 for a little over 20K with low miles. I love mine.

  17. anonymous says

    if you really like the car and the image it projects and the utility it provides, then put the new parts on and don’t worry about it. Cars cost about $0.5/mile and maybe 1/3 of that is deprec, 1/3 gasoline, 1/3 in parts and maint. So if you drive 10,000 miles per year, thats easily 1600/yr in parts as a matter of routine. If the car needs major repair such as a new engine or transmission, then you can re-eval. Even then it may be worth it to do a repair. Buying a new used car introduces a bunch of unknowns that can’t be determined in advance even with a mechanic doing an inspection, unless he takes the car apart, but I doubt they do that.

  18. Mike Hunt says

    If you like Moose as much as I think you do, keep putting in the minimum maintenance possible to keep it running per the Car Negotiation Coach’s advice. You will get a lot of entertainment and story value out of this approach, so it may be worth your time. Only you can make this calculation.

    Just be careful not to take it on a long trip and put yourself in a position where you could get stranded.

    If I was back in the USA I’d buy a new car and keep it for 8 years until it has a ton of miles on it.

    In Asia I think it’s very important to have a well running, high performance car with good acceleration, stable cornering, and powerful brakes. This is because I have a long commute and are regularly alternating between stuck in traffic and going 100 MPH! I think I’d have the same philosophy if living in Germany or Italy.

    C’mon, if you were living in Germany tell me you would still be aspiring to get a Honda and not a BMW 5 or 7 series?

    In the USA the speed limits are too low so a nice car is totally wasted because you can never use the capabilities of the car. In other parts of the world you are actually utilizing the potential of the car so it totally changes the value equation.

    -Mike

    • says

      If I was in Germany, I would buy a Lambo Gallardo……. or 911 Turbo, to be a little more understated! Can only go 80mph here in the US without risk of getting a ticket. That’s like Moose’s top speed! lol

  19. The Wealthy Canadian says

    Personally, I would ditch the Moose and buy a nice car that will give you great fuel economy and one that you can count on being a long term investment.

    A BMW or luxury car will probably be great during the first few weeks of owning one, but that will wear off. What won’t wear off is the price tag you paid.

    If i had a Toyota dealership where I lived, I would buy one in a heart beat. My mother-in-law has one and that bad boy just keeps going and going and the money saved on gas is just ridiculous.

    My thoughts only. Best of luck!

    • says

      Sounds good mate, although a car is never a good investment in my mind. A nice luxury, especially for a city dweller like me, but I really dont think I should be spending more than $20,000 on a car. Moose, brand new was a $45,000 car.. so it’s got some lost cache! Thx

  20. says

    I think it’s great you’re trying to get the most out of your car. I’m not a fan of shiny new cars, especially as a city dweller because they are targets for tickets, break ins, and the inevitable bumps and dings if you ever park on the street. And of course the giant price tags!

  21. says

    I’m facing the same considerations on my 11-yr old, 160,000 mile truck. But you’re in a different situation, and have several options. Perhaps a 2 or 3-yr old used vehicle is the answer. New enough to still retain a whiff or two of the new-car smell, and old enough to have taken the initial depreciation hit.

  22. says

    I say keep Moose. My thought is if a car needs repairs and they cost less than the value of the vehicle, it’s worth repairing. If the repairs end up costing 100% of the value, that’s a different story.

    Moose is already depreciated, and repairs are less than the cost of a new vehicle. Hang on to it for a few years. And like Super Frugalette says, you get some bragging rights.

    That also keeps the cash you would have paid for a new car working for you in the bank or in your investments for a few more years.

  23. says

    My car is 6-years old and I still park it way in the back of the grocery store parking lot. My husband would have my head if it got a door-ding! As for Moose, I’d say keep it and invest the money if it means driving it for a few more years. There’s always new cars to drool over, but save your money for the one you really want. ;)

  24. says

    We are in the same situation. I have an older saturn that i’ve had for 12 years now that is starting to make some real fun noises while driving (but it does keep putting along). The problem is my fiancee is using it to drive 80 miles per day and I don’t want to put that onto a new car.

    Last time I went to the dealer it cost me around $1,000 to fix everything up to snuff (i indicated to the dealer that i’d like everything that would be needed for the car to work one more year fixed). This is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60% of the vehicle’s value. My fiancee’s job moves around so my hope is that she moves closer to the home before the year is up so that we won’t be putting 20,000 miles plus onto a newer car.

    Until then my little saturn mobile will hopefully stay strong (honestly they must have built this engine out of titanium).

  25. Darwin's Money says

    Do you plan on having kids in the next 10 years? If so, you might want to “future-proof” your car and make sure it’s safe for kids, can hold at least 2 car seats, etc. We goofed on ours when our third kid forced us to sell our SUV AND Civic since neither can hold 3 kids. I would have liked to have kept each car for 10-12 years, but only made it like 6-7.

  26. libby says

    I say keep your car until it just won’t go. Thats my current plan other things are at the top of my financial list. This can wait a bit longer until you can find a model you will want to keep. I know I like my old car because it is far sturdier than newer models of the same that are all plastic.

  27. says

    I’m starting to wonder if there’s some kind of curse on older cars belonging to Yakezie members. This is the fourth post I’ve read about someone trying to decide whether to repair the older car or get a new (or newer) car.

    I’d say get a newer used car. It sounds like there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on Moose.

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