Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Still cheaper than a car payment, or is it?

My wife and I haven't had to make a car payment in about 5 years. And its been swell. Her Odyssey has always been dependable, as has my Mazda 626. In the 9 years I've had it, I replaced a leaky coolant overflow tank and unplugged the electric radio antenna when it broke. Otherwise, no problems that a brake job or new tires couldn't resolve.

But then I did something stupid. I read the direction book.

Any car guy knows (not that I am one myself, I'm just sayin') that somewhere after a car hits 100k it's time to get the timing belt replaced. So at 107k, I decided to tighten the belt, so to speak, and cough up the 800 bucks to get it done. Unfortunately that $800 bill quickly doubled when the mechanic discovered that not only was the belt completely shot, but so were the pulleys it was riding on. All that and a couple other odds and ends brought forth a $1600 charge on my visa. Oh well, at least this means my baby's good for another 100k, right?


Since that visit to the shop a month ago, the muffler pipe rusted off, costing me another $350. Well, that was last week. Today I pulled into my driveway and noticed steam coming from the hood. It appears the radiator decided to suddenly empty itself. Through a hole in its side.

Okay, so let's say that radiator costs $300 to fix. Still, you say, that means I've only put $2250 into a car to give it some needed updating, right? Well sure. HOWEVER, the week after the ordeal with the timing belt, the Odyssey decided to develop an evil shudder that lead to $800 in brake work. And last Sunday, I blew out a tire - of course, not the tire that had the warranty or road hazard protection, but one of the older tires that would have just squeaked by inspection, which lead to another $350 for two new tires. So in the past month we're surpassing $3k in car repairs. And neither car has actually had its annual inspection yet.

Today, we realized something. If we hold onto both cars as long as we can, chances are good that both cars will need to be replaced at the same time. I'm not ready for two car payments. A friend of mine went through that. He took his wife shopping for a new car and, as he pulled into a dealer lot, his current car did an imitation of the Bluesmobile after the final chase scene of Blues Brothers ended. The next day he was the proud owner of a Prius AND a Highlander with two nice shiny car payments to boot.

I'm starting to think my Zoom Zoom's gotta go out back for a talkin' to Old Yeller style.

There are two things that suck most about this:

1. It would mean basically throwing away two grand worth of car repairs
2. Given the state of gas prices, the economy, and the dearth of cars that get good mileage, I have absolutely no idea what to buy right now, nor do I want to buy right now.

Ironically if it does go, I won't miss this car too much. It's been good to me, but it's just a car. Before that I had a Wrangler. I miss my Wrangler. And before that, I had a Ford Probe. I miss that too.

Well, tune in tomorrow when our hero says, "you want how much???"

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