It pays to get a car looked at

For the past month or so, my wife and I have been trying to figure out whether she should get a new car. It had been a very difficult question, especially given our current finances. Yesterday we concluded our search and decided to stick with her car for the time being. Our lesson is below.

Her 1997 Dodge Neon is better described by what it doesn’t have (no A/C, no cruise control, no ABS, front speakers don’t work, no CD player) compared to what it has (it runs and gets her back/forth to work). She puts on about 8,000 or so miles per year on it, simply because she only uses the car when she isn’t traveling some place with me (to her job, visiting her friends, etc.). Whenever we are together, we use my Subaru Forester, since it runs much better and has the extra perks that are good for driving around (A/C, cruise, CD player, ABS, etc.).

About a month ago she mentioned to me that the transmission was starting to have problems. Sometimes when she pressed the accelerator it would take a second or two for the car to actually move. The car’s transmission would also shift gears very hard at times. Over time, it was getting worse.

I immediately feared the worst: that the transmission would have to be replaced. We also had a deadline to decide what to do: the car was due for inspection and registration in just a month and most likely needed new tires. In a worst case scenario, you are talking a one to two thousand dollars to repair the car; more then than the car is worth.

We decided to see what was available in the used car market and see what we could get for her car as a trade-in. It can never hurt to look after all. A tough situation was made even tougher when we found out that the used car market was facing a shortage of good and reasonably priced cars in our price range. Almost all the reputable car dealers in the area didn’t have a single used car below $10,000. The car dealers that did were either shady or the car itself had a lot of miles on it. To make matters worst, the general consensus on Katie’s car was that it was worth between $300-$500.

This wasn’t even getting into our financial situation. I had previously hoped that once my car was paid off (just over three years left on a five year car loan), we could use the monthly payment to get my wife a new car. Getting her a new car before paying off my car would throw a huge dent into our finances. It could very easily postpone another hope I had, which was taking advantage of the housing crisis and getting a good deal so we can own our first home sometime in 2008.

Last week, I was talking to my dad and he made a good point that we should have someone look at her car. After all, it could be something as simple as the transmission fluid needing to be replaced. Fixing that is cheaper then just 1 monthly payment on a car loan.

So I took Friday off from work and brought her car up to a mechanic I have my full trust in. He looked over the car and found the problem. The transmission fluid was low and slightly burnt, so a flush and brand new fluid were done. Plus some other minor things that needed to be tweaked. The car was then inspected and the sticker slapped on the wind shield. The tires were legal, but being winter he recommended that they get replaced, especially since the tread was low and there were several different tires on the car. So I bought four real nice all-season tires that match. Given that we will probably have the car for at least three more years, we will get our money’s worth out of those tires.

So what did this cost? $30 for the inspection. $90 for the car registration. $177 for the transmission work. $394 for the tires and an alignment.

Grand Total: $691, with a few cents tacked on. Or just about 2-4 monthly car payments depending on the price of the new car we looked into.

Moral of the story: My wife’s car really has a sole purpose, to get her to work and home in a reliable manner. It doesn’t have A/C, cruise control, a CD Player, or heck, half her speakers don’t work. But it has been pretty reliable and she only uses it about 20-30 minutes, five days a week. It pays to see what it would cost to fix it, instead of blinding assuming that it is the end of the world.

Plus it beats having an unneeded monthly payment. Not to mention, the car drives pretty nicely now for a 1997 Neon. Four (matching) new tires make a world of a difference and the transmission, while not shifting like brand new, is working very well now.

Break out the soldering iron

In Jaunary 2006 I bought a used 2002 Subaru Forester after my 2000 Saturn SL1 was “totaled” (ie: the damage was more then the car was worth, it easily could have been repaired if the insurance company wanted to) when rear ended.

Just months after I bought the car, the overhead clock stopped working. It is something from time to time I would wonder about, but never got around to fixing it. When I got an aftermarket stereo installed in my car, I just setup the display on it to show the clock.

Fast forward a year and a half…yesterday I happened to think about the broken clock when I was on the computer and decided to do a Google search just to see what would come up. I was thinking I could find a used clock or something for a cheap price.

Instead I find a forum post on the Subaru Forester Owners Forum (which surprised me that such a forum existed). In the forum post, it describes that the actual problem with the clock is a poor soldering job by Subaru (or really, the cheap factory in China or whatever it was made) on one or more chips on the clock’s circuit board. Many of the forums members apparently added some solder to fix the poor soldering job and the clocks started working again!

So I went to Radio Shack, bought a cheap soldering iron and some solder, figured out how to take the clock out of the overhead display, and went to work.

What do you know, it works now! And since I also got a car stereo back into my car today 1 month after my car was broken into and the previous stereo stolen, I instantly solved two big problems: the broken clock and no stereo.

Who was in my car last night?

I generally think of where I live as very safe. I live in a condo complex and never really heard of any break-ins of any kind. It is just far enough from the bad parts of Manchester that I don’t really think twice about crime.

Until this morning.

At 8:30am I walked out to my carport, ready to go to work. As I got closer to my car, I suddenly noticed that my driver’s side door was slightly open. I ran over to the car and noticed my driver’s seat tilted back all of the way. I knew instantly what happened.

My car was broken into.

It didn’t even take a second to realize that my stereo (and its iPod adapter) was gone. Ripped right out of the center console. Everything in my glove compartment thrown around my car. The lock on the drivers side was dangling by a wire, the lock on the passenger side completely gone, with just a hole remaining. The jerks even took my gym bag (I assume to carry the stereo) and in a moment of kindness, left my gym clothes on the seat.

I made the required calls to the insurance company and the police. Since I knew someone at my insurance company, that part was handled easily.

Manchester Police didn’t even care one bit. I was told there were 15 other car break-ins last night and this was just one more to add to the list. They didn’t even send out an officer to look at the car and fingerprint it. Nothing. I am sure glad my taxes are working well to keep the crime off the streets.

Not happy.

So it continues

So far, my new car insurance company seems to be doing a good job with my key scratch claim. They sent someone out today to take a look at my car (take photos, write up an estimate, etc.). Even though I have a low deductible for this type of claim (also there is no rate increase), it still sickens me that it will cost over $600 total to fix this.

The key part is tomorrow: bringing the car over to the auto body shop so they can look at it themselves and the insurance company’s estimate. I wonder how close that estimate will be with what the auto body shop says.

The amusing part is according to the estimate, all but $50 of that is labor.

Keep track of your car's mileage

A neat site I have run across in the past week is My Mile Marker, who’s purpose is real simple: keeping track of your car’s mileage, MPG, annual costs, and so on.

It works brilliantly if you fill your cars tank every-time you get gas, you write down your car’s mileage when you fill the tank, and you remember to input the data into My Mile Marker.

With a week’s worth of tracking, I have found out I get 26.2 miles per gallon on my 2002 Subaru Forester, which is actually above the government gas mileage standards for my car. This is including lots of highway miles, a little city driving, plus some classic side road driving (lots of hills and turns at 30-40 mph speeds).

Granted, I have been practicing some fuel saving techniques to keep my MPG up. For example, I drive mostly on the highway in my car, which means less stop/go traffic which automatically means higher mileage. I also drive between 60-65 mph on the highway, which is much more efficient then driving even 70 mph. I also use cruise control extensively, which really helps with mileage.

It will be interesting to see how my car does over the next month. I am going to attempt to keep track of each fill-up.


Well my “new” car (a 2002 Subaru Forester I bought last year) just failed inspection and needs $1,730 worth of repairs (well, $1,400 if you only include the leaking head gasket that needs to be replaced to pass inspection, but there is several other things that need to be done and might as well get done now).

This sucks.

2002 Subaru Forester

I bought and drove home a 2002 Subaru Forester today. What an awsome car. Handles the snow extremely well, easy to drive, and looks like it is as good as new.

Let’s hope the 3rd time is the charm when it comes to cars.

Goodbye Saturn, Hello Subaru?

Yesterday I found out that my 2000 Saturn SL1 was declared a total loss. It was rear-ended last month and apparently there was a lot of internal damage in the back. Just cheaper for the insurance company to cut me a check for the car’s worth then to repair it. I lucked out and it was about a $75 difference between what the insurance company will pay and what was left on my loan.

Today I saw the Saturn for the last time. I went to the auto body shop where it was going to be repaired and took out whatever I had left in it. Most important was my E-Z Pass (can’t believe I forgot it last time) and my car stereo. Thankfully someone there helped me get that stereo out, I never would be able to get it out myself.

It was quite amazing to see the Saturn there with the back of the car (except the trunk) and both rear doors had the outside stripped off. You could see where all the damage was pretty clearly on the frame and underneath.

Afterwards, we (as in my parents and fiancee) did some car shopping since I lose rental coverage on Wednesday. We amazingly found something that fits me perfectly on the 1st day of looking. It is a 2002 Subaru Forester L, red, all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, AC, fog lights, cassette/cd, etc. I was so impressed with how smoothly it drives and how new it looked (it literally looked like it never had been driven before).

Subaru Forester’s are among the safest cars on the road and are excellent in the snow. Exactly what I need, especially with all of the traveling I do.

I put a deposit down to have the dealer hold it overnight while I think about it. However, I think I made my decision…I am going to get it. The insurance looks like it will go up just $7 per month and it looks like my budget can handle the payments.

I have to call tomorrow before 2 PM and confirm/deny what I am doing. I really think this car is the right move for me.