Why I don't need a new car

It’s amazing how tempting a new car is. You see the car on the ads, on the road, and/or hear friends talk about it. You dream about what it would be like to have that new car smell, an odometer that has single digit miles on it, and not a scratch on it. In particular, trucks can off/on intrigue me to daydream a bit.

Then I look at my current car, a 2009 Hyundai Elantra. It has some scratches of course, as any 5-year-old car would. It has low miles for its age, just breaking 29,000 this past week. It could use a car detailing inside, but still runs and looks like new.

And most importantly, it is 100% paid off. With 5 years left on its warranty and so low miles that it’ll will be barely 60,000 miles in total 5 years from now. Assuming nothing major changes, you’re talking many more than 5 years left in this car.

Today I loaded a walk-behind lawnmower, the quartered sections of my old plywood basement door that was replaced two weeks ago, and 5-6 long sections of lumber. I had the fold down the seats, put a plastic sheet down, and stuff them into the car. But they fit and the car brought me to the town transfer station without incident.

Sure a truck would be convenient, allowing me to do a single trip to the transfer station instead of 2 or 3. Sure a new car would be nice. But, it is very nice to own that car 100% without a payment and with many more miles to go on it. And soon, my wife’s car will be in the same situation.

That is the beginning of financial freedom for sure.

Cutting what you don't need

Recently I received my AAA membership renewal bill. I’ve been a member for over 10 years and quite used to these renewal letters. Looking the renewal letter over, I suddenly remembered that this is of no use to me now.

My wife and I currently have AAA Plus, which costs $121 to renew according to the letter. This was important when we had used cars that weren’t the most reliable. Generally we would use the towing coverage once or twice a year, which would just about pay for the membership. They always have been fast in response times and very helpful. Yet, we don’t have used cars anymore. In July 2009 we bought a  2009 Hyundai Elantra. In October 2010, we bought a 2011 Subaru Legacy.

This renewal letter reminded me of something that had been mentioned in passing when we bought both of our cars new. Both manufacturers included roadside assistance with the cars. In the case of Subaru, roadside assistance is included in the 3-years/36,000 limited warranty. For Hyundai, their roadside assistance is 5-years/unlimited miles.

That reminder is going to save me $120 per year for at least 3 years. Maybe once the Subaru’s coverage expires we will revisit getting AAA coverage. Since the Subaru’s coverage runs out first, maybe I would then get just a single membership for my wife (since she drives that car the most). I could never remember to use the AAA discounts or other perks of the membership, so we weren’t earning back the money for this membership.

This is a good reminder to keep track of what perks you get when you purchase certain items. Because I remembered that we have roadside assistance via the car manufacturers, we are saving at least $360 over the next 3 years not renewing our AAA membership.

Shopping around saves money

I decided to take a 4 day weekend due to my 28th birthday today. It is the first time off I have had since September. Part of my yearly routine around my birthday is to get my cars registered and inspected, just like millions of others in the USA. It also becomes an important lesson on why it is important to shop around.

Seeing that one of my cars is just 10 months old, for the first time that I can remember I had no anxiety about a car passing inspection. That was easy. The other car, the recently paid off 2002 Subaru Forester, is another story. It is starting to show its age but seems like it is in overall good shape. The Forester passed inspection fine, but the garage I had brought it to (Firestone) said that I would probably need new struts real soon, which costs $1300.

Given that they weren’t necessary to pass inspection, I passed on getting the struts replaced right there. I knew I had to shop around and just get an idea if that is a good price. I wasn’t even thinking at that point whether I actually needed the struts replaced.

One thing I haven’t found since I moved to Manchester, NH is a car garage that I could trust. Looking around online and asking some friends, I stumbled across Brutus Auto Repair & Service. I gave them a ring and the nice guy on the phone told me to bring the car in today and he will take a peak.

I am so glad I shopped around. He put the car on the lift, showed me what he could see. He said he saw no reason to replace the struts right now, the back struts look in excellent shape for their age and the front ones could go at least another year. Firestone lied to me. Right there, he saved me $1300.

What he did see is I should probably get new front brakes soon as they are close to being worn out. He said it was close enough that he could see an argument for the brakes failing inspection. Looking at them and him showing me the various parts of the brakes, for the first time I felt comfortable with a car garage in Manchester, as he clearly explained what was wrong with the brakes. While it would cost several hundred dollars to replace the brakes, given that I once lost my brakes before, I wasn’t taking any chances with that. Plus they were probably the original brakes on an 8 year old car, they are probably about due for replacement in any case. I signed up for the work to be done on Friday. He also is going to fix an annoying loud rattle I could hear when the car accelerates.

Lesson is, always shop around and find someone you can trust.

The one constant about cars

If there is one constant in the universe about cars, it is that they break. Sooner or later, it happens. In my experience, it always seems to be when I just received something like an overtime check or a bonus. Never fails! This golden rule regarding cars can also occur when the last thing you need on your mind is a broken car. It is like the car has a sixth sense, as if it were a teenager who figured out how to get a few extra bucks out of the parents when they least expect it, just so they can have the latest and greatest (in this case, parts). 

My wife had a 1997 Dodge Neon that, to put it bluntly, was a piece of shit. No air conditioning, creaking/rattling like there is no tomorrow, a nice dent right in the trunk area, and slowly falling apart. She hated it with a passion, but she only drove the car about 7000-8000 miles a year. It had no car payment, it still got from Point A to Point B, and insurance was pretty cheap too. Once in a while, repair was needed, but we hoped to get it through another year while I finish paying off my Subaru.

It was up for inspection and registration last month, so I had it done. It passed inspection miraculously, but the mechanic gave a long list of things that sooner or later would need to be replaced. We knew it, 2009 would be the last year for this car. Maybe we could get the car to June or July before we had to make the decision.

Less then two weeks later, my wife was driving to work and all the sudden heard a loud constant noise coming from the car. It was so loud, she didn’t want to start the car again, afraid she would scare all of the kids at the daycare she works at.  A tow to the garage confirmed our suspicions: the car had a new problem that of course was not on the list when the car was inspected. It wasn’t worth fixing. We had to find her a new car.

Luckily, I was told that my grandparents were selling their 1993 Saab 900S Convertible. A quick phone call to them and within a day, we agreed on a sales price. It had 162,000 miles and needed some work, but the price could not be beat and overall the car was in great condition considering its age. My wife can already picture her summers in the convertible.

We are putting a lot of money into the Saab. A friend of mine does a lot of work on Saab’s, so I was able to save money having him work on the car. At my last count, we are at the $600 range, due to it needing a new starter, 4 new shocks, a tune-up, new wipers, new rear backup lights, and an oil change. However it drives extremely well and even factoring in the repairs, we  have come out so far ahead compared to buying a used car from a dealer and having a loan. So far ahead, it is entirely worth it, especially given the limited miles we will be putting on it.

Of course, I am sure the Saab is going to figure out who he is dealing with real soon. It won’t take it long to figure out how to tick me off.

Mileage

Since I started hypermiling, I increased my Subaru Forester’s mileage from ~24 mpg to ~30 mpg, a 6 mpg increase. Pretty amazing for a car that is basically an SUV. The hypermiling tricks I use is going about 60 mph on the highway (instead of ~65mph)  and I try to coast to stops instead of using my brakes all the time. That is it…not that difficult.

I also found a slightly modified way home that takes advantage of a $0.40 decrease in the highway toll thanks Exit 11 on I-93. Instead of paying $1.44 cents a day for tolls, I pay $0.84 a day in tolls, a $0.60 cent decrease. That adds up over 20+ days of paying a toll each month. Add bonus of driving this route: I avoid 3 stoplights and the 1 stoplight I do take on this route is directly next to where I live (and requires a simple right turn to navigate). Practically no stop and go traffic to worry about now.

A snowy commute

When I decided to take my current job in Concord in April 2006, I knew that during the winter it had the potential of some real nasty commutes. For those of you who don’t know, the stretch of I-93 between Manchester and Concord can be quiet bad during the winter. Especially with the idiots who go 50 when it is a blizzard outside!

I lucked out last winter, with only a few bad commutes due to the insanely late start to winter (it was 70 degrees in January 2007). So by the time the bad weather came in February, March, and unfortunately April, there was actually some light during on my commute home (5:00-5:30 PM). Light always makes driving in bad weather easier.

Tonight was my first truly awful commute home (I have already had some awfully icy commutes to work the past week or two). We had quite the little snow storm, which dumped a good 6 inches or so of snow in a very short period of time, with the heaviest snow during my commute home. Plus it was pitch black out…no natural light to assist with seeing the road.

Once again, I am so glad to have my Subaru Forester. Although I wish I had better tires, this thing has been a tank going through the poor weather we have had the past few weeks. Going 20-25 mph on absolutely snow covered highway with very poor visibility and poor light, I was able to feel pretty secure and safe despite the horrible conditions. The car didn’t slip once. In fact, the only time I was worried was when the idiots passed me going way faster. I even had several occasions where people drove what was the breakdown lane to pass me. What are they thinking? Either case, no one hit me and later on I saw some cars off the road…I am sure at least one of them belonged to the idiots who passed me earlier.

I must say, I much rather drive through snow then ice. At least you can see the snow in the dark.