Tag Archives: Car

Repair or Replace?

This past summer I had to make a very difficult decision:  repair or replace.  It’s a decision we face all the time.  Sometimes it’s an easy decision to repair, such as when you lose a button off a shirt, or a screw falls out from your glasses.  These repairs are very easy and inexpensive.  Most people can do these repairs themselves.  Sometimes it’s an easy decision to replace, such as when your cell phone charging cord stops working or your toaster won’t toast any more.  These things would be difficult to repair but replacing them is very inexpensive.

Things get more challenging when a repair is very expensive and a replacement would be even more expensive.  Like when your refrigerator stops working, or your laptop gives you the black screen of death.  In my case it was my trusty Subaru.  It was a 2004 Forester with nearly 170,000 miles on it.  Repairs to get it through inspection would have cost about $1,000.  That’s just shy of the value of the car. And within the next two years, two more scheduled maintenance issues would be at least another $1,500.  If I just drove it around town, I may have made the decision to repair.  But that was my camping car—the one I use to tow my teardrop camper to music festivals near and far.  At the time I had a trip to Wisconsin only a few weeks away.  The thought of being stranded in some random part of the flatlands of the Midwest with no way to tow my camper because something else went wrong on my ailing Subaru was just too much for me.  I started shopping.

I was not financially prepared to buy a car.  All I had for a down payment was my ailing trade-in and a few hundred from my savings.  And I had very specific needs as the replacement needed to be towing my camper within a short time.  I knew immediately that I wanted a Subaru Outback, and my price range limited me to a used car between 4 and 8 years old.  I scoured both the local dealerships and the Internet.  I test drove a few Outbacks that would stretch my budget too far.  I made a list ranking the cars that were in play as possibilities.  I made a spreadsheet listing the pros and cons of each car in the running.  And I found perfection at a Honda dealership near Pittsburgh.  A 2012 Subaru Outback, with a trailer hitch already installed, in the color my husband preferred, with a moonroof as a bonus.  And it had less than 60,000 miles on it.  Smack dab in the middle of my price range.

I didn’t get the best deal on financing because I was pressed for time.  I had to rely on the dealership to help me get a loan on the spot.  I’m currently in the process of refinancing that loan with my credit union, which will lower my interest rate by more than 2%.  Yes…you can refinance car loans.  Keep that in mind if you ever feel like your car loan isn’t your best deal.

Am I happy about the fact that I now have a car payment?  No way.  Am I happy that I now have a reliable car in great condition that will likely carry me through the next 8 years?  Absolutely!  It’s sometimes a very difficult decision, whether to repair or replace.  But I’m feeling confident that I made the right choice.

Gas is Cheap!

Gasoline is cheap right now.  The cheapest I remember in a lot of years.  And for most families, this means a big difference in the household budget.  The reality is most people spend a lot of time in their cars getting from one place to another.  And when gas costs less, that frees up money for a lot of other things….like paying off debt or saving for the future.

This is why it blows my mind that every time the price of gas drops, there is a noticeable increase in the sales of trucks and SUVs.  “Gas is cheap…I should buy a Hummer!”  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  The price of oil and gasoline fluctuates more than most commodities.  And just because gas is cheap now, it won’t be forever.  When it goes back up to the $4 per gallon range again at some future date (and it will), you don’t want to be stuck driving a vehicle that gets only 12 miles to the gallon.  I think it makes sense to choose a vehicle that offers the best gas mileage available for something that suits your needs.  Sure…some people do have need for a truck or an SUV.  But certainly not everyone.


Gas is cheap.  So don’t spend the extra money on a car that burns more gas.  Stick with a more fuel efficient model.  Then maybe you’ll be able to use the savings to actually go somewhere.

Don’t Forget to Fuel Up!

It’s never a good idea to try to get by with too little fuel.  Doing this with your car can have much worse consequenses than just running out of gas and being stranded.  In some cars the fuel pump is actually located inside the gas tank, and the gasoline surrounding it serves to keep it cooler.  By letting the tank run too long without the cooling of the gas, the fuel pump can run too hot and eventually burn up.  Also, running with the tank low on fuel will allow greater risk of your engine picking up some of the dirt and sediment that may have settled on the bottom of your fuel tank.  And all of this can add up to costly repairs that could have been avoided by keeping the fuel supply up.

The same is true with the human body.  While it may be tempting at stressful times like the exam period to skip out on the three fuels that run the body (food, water, and sleep), this will only be more costly for you in the long run.  Eat well and eat regularly.  Eat fruits and vegetables.  Drink lots of water.  Fueling up with junk food is the equivalent of putting diesel into your unleaded based car or vice versa.  It might work for a while, but in the long run it will cause serious damage.  The same goes for sleep.  While it may seem that you are able to get by on adreniline and caffeine, your head will not be as clear as it would be if you get a good eight hours of sleep.

Time is at a premium at this very busy time of the semester.  But don’t risk damaging your body by not keeping it fueled up.

Good luck on exams!!!

The Rewards of Regular Maintenance

I rolled 100,000 miles on my Prius this week.  It wasn’t ceremonious.  I didn’t pull over to the side of the road to take a picture to post to Facebook.  In fact, I wasn’t even looking when it happened.  I knew it was close, and when I looked down on my way home from work on Thursday, I saw 100,001.

There was a time in life when 100,000 miles on a car was a really big deal.  Almost nobody kept a car that long.  And many cars just wouldn’t last that long.  But in today’s world that marker is a pretty normal, expected milestone.

I probably should have mixed feelings about the fact that I’ve reached 100,000 miles and still have a year and a half of payments to go on the car loan.  But the fact is I drive a lot.  And I bought the car used, so I started at 38,000 miles.  I can’t complain too much about the fact that I’ve logged over 60,000 miles in three and a half years.  And the reality is that it just doesn’t bother me.  I fully expect to continue driving this car for at least another 100,000 miles.

How can I be so certain that my car will be able to stand up to all of those miles?  Regular maintenance!  I follow the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual to a T.  I change the oil and rotate the tires every 5,000 miles.  I check the fluids and change the air filters.  I have the big services done when they are due (seems like just yesterday I took it in for the 90,000 mile check-up).

Does regular maintenance cost money?  Absolutely.  But it costs a lot less than fixing something that has gone wrong because regular maintenance hasn’t been done.  Skipping an oil change for too long can cause serious problems to the engine.  Not draining and replacing the transmission fluid from time to time can cause the transmission to go bad.  So I’ll happily pay $25 every 5,000 miles to get the oil changed and $100 from time to time to drain and replace fluids.  It’s way better than paying $3,000 or more for a new transmission or engine.

My Prius is my baby.  We spend a lot of time together.  So I’ll continue to take care of that car.  Because if I treat it right, it will treat me right.

What Does a Car REALLY Cost?

I’m a pretty “green” kind of person.  I make the effort to recycle (even the plastics that won’t be picked up at curbside and I have to make a special trip to a recycling station at my local fire station).  I compost in my backyard.  I like to reuse and repurpose things in order to keep them out of the landfill.  I’m working toward making the switch to all LED light bulbs.  And I drive a Toyota Prius hybrid.  But my reason for driving the Prius is much less about the fact that I’m green and much more about the fact that I’m frugal (or maybe even “cheap”).


At the end of 2013, Consumer Reports declared the Prius to be the best overall value in vehicles, for the second year in a row.  The way they determine this is by factoring in not only the cost of purchasing the car, but also the costs of ownership (maintenance, fuel, repairs, etc.).  The fuel advantages are clear with a hybrid.  I regularly get between 40 and 50 miles per gallon with my Prius.  But other expenses can really add up as well.  How often do things go wrong with the car?  Are they major expenses to repair?  How much does regular maintenance cost?  How much do tires cost?  Is labor particularly expensive for this make/model?  These are all things that everyone needs to consider when making a major purchase like an automobile.  The car with the cheapest price tag is not necessarily the best value.

Nearly all of you will at some point in life purchase a new (or at least new to you) vehicle.  When you get to that point, don’t forget that you’re not just buying a pretty car that meets your transportation and hauling needs and that has nice options.  Consider the price.  Consider reliability.  Consider maintenance expenses.  Consider the cost of driving and owning it, not just the cost of buying it.  I’m not saying that everyone should drive a Prius.  But I am saying that everyone should think about all of these factors when making this very large financial decision.