Some of my most valuable life lessons I’ve learned from cars. From the outrageous monthly payments to ghastly repair bills and ridiculous insurance premiums, I know the dilemma of “Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!”
While it didn’t cross my mind while going through so many car miseries that one day my experiences might help others, perhaps that day has come. Let’s just say that what I know about this subject, I’ve learned the hard way.
Dear Mary: I’m in desperate need of some advice. After losing literally everything in a divorce situation, I bought a car about a year ago that I could pay for with cash—a 2002 Camry with more than 200,000 miles.
In the past year, I’ve spent more on repairs than I paid for the car. Every few weeks I seem to have to pay $200-$400 for repairs and that trend continues. I just found out that I need new inner tie rods and struts for the front of the car to keep it drivable and safe. Looming on the horizon is the need to replace the clutch (it’s a manual transmission) and no doubt other things, too.
At what point do you say enough is enough? I’ve been telling myself that there are only so many things that could go wrong on a car but I’m barely making it financially and if something more expensive happens that I can’t pay for with cash (I don’t even have a credit card) I’m in big trouble. I’m concerned it’ll leave me with no transportation to get to work and even worse, unable to see my kids. Thanks for what you do. Tim
Dear Tim: I am so sorry to hear of this most painful season you and your family are going through. I’m sure there are no easy answers, but I know that even this will not last forever. As for your transportation situation, this too is difficult but not impossible. You will get through this and I am confident it is going to be sooner than later.
I did a little checking using the information you’ve given me regarding your Camry and find that, generally speaking, its value is around $2,000, more or less, in its needy condition. It reminds me of my Cortina except its value was more like $200 with no choice but to keep pouring money into it.
The way I see it you have three options.
1. Sell the Camry then buy the best replacement clunker you can find with the cash you get for it. Whether you could find a more reliable vehicle for the same amount of money including applicable tax and fees is dubious, but could happen.
2. Sell the Camry, put the proceeds into savings then hunker down by taking public transportation or figuring out some kind of ride-sharing. While this option may be outside your comfort zone, you end up with money in the bank and trouble-free transportation. This assumes of course that you live in an area that offers public transportation. If you are diligent to save the money you aren’t having to spend on repairs, gas, and insurance, in time you’ll have enough cash to buy a decent clunker to get you back on the road.
Related: How to Buy a Car with All Cash
3. Keep fixing the Camry. This option requires that you continue doing what you have been doing—repairing this car. Determine to learn how to make these repairs yourself with parts you can get from your employer with your employee discount. Eventually, everything will be working reasonably well and you can start saving that $200 to $400 each month rather than pouring it back into the car.
My advice is that you go with Option 3. While these car repairs are miserable right now and keeping you on financial pins and needles, I’m confident that if you just hang in and keep going, in only a few more months you’ll be feeling tremendous relief from your car repair nightmare. Then you’ll be in a position to begin saving the money you’re not spending on repairs.
For DIY auto repairs, your computer is your friend. AutoMD and Cars.com are both excellent resources for general purpose videos, how-to guides, and diagnostic assistance for the most common car problems. AutoMD also has an iPhone app with guides optimized for mobile viewing. If you need help deciding if a repair is worth your time, RepairPal is an excellent resource for checking the average cost of repairs in a shop and can help you decide if it’s worth the time and effort to do it yourself.