Saturday, October 24, 2009

Auto-Neurotic

In the spirit of procrastination...

When I was in grad school, I drove a '87 Honda Accord, with the pop-up lights, burning oil, rusty rear end, and a prototypical "luxury" cockpit that pretty much all the fleets of all the makers have since adopted.  I am not a car lover, but I did really like that car.  I fixed a few vehicles in those years out of painful necessity, but most of those efforts were jury-rigging a couple of front ends thanks to my awful driving skills and occasional bad luck.  The only one I really wanted to repair was the Accord.  Biggest job I ever attempted. 

It was just about ten years ago that I had the top of the engine spread out all over the landlord's driveway.  One of the spark plugs had blown out--the threads just gave way and the the thing popped right off--and I had to take the head off and tap a new hole and rethread it with one of those heli-coil dealies.  Fun stuff.  you could really see the black gunk on top of the cylinders, and I suspected that the oil leak was from the rods above, which was I could address, having it all apart like that, but I was already out of money and in over my head in terms of capability.  The car had negligible value, and the repair got me a good extra year out of the vehicle.  I felt really good about that repair.  The car never stopped performing for me, but it did eventually fail emissons.  If it had been the burning oil or the rust, I might have tried to get even more driving out of it. 

I feel that this is how cars should be handled.  Serially buying new cars is absurd, and something well worth procrastinating.  Every mile that you can get free and clear of any lien, well, that's money in the bank as far as I'm concerned.  Cars should be driven until they're kaput--until the cost of maintaining them surpasses the cost of replacing them.  But when do you make the call?

I learned this morning that my Subaru ('02 Legacy) is suffering an oil leak, from the head gasket and possibly elsewhere.  I don't think I'm at a point in my life where I'll try and pull off a major and necessary repair myself (I don't even have a garage), but these guys are quoting me on the order of $2500 for all the gasket (guess)work they think it requires (might as well replace the timing belt too, etc.).  What's worse, since I've already been procrastinating so long on getting the exhaust replaced (gradually getting noiser and stinkier), the vehicle is looking at three thousand dollars in repairs.

I'm pretty upset.  This is the second car in a row that required major surgery at the 100000 mile mark, and I was hoping to get more than that out of a Subaru, get to that point of pure, delicious, economic gravy.  The car is allegedly worth $5k retail, so I'm not quite underwater yet, but I'm nagged with the question of how best to maintain this thing.  Do I pay for the head gasket (and other) repair, and will that get me to the fiscally pleasing ridiculously high mileage I'd prefer, or is it time start riding it into the ground?  If I do the exhaust, and then just pour oil into it until it just siezes, will that get me another year or two?  Anybody have experience with these cars?

There are a couple of complications, too.  Unfortunately, we have to get the exhaust fixed before it can even be tested for emissions in three months, and it's not a given that it will pass.  The second issue is that we kind of hate the car--the seats are incredibly uncomfortable, the doors are flimsy, and the wind whistles through the windows in a most annoying and constant way.  I'd still rather get another couple years out of it.

So, a decision on how long we should try to gimp this thing along has to be made by January.  We're saving up for whichever choice, which is a huge impediment to our general plans.  Which to choose?  Well, that's going to be put off a little longer.

6 comments:

switters said...

My biggest regret, car-wise, is letting my 89 Trooper "go to pasture". I loved that car, and I turned my back on him. Dammit.

I don't understand people who think that having a monthly car payment is just part of life. I paid my 02 car off this summer. I've got the title framed. (I don't.) So I'm with you re: "money in the bank".

Fix it. My dad didn't own a new car until 1995.

Fix it. Unless, as you're concerned, you'd be underwater, so to speak.

But something tells me in my gut that you should fix it.

Me: 84 Tempo inherited from my mom in the 90s, to Boston, Colorado, traded it in for the Trooper. Great car.

Keifus said...

I'm thinking that $3 grand ends up being about eight months of car payments (or so), so the math I'm using says the car would need to keep running for a good bit longer than that to be worth it, with nothing else going wrong.

We don't have a lot of love for the Subaru, although I don't hate it. My mom sold it to me dirt cheap actually (inherited her mother's car when she got too old to drive and passed this one along at a discount), which ends up being another complication.

K

artandsoul said...

I once got a car from my parents (one of those godawful K cars) when I was in school, and unable to work enough hours to make payments + rent + tuition.

The car was fairly reliable, but it sucked.

I kept it for years. Got married. Got pregnant. My husband took the sucky car and traded it in on a brand new, gorgeous GM Station Wagon! I had arrived!

Years later my mother let slip that she was still mad we didn't offer to give them the car back so they could pass it on to another sibling.

There are layers of complication all right.

twif said...

just bought a new car. it's been about 4 years since i had a car payment, and that was bliss. alas, the old saturn, which i had from new and wasn't particularly fond of anyway, has decided to randomly not start. took it to two different mechanics, no one know why and it always starts for them. naturally. since it was the only car and suddenly unreliable, went and got a new forester. quite happy with it.

i prefer keeping a car for as long as it runs. how else are you going to learn the quirks of it? breaking a new car in is pain in the ass.

Keifus said...

Hey, all my cars are K cars!

hipparchia said...

i'm a fan of procrastination. these things often decide themselves if you let them. :D

i'm currently driving a 20 year old hand me down [free is good] and have recently [knock on wood] dodged the replace the transmission or replace the car? question with some fairly minor repairs. minor for a transmission anyway. i live in fear that this may just be the start...

and it too has the doesn't start reliably problem that i keep spending time, and small amounts of money, on because that's cheaper than a car payment too, and it's mostly reliable. but yeah, the problem NEVER happens when i leave it with the mechanic.

oh, and mine [never had a subaru myself, so i can't help you with that] is coming up in a quarter million miles, so there!