Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Hey, I bought a cheap ass car and it what?"

I'll assume you did your homework on this one. When you bought that car, you checked it over top to bottom for the important stuff. If the check engine light was on, you opened the hood to make sure the engine was still there. If it wouldn't go in reverse, you checked the angle of your leg and foot to the ground so you could Flintstone out of spots in Wal-Mart when you were too stupid to pull through. If the body was rusty you made sure you had enough duct tape to cover the rockers so your thighs wouldn't get wet when you splashed through foot-deep puddles at 45mph. You checked ALL that out.

But now your car is broken.

The good news, you paid a small amount of money for that car. You paid so little for it that the repair, if done at a mechanic shop, is going to cost more than the whole car did.

Which means you have a decision to make.

Emotion will play strongly into this. You might have developed an addiction to your cheap ass beater sled. Maybe it has oxidation on the roof in the same shape as that birthmark on Mikhail Gorbachev's forehead. Maybe you got laid in it. Either way, you might consider the car worth enough to have it fixed and fixed right. So do it.

But what if you have no emotional attachment to the car? Hey, it's an applicance, right? It gets you from point A to point B and if it can't do that you get another one, right? So do it. Take the skills you used to find your current cheap ass car and go find another one for dirt cheap. If you're REALLY smart you'll buy the same make and model or at least something that parts interchange on. Your '96 Grand Am may be toast if the tranny's out, but the '94 Skylark for sale for $500 at the other end of your apartment complex can exchange a lot of functional parts with it! And the '97 Acheiva with a blown head gasket but a REBUILT transmission for $200 on Craigslist? Hey, you can put that known good transmission in your Grand Am and be GOOD TO GO!!!

Then there's option D. Or C. Or 3. I don't know. It depends on how badly you want to tackle the problem. You blew the head gasket in your '95 Taurus wagon. It's the 3.8, they all do it sometime, right? So many of these cars have broken down that there is a science to fixing them. You can go on a Ford Taurus message board and find a how-to to change out that head gasket and suddenly you find it's not going to cost you $800-$1200 to fix it. No, heck no, even after machine shop fees on two heads and some coolant and oil and all the gaskets and other parts and even some tools you have to buy, you'll spend about $300 and be roadworthy again!

Fixing your beater is where you REALLY save money. You paid $500 for the '94 Intrepid. It's served you well for six months now and you LOVE not having a car payment. Liability insurance is cheap. Registration fees on a 15-year-old car are next to nothing. Why not fix that water pump and keep it going? Even if you only get another month or two out of it, you're WAY ahead of even buying another beater! Think $500 for the next beater, $100-$150 in tags and title, $50-$100 to get it cleaned up and the oil changed and all that so it's ready to go, you're up around $700ish now. $230 for a water pump looks cheap. Unless you can get $470 for the broken car (and you won't unless you find someone who needs, say, the transmission for their Intrepid), it's cheaper to fix what you got.

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