Updated on 08.26.14

A Vacation Disaster and What to Do Next

Trent Hamm

starter by exxodus on Flickr!Last week, I spent seven days in northern Wisconsin at a cabin on Shell Lake, owned by a friend of a friend. It was truly wonderful – so rural that we were out of cell phone range, but with plenty of outdoor stuff to do. My wife and I went on a long canoe trip around part of the lake, we toured a nearby small(er) brewery, I got a lot of reading in, did a lot of swimming, and did absolutely no writing at all for a week. It was a refreshing and relaxing change of pace.

On our way home on Saturday, after a wonderful week at the lake, we loaded the kids in the back and headed back home to Iowa, a roughly seven hour car trip. We stopped in the first sizable town we came to (Cumberland, Wisconsin) and filled up with gas. I got back in the truck, turned the key, and….


I checked the batteries by turning on the headlights and radio and honking the horn. The battery was fine. That meant it was likely the starter, and thus it had quickly gone beyond my car problem diagnosis skills.

I wound up asking several people at the gas station for recommendations (including one helpful guy who tried to help me get my starter going by tapping on it), but I finally had to have the car towed to get the starter replaced.

Given that I was in a small town I was unfamiliar with, on a Saturday morning, with a truck full of luggage, I figured the bill would be well over $500 for a new starter, the cost of the tow, and the labor cost on my model of truck (I know from past experience that changing the starter in my truck model is a significant job). It turned out to be right around $400 in all.

Still, it was not a happy end to our family vacation. Our kids weathered it well – we merely walked to a park while the truck was repaired, which made my son really happy (he later said the two hours at the park was the best part of the trip).

It gets worse, though. When the truck was returned, the repairman showed me several things wrong with it that weren’t immediate disasters, but would have to be replaced soon: a worn-out flywheel, a transmission with leaky seals, and three or four other little things. He suggested that when I got back home, I look into replacing the truck, because, as he said, “you’re reaching that point where the repair bills are going to start really adding up.”

After arriving home and taking a few days to reflect on these events, the costs for our family in obtaining a new vehicle, and our family’s present and future needs, I’ve come to several discussion-worthy conclusions.

Lessons Learned

AAA may be worth it.

In the past, I’ve hedged my bets and not joined AAA because I wasn’t convinced that the annual membership fee was worth it (it varies from $30-70 annually depending on location and other factors, apparently). In one shot on this trip, I would have paid for two years’ worth of membership. Given that I now have two young kids in the car (meaning it’s a lot harder to just shrug my shoulders and just grab a hotel room for the night), I’m now leaning strongly towards a membership. Here’s Jim’s (from Blueprint for Financial Prosperity) thoughts on AAA, which confirm my perspective. What do you all think of AAA?

How long can I put off replacing my truck?

That’s really the key question, isn’t it? Since I work from home, I don’t use it that much – mostly for trips to the library in adjacent towns and grocery trips. My gut instinct is to keep it until early next summer, then replace it, simply because this gives me ample opportunity to save for the next vehicle purchase.

Do we really need two vehicles?

While I have my truck, my wife currently drives a small, fuel-efficient car to work, one that’s also getting up there in miles (though it hasn’t started having the “nickel-and-dime” problems my truck is developing). Since she’s the only commuter, is it reasonable for us to switch to one vehicle for the time being? We’ve largely decided against it because of redundancy – having two vehicles makes things a lot more flexible, especially with children to tote around.

What are the actual needs for my family?

Clearly, one automobile ought to be a fuel-efficient and reliable car for my wife’s commute. That’s one that’s out of the way. But what about that second vehicle? We currently have two young children and anticipate having at least one more in the next few years. That means that a reasonable car purchase for my family would require seating for five (including at least two car seats) – otherwise, we’ll be driving two vehicles while traveling. That, in turn, means either a minivan or a SUV is in my future.

Late model used or new?

I addressed this question last week, but now it really hits home. The comments on that post pretty much nail it – consider both, including the benefits (warranties, cash allowances, etc.) of a new purchase. In a down car market, the new one may end up being the best deal, especially since we’re leaning towards Honda or Toyota because of their reliability numbers – they’re hard to find late model used for much less than they are new.

How will I pay for it?

Time to start saving. Instead of tossing money into current debt repayments, I’m going to build up a nice hefty savings account for this car purchase, so that I can easily go for the best deal when the time comes around without taking out a loan.

In short, I have a lot to think about. Thankfully, the issue isn’t entirely in my face quite yet – I still have some time to consider what move to make. But as I sat there watching my truck get towed away in the middle of rural Wisconsin, I realized it was time to start taking these questions seriously.

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  1. Jesse says:

    Why did you choose to drive your truck 7hrs instead of the fuel efficient car?

  2. Laura in Atlanta says:

    I’m a fan of AAA, just the peace of mind that it provides is well worth the yearly cost. I’m in a sizable city and I STILL fret about being stuck on the side of the road with no help. I have AAA PLUS, which is a bit more expensive, but it provides a wider towing radius. Instead of having my car towed to the ‘closest’ mechanic, I can have it towed to MY mechanic.

    Honestly, I would recommend it. I did have two years go by and didnt need to use it at all, so in a sense those two years were ‘wasted.’ But the times that I HAVE had to use them, it was SO worth it to be able to call and have someone immediately say, “We are on our way.” That 24/7 safety net is important to me. (Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I have taken advantage of the AAA discount at hotels across the US. )

  3. I look at AAA as a kind of insurance. Even if you don’t break even on the cost, if your wife ever breaks down far enough away to where you can’t get to them and has the kids with her, you will be very thankful. It doesn’t have to be a break down either-it could be needing a jumpstart or locking keys in the car, etc.
    I would definitely take your future needs into account, if you make a purchase. Your wife could still drive the fuel efficient car for her commute, and you would have the space you need for your family outings. Buying something a few years old would likely be the best way to go, although, like you say, you should run the numbers and shop around.

  4. HebsFarm says:

    When we got in almost your exact position, we bought a 1994 Camry station wagon for $4000. We keep a 1996 Camry sedan that I drive to work, and a moldering 1990 Ford truck that DH continues to repair. The wagon fits all 5 of us, plus an extra kid or 2, the sedan gets the gas mileage that I need for my long commute, and we keep the truck around because it (mostly) runs and it’s paid for.

  5. Mike says:


    With your car situation, why not get rid of your truck (sell outright, trade it in, donate it, or part it out) and then use the wife’s car. At that point, you can get her the newer vehicle since she is the commuter of the two. This way you still have a vehicle and she has a reliable car that you can both then depend on for longer/family trips. Just a thought.

  6. The best takeaway from this article is from the first paragraph – nearly everything you listed cost nothing. You don’t need money to enjoy yourself and the company of loved ones. (yes, you need to own a canoe and all that, but the marginal cost is nothing but time)

    I love the outdoors…

  7. troy says:

    Had the same thing happen to me xmas 2006. 11 month old baby, midnight on I-29 between Souix City and Omaha, below zero outside, and the alternator went out. Desolate, dark, cold. We had to call 911 to get a police officer and a tow truck for my high mileage SUV. Not fun. We had Emergency Road service as part of our auto insurance with State Farm. $6 per year. Paid for the tow.

    My solution. I still have that paid for 1998 Full size SUV (i love it) with almost 170K miles, but I only drive it around town. We take my wifes much more reliable 2 year old Toyota on long road trips. That should be your first move.

    Then you can limp along with your truck for long enough to save up for a more reliable addition.

    Don’t sell the truck though. Keep it. You’ll always need a truck.

  8. CBus says:

    My gf and I were just rear-ended and her car was deemed ‘totaled,’ so I can sympathize with needing replacement transportation.

    The payment on the car was about $150 a month…$1800 a year. We have been considering buying a car for about that amount, and if it lasts longer than a year…then its basically a freebie.

    It would need to be an older car ,which would likely keep insurance rates low AND would be easier to perform DIY repairs/maintenance. And would have higher miles, but if it lasts more than a year, its a bonus. And if we decide to buy a late model used car, we’d bring it to a “push, pull, or tow your trade-in, we’ll give you $3k minimum” kind of places.

    Plus, in my state, if its older than 25 years old, emissions testing is not required. Of course, I would still rather the car run on gasoline than on oil, if not for environmental than for financial reasons.

    Since you don’t seem to drive an incredible amount, have you considered getting a beater??

  9. sm4k says:

    About replacing the truck, I’d measure how much you NEED the vehicle, and use that to assess when to replace it. If you are unsure how much you really need it, try just not driving it for as long as you can. See how easy things go. Think of it like another frugal game like the cheap dates or meals.

    If you can easily go for a week or more without a second vehicle, then I’d say just run the truck until it dies. Save up your money in the mean time, and start eyeing replacement vehicles. That way, by the time the truck does die, you know what you want to replace it with, about how much you should pay for the replacement, and should have some money set aside to do so. Plus, with the knowledge you learn from the ‘no truck’ exercise, you also have some time to shop.

  10. John says:

    In a short and simple response, I became a member of AAA as insurance to help with flat tires, fuel lights, and inclement weather, but let me tell you–I paid for the membership after two months when I locked my keys in my car (which nowadays runs close to $40-50). My recommendation: purchase a membership

  11. Carri says:

    Trent, don’t buy into the minivan/SUV myth. You can easily fit two car seats and a third small child into several four door sedans. Check the width while looking. We drove a 1998 Buick Regal for 10 years with very few major repairs and regular maintenance. The size was perfect and it went for 200k miles. I know people don’t think of US cars anymore but they can be reliable if you know what you are looking for. To replace the Regal, we just bought a Chevy Cobalt, with rebates and incentives it cost me $11,000 cash. My three girls are 9-14 now and they have plenty of room in back, and all their Karate gear fits in the trunk just fine. When you want to go camping, rent an SUV for a week. You would be surprised how easy it is.

  12. Ken says:

    Troy and CBus are both correct – a truck is very useful, and you ought to consider getting a beater. Sell your present truck and get an older one, preferably built before 1968 so you don’t have to pay for smog certificates. Parts are plentiful and cheap, and they are simple enough to work on that you can do a lot of the repairs yourself, WITHOUT a lot of specialized tools. I used to have a 67 Chevy truck and when the starter went out, I was able to replace it myself. I wouldn’t even attempt it on a late model vehicle – too much stuff in the way.


  13. kate says:

    AAA has been a lifesaver for me. I originally got it in January when I had to drive 55 miles each way to my winter internship. I got a deal where you pay $60 or so for one membership and get another membership for another in the household for free. I broke even only a month later when my fuel hose came loose from the pump and I had to have my car towed. I think I paid about $6 to have it towed clear across town. Now I really enjoy the peace of mind that I get from knowing that when something happens, help is on the way

  14. Salve Regina says:

    We dropped AAA for our insurance co (USAA) roadside assistance. In our area, AAA always took forever, and we rarely utilized the discounts/road maps, etc. The response time for a tow was much shorter with the insurance company’s assistance plan, and for about $8/year, who needs AAA?!

  15. Kevin says:

    Why don’t you add towing on to your auto insurance? Ours costs about $10 for 6 months for both cars and we’ve used it twice in the past couple years for reimbursements of $40 and $60. Once when I needed a tow and once when my wife locked her keys in the car. It is well worth the extra money in my eyes and much, much cheaper than AAA. Plus, aren’t all of AAA’s famous “TripTiks” free online anyway?

  16. sm4k says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I forgot to mention my thoughts on AAA.

    If all you’re wanting is road side assistance, there are plenty of other avenues. One person above mentioned their insurance company has it, and I know AT&T tried to sell me their road side assistance plan for an additional few bucks a month on top of my cell phone bill.

    There are plenty of alternatives, make sure you shop around.

  17. Sean98125 says:

    You can drop a brand new engine and transmission in your truck for less than the cost of a new or newer truck.

    You can also take it to your mechanic back home and have him repair the stuff that could leave you stranded on the side of the road. It’ll be a lot less than a newer vehicle.

    Run the numbers and make sure you aren’t just trying to convince yourself that you need a new vehicle despite the cost.

  18. Mike says:

    Weigh your emotions on this one. Is your truck broke down now, or is it a perception? Will it break down tomorrow or in two years, or 5 years? Depending on how much you drive and haul (hauling is really tough on transmissions). 100 dollars for AAA is far cheaper than anything else. Your title and transfer fees on a new car alone would cost more than triple AAA. Go to the autoparts store and find some transmission additive and move on.

  19. Frugaljane says:

    AAA will let you join and immediately request roadside assistance. One possibility is to have the AAA number handy and then join only when you need it (you can call from a cell phone from the side of the road). Then at least you don’t join and then waste part of a year’s membership when you don’t need it.

  20. Jennifer says:

    Try Better World Club. They are a AAA-like car service (auto service club) but are more enviromentally friendly in that they don’t lobby for the automotive industry. They also reimburse you for $40 worth of gas for the year. Membership runs about $50, so it ends up being a steal. They offer maps and travel discounts like AAA, but lays easier on your conscience. They also offer a bike-service club.

  21. Julie says:

    Oh man! What a bummer. I can relate to the frustration of having to put lots of repair money into a car. A few years ago, my husband’s car started acting up and we had to put just under $2000 into it for repairs. Once we started nearing the $2000 mark, we knew it was time for a change, since the car was only worth about $2000. So we sold it, got a new honda civic (paid in cash) and have had peace of mind ever since. The car runs beautifully is very efficient in terms of gas mileage.

    We also have AAA. We (fortunately) have not had to use it for the past 2 years, but the year before that, (when we still had the aforementioned car) it definitely paid for itself. For sure, it’s something to consider.

  22. Brandie says:

    You should always buy American cars.

  23. Andy says:

    Possible solution: Keep one car, and rent a larger one when you need it.

  24. Faculties says:

    What kind of car insurance do you have? State Farm automatically pays for roadside assistance as part of the deal.

  25. Andy says:

    Or, I might add, buy a Mazda5.

  26. Stephanie says:

    How do you fit your two kids and wife in a truck? Or are you one of those people who refers to a SUV as a truck?

  27. Jessica D says:

    I would just add one more important point that should have probably gone on your list: have a vehicle checkup before you take a 7-hour family vacation trip (14 hr round trip + local trips).

  28. Mark says:

    I have AAA, and I love having it even if I don’t use it that often. For me, it’s about peace of mind. I love their huge network. The last thing that I want to worry about when my car breaks down is the stress of figuring out where to get my car towed.

    I also used it when I was camping with my dog and my brother and I decided to get a hotel room for one night. We just called up AAA, and they let us know about hotels that allowed dogs. It was great.

  29. erik says:

    Surprised no one has mentioned this already – what about a bike to use if you just need something for quick and short trips? It’d be a nice stop gap while you save for a new truck.

  30. KC says:

    Wow, so many questions. First of all I have AA and like it. I don’t think I get my money’s worth out of it, but I get piece of mind. My husband and I don’t fix anything, we’re inept, we rely on others. I’ve used the tow once in 7 years (dead battery) and the repair. The repair was well worth 7 years of payments – it was 20 degrees and I had slashed it on a sewer grate near my house. Not having to put on the spare in 20 degree weather was well worth $70/year. Hey who am I kidding, I couldn’t have put it on in 70 degree weather.

    As for the truck, find a good mechanic and have him do the repairs. Keep the truck. With 2 children you probably need a second car. That answers the new vs. used question – keep the truck.

  31. Tabletoo says:

    Why not a station wagon, like a Subaru, instead of SUV or minivan? Safer, cheaper and more fun to drive. We recently bought a 1 year old Subaru (lease return) from a Subaru dealer at a great price and have the new car warranty. They were willing to bargain.
    I’ve had AAA forever and it’s worked well, but I know there are cheaper options. I love the AAA free maps and guidebooks too, especially the info on lodgings that take pets, and easy discounts. You can probably get the same discount by haggling or searching web specials but it’s so easy when traveling or trip planning to just use the guidebooks.

  32. Stephanie says:

    Ohhh… yeah. I feel for you. In 2002, we spent 3 hours on the left shoulder of I-55 somewhere in cornfields between Chicago and St. Louis, in 98 degree heat, with an exploded front tire on our minivan. The lug nut wrench that came with the car bent instead of loosening the lug nuts.

    We had AAA. Long story short: they never showed up but had us believing they would for about 2 hours. It turned out that we had the audacity to break down on a Sunday. A passing motorist with a functional lug nut wrench helped us out.

    I cancelled AAA after that. I don’t miss it.

  33. Shaun says:

    I worked at AAA over the summers every year while I was in college, and here’s my take:

    If all you want is the “insurance” of roadside assistance, look into what your car insurance provides for that. It very well might be cheaper.

    But, if you are someone who drives to many locations/vacations, and likes to know what is going on there, this can be a valuable resource. The member service counselors (that was the official title) are walking knowledge bases about everything road related in the US. If there was anything you wanted to know about, they knew it. Just talking to some of these people, I was amazed what they could tell you about out of the way parks an attractions that were 1000 miles from them.

    There are a couple of bigger services available to members. One large portion of the job was to make personalized maps, or “TripTiks” for members. While this information is all available online, these were praised by many well worn travelers I served. They have much more information than a typical map, and they are always up to date. We even marked where there was road construction going on. Another useful service was hotel reservations. This could be done in person or over the phone. Members would call with what day(s) they wanted to stay in what city(s), and give us a price range to look in. Our job was to look for all the available hotels in the area, call the member back, and detail what we had found. If there were any that suited them, we reserved the room(s), printed a receipt and confirmation, and mailed it to them. Also, there are often deals we can get from hotels that a person calling cannot get. Also included are some smaller things too, like telling you some of the driving rules for different states, etc.

    I know it sounds like I am just shilling for my former employer, but I am not. I am not a AAA member because I do not travel very much (especially by car) But for those that will make use of the services, it is well worth it.

  34. Julie says:

    My starter went last week when I was on holiday too. It was a pain in the a**, and an unexpected expense, but I’d hardly call your experience a vacation disaster. A disaster is when you’re on holiday and a tsuanmi hits, or if a relative is seriously injured or killed. It sounds like overall you had an amazing holiday with a blip at the end.

  35. jeanne says:

    I love AAA! Especially when I have my kids in the car, it’s good peace of mind. And yes, even if you’re not a member, keep the # handy, if you’re stuck, you can call and join on the spot!

  36. Shaun says:

    Also, Trent, if you have any other questions about it, feel free to e-mail them to me.

  37. George says:

    State Farm Emergency Road Service, $12/yr.

    The folks that I know who have/use AAA are all car hobbyists who fly cross country to rescue an old car before it hits the crusher and then drive it back home… they sometimes need multiple tows in one trip, so AAA makes sense.

  38. Sarah F. says:

    I would say drive the truck until it dies and/or have only one vehicle. While I was at home for over a year (unemployed), my husband and I shared one vehicle. Any errands like going to the library or grocery store just waited until he got home, or left for the weekends. Having kids in the mix is a different situation, where two cars might be necessary. Since you aren’t commuting everyday, I would say just repair the truck, and nursing it along until you are really ready to go out and purchase another more reliable vehicle. This is what we’re doing, now that I am job training, I needed transportation. We bought a beater ($500 ’91 honda civic hatchback from a family member) to nurse along while we’re socking away money in our car fund to purchase a newer car later.

  39. Jess T says:

    I’m with the folks who recommend the emergency roadside assistance that insurance companies routinely provide.

    I had to get my car jump-started last winter during a particularly cold spell, and the reimbursement check covered almost four years’ worth of coverage (@ $12/year). All I had to do was take my receipt into my agent & they cut me a check right away.

    Soooo easy & worth it!

  40. Ryan K says:

    I have AAA. I have been a member since 2000. Like you said, one tow justified two years. Also, it makes you into a super nice guy when a friend is in need an you can get their door unlocked or their car towed.

    As far as the new truck goes. Get a bicycle. I have extra large grocery panniers on my rack. After a few months of riding it’s nothing now for me to ride 8 miles to the grocery store. Use the other car when you absolutely need it for long trips. Seriously, get a bike!

  41. Fred D. says:

    AAA is a godsend! Not having to worry about my wife crawling around on the ground trying to change a flat tire while my small kids are in the car on the side of an LA freeway is justification enough to me to spend the money on it. If your truck is coming up to the point where you will need lots of repairs, than that should think more about getting it.

    My `00 Chevy Malibu’s starter took a dive. I had the car towed back to my house so I can change it myself. The wire from the battery to the starter was looking somewhat corroded so I figured I would replace those first. 16 bucks later my car started fine! Had I taken it to anyone other than my usual mechanic they would have sold my a new starter and want me to replace the wires too. This 16 dollar repair has lasted my 2 1/2 years now :-)

  42. Robert says:

    Starters generally fail over time, and when one has symptoms like yours it’s generally that the internals have expanded with heat and bound up (this is why the guy was tapping on it- he was trying to free it up). If you had just pushed it out of the way and then gone to the park for the two hours that you were there anyway it probably would have fired right up when you got back to it and you would have saved the four hundred clams.

    I’ve had this happen several times over the years, and on one occasion that the starter was really dead (I’d let it go on for far too long); I walked to the local Autozone (where the starter and its lifetime warranty was listed in their computer) got a new one, walked back and changed it out with the socket set I had in the van (about ten minutes) and drove back to Autozone to get my refund and turn in the core.

    My point is that if you’re going to commit to a frugal lifestyle, particularly in that you’ve expressed a desire to operate a small farm, you really need to get handy. 95% of what you really need to know to keep a car alive is simple stuff that you can easily learn from books or in a community college course and then carry out with a simple and inexpensive set of tools (that you carry in the car, of course). Also there are numerous forums, mailing lists and like resources on the web where you can get diagnostic and procedural help. For more complicated or just plain ‘ol ‘heavier’ efforts (like pulling the tranny to replace the flywheel), you can turn to your network of friends. Chances are you know somebody that has some tools and will help for lunch and a twelve-pack. Floor jacks and jack-stands are cheap at Harbor Freight.

    The same holds true for electrical, plumbing and so on. Around here mechanics get $85 an hour, and service people like plumbers get that with a two-hour minimum. That’ll eat up your cash quick. In most cases you can buy the tools you need for less than you’d pay in labor for a given job, and you’ll have them for as long as they last.

    Think of how much nickel-and-diming you could pay for with the money it’ll take you to replace your vehicle, and think of how much of that you would save by doing your own labor. You even have the perfect opportunity to practice on your truck (there’s some silver-lining thinking for you). I realize you’re going to need an extra seat eventually, but whatever you eventually get you’ll still be in the same position- your vehicles, your home, whatever it is, it’ll always need maintenance. If you really want to be frugal, you have to learn to do for yourself.

  43. Michael says:

    I dropped AAA two years ago because they have become so expensive (at least in the SE USA). I have the same type of coverage attached to my car insurance, and the annual cost is way below AAA.

  44. AAA has saved me a bunch of times, especially back when I had a more unreliable car. I think it’s well worth it. I also like not having to worry about what I will do if something goes wrong – it’s already taken care of.

    However, some other commenters have mentioned ideas that do a similar thing from other sources. Please do share with us what you decide, I’ll be curious.

  45. Susan D. says:

    I prefer AAA to having tow insurance from my auto insurance carrier. I’ve been in situations where the tow operator would not take a check or a credit card–and with AAA it’s not an issue. I also don’t have to hassle with getting reimbursement from auto insurance.
    My AAA membership pays for itself if I use it twice a year (and I do)–plus, if I’m a passenger in another driver’s car and we get stuck, I can still call AAA for help. Try doing that with your regular insurance.

  46. NoneoftheAbove says:

    AAA is the way to go. All it takes is one long distance tow and its worth it.

  47. JReed says:

    I love AAA. Even with fairly new vehicles, it has always paid for itself. Keys locked in car, lights left on, flat tire…
    I drive a Honda Fit and I love, love, love it. The back goes down into a flat station wagon and I get 38 mpg with out even trying.
    I use tracphone for my cell and find it very cost effective.
    As far as going without a second vehicle; forget it. Ask yourself would you really be happy without the freedom of your wheels? It would make for a small world.

  48. joshhaglund says:

    I had AAA and as others have noted, there are alternatives depending on what you are looking for. I like “Better World Club”
    http://www.betterworldclub.com It’s got the same coverage as AAA (all locally contracted), for about the same price, but they don’t do all the political lobbying that AAA does which I appreciate. I want roadside assistance, not more pork barrel interstate exchanges, thank you.

    The best part (for me) is that they also offer bicycle roadside assistance for an extra $17 a year. They’ll “tow” your bicycle (and you) up to 30 miles. Membership also give you all sorts of bike related discounts (similar to what these clubs offer for cars). $17 would barely cover the cost of a cab ride making this assistance very economical.

  49. Jesse says:

    I have the equivalent now through our car insurance. I became a believer after we ran over something in the road during our move to Dallas. We were 60 miles east of El Paso and the car had something run through its engine and put several holes. Oil was gushing out all over the road and the car was totaled.

    We ended up buying two cars once we got to Texas, then a guy hit my wife (she was fine) and totaled our new (used) van. So we bought another van. Three cars purchased in about three weeks. It was a crazy first little stint in Texas.

  50. Robin says:

    To echo another reader’s question, why did you take the truck and not the car? I’m assuming for space.

    I don’t have AAA, but I have State Farm and if the roadside assistance is really $12 a year I’m going to get that now. Must call agent tomorrow… One of our cars is oldish and I don’t trust it so much.

    I’ve never rented a car for traveling, but in your case it seems like a reasonable idea. Maybe you could try it a couple times before making the final decision?

  51. archdiva says:

    AAA is worth it for the peace of mind. I don’t drive that many miles a year (maybe 7500) but when I’m on a roadtrip, it’s the difference between thinking “what if???” and “ok, I can deal with this”.

    And last weekend, when my car suddenly died from a broken serpentine belt tensioner only 3 miles from home and had to be towed, it more than paid for my basic $55 membership.

    Good investment, just like any form of insurance.

  52. Jessica says:

    I love AAA. It almost always pays for itself with towing, lock-outs, and discounts that we get everywhere.

  53. Bruce says:

    If the truck meets your needs, then get an estimate on all the service work that needs to be done. That’s still likely much cheaper than replacing the truck. As for reliability, there’s no guarantee that whatever you buy will be any more reliable for the next few years, even a new car can be a lemon. At least you know your vehicle’s history.

    If you do decide to replace it, I’m a fan of wagons. My Subaru Outback drives like a car and has the storage capacity of a mid-sized SUV. Reliable and all-wheel drive to boot! It will seat 3 kids in the back seat. Wagons are becoming a little more popular again so there are a few choices out there, do some homework.

    If you need the space offered by a minivan, they’re hard to beat. Hauling your kids and their friends around can quickly add up to 7 or 8 people in the vehicle and a minivan is then the way to go. Also has great storage space for family trips to carry your gear, kids’ bikes, etc. If you go that route, the Dodge Caravan is reasonably reliable but depreciates very fast. A late model used Honda or Toyota is hardly any cheaper than new, but the Dodge can be had for significantly less. As it’s been the number one selling vehicle for many years, there should be a large selection of used ones out there to choose from. Good luck with the decision.

  54. If all you need is a tow, getting roadside assistance from your insurance company is usually a better deal.

  55. We have AAA. I mainly joined because we have a child. My car is also a ’95, so it’s rather old. Also, I got over $100 off my car insurance, which basically paid for 2 years membership.

  56. Emily says:

    This is a good post, although it came out of some unfortunate occurrences (my sympathies).

    My aunt & uncle treated me with AAA 10 years ago as a high school graduation present, and I’ve had it ever since. I appreciate the security that comes with the card, and the lock-out and tire services have more than paid for themselves (although, maybe I’m the only one who locks themselves out of a car 5 times in six months).

    The other somewhat frugal benefit to AAA are the card savings and travel benefits. I’ve used AAA on several occasions to plan routes for work and leisure travel. AAA will send you road maps, tour maps, camping guides, etc. Additionally, the card can be used for discounts in restaurants, shops, eye exams, movies, etc. are excellent. I think that a savvy user could make back their investment easily with some researched purchasing.

    My husband was fortunate enough to receive a motorcycle from his father, which he now uses as his primary vehicle (easy to do in Florida). He uses my car if severe weather is forecast, and we plan accordingly. While we hope to eventually add on a truck, I don’t expect we need to soon.

    Have you considered leasing? Depending on the lease, you may get a better deal then if you were to purchase a vehicle.

  57. Jennifer says:

    I really want to know how these people are fitting 2 car seats and a 3rd child in the back seats of cars.

    We had a ’99 Ford Contour in 2004, a 2-year-old and an infant in car seats, and a 13-year-old crammed diagonally in between them.

    Needless to say, we bought a used ’99 Honda Odyssey for $10,500 cash. I love my van, and there’s enough room for the kids AND their friends.

  58. Emily says:

    Sorry, a second thought – many phone companies and credit card companies offer roadside assistance for a small additional fee per month – you may want to compare those costs/benefits to AAA. Also, if you decide on a new car, you may want to consider OnStar or a similar service.

  59. Aryn says:

    AAA has towed me after two breakdowns in rural areas where even the big-rigs weren’t stopping to help, jump-started me several times (my old car was terrible), changed several tires when I couldn’t get the factory-tightened lug nuts off, and of course, there are the discounts, maps, and guidebooks.

    So, yes, yes, yes. Get AAA. My parents had the premium AAA and they towed my mom and my sister over 100 miles free (all the way home) when the car broke down and my sister was suffering from mono.

  60. MB says:

    I had AAA for a while and I also live in Iowa. If you go that route (and it seems like there might be better options) you will probably want to get the premium membership. That’s the one where they will tow you 100 miles without charge and such. There’s lots of places in Iowa and other rural states where you might need a really long tow. AAA premium costs upwards of $100 a month.

  61. Been There, Am There says:

    Oh, have I been there. I ended up spending four days stuck in Ft. Stockton, TX when my Saab wagon broke down. Thank God for AAA — they covered the tow, the hotel, everything. As for Ft. Stockton, well, it was about the least friendly place I’ve ever been in my life.

    With young kids, you need two cars. What happens when you’ve got the car and something happens to one of the kids? Sure, a neighbor can likely loan your wife a car, but you don’t want to count on that in a crisis. When it’s just you and your wife, one vehicle is fine. With kids in the picture, two are a safety precaution.

    Finally, isn’t it true that it’s almost always cheaper to repair an old car than get a new one? I’ve got the same issue — my 10 year old Saab now needs about $2K worth of work, and it’s only worth about $4K. In the end, though, even if I put $10K into it over the next five years, it’s still going to be cheaper to fix it (and benefit for the lower insurance rates for an old car) than buy a new one. I’m willing to be proven wrong, though, so if I am, someone write and say so!

  62. Megan says:

    Count me in as an AAA fan. They’ve helped me out a number of times. Additionally, check out the AAA discounts available at various stores. They’re not always what you expect – not just travel related stuff. One of my favorite (now defunct) clothing stores for suits and other office wear gave a AAA discount.

  63. CanadianKate says:

    I love AAA (actually CAA the Canadian version.) We drive only about 10,000 miles a year. In a Honda Odyssey that has extended warranty (therefore roadside assistance.)

    So why pay for AAA? I travel up to 6 months of the year. AAA applies to the driver, not the car so we have used it to repair flats on rental cars. I’ve even used it when a friend at church was locked out of her car.

    The discounts on hotels pay for our membership each year (it is only $3 – 5 per night but we are away enough nights that it pays for itself).

    The maps are excellent, especially for cities. The guidebooks are excellent but online resources are just as good now. If I drove places, I’d take a guidebook because I wouldn’t have internet while in the car, but I fly 95% of the time so don’t bother.

    Finally, we have a joint CAA credit card with our teenage son and his ‘credit’ on purchases adds up to enough to give him free membership. So that’s peace of mind when I’m not there to help him out if the car breaks down or he’s out with friends and they have a problem (they’ll use his AAA.)

    As for buying another vehicle, perhaps you could start putting the monthly payment away in a separate account and then rent a car when you really need one. If you find the account isn’t enough, that’s the sign you need to buy a second vehicle.

    My daughter and her husband sold their only car, put the money away and put the insurance payments into an account to take taxis and rent cars. Over two years, they took taxis three times and rented a car 6 times (mainly for trips home when timing meant they couldn’t take the train and also for their summer holiday.)

  64. We have AAA and it has helped us several times. We are notorious for locking the keys in the car and/or leaving the lights on and needing a jumpstart. With 2 small kids it’s much easier to deal with these unexpected situations with AAA. The response time for us is 10-20 minutes and well worth the money.

    I agree with Jennifer @ Joy of Frugal Living who suggested not using your car for a week and seeing how much you really do need it. Then keeping the truck, driving it till it dies while saving up for a replacement. Great idea.

    Good luck.

  65. Lorax says:

    I’ll second the idea of getting a station wagon. Better gas mileage, easier to drive, safer, and often more space are good reasons. If you need 4wd, consider a Subaru or snow tires. :)

  66. Rosie says:

    We made the car and (Canadian)AA decision at the same time: older cheap beater car meant keep insurance costs at the lowest possible and add CAA. When we have newer cars, insurance is more important and the cars more reliable, so CAA not necessary. But with the beaters, we’ve paid so little for them that the splurge for peace of mind, and the increased likelyhood that we’ll need it, made it an easy decision.

  67. nuveena says:

    We have one vehicle, but not by choice. Last spring, my son and I were in an accident, because the other guy failed to yield the right of way to us. My 10 year old car that was paid for was totaled. The fair market value I got from the insurance company wasn’t enough to get even a beater and our van wasn’t paid for yet (and had a little over a year left on it), so we’re stuck with one vehicle for now. I know that I can’t afford a second car payment, so we decided to use the insurance money to pay down on the van. Instead of being paid off next June, it’s now going to be paid off in December. In the meantime, I’ve been saving up the down payment for my new(ish) car.

    I will caution you that having only one vehicle is a MAJOR adjustment. My husband takes me to work, but he also had to have his work schedule adjusted to work with mine because of transportation. If I were to get sick at work and have to leave, he has to leave work to take me home (and it’s happened already since we’ve been down to one vehicle. I broke my toe and had to leave work to go to the doctor). If I have a day off or he has a day off, we still have to take the other to work if we are the one that needs the vehicle (i.e. for appointments). Our activities and social lives have been curtailed somewhat. We’ve had to cut down or stop going to some of our activities due to scheduling conflicts and lack of alternate transportation.

    We’ve saved some money on gas, but not a whole lot because the vehicle we lost got the better gas mileage. We are saving money on car insurance by only insuring one vehicle.

    On the upside, I can’t run out for lunch, so I’m saving money by bringing my own with me. But on the downside, I used to go and sit out in the car when it was nice out just to get away from the desk at lunch. That was a nice stress reliever.

  68. Gunny says:


    I have a 96 Ford w/ 170k so I feel your pain-agree with keep it ’till it dies. Also, don’t be afraid to roll up the sleeves and do-it-yourself. With the truck not being the daily driver, you can do research. Unless the motor itself goes, you can (usually) fix it yourself. Once I replaced my starter (3 mounting bolts and two nuts holding the positive and neg wires) and my alternator (again, three long bolts, and two plugs) the only thing I spent money on was the parts. And I got to dance around because an inanimate object didn’t get the best of me. I drew the line at my fuel pump-figured I would blow myself up. Seriously, if you can change your oil, you can do most of this. Usually the Autozone or whatever will test your parts like an alternator that you’ve pulled and give some advice in the meantime.
    However comma-the daily vehicle should be very reliable. Depends on your level of pain. The more reliability, the more $$ it will cost. I haven’t had a car payment since ’03. I was always amazed at how the Old Man knew his way around a car/lawnmower etc. He had to do it himself-and didn’t trust anyone else.
    Oh, my alternator? after 400.00, the shop we’d used for years put in a “brand new” one and not a rebuilt. It lasted 14 months. a low batt light, and I pulled it, took it to autozone and they tested it. Cheap bad rebuild. New one-80.00. Lesson learned.
    Of course, my wife’s ABBA CD is stuck in the player, and nothing makes the fellas at work laugh more than me in my big rig and “Dancing Queen”.

  69. sunny says:

    AAA is too slow and too expensive, we tried to use it a couple times and after an hour called a tow truck ourselves. Your auto insurance probably offers better coverage for less money. We have road service right now through our auto insurance and pay $6 a year. The few times we’ve used a tow truck it arrived in 15 minutes (and I live in the boonies).

  70. prodgod says:

    Thanks for the very timely article, Trent. My wife and I have been AAA members for 20 years and it has come in very, very handy over the years, especially with our older cars. However we have been a one-car family for over 4 years now (work from home, kid’s school is 4 blocks away, etc.) and our one car is still quite reliable as it’s only 5 years old and sometimes goes a few days with no use.

    Our AAA membership just came up for renewal a few weeks ago and I had been scouring your site looking for any take you had on the service, but to no avail…until today! Since we no longer travel much or stay in hotels or make purchases like we used to, the discounts AAA offers don’t hold the value for us they once did. USAA offers a comparable roadside assistance package for $12 a year and I just signed up for it a few minutes ago, then promptly declined to renew my AAA membership.

    Thanks again. Timing is every. Thing.

  71. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Given that we live in a tiny town (without even a grocery store) and we have two tiny children, two vehicles is pretty much a requirement. There are countless times when both vehicles have been in use at the same time, even since I started working at home. Other than the post office and a sole gas station, there’s nothing within ten miles.

    The question really is how long I can nurse along this truck, especially knowing there are several little things about to die on it.

  72. simon says:

    One thing that I’ve seen recommended is to do away with your larger car. While the fuel efficient little car of your wife’s may not be suitable taking your family for a holiday. YOu can always just rent a nice big car for the period of your holiday. This is an alternative to keeping a car which you primarily keep so you can take the family on holiday.

  73. troy says:


    with my truck, I just continued to fix the little problems that had to be fixed, because it always seemed less expensive than buying a different/new vehicle. Even then, you could run into issues.

    I had to replace the flywheel when my starter when out as well. $600.00 for stater and flywheel at Ford dealership. They have to pull the tranny to change the flywheel, have them change the transmission seals when they are doing the flywheel. Should cost an extra $200.00

    Total should be $800.00. Just keep driving it,man. That is what I do. People laugh at it until I remind them it is paid for. Then they stop laughing and I start.

    Cheaper than a new truck

  74. Lurker Carl says:

    If your current truck is dependable, keep it until it dies. Fix your truck and keep on trucking, it’s cheaper than you think. Little things will die on every vehicle you own.

    But if your truck is nickel and diming you to death, get rid of it. Low mileage late model trucks are selling dirt cheap right now so you can get a terrific deal. Just remember, that deal isn’t so terrific unless your current truck is on it’s last leg.

  75. KoryO says:

    Glad to see there are a lot of Subaru fans here (we LOVE our Forester and our Legacy….gonna keep ’em till they die around 300k miles, which is a definite possibility.)

    Anyway….check with a local mechanic to see if he seconds the opinion of the guy in Wisconsin. It may be that your truck is in crappy shape, or it may be suitable for “in-town” driving only. Make your decision from there.

    However…..one thing that I have done for a while is whenever I have to take a long road trip (to me, anything pretty much over three hours qualifies), I get a rental vehicle.

    I don’t have to worry about getting my car tuned up, I don’t have to worry about road conditions (which is important when you have a navigator who can’t read a map and directs you up a hiking trail….yep, ain’t gonna ever let my brother live THAT down), and on the off chance it dies on the side of the road, it’s Hertz/National/Dollar’s headache, not mine. Trust me, they WILL come get their car, and will even bring you a new one so you can get home. It might even be a free upgrade if you are lucky. ;)

    We get our little “new car” thrill without paying the depreciation, potato chip bags and coke cans left on the floor don’t irritate me as much, and I can get exactly the size vehicle I need for the trip. Plus there usually are some smokin’ deals on the rentals if you do a little shopping. It almost always costs less than a tow, and many times less than AAA membership if it’s a day trip.

  76. tlange says:

    AAA is worth it. I have been a member for a long time and I do not begrudge having to pay the membership fee, especially when I have had to use it!

    Rule of thumb on whether or not to replace a vehicle: if the repairs are going to cost you more than 1/2 of what the vehicle is currently worth!

  77. AnswerGuru says:

    I can second the thought of a late model Subaru (Outback or Forester) – great cars, very reliable, relatively fuel efficient, and still a reasonable price for a new car. Also, lots of room for the kids and luggage and *awesome* in the snow (I drive mine to the ski resorts 10-15 times per year over the backroads of Colorado).

  78. Bill says:

    Just get the truck fixed!

    Even replacing the transmission completely is far cheaper than buying another new vehicle.

    Simply replacing seals isn’t that expensive.

    I had the engine in my 10 year old Subaru (leaking a few drops of oil) taken apart and the camshaft seals replaced for under $300 total.

    The biggest cost is labor so figure out what needs to be done when the engine is apart (e.g. timing belt, water pump) and get it all done at once.

  79. Katie says:

    Check your current insurance policy, cell phone plan, vehicle instruction book, and credit card programs. You would be surprised how many roadside assistance programs you may already own and not even realize it because it isn’t advertised.

  80. justin says:

    F ound
    O n
    R oad
    D ead

  81. Patrick S. says:

    I used to have AAA about 5 years ago but switched to Farmers Insurance Exchange. Much cheaper and I got a nice discount on home/auto coverage. I still have my AAA card and use it whenever I can get a discount. About 99% of merchants/hotels won’t even bother to check the expiry on your card!

  82. Ana says:

    I dont have any thoughts about AAA but I have had a recent car buying experience. My husband and I were in a similar situation minus the fuel efficient commuter. Our old van was basically a junker and I was thankful that it made it to the dealership. I did a lot of research before we bought our new van. We have 3 kids all in car seats so we had to have a van. We looked at SUV’s but they would have been a tight squeeze for three carseats. In the end we bought a used (dealer service vehicle) ’07 Dodge Grand Caravan with less than 20k miles on it, for about 10k less than new. If we had the ability to save for the purchase I think that we could have gotten the price down to under 10k and saved ourselves a lot of money. Keep your eye out for that type of special. The dealers have to replace their service vehicles sometime and there’s no saying that you couldnt be the recipient of one of those deals.

  83. monogirl says:

    AAA is not only worth it for what it can save you on your car but it is worth it for the other discounts they offer. This year I’ve gotten discounts on movie tickets, passport photos, outlet shopping, and my personal favorite 30% off at Lenscrafters. Seriously, for me the Lenscrafters discount alone pays for the membership.

    And I too, use a rental (Zip Car) for road trips. I have an excellent discount through work, so using a rental is more cost effective than putting the wear and tear on my car.

  84. Gunny says:

    I just believe the purpose in Fords is to give people like me experience working on problems. God bless them for thinking of people like me. Imagine-having to raise the block just to take off the oil pan! what adventure!

    Trent, little things like transmission drips won’t stop your truck, look out for things that will. If you have to, I would say go for a smaller truck (although you are a Gigantor type dude from your other posts) like a Ranger. SUV= 4×4 station wagon. I know; my other vehicle is a jeep cherokee (which I love). The truck bed is the crucial! If you get a late model vehicle, knowing your thought, it will be around for quite some time. The utility of the truck bed cannot be overstated.
    Good call on AAA. I will def look into USAA they are top of the line.

  85. steve says:

    I tend to agree with the other posters who say “get the truck fixed”

    I have often found that people will tend to give up on an older or old vehicle when things start to fail, often because they fall into the “who knows what could happen next, I don’t want to keep spending cash on this vehicle” mindset. And, they don’t have a realistic sense of what is normal maintenance on a 150,000-200,000 mile vehicle. At this stage of vehicle ownership, we ARE talking about things like flywheels, clutch, engine and transmission seals and things like that.
    But having $800 to $1000 worth of work to replace a flywheel and some rubber seals is a good investment if you already like your vehicle.

    Once work like this is done, you have the peace of mind of knowing the work is done and will likely be good until the vehicle turns to rust. And if you schedule it ahead of time, before it fails, it will be cheaper than dribbing and drabbing it out.

    I recommend getting an aftermarket shop manual like a Haynes manual for your vehicle in any case and reading up about the mechanicals. Even if you don’t do much work on it yourself, you will have a much better sense of what the vehicle is composed of and what to expect as it ages. And mechanical breakdowns will stop being as frightening as the factor of the unknown recedes.

    Even if you’re putting in as much or more money than the vehicle is “worth”, you are actually buying reliable transportation for a very good price in many cases. The fact is, you can’t buy a reliable used vehicle for only $1000, so if you can get yours fixed up for the next, say, 80,000 miles of use, I would consider it a good way of approaching the problem.

    If you actually want a different car, though, that’s a separate issue. Just be clear whether you are justifying the new car purchase, or it is actually something you value and want.

  86. Colleen says:

    I dropped my AAA after I switched to car insurance that included roadside assistance. I can’t remember though whether I used that or my then-fiancé’s AAA membership when I discovered my car had a flat walking out of my apartment one day. Still, even if you can get roadside assistance with your insurance, it’s worth considering AAA for the other membership benefits, such as discounts, many DMV and other services at branches, and travel information. Plus, with AAA you know for sure you’re going to find help just about everywhere in the country.

    Someone mentioned sticking two carseats and a third child in the back of a sedan. I pity that poor, squashed child! Carseats are big, and I don’t know about your state’s laws, but in mine kids have to be in carseats into elementary school. That could mean three carseats (or more, if there’s more kids), all in the back since kids under 12 shouldn’t be in the front seat. My mom loves her Toyota Sienna minivan, for what it’s worth.

  87. Yeah, Trent. Just fix the dang thing! If you made all those repairs it would cost you AT MOST 2000 dollars. With that 2000 you could probably get another 3,4 maybe even 5 years out of the thing!

  88. PF says:

    I don’t know. I had a Jeep that I kept fixing because it, in theory, would be cheaper. When I ran the report at year end, I’d spent over 4K on repairs here and there. No wonder I grew to hate it. The check engine light came on one too many times and it was gone by the next day. I bought an Acura MDX (SUV, well technically, a crossover) off lease and I never looked back. It has been a dream and costs far less to drive than my previously paid for jeep, even with a car loan!

    I’m getting just over 20 mpg and I my elevation change is almost 4000 ft each way. On flat roads, I’ll bet I’d do much better. I’ll bet that Buick Regal mentioned many posts above didn’t get much better mpg than that, but the Acura is an AWD vehicle that is a pleasure to drive. (I get a little sick of the SUV bashing, so I’m pushing back). It has a third seat, so perfect for a growing family. It’s also one of the few non-American SUVs that fits my tall DH. Subarus are fine too, but Trent, I’ll bet you don’t fit. My husband doesn’t fit in them even though he fit fine into our Honda Accord and our Toyota Camry.

    I like the Toyota Camry as well, but totally impractical living at 9000 ft elevation.

  89. Paul says:

    I would like to second what someone said above.

    Trent, at least try to fix it yourself. The guys at Autozone and Advance Auto will really help you if you let them.

    Also, if you fix it yourself it gives you even more time to save up for a different vehicle.

    As for AAA, I haven’t found it worthwile or cost effective. Now I spend a fraction of what I used to and have towing coverage through my insurance company.

  90. Look around: you may find better and cheaper alternatives to AAA. With AAA, you’re paying for services you may not need–with Mapquest, why buy printed maps, for example?

    I stopped renewing AAA after the hot day when my German shepherd and I came off a hike in a nearby mountain park. There was no water at the trailhead–the fountain was broken. It was coming onto 100 degrees and slated to get hotter. And…my battery was dead.

    At the time I had no cell phone. Borrowed a fellow hiker’s, called AAA. The guy showed up fairly promptly. My dog was in the car. I said to the service guy, “DON’T get into the car! My dog will go after you. Let me turn the ignition on.”

    He just ignored the little woman and jumped right into the driver’s seat. And of course my German shepherd threatened to rip his head off.

    This pi**ed him off royally. He got the car started and then took off. Just as he rounded the curve, the car died again.

    I called AAA back and said the guy had just left; would they please ask him to come back and restart the car.

    Sure, sure, the dispatcher said.

    I waited NINETY MINUTES in broiling heat with no water and no shade for another service guy to show up. When he finally got there it took him all of two minutes to jump the battery again.

    That was it for me, with AAA!

  91. David says:

    I’m a big fan of http://betterworldclub.com/. They offer the same basic services as AAA but I love their pro-environmental stance compared to AAA. I’ve had both at different times for the peace of mind but happily I’ve never needed neither of them. My understanding is that if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to get the same tow truck no matter which auto club you’re with. I feel better using Better World Club.

  92. Cate says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned it, but Better World Club (http://betterworldclub.com/) is a (small) competitor to AAA that does not share AAA’s anti-environmental policies. Just the opposite, in fact – they donate 1% of their revenues to environmental cleanup and advocacy. You can add coverage for a bicycle (or even get bike coverage only). BWC competes with AAA in terms of pricing and benefits (their $40 in gas rebates and some free maps pretty much paid for my basic membership).

    Like several people who have AAA, I like the “insurance” aspect of BWC (especially now that I drive a more reliable car (a Pontiac Vibe – highly recommend it!)), but I used the towing service once several years ago, and they responded promptly and professionally.

  93. Stephanie says:

    At the very least, get a second opinion from another mechanic.

    I understand that you may not know jack about repairing cars but be creative. Maybe you can offer some of your services to a mechanic instead of money. You could also make friends with someone who is more repair savvy. Oh and your local library should have a good assortment of Chilton’s guides.

    I’ve had AAA for years but only because my grandfather keeps buying me a membership. If I was on my own for roadside, I would look into my insurance company like other readers have suggested.

    And if you do buy a newer car, many come with the roadside for the duration of the warranty.

  94. Joe says:

    F irst

    O n

    R ace

    D ay

  95. M3 says:

    We have three kids and premium AAA (towing more than 100 miles). It is well worth it. Didn’t have it before we had kids, but it has been used many times since. With three kids, I did not want to be standing at the side of the road hoping I could figure out how to get help while my husband worked more than an hour away.

  96. Todd A says:

    As a fellow Iowan, I know how unsettling it can be to face the brutal extremes of the seasons here in the heartland. That being said, though, I do have a couple of rationalizations to drive (highly reliability-ranked, wink, wink) vehicles as long as possible. These rationalizations are:
    1) We, or the ones we love, should endeavor to ALWAYS have a mode of communication with us (read: cell phone in range)
    2) I will only buy those vehicles ranking at the top of the LONG TERM RELIABILITY rankings, knowing that J.D. Powers’ ranking of initial quality means nothing to me.
    3) Like an earlier poster alluded to, the necessary repairs cost what, 3 to 5 monthly payments on a new car ? Financially, it’s not a tough decision. Personally, well …

  97. Sam says:

    Its good to join AAA for it offers many advantages. Whenever you travel, even if it’s only across the state be sure to get the free maps and trip guides that your auto service offers. AAAs are chock full of useful information including tips on the fastest route, scenery along the way, and most importantly, traffic information. Don’t forget to order the free guide books that feature tourist attractions and places to eat and stay in each state. The books offer detailed hotel listings which include things like whether or not the facility accommodates pets or has an indoor swimming pool. Sure, you can get that same information on the Internet. But you might not have web access on the road.

    Many hotels and resorts offer AAA discounts. But you need to ask. They don’t often advertise them. You can even get discounts at restaurants and outlet malls. You’ll need to go to the mall office to receive a coupon booklet.

    Fix My Personal Finance

  98. mlu says:

    People keep saying, “keep it till it dies.” But since machines don’t die, you’re likely to keep finding yourself at the decision point: shall I fix it or throw it away and get a different one.

    My 1990 Ford truck has died several times, but I’m still driving it. It’s had a new engine, a new transmission, two new clutches and I’ve lost track of starters–Ford doesn’t do starters well, I think. The last time I asked the mechanic if he could get a conversion kit to put a GM starter on it.

    I like the old thing. It’s got an engine, a seat, a radio and a heater, which means it’s not much different from the new ones in the stuff that matters to me. It’s been paid for for more than a decade, and the money I’ve put into it doesn’t come close to what a new one would cost. Parts are cheap. And I’m setting a good example for my kids and maybe others–keep your possessions pretty humble and your expenses less than your income.

    The mechanic who replaced the engine had it in his shop for over a year. He was a strange man with a long list of problems, and part of the delay was that after he put the new engine in it blew up within 100 miles and NAPA wouldn’t honor the warranty, and we had to start over. I was questioning the wisdom of putting money into that thing for a few months there. But that was years ago and I’m glad I didn’t go buy something new.

  99. Penny Squeaker says:


    Great post! In reference to saving up in order to buy your next truck cash, it’s wonderful.

    We purchased our new toyota yaris cash!

    No loomy loans hunting like a mortgage. Toyota has a hybid SUV that would be great for the expanding family. Just wait & save to buy by 3rd quarter 2009, that’s when 2010 models hit the shop. Better fuel efficient cars will be available on the market.

    You’ll have the option to grab a 09 model at discounted pricing. As well as knock an extra 10% off for buying cash, instead of financing.

    AAA is only good for a tow to the nearest 50 miles, other than that it’s worthless.

    Guys at autozone, pepboys & advance autoparts take out the time to let you know what’s really wrong w/the automobile, as well as time to shop around for the best deal. Owners could repair some of the easy stuff. It’s better than just dealing many of these rip off car mech’s.

    At the same time, what’s the mileage on the truck. If more than 200K, then it’s time to start thinking of replacement. Under 200K mileage, its part of upkeep and auto maintenance.

    Major car upkeep will occur during 60-80K, 100-150K, reaching 200-250,000 miles.

  100. Eldavo says:

    My advice — shop online for last year’s Odyssey or Sienna. Have a separate dealership or independent inspector check it out for a clean bill of health and if you can, pay cash and be done with it. We did this right when my wife got pregnant with our first and now that we’ve had our second, we couldn’t be happier with the decision.

  101. JM says:

    My wife and I have CAA Plus (Canadian equivalent to AAA) for the last number of years. I guess we’ve unlucky enough where the membership is still worth it.

    Last summer, some debris on the highway blew two tires off the car and I needed a 250KM tow to Toronto at 2AM. Helped to find a Honda dealer to drop off my car and gave us a lift to my destintation with no charge.

    Just a side question, should I tip for emergency service? I gave him $20 because it was so late and he was helpful but I’m not clear if it’s necessary.

  102. Omar says:

    I have AAA although I don’t use it much. I guess its just the security of knowing I have them if I need especially, especially for my wife. At least I know how to do a couple little things should I break down or run out of gas, but she would be lost.

    I definitely think AAA would be worth the cost.

  103. jessica says:

    My inlaws get us AAA as an annual Christmas gift, so it doesn’t cost us anything. We’ve used it once or twice. Once for a tow and once to change a tire when the lugnuts wouldn’t come off for the life of my husband!

    We recently purchased a 2006 Toyota Matrix. We have a toddler and plan to have more kids. The matrix will fit 3 carseats and is fuel efficient.

  104. leslie says:

    I have been a AAA member since I was 16 (my parents got me a membership when I learned to drive). Over the years I have used them a fair amount. Not so much in the past few years but like many of the posters above, I keep the membership for the peace of mind. The membership has also been usefull over the years for discounts while travelling (hotels, attractions etc.). It is just one of the many ways I use to get discounts on various things. And, my kids love to have the triptiks when we travel so that they can follow along and see where we are on the trip.

    I wouldn’t say that I necessarily get back what I pay for it every year in services and discounts but I do believe it has easily averaged out over the years. And the peace of mind is worth something for me. Yes, I can change a tire but I am unlikely to do so on the side of the highway with two little kids in the car. Nice to know I have someone to call if I need them.

  105. Caitlin says:

    In Canada we have CAA and I think that it is one of the best purchases you can make. It is a one time payment, that you can work into your annual budget. My husband and I just drove from western Canada to Eastern Canada, because we moved to New Brunswick. Throughout our trip we were able to use our CAA card to receive discounts at some of the attractions we wanted to visit and for the one night that we spent in a hotel (we camped or stayed with friends for most of the trip). CAA/AAA can be worth its cost if you figure out where you can get discounts using it.

  106. Dave C. says:

    “we’re leaning towards Honda or Toyota because of their reliability numbers”

    We just went through this too. We wanted a minivan and consumer reports really likes the new Honda and Toyota but they also really like the ’05 and ’06 Mazda MPV which doesn’t hold it’s value nearly as well as Honda or Toyota. We still picked up a Consumer reports preferred minivan for $6000 less than the Toyotas and Hondas in the area. It was too hard for us to justify the price difference.

  107. Corey says:

    I recently got a work from home job (this past May) and my wife is a stay at home mom. We have decided to sell my old truck and just keep her car. We very rarely drive my truck anywhere. It’s actually sitting out in the front yard with a for sale sign on it right now. My boss also works from home and him and his wife have only had one car for 4 years.

  108. Mark says:

    I’ve had AAA for about 4 years now…I also have the PLUS package. I’ve lived in CT all my life, but have a great mechanic near the shoreline, but now I live in the middle of the state. With the PLUS package if something happens I can have it towed directly to him.

    I also go to the movies a few times a month, and I buy my tickets in bulk at the AAA office. Now instead of paying $10 a ticket, I pay around $6.50.

    If you travel often, many hotels also have AAA discounts right on their website by simply plugging in your AAA number when making a reservation. They are usually $5-10 cheaper than the standard rates.

    Believe it or not, I think Circuit City also has a AAA discount where you get 10% off your purchase. I believe it might have to be over a certain amount, and not sure if it’s outside the CT area, but I know a friend who bought an XBox360 and saved $30.

  109. DrFunZ says:

    Lova AAA. Has paid for itsself over and over when the car has gone bad. Plus, I love to get the large maps, triptyks and guide books for free. I plan my vacations using the guide book because I like little motels, not big hotels when I am on a road trip. I get movie tickets at a discount and Traveler’s checks, too. There are also discounts for other attractions and stores. It averages out over the years – I’ve been a member since I was 16, forty years now.

  110. laura k says:

    Why do you need a minivan or SUV for 2-3 kids? A sedan should do you just fine. That’s like the people who feel that not only should their kids each get their own room, but there should be an entire wing for them. I’m not saying that it was fun or easy for a family of 9 to share 3 bedrooms and a single bathroom, but the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that we seem to have lost our reason!

  111. Gilora says:

    I agree with the prior posters who like AAA and would recommend the premium membership where they will tow you up to 100 miles. It’s been great for us. Also, there are a lot of discounts available for hotels and attractions. It’s definitely worth exploring.

  112. Jason says:

    Trent — a couple of ideas for you.

    We joined AAA and found that they do offer a lot of other services than just roadside assistance. Mapping, discounts, and so on. But you can sign up right on the side of the road, so you can put off the cost.

    As for your car choices, the Subaru is a nice ride (I have an Impreza WRX, friends have an Outback wagon), but we also own a Sienna AWD minivan, which can hold 7 people, has AWD for dealing with slick conditions, and on a recent trip, returned 22 MPG. Minivans are comfortable, capable, inexpensive and fuel-efficient vehicles, especially compared to SUV’s and 6-cylinder sedans. Subaru makes a decent car, too, but don’t buy it expecting decent fuel economy. The Mazda 5 is a pretty neat alternative, too, it’s pretty much a mini-minivan, you can seat 6 in there no problem, including child seats.

    Overall, though, wagon offerings in the US market are really quite pathetic (Europe has much better offerings, in all price ranges). Maybe with the high fuel prices we’ll see a return of the Accord and Camry wagons, which could come with a 4-cylinder engine, or maybe even hybrid or diesel options. As you spend piles of money you can get a BMW, Volvo or Mercedes wagon, but quote honestly you could nearly buy two domestic minivans for the cost of one.

    Also, if you go the route of putting 3 kids in the back of a sedan, you can get thinner child seats to do so. One manufacturer that makes such seats is Sunshine Kids.

  113. Kevin says:

    AAA can also pay for itself in discounts at many stores. Our local outlet gives you a coupon book when you show you AAA card. I got 10% off my TV at Circuit City, that hundred dollars alone pays for our AAA for two years. Museums have AAA rates as well.

    As some have posted AAA is much more than road side assistance.

  114. Joe says:

    Not a big fan of AAA, I’ve had them fail on me too many times. I waited for them for over 3 hours on a major highway during rush hour once. I would see if your insurance co. offers the same service for less.

  115. Kristine says:

    I was shocked, and think it ridiculous, that you think seating 5 means a mini-van or SUV. It is a sign of a brainwashing that you think your car is supposed to be as comfortable as your living room. It is a here-to-there, safely. And that’s it.

    I am 43, and growing up, plenty of people packed more than 5 into a standard car. Five is actually what a regular passenger’s standard capacity is. One of the hallmarks of childhood was when you got big enough that everyone had to take tuns sitting on “the hump” in the middle of the back seat, meaning you had no foot room to yourself. We dealt with it. No biggie, and lots of anecdotes.

    That kind of cramped closeness- which happened when we all hit about 10, not when we were only 1 foot in length, was a kind of familial bonding. No electronics to fill the void- we actually had to cooperate, and communicate. I am betting you do that also, but I wish you would reconsider your spacial needs.

    The mindset of needing larger vehicle for a family is one that will give you more convenience now, but leave your children a poorer, less healthy planet. And your children’s children. Your decision impacts my children as well. Please rethink your priority, and strive to set the better example. Not to mention, any SUV or minivan repair costs about twice that or a regular car, and the gas, well…it’s a fiscal hemorrhage.

    Wow, I guess I feel pretty strongly about this.

  116. Catherine says:

    AAA is a necessity for me and my boyfriend. He has had to use it many times – for towing or having them change a tire and the cost has been nothing but the membership. He has even discovered an excellent mechanic that is on his way to work! Also, I agree with Kevin about the AAA discounts. I use them all the time for hotels, rental cars, and museums. Whenever I am making a major purchase, I ask if they have any other discounts and AAA is frequently one of them. Definitely worth it.

  117. Lindsay says:

    You should look into the GM motor club. It is only $60 for the year to cover all vehicles, offers most of the same benefits as AAA, and you also get access to the Entertainment Book/hotel deals etc online.

  118. Nick says:

    AAA has really backwards policies when it comes to the environment and safety. I vote that you give your money to an organization that doesn’t lobby against safety and clean air.

  119. alexis says:

    I read your entry and I thought I’d give you a few thoughts!

    I’ve had AAA for about 4+ years now. I’ve always gotten it as a Christmas present from my parents. When I had my 1990 Honda there were times when I needed it. Like when my car did what your truck did. It came in handy for towing and I’m glad I had it. Also, if you are ever with someone and they have problems or run out of gas, you can use your AAA membership on their car.

    About a new or newer car. I recently bought a 2006 Toyota Matrix in November ’07. It gets about 30mpg highway. I’ve had nothing but praise for this car, I would reccommend looking into one. The backseats fold all the way down so you get ample storage. The back seat, when up, is very roomy. My 6’2 friend has no problems in the back and has praised the Matrix for it’s comfort. The controls are clear and bright and it’s very easy to see everything. It even comes with a 3 prong outlet inside!

    Drawbacks are: The price. I got mine for 16 G’s. And that’s with negotiating. But I also got the extended warranty that Toyota provides to give me peice of mind.
    Another drawback would be the gas tank. It’s only 11.9 gallons.
    -I purchased the AWD model and you can’t take it out of AWD when you don’t need it. Also 2006 was the last year they did AWD, however I think they brought it back for the ’09 model. (Don’t quote me)

    The Matrix is also considered a crossover since it’s between an SUV and a Sedan. Besides liking the car, I bought it because I needed something bigger than just a sedan and I didn’t need a minivan or a bigger SUV.

    Hope that helps!

  120. NicoleS says:

    I have AAA Plus and it’s wonderful – as mentioned, the peace of mind alone is fantastic. Also, with kids in the car you need to know you have options, and AAA will be there to help right away. Every year I get AAA for my Dad for his birthday, so you may want to consider asking for it as a gift, if that’s an option.

    As far as your vehicle purchase, you may want to consider either a certified used Honda – either a CR-V or an Odyssey, or a new Hundai with the 100k warranty. And don’t forget to buy your car during the last two days of a month, especially if the last day of the month falls on a Saturday – you’ll get the very best deal that way.

  121. LisaS says:

    on one hand, prices on new trucks have come down quite a bit. it might be the time to get one before companies get their product mix adjusted …

    that said, in your situation I’d just sit tight. Get your wife a new car, big enough to be comfortable for road trips/third kid but still relatively fuel efficient. Keep the truck for going to the hardware store, hauling bicycles, and other stuff around town. rent one if you need to take a long trip with stuff.

    and we added towing to our insurance when the factory road service ran out, but frankly it hasn’t been a very good trade off. after dealing with three separate incidents this summer, I’m considering AAA too.

  122. joe momma says:

    Lease! Lease! LEASE!!

    Do some research – leasing is such a bad deal for car makers that Ford and GM have stopped doing it all together.

    Remember your principals….. buy things that appreciate, lease things that depreciate

    plus every 3 years you have the ability to get a safer, more fuel efficient, and more reliable vehicle

    Also just something to think about, AAA is another one of those expenses that is not needed if you lease vehicles – most leases include roadside assistance

    on a side note Trent – as a business owner you can lease a car through your business and write off most of it

  123. Moneyblogga says:

    I pay for cell phone road side assistance $2.99 a month which is such a small monthly amount I never miss that money. I’ve used it several times, too, and the service has been great.

    Have you thought about replacing the engine and transmission with new? We did it on a 1985 truck that we didn’t want to waste $40K replacing and it cost around $3000 at the Chevy dealership. We don’t drive the truck that much but it still gets used by other members of the family for camping trips and even as a “hotel” room. It’s so large in back, one can easily sleep in it without a problem. The cost of replacing the engine and transmission has paid for itself. The downside is that you’ll be driving an older less fuel efficient vehicle but we look on it as (a) having a well built vehicle aka Tank and (b) we saved ourselves over $40K on a new vehicle we didn’t need to buy.

    Regarding the minivan, I personally would not recommend buying one. I bought into the fallacy that I would need “all that room” to tote around 4 kids to their various sports activities, etc. To my surprise, I actually had more room in my 4 door Ford Escort!! If I put all the seats up in that Nissan Quest to ferry 6 people around, I’d better hope that I didn’t include grocery shopping in the trip because there was absolutely no storage space whatsoever. I remember getting really teed off about that one fact alone and that’s aside from (a) the lack of engine guts and (b) driving a boring vehicle IMO.

  124. Jason says:

    The people ragging on minivans need to take a look at a modern example from Toyota or Honda. Chevy’s attempt at a minivan is horrible, with the problems Moneyblogga mentions. The engines certainly are not sluggish, room is ample, ride is awesome and the fuel economy really isn’t that bad. Especially when compared to a truck based SUV.

    My carpool buddy puts 4 people, 2 tandem bikes and all the luggage required for a weekend trip into his Sienna and gets 24 MPG highway.

    @Moneyblogga — were your 4 kids all in child seats? Or were they older and allowed to sit with only seat belts on?

  125. Jennifer says:

    You might actually try Better World Club as an environmentally friendly alternative to AAA. They are cheaper than, or will match AAA’s price. I’ve been a member for years and have always had excellent, quick service when I’ve needed. And I feel great knowing that my money is not going to lobby against public transportation or alternative fuel choices.

  126. DivaJean says:

    I would wear the truck down into the ground- but assessing over the next few months how much you need it.

    You mentioned times when both cars were in use- but how many times? Were these truly situations where you HAD to have both cars going? Or just convenience? I am sure if you look long and hard, you’ll see that many errands, trips can be combined and performed when your wife’s car could be used after she’s home or on weekends.

    Is there reliable cab service in your area for emergencies? If so, then its not likely you need a second vehicle.

    And three kids in a backseat? Won’t happen. Not with all the mandated boosters or carseats. And once they are all big enough to not need these- they won’t fit anyways. For one brief moment in time, we had a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a newborn we tried to squeeze into a 4 door sedan backseat. The two eldest still required booster seats by NY State Law- and the baby had a rear facing car seat. It was two months later we moved on to our van- there was not enough room for them in the sedan to do anything without jostling each other. Anyone with kids knows- kids touching and jostling each other in the back seat is tantamount to disaster!

  127. Monica says:

    I grew up in a family with three kids (I am the same age as you). We always had one car and it was just fine. Three kids in the back, but we learned not to fight. Occasionally my mother would drive my father to work so that she could have the use of the car during the day. We lived in a rural farming area, not in town.

  128. Kelly says:

    I love my subaru! As a recent college grad I can’t say much about fitting 2 car seats or kids in the back, but it has been great for my many moves. The hatchback is basicly equivalent to a giagantic trunk and the back seats fold down allowing me to pack in a ton of stuff! Also the roof rack allows me to easily put a kayak or two on the top. I’ve taken it camping a few times and never had a problem packing it full of people and stuff. It has all wheel drive which is a great feature for lousy road conditions. I get 21MPG (mostly the 6mi back and forth to work and errands). If you’re concerned about the “green” aspect, the subaru factory is zero waste (http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/07/03/subaru-sells-100-000-pzevs-and-sends-nothing-to-the-dump-for-thr/).

    I would also look into the NG Civic if you’re wife’s car ever needs replacing. You put a refilling station in your garage that taps into the gas for your stove/water heater and never have to go to the gas station. http://automobiles.honda.com/civic-gx/

  129. Tom Accuosti says:

    I’ve had the AAA Plus for several years now, and while I haven’t needed it myself (knocks wood) my wife had one breakdown in her old car which needed a tow. AAA made it possible to have to car brought to our own mechanic instead of one 30 miles away.

    My son has made the most use of it, having had several breakdowns, dead batteries, and flats. It’s a great deal for him because Dad is the one paying for it.

    My wife has used the AAA discount on hotels and several other things. We don’t use their trip planning or route mapping service, and now most of that can be done online or with a decent GPS.

    I think of it as a kind of insurance; you hope that you won’t need it, but appreciate when you do. The fact that you can use it to get discounts elsewhere is a nice touch.

  130. Patrick says:

    I’m surprised no one has me mentioned this possibility.

    Why not take an auto-repair course from your local junior college? Then do the work on the truck as part of your class. It gets the truck repaired while saving on labor, and now you’ve got another skill set so you’ll be better prepared on future road trips.

    As far buying a car, my advice is to buy the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicle you can get away with on a daily basis, then if you need something bigger for the occasional vacation, rent one, or better yet borrow from a friend. One of the biggest financial mistakes I have made was allowing myself to be talked into buying a minivan (less than 20/mpg) when we only had two kids. The argument was that we needed the room in the back for loads, and when family came to visit.

    Realistically, when family come to visit, they usually come in their car, so there has never been an absolute NEED for the extra seats in the back, and we end up spending twice what we should on monthly gas bills, which means we can’t go on visits ourselves as much as we would like.

  131. therov says:

    Longtime lurker, first-time commenter:
    – We got AAA because we have an older (10+ y.o.) car and a kid. This gives us confidence as we drive to see the grandparents.
    – AAA rates on hotels are almost as low as the Internet-only rates that the chains offer online, with the added benefit that you can cancel your reservation. It’s a handy attribute with kids for more optional travel.
    – I’m with the other commenters that a minivan or SUV aren’t your only options. None are fuel-efficient, which is something you should want to keep your transportation budget in line. Look at the Mazda5 (21/27 mpg) or the Subaru Outback (20/27 mpg) for other family-friendly options that won’t break the (fuel)bank. If you buy a used Mazda5, go for 2007 or later because there was an important redesign in 2007.
    – We had a transmission issue crop up last year this time, and we weren’t prepared for a purchase either. For us a rebuild cost about one year of car payments, so we’re using the old vehicle more than a year after the repair to get our money’s worth.
    – Don’t forget that timing is everything in car shopping. Buy at the end of the month to get the maximum incentives from dealers eager to make monthly quotas. Even better, set your sights on buying a car after the new models get to the dealer (usually early fall), and go for the previous year’s model.

  132. Elizabeth says:

    2 things re AAA:
    1) check with your insurance as they may provide similar services for less than the cost of AAA (USAA insurance does and it costs me less than $1/month)

    2)AAA has saved me on several occasions. Most notably I recently left my wallet in a cab, the person who was in the cab after me picked it up assuming he would have an easier time returning the wallet than the cab driver. Guess how he reached me? He called AAA and AAA called me. (The wouldn’t give him my phone number). That alone makes AAA outstanding in my book.

  133. Jade says:

    As far as AAA goes, everyone on my dad’s side of the family has it. My grandparents, my aunts, my dad, and then my dad added me onto his AAA as an associate member when I got my license. Considering all the things we blow money on that aren’t necessities, $130 a year is worth the peace of mind. Especially since all of our cars are as old or older than me. My dad knows how to fix them all and it saves us lots of money on repairs and new cars, but not all repairs can be done by the side of the road. And it’s also handy if you’re at Starbucks with your idiot cousin and she locks her keys in the car…

    I browsed through the comments and didn’t see this mentioned, but my dad has told me that AAA won’t send you a tow truck if you’re off the paved road. I don’t know how big of an issue this is in rual Iowa… It’s not an issue for me driving around the big city I live in, but when we go visit my aunt up in Mendocino they live a few miles out of town on an unpaved one lane logging road. Considering the problems I have with my car and that I can’t get a tow truck on that road, next trip I’m going to insist on getting a rental car.

    Whatever you decide to do about a new/used car, do yourself a favor and don’t buy a former rental car. My aunt and uncle have lots of stories about seeing how fast their rental cars will go down I5. Then there was my camping trip a few weeks ago, we went with some friends and one of them rented a Ford F150 from Enterprise. Our campsite was just off the paved road, nice dirt road to get to it, and right next to a river. Well, the dude with the pickup truck decides he wants to go down near the river to get some rocks to take home for some pond he was building in his back yard, and drives his rental truck down there to load the rocks in. He managed to get the truck stuck in the sand and it took my dad’s 1 ton cargo van and his jeep and a long cable we found lying around to pull the rental car out of the sand. We did eventually get the car out (came within 6 inches of pulling it into a tree though…), and one of these days I’m gonna post a video on YouTube of them trying to drive the rental truck out of the sand and spinning the rear wheels and making lots of smoke…

    Something to consider when you find a great deal on a Ford F150 that used to be an Enterprise rental car…

  134. chillyrodent says:

    We have always subscribed to AAA, and have never been sorry. Two years ago, though, we switched to Better World Club (http://www.betterworldclub.com). Same services as AAA in general, with refinements that may be valuable to some people. It just came a little closer to our own worldview, while still protecting us in ways that matter to us.

    We don’t hate AAA, we just like BWC better.

  135. Joseph says:

    Here’s my take on AAA:

    I can open my phone and say “come get me.” And they will.

    Aside from that, any company or organization that offers discounts or special services to anyone, offers them to AAA members first. But that is just icing. There are things worth paying for, and my first point is one of those things.

  136. Red says:

    Have you considered getting an Xtracycle to haul kids/stuff around instead of a second vehicle?

    They make kid seats that go on that bike without giving up your storage on the sides. Whether or not it’s for you it’s interesting to consider.

  137. Karen says:

    Check out Better World Travelers Club (www.betterworldclub.com) for an alternative to AAA. AAA survives by it’s name, but if you look into their lobbying and environmental record, you may think twice about joining AAA.

  138. pam munro says:

    We are in a similar position – Have AAA for emergency assistance – but also because you can do DMV transactions in their offices in 1/20th of the time at the state offices (also not OPEN on Sat.s now in Calif.)

    Just got a jump from them – which was a LOT less hassle than dealing with it ourselves! Also as a woman alone, I know they can come to open the car if I lock my keys in it! I ALWAYS load up on their free maps when I go there, too.

    We have 2 older vehicles – one a 10-yr old truck – My husband would like to get rid of it but the mkt. for trucks is lousy – so we wouldn’t get much & with the repairs it runs – even the A/C – so we keep it for trips around town. The last time we got it repaired, the repairman said something similar about replacing it – & pooh-poohed our old radiator – & then I asked my husbnd to try some stop leak in it – & it has been going fine for a couple of summer months!

    We also have ended up with a little old Toyota – which a friend GAVE to us – which I plan to use for trips around town as soon as I don’t need A/C – as it’s not worth putting it in – & we can always sell THAT. It’s nice to know that we don’t owe any $ on our cars, own them free & clear – and repairs are less than car payments!

    It’s also such a PAIN to get a new car or used one & you never know what you will get – but with an old one you know what repairs have been done, etc.

    NOTE: I also found out that if you replace an engine in calif., at least, that you don’t have to pay the TAXES you would on a new (or used) car! I did that once and save a few hundred dollars – Also insurance is cheaper. And our vehicles are not subject to theft. Things to consider.

    We & our friends also often use the truck for hauling – saving any rental of trucks – We moved once with several car/truck loads w/o renting a van – so that’s a consideration, too. They also provide extra STORAGE. Luckily we have lots of parking in my neighborhood, altho we have to move cars around to avoid tkts.

  139. Lisa says:

    AAA has been well worth it for our family. We have been members for several years but it has paid for itself several times over at this point. My husband and I both drive older model cars (1988 and 1999) and while we do our best to maintain them, they do break down from time to time. And when they break down, a tow is almost always involved. Every time I have a car towed (even down the street), my year is paid for. The second tow pays for another year. I’ve been rescued out of town, in the middle of rush hour and even from country roads. They rescued my husband from the middle of a two-freeway interchange in Houston when he ran out of gas. Add to that all of the free road maps I’ve gotten over the years for various vacations we’ve taken and I’ve more than paid for it.

    So I’d say if you’re planning on keeping your car a while, AAA is a good investment. They pay for up to four tows a year (one tow pays a year or more as you well know) and they will also unlock your car and bring you gas when you run out. I imagine it isn’t that useful for people who trade their cars in every year but those folks probably aren’t that frugal in the first place.

  140. JE says:

    I agree with Carrie (comment #9) – you don’t need an SUV or a minivan for a family of five. We have three kids, all in car seats (a 3-year-old and 2-year-old twins). We had a Kia Rio when the twins first came home, now we drive a Hyundai Accent (the Rio was totaled in a car accident). If you want extra space for extra passengers (friends, visiting relatives, etc.), consider a station wagon or a “crossover” vehicle (somewhere between a minivan and a station wagon). They tend to get better gas mileage than the monsters that everyone seems to think they need these days. Unless you’re considering a hybrid SUV, of course…

  141. Macinac says:

    Find a really good mechanic who lives near you. Find out what makes/models he specializes in. Buy that.

    I drove a car 418,000 miles using this formula, and only gave it up because it got so rusty and ratty the Mrs couldn’t stand it any longer.

  142. Never mind your truck – the holiday sounded like paradise on Earth!

    Aside from that, when you go to the dentist and he says you need a filling and this tooth taken out, and a bit of root canal treatment. Membership of the AAA (assuming that is the same as the AA in the UK) is like that – just do it. It’s not something to argue about.

  143. Meika says:

    I’d definitely at least get an estimate on getting the truck fixed before considering any other options.

    Then – seriously consider becoming a one-car family. We did this last year after returning from a stint overseas and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I stay home with our daughter right now; my husband works about ten minutes away. That helps a lot with flexibility. He has a motorcycle that he takes to work when the weather is nice, but we live in Michigan so there are a good six months of the year when it’s not. We save about $600 on car insurance, were able to buy the car outright (never could have with two), and are able to focus financially on saving for another replacement vehicle in the future because we’re not making payments on a second car. I figure that we drive about 30% less than we would otherwise (based on milage put on the car) because we have to plan our trips better and do less frivolous driving. It takes more planning, but has been well worth it. The one time we couldn’t figure out how to work things (when my husband went hunting), we rented a car for the weekend at about 20% of what one of our car payments used to be back in the day.

    My daughter’s still pretty young, so this isn’t much of our equation, but it seems to me that kids’ schedules seem to go in streaks that would be possible to work around – like some running before 9am if they don’t take the bus, and maybe between 3 and 6 for after-school activities. That’s still a lot of time that the car is free.

  144. Cherie Brantner says:

    Shell Lake is great. Did you catch any fish? Sorry about the breakdown on the way home. I have had AAA membership for myself. I’m divorced and it’s been very helpful to me. The cost is nothing compared to what you pay for a tow around here. And I also enrolled my 2 sons (driving age) for half price. We travel alot so I take advantage of car and motel discounts. I had a son at Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago IL. We accidently locked the keys in the car and left a dome light on. Dead battery etc…AAA took great care of us. I wouldn’t be without it.

  145. rkt88edmo says:

    Two tips:

    If you don’t have AAA you can still call them and find which tow service they recommend in your area. The AAA affiliates are always way more responsive and prompt in my experience.

    If you do have AAA and are a lone female or have young kids or are in a bad area make sure to let them know. I don’t know if it is part of their standard info gathering scrip – but they will bump you higher on the priority list than a single guy.

    I think AA is worth it with the family. I had AAA under my parents then didn’t for the next decade on my own. When I started my family I signed up again – yeah I could get reimbursed by my insurer but who knows if they factor that in to pricing and I still have to go through the hassle of finding my own provider and reimburement process. When things breakdown you want help ASAP and that is where AAA excels.

  146. Pam says:

    Slightly different story. I was traveling in Mexico and was robbed at gunpoint. I had American Express travelers’ checks only becuase they came
    FREE with my AAA membership (my bank had just implemented a charge for the “off brand” of checks I’d been using.)Long story short American Express Traveler’s checks gave me cash on the spot, cancelled all my credit cards and replaced my checks within 18 hours. I vowed then that I would be a lifelong AAA member! One service call pays for a year’s membership and, if you travel at all, their services, discounts, etc. are well worth the annual fee! Love AAA!

  147. Jinky says:

    I personally have AAA for several reasons.

    1. While my car insurance does cover a certain number of miles of towing, I live in central/eastern Kentucky where the next “town” can easily be 30-50 miles, in some places even more. I forget how much my insurance covers, but it’s less than that. In fact, I pay $92 a year for AAA Plus just because it does cover up to a 100 miles for towing.

    2. I am completely inept at changing a tire. In the last 3-4 years, AAA has changed no less than 6 tires for me, towed me home once when my spare went flat 2 days after I had to put it to use, and once they were able to just do a “fix a flat” type of thing for me. DISCLAIMER: I am very rough on tires plus I used to work at a factory that often had huge nails in the parking lot.

    3. My van automatically locks the doors after starting the engine, so if you just reach in to turn over the key and then forget to manually unlock them, you lock your keys in. Don’t even ask me where my spare(s) are – good luck finding them! AAA has unlocked my doors at least 4 times. And there was one other time when I called them, the guy shows up, reaches into my passenger side window that was OPEN! and unlocks my door. I would have been majorly ticked if I had to pay $50 for that.

    4. The AAA Speedway Discount card. It’s a prepaid gift card, except you instantly get 4% off. I usually load it up with $50 and it only costs me $48 and I can use it to pay for gas, or anything in the store.

    5. Not only do they provide the personalized Trip tickets, but they provide information particular to your trip. When I decided to take a vacation to Myrtle Beach, just me & my kids, I was nervous about traveling alone. AAA helped me find the best hotel, motels and driving routes as well as offered us lots of suggestions for activities and made the reservations for me.

    6. Cincinnati Reds tickets for 1/2 price. Made a great gift for my boyfriend & his father.

    Other benefits I haven’t had to use but could see myself needing, include: mobile battery service, fuel delivery (they bring a few gallons of gas @ no charge for Plus members), winching.

    AAA covers you, not your vehicle. So it’s valid on any car in which you are the drive or passenger, plus there are a ton of discounts. I always look for the AAA logo wherever I go, and if I don’t see it, I ask. I’ve been surprised at some of the places/services that offer AAA discounts.

    Admittedly, I haven’t compared it with too many other similar services, but I truly love the convenience of AAA, the scope of services they provide, not to mention the peace of mind that it gives me, as a single mom with 3 kids and no family nearby. Whether it’s worth it to you depends on what kind of plan you have in place for these types of events.


  148. starrycynthia says:

    Highly recommend basic AAA membership. We have had to use them many times over the years but have also gotten other inexpensive services from them such as passport photos, and the free tourbooks and maps.

    Re another car purchase, I highly recommend buying a car coming back onto a lot from a 2 or 3-yr lease, which means it will have been well maintained and have low miles. We have done that everytime we’ve needed a car except our latest one which was a new one but a tremendous price through a AAA dealer. It’s a 2005 Toyota Camry which we bought in 09/2004 for a tremendously discounted price because it was a fleet dealership. As good a price as coming off of a 2-year lease! At least, in our opinion.

  149. starrycynthia says:

    Forgot to mention FIRST, that you can use your AAA membership to get a pretty good non-hassle deal on a NEW vehicle. There is usually just 1 dealer per vehicle make in a given area and you might have to drive a little ways to get to it, but we found it highly worth it.

  150. Lynne says:

    AAA can’t be beat. I just had my tire changed when I got a flat (had to borrow a phone to get help since I don’t own a cell). Just went on a mini-vacation, got 20% off the room with my AAA card. Last year went to my dad’s. Arranged flight & car rental & hotel through AAA. Big discounts on car & hotel. Also got a nice discount on the long term parking at the airport with it. I get my maps free, never have to hassle with the DMV, can get smog for less, just a jillion things. We’ve had trips mapped out, reduced cost tickets for Disneyland, Six Flags & more. Because you can call them whether it is your car or someone elses & you are there, we have been able to bail out our kids as well. So I figure what it cost is refunded to me in multiples by the benefits I receive.

  151. jennifer says:

    Did not read the posts, so I apologize if this is redundant.

    Recently, when my husband and I were looking at purchasing different vehicles, (seating for 6) we looked at the additional expense for the larger vehicle and decided that amount of times we are all in the same car amounts to 20-30 minutes a week and then a few trips for vacations. After calculating the costs for maintenance, gas and insurance along with the higher price, we decided that we would rent a vehicle when we need this type of vehicle.

    Over the past year, gas costs alone have covered the $200+ rental for our weeklong family vacation. (Coupons/points keep the rental fee relatively low).

    We made this decision in late 2005 (2006 models were out)

    Things we considered
    Mileage minivan 15 – 19 mpg
    Mileage sedan 25-27 mpg

    2000 minivan w/ 125,000 purchase price = 2004 sedan w/ 25,000 ($9,000)

    Insurance started the same, but has decreased with age.

    Overall we have come out ahead, especially with the gas prices, but even if the came back down, they would have reach $2.50/gallon before this would not work for us.

  152. de says:

    We drive our cars until they literally die. Therefore, we had, and used, AAA 2 or 3 times a year until our auto insurance began including emergency road service. There is a premium membership that will allow a vehicle to be towed pretty much anywhere. In our area, AAA tow drivers were usually quick and courteous. They offer a lot of other perks too, like free passport photos, travel guide books, discounts to various businesses etc. Unfortunately, for the past few years they have been sending credit card offers and other ads in mailers disguised as membership info. This was a factor in our dropping our membership.

  153. Jon says:

    Frugal jane said:
    AAA will let you join and immediately request roadside assistance.

    When I looked into a AAA Plus membership there was a caveat that it could not be used for 7 days. This may be specific to the Mid-Atlantic coverage, but it’s worth noting and checking into before deciding to wait til the day you need it.

    MB said:
    AAA premium costs upwards of $100 a month

    That sounds incredibly steep. Everything I’ve heard ranges from $100-$150 a year.

    My own experiences with AAA have taught me a couple things:
    -When AAA dispatches a tow truck the tow company generally puts you at the bottom of their queue. They get the AAA business by agreeing to lower rates than what someone calling the tow company directly get. Just like how your doctor gets less on insurance paid visits but more business by being in the network. oh, and the same goes for Pep Boys Tow2Pep service – independent towers and you get sent to the bottom of the queue.
    -AAA covers a person, not a vehicle. So, if you’re broken down in a friends car and have your AAA membership card with you, call them. You’re covered. Some tow truck companies are more than flexible about this and so long as AAA dispatches them, they forgo asking to see the card. Note this may very well constitute fraud if no one with you is actually covered. But if you’re broken down and cash strapped, using mom’s membership might not be the worst thing in the whole word.
    -AAA Plus will get you 100 miles of free towing to the responders shop OR your destination of choice. When I broke down in Atlantic City last summer (I live just West of Philadelphia), if I’d had a Plus membership, I could’ve had my Bronco towed all the way back to my usual mechanic and only had to pay the tow truck’s tolls both ways (AAA does not cover tolls).
    -I had a Jeep lodged in the mud about 20 yards off the road. The tow truck driver pulled up, explained he would not take his truck off the road but if his winch line would reach, I could slog back up to the Jeep and attach it. This really comes down to the driver’s willingness, but AAA policy can be easily skirted on this.

    For a bunch of info on AAA plans, check out http://www.aaamidatlantic.com/Membership/Types

    In regards to tow truck drivers, I’ve had one driver who pulled over to help me out when the Bronco was broken down and he told me he could give me a hookup and per mile charge or he could just charge me a flat rate – my choice. It’s sometimes worth it to go direct to a tow company and ask if they can tow you to point A for price B.

    Finally… In regards to the banging on the starter technique Trent mentions in the post – I don’t know the why of this one, but during one of those many Bronco deaths I called my usual mechanic and he suggested doing exactly the same thing. He also had me try to jump the starter directly off the battery. Neither worked because the whole starter was completely dead, but he’s been working as a mechanic for 10 years or so and had faith in trying it. Another mechanic got my Trooper started once by doing that and recommended I replace the starter as soon as possible. So tapping on the starter is apparently one of those highly technical tricks that is recognized by auto professionals. One of which I am not.

  154. Laura says:

    I say keep the truck, let the repairs be what they are – they’re still cheaper than a car payment, and rent a vehicle for your next vacation. For the equivalent of a single car payment, you could have a very comfortable late model, low mileage vacation ride.

  155. Eric says:

    Speaking of AAA, many insurance companies now include roadside assistance FREE with your car insurance. AIG, for example.

  156. Greg says:

    Here’s another vote for Better World Club. http://www.betterworldclub.com/ Also check out your insurance company.

  157. Roger says:

    Wow, what a way to end your trip. At least you had a good, relaxing vacation before you had to deal with all these issues. Still, looks like you have many decisions to make. My thoughts on each of your questions:

    1) I’ve been a loyal and happy member of AAA basically since I started to drive, and I have been saved by them more times than I would prefer. Unless you can get similar coverage for towing, basic repairs and other automotive support through your insurance, I’d say it’s definitely worth the money.

    (As for the comments about AAA service being slow, it’s been my experience that the serviceperson would arrive in 30-45 minutes after I called the service number. To me, that seems like a reasonable time frame, but it is something worth considering. Also, all my service calls have been in fairly metropolitan areas; the length of time might be significantly longer in suburban or rural areas.)

    2) This is a trickier question; it depends on the amount of maintenance needed, the urgency of the required maintenance (i.e., what repairs do you need to make the truck run until next year), and the expense involved. At the very least, you should take the truck into a trusted, trained mechanic, and get an estimate on what you’ll have to spend within the next year; in both parts and labor (unless you opt to go the route suggested by some previous posters and do the repairs yourself). By comparing those numbers to the cost of buying a new/used vehicle that meets your needs, you can make a better decision about whether it’s worthwhile to make the repairs.

    3) In the short run (until you can save enough for a new vehicle) you might try seeing how well you can do using just your wife’s car for most transportation; consider putting your truck in the garage and avoid using it as much as possible. Besides cutting down on regular expenses like gas, you might be able to decrease the amount of maintenance you’ll need to keep your truck moving for another year.

    4-5) It does sound as if a minivan style vehicle would be for the best; getting one with a decent gas-mileage at relatively low cost is best, but could be tricky in the current environment. Weigh all the deals you can find, both new and used, and go for the one that offers the most bang for your buck (when you’ve saved up enough to actually start your shopping).

    6) You seem to be a savings machine; just try to divert at least some of the money you’ve been putting towards paying down your debt, and as long as your truck holds out, you should be in a good position to get a new vehicle in under a year.

  158. ann says:

    Absolutely do not go anywhere without my AAA. Free maps, camping books, offices across the country. Tow: paid, locked out of car: paid, Emergency repair: paid. Hotel rates: cheaper. There are probably perks I’m not remembering, but that’s why I always ask.

  159. Onaclov2000 says:

    I will note one additional fact, now I’ve been riding my motorcycle into work nearly every day this summer because its nice out and it saves on gas. I took my car into the shop on thursday night, and they weren’t able to start on it until today, today of all day’s I really just didn’t feel like riding the bike to work, so if you decided to only have one vehicle, don’t forget that there’s a good chance that initially you’ll feel the pain of not having it when you want it. (But I suppose that is how all frugility (is that even a word) get’s started, you feel the pains of not having something but eventually they all subside).

  160. carol says:

    Even with fairly new to us cars, I insisted on having AAA. I would perfer OnStar but that is out of our proce range. For me it is a safety feature. If I or my daughter gets a flat, someone will come and fix it. We don’t use it often but when we needed the coverage, I was gla we had it.

  161. Jennifer says:

    Rent a car for your next vacation!

  162. Dawn says:

    Two thoughts:

    Regarding AAA, because you have small children, you might find that it has other benefits for you besides just car coverage. I know when I was a kid, my mother got many great deals on family vacations (discounts to disney world, discounts on cool hotels, even some shopping discounts). She was able to really rack up the savings. My husband and I have it now, and I really like being able to get free maps and guidebooks, plus the hotel discounts, and it does offer peace of mind.

    Re: the truck. We had the same situation last year. My husband did not want to get rid of his truck. We looked back at how much we had spent in the past 6 months on repairs (did this by checking our spreadsheet and credit card statements) plus how much we anticipated spending the next 6 months and compared that amount to a car payment. the car payment was much less. Sometimes it really is worth it to get the newer car now.

  163. gonghe says:

    A reliable vehicle, especially when traveling to further locations for family vacations and a reliable towing service such as AAA is worth the safety of your children and family.

    Get AAA and a new/used reliable family car.

    Consider the added expense, insurance for your family’s safety.

    I generally don’t skimp on expenses that add to the saftey of my family. You shouldn’t either.

  164. Missy says:

    Leinie’s Rocks! ;)
    Glad you enjoyed your time with us ‘Sconies. Sorry about the truck…

  165. Steve in TN says:

    AAA is worth every penny. Of course all the “horror” stories will be told when a particular service is mentioned. My experience in the 10+ years I have had it have been the best of any service/product I have purchased. I typically drive vehicles 4+ years old and AAA has saved my bacon many times.

    I absolutely refuse to let my wife out of the house unless she has her AAA+ card and a working cell phone with her…

  166. Bennett says:

    I paid AAA fees for many years. Twice they did not deliver when I needed them. The car broke on holiday week ends when AAA said they were very busy and could not promise a time for a tow. Seems like a waste of money.

    As to paying cash for a car, have you ever done it? I paid cash for my last 3 cars over the last 10 years…a Mercedes, a Lexus and lastly a Toyota. In each case there was no reduction in the vehicle cost. Nothing was taken off for paying cash. I’ve read that you can get cents off when financing, because that is one of the ways dealerships make money. Probably you end up paying about the same for a car either way at least if you finance for 2 years. Let me know if you get a deal for paying cash.

  167. Leigh says:

    AAA is well worth it to me. Not only do I get the peace of mind knowing that they can unlock my car (or a car I’ve borrowed or rented) if my keys are locked inside, tow it somewhere for me, and fix flats for me, but they also give discounts on everything from hotels to restaurants to lots of different stores. It’s paid for itself several times over for me.

  168. Sunbee says:

    If you take car trips, AAA is worth it. If you drive older vehicles, AAA is worth it. If you like maps of where you’re driving to, AAA is worth it. (At least, I can’t get, say, good maps of DC or NYC locally here.) If your mom looses her car keys to her new car in the grocery store while visiting you 500 miles from Dad and his spare keys, AAA is worth it. (It goes to you, not the car, so you can use it as a passenger.)
    Hotel and restaurant discounts are nice, though probably not worth the cost of membership by themselves. Car rental for a 5000 mile round trip over three weeks: the discounts paid for the membership (tip, price through your local AAA rep, not on line with the AAA code. Made almost a $10/day price difference for us.) Breaking down on an interstate exchange 900 miles from home, with two small children, a cello, and me pregnant 45 miles from a wedding, definitely worth having AAA. Towing in LA is really expensive.
    We did have one time AAA couldn’t help us: it was -40 or so–the thermometer wouldn’t register, the car wouldn’t start. Neither would the tow truck!
    We have Plus membership, since we live in a rural area and drive a lot, and with a 93 and a 95 (and four small children) we get our money’s worth.
    I’m afraid you are destined for a minivan: we never have found a car you can fit 3 carseats/boosters across the back. The 08 Toyota Sienna will seat three car seats on a bench, but our ’95 Ford Windstar will only seat two.

  169. Steve O says:

    The cars I’ve owned: 1966 Mercury Monterey, purchased new by my parents; 1973 AMC Gremlin, purchased new; 1980 Dodge Colt (built by Mitsubishi in Japan), purchased in 1982; 1987 Dodge Colt (built by Mitsubishi in Japan), totaled after 16 months; 1989 Nissan Sentra (built in Tennessee), purchased new; 1991 Ford Tempo, purchased for $1,200 from a state of Illinois auction in 1997 and driven for more than nine years until the transmission went out; 1994 Dodge Caravan, purchased used from my mom in 2001.

    Far and away the best car was the ’89 Sentra. I paid $8,300 for it, cash, out the door, sold it for $500 13 years later. It had the original hoses, alternator, starter, fuel pump and water pump. It had a small rear main seal leak the last year or two.

    It failed to start only once. Bad clutch safety relay. I bridged it with a piece of wire until I could get a replacement. I had the the clutch resurfaced at 123,000 miles.

  170. ethanssister says:

    I reccomend AAA as it has been very helpful to me over the years, between the roadside assistance and all of the discounts I”m sure the membership has paid for itself every year. By any chance was the gas station in Cumberland Bob and Steve’s BP?

  171. steve says:

    RE: Dawn’s comment–“My husband did not want to get rid of his truck. We looked back at how much we had spent in the past 6 months on repairs (did this by checking our spreadsheet and credit card statements) plus how much we anticipated spending the next 6 months and compared that amount to a car payment. the car payment was much less. Sometimes it really is worth it to get the newer car now.”

    Maybe, maybe not.
    One thing that is easy to forget is that just is that, when we are talking about major repairs, the expenses won’t keep continuing on a monthly basis. So, if you’re doing transmission, engine, and suspension work over 12 months, when you look at the cost it looks high, maybe higher than the new car payment. However, those repairs will be paid for in cash and will last another 5 years, while the car payments will continue on for an additional 4 years. When you look at it that way, the repairs look a lot cheaper.

    Of course, at some time we make the decision to buy something different. But it’s worthwhile to look carefully at the psychology and finances of what we are doing. It’s possible to make false assumptions about future “high bills” based upon what we’ve recently spent.

  172. Ed says:

    No real advise besides what has been written, but wanted you to know that you have a regular reader who lives in Cumberland. If you had to spend time hanging out, then you couldn’t have picked a better town:)

    If you had been a few days later, you could have hung out at the Rutabaga Festival.

    Love your blog, by the way.

  173. Anitra says:

    I grew up thinking that AAA was a waste of money… my husband convinced me otherwise, though. Even though we do the vast majority of maintenance ourselves, we’ve called AAA three times in the last two years, and they’ve been a lifesaver. Twice for flat tires that just WEREN’T coming off without power tools (one was even parked in our driveway, but we could NOT get the wheel off).. and once to get towed back onto the highway after sliding into a ditch in the median in icy conditions.

    We use the discounts sometimes, too, but the roadside assistance has definitely been worth the money; and will be even more so once we start transporting children.

  174. Carmen says:


    You don’t need a mini-van or SUV unless you add a fourth (not third) child. Most cars easily fit three children across the rear seat, including two car seats. You may end up with this type of vehicle as you research the various options available to you, but I would bear in mind that having a third child doesn’t mean you *need* one.

    As the second child starts school and more than one of your children has a friend home to play after school, then more seats may be useful, but again not essential. Of course this is not a problem at all if you can walk to school and is also a few years off for your family.

    We have RAC (AAA equivalent) membership and pay almost £200 ($400!) for annual family membership. So at $30-70/year, yes it is most definitely worth it! :) Personally I would opt for the full blown option if you choose to have it at all – ie spouse/roadside/home/towed to your choice of destination etc.

  175. Lady Tawodi says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting a service like AAA for my and my father since he’s on disability and I work an hour away from home. But I would probably go with http://betterworldclub.com/ as my first choice, unless I find something better.

  176. steve says:

    Anitra wrote; “we’ve called AAA three times in the last two years,…for flat tires that just WEREN’T coming off without power tools (one was even parked in our driveway, but we could NOT get the wheel off).”

    If the lug nuts were tightened to that point, I would be upset at the service station that did it. They are totally overtightened if it she or her husband was unable to loosen them by hand. Over time that overstretches the studs (bolts) that the nuts go on, weakening them, and can damage the wheels as well.

    I would complain to whoever did it and say that I expect the wheels to be tightened to specifications by hand, not by whatever setting the technician happened to have set on his high-torque air powered impact wrench, which is probably what happened.

    The lug nuts on most passenger vehicles should only be tightened to around 100 foot-lbs at the maximum (the equivalent of pressing with 100 lbs of force at the end of a one-foot wrench, or 50 lbs of force at the end of a 2-foot wrench. On my car, a Honda Accord, I have to do it to 80 ft-lbs.

    The owners manual in your glove compartment will tell you the desired amount of torque for the lug nuts on your vehicle.

    for future service on your car/truck, If you’re having work done on the car, I would mention to the service manager that you’ve had problems with them being way overtightened in the past and you are sure they wouldn’t do this, but you just wanted to be sure expect that they are tightened only to the proper amount (by hand, with a hand torque wrench if they don’t have a power one that is set for it). You can even give the figure. That will get their attention and make it much more likely that the nuts aren’t stretched on the 350 foot lbs or something absurd. If they know you are looking they are less likely to let it slide.

  177. steve says:

    PS to the overtightened lug nut people:

    Just slide a 3 foot length of steel pipe over the end of your lug wrench if you have one and you’ll be able to loosen ANY lug bolt by hand. Just be careful and mindful not to be off balance when you do it and make sure that if the pipe slips off the wrench your hands are not going to slam into something hard with 100 lbs of force. Ouch!

  178. Ang Jordan says:

    Another vote for Better World Club, primarily for their environmentally friendly practices, but also for their bike coverage and their gas reimbursement. We’ve used an auto club for a number of years primarily because of having old cars and consider it as a form of insurance. We have used it several times but I’ve never calculated if it has paid for itself. Earlier this year we got rid of one of our two old cars and my husband bought a bike to commute to work. It’s not for everyone, and there are sometimes inconveniences, but it has worked well for us.

  179. Herbert says:

    Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. If the truck stops running or won’t start, then repair it. As for the eventual replacement….consider an American companies vehicles before foreign owned companies.
    Consider all the families here in the states whose primary wage earners are now out of a job because GM, Ford, and Chrysler are all in financial trouble. The people of America matter more than the need to drive an Acura or BMW. One should want to support their fellow Americans in their decisions, not send their money overseas. Buying a vehicle from a domestic company helps our economy more than buying foreign, and current American cars have reliability on par with most foreign cars. I know plenty of people whose tranny or starter went out on their Honda/Toyota/etc. Sorry for the rant, but I’m sick of hearing people moaning about how they are having a hard time at work with their sales/clients, when they don’t support their fellow neighbors jobs with their buying decisions either. They then slap an American flag sticker on the bumper of their new foreign car….oblivious to the big picture.

  180. Dollar Dee says:

    I think you should hold onto the truck if the repairs aren’t major (engine replacement, transmission replacement, drive train replacement), pay off ALL of your debts (unless its your mortgage), and then save for a USED vehicle with relatively low miles. AAA-for $50 a year–will give you piece of mind when you’re driving in that old truck of yours.

    Also, why do you need more children? Of course that’s a personal choice you have every right to, but they’re expensive, a strain on the world’s dwindling resources, and the more children you have the larger the vehicle you will need. And SUVs and mini vans are notorious gas guzzlers, road hogs, and environment killers. Maybe you need to rethink expanding your family?

  181. Richard says:

    What about keeping the cars you have, since you drive yours so infrequently, and rent a car when you travel? That keeps the miles and assiciated wear and tear off of your home vehicles as well as having someone to call if there are vehicle problems (the rental company). Round trip rentals, where the vehicle is returned to the location that is was rented from, is reasonably inexpensive, provides you with a new vehicle, an oportunity to “test drive” a vehicle that you may be thinking of purchasing, offers more security from maintenance problems on the road, usually includes no milage limits and certainly provides someone to call and bring you a new vehicle should there be maintenance problems. We just returned from a three week trip in a rental car where we put 6000 miles on the car (not mine) and although the cost was just about $600, that is 10 cents a mile (plus gas) rather than the current 40 cents per mile for wear and tear/maintenance/depreciation, etc. that it costs me to use my own vehicle. Especially for high milage trips, renting is the only way to go. The down side is that if it is a one way trip the rental companies tack on a pretty heafty fee to pay for someone else having to return the vehicle.

  182. Sara Bee says:

    There is a credit card that used to have the tag line, “Don’t leave home without it. The card I don’t leave home without is my AAA card. I’ve had it for about 20 years. I haven’t crunched the numbers on whether my dues have been paid for in terms of the savings resulting from using the service. But it does pay for itself in terms of peace of mind alone. Hands down.

    They always ask whether you have a safe place to wait. Once I was stranded in a dicey area and they moved me to the head of the line. That beautiful big truck with a driver that looked like a lineman was at my location in less than 10 minutes.

    Of course they get slammed sometimes. Lots of cars need charging on cold mornings. In those cases I doubt you could better service from any other towing company.

    Add the maps (I’ve used), lockout services (I’ve used), and discounts on travel and entertainment (I’ve used), and I don’t know why anyone would think they were saving money by not paying the dues.

  183. Terri T. says:

    We’ve had AAA for years. At about $93 for both of us, it’s well worth the ‘security’ it provides. As well, one tow and it’s basically paid for!

    As for alternative programs, check into how widely they are accepted nationwide before opting to save $40 on something that may not work where you happen to need it. AAA is nationwide, as far as I know.

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