Updated on 11.17.10

Reader Mailbag: Thanksgiving Week

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Repetitive car repairs
2. Keeping oldest credit card
3. Rethinking decision to buy home
4. Thanksgiving place settings
5. Eliminating debts before grad school
6. Dividing up Thanksgiving leftovers
7. Which refinancing option?
8. Thanksgiving prayer
9. Making money with surveys?
10. Game for family this week

Each year, I see a notable drop in traffic during Thanksgiving week (as well as the two or three days on either side of Christmas). An awful lot of people out there are going about their business, visiting family and breaking bread with them, and getting in touch with the elements of their life that are really important.

I’m doing the same thing this week, and I hope you do, too. Just a reminder that posting will be a little bit slower later this week (Wednesday through Sunday).

Q1: Repetitive car repairs
Two years ago, I bought a 2001 Toyota Prius. I thought this was a great financial decision, but I was wrong.

The power steering breaks every three months. My warranty company will not pay for all of the repairs, so I have to pay $150-$800 every time it breaks. Right now, the power steering is out. I can pay $150 to fix this short-term, or $400 for a more hefty fix, which the auto repair shop says has a 50% chance of breaking again.

It seems clear to me that I must sell this car, but I have a few challenges:

1) I still owe $8000 on the auto loan, which is more than the Blue Book price.
2) It’s rainy season where I live, so I do need a vehicle (not my bike) for the next four months or so.
3) I’m not sure how to handle the current repairs.

How would you recommend that I handle this situation?
– Jamie

The first thing I’d do is find a new mechanic, because a repeated breakdown like this is an indication that something else is wrong with the vehicle that your current mechanic is not dealing with.

Take this car around for estimates when it’s roadworthy. Find out what’s really going on with it and see what it would cost to get the real problem fixed.

Since you’re underwater on the car, you’re going to have to resolve the car loan before you can sell, which means you’re going to have to come up with out of pocket cash any way you go. Focus on trying to figure out the real problem here, as that will get you much more life out of the car.

Q2: Keeping oldest credit card
I recently received a letter from my credit card company changing the terms of my credit card. I will now be charged an annual fee of $55. This credit card does not have a balance. It is my oldest credit card (the first I ever applied for). I’ve had it for about twelve years. It has a high interest rate and a high credit amount. I’ll never use the card, but I keep it for credit history. My first inclination was to close the card to avoid being charged a fee. Then, I thought about it more. I have two other cards. One with a balance that I’ve closed because the interest rate was being jacked up. I’m still paying it off. I also have another with a low limit and no balance that I’ve had for maybe five years. If I close the card, I’ll be left with a high debt to credit ratio and a shorter credit history.

Should I close the card? Might that jeopardize my ability to obtain credit for a home or auto loan in the future? My husband and I would like to buy a home in the next few years once our credit cards are paid off and we have a downpayment. I would hate to keep a card I don’t use and pay the fee but I don’t want to be too focused on the short-term.
– Melissa

Your credit history stretches back only seven years for credit cards, so it looks like your other cards are nearing that limit anyway. I wouldn’t worry about cancelling this card with regards to the length of your credit history.

My only concern with that would be your fairly high debt-to-credit ratio if you do choose to cancel the card. This means you are sitting on some level of credit card debt, which you should take care of as intensely as possible.

Still, I wouldn’t let the fear of canceling this card keep you from walking away from it. I don’t think the drawbacks for you, if you are forthright about paying off the other cards, are that big of a deal.

Q3: Rethinking decision to buy
I am just curious how you would [think of your home purchase] now, sort of as a revisit, after the markets fall, and any changes or discussions you would have with your wife with regard to making such a monumental purchase relatively against your internal wishes. I’m sure you had much communication with her with regards to the pluses and minuses to buying without down payment vs continuing to rent. I don’t know much about Iowa, but I simply assume you are facing the same challenges everyone else is. Also, how does the concept of multiple payments in order to pay down the mortgage quicker change with depreciating values as opposed to appreciating?

– Peter

I don’t regret buying for one simple reason: our house payments aren’t much more than we were paying per month in a very tiny apartment. In our area, rental prices are elevated because of the sheer demand for rental space since we’re close to a college town – in our case, Iowa State U. and Drake U. are within 30 miles.

Our move wasn’t precipitated by whether a home was a good buy in that particular market. Our move was precipitated by “we live in an apartment that’s too small for two adults, a toddler, and an infant … what’s the best sufficient housing per month we can get for the buck?” It turned out that a home was the answer.

My apprehension was mostly due to the prospect of homebuying, which seemd like a very daunting task at the time.

As for paying down that debt with multiple payments, I think it depends more on how long you intend to stay in the house and whether you’re considering walking away from it. If you’re sticking with the mortgage, extra payments are nothing but a benefit.

Q4: Thanksgiving place settings
How do you handle Thanksgiving dinner seating? In our family, most of the adults sit at an enormous table. In previous years, this wasn’t a problem, but over the last year there have been several conflicts between individuals. I don’t want to “force” anyone to have to sit next to someone they’re not getting along with. How would you handle this?

– Amy

We typically don’t have this problem at our Thanksgiving celebrations, as mostly the house is filled with people who don’t get to see each other often enough and are very happy to renew an acquaintance.

If you do have this problem, the best move is to simply assign seating with placards so that people know where they should sit. This way, you can keep problem pairs away from each other so that the event isn’t ruined for everyone.

Simple 3″x5″ cards, printed nicely and placed on plates, should do the trick here!

Q5: Eliminating debts before grad school
I am in my twenties, and live in the Madison, WI area. I graduated from college with a B.A. shortly before the economy tanked in 2008. Since then, I have only been able to secure a crappy data entry job, where I make about $27,000 gross per year but luckily have fairly decent health insurance. Additionally, I have a part time job in retail (very part-time, which brings in $150 per month gross) and try to use my journalism degree by doing some freelance writing in my spare time. (ha!) After almost two years in a dead-end job that I hate, and countless job hunting in the area, I have decided to go back to school and get my master’s next fall. It’s something I always wanted to do, but I just thought I would be able to be in the workforce a bit longer.

Anyway, over the past year, I ended up accruing some credit card debt and also wiped out my small savings account when I moved in with a very irresponsible boyfriend, who not only stole from me but left me with all of the household bills for the term of our lease! I broke up with him, and began to live by myself, but the rent and cost of living in Madison is so high that I now have a roommate. I live pretty frugally by shopping at thrift stores, and cooking at home. I have managed to pay down my credit card debt (under $1000 now!) but am confused about what I should focus on when I pay off my credit cards. I have a $9k auto loan (4.99%) and about $11k in student loan debt from my undergrad work. I also have nothing in savings right now because of the ex-boyfriend situation. Of course, there is the looming possibility that I won’t get a teaching or research position in graduate school, which will result in accumulating much more debt, especially since I am more than likely going to have to attend college out of state.

I know that I won’t be able to pay off either my student loans or my car loan completely before I go to school next fall, but I want to reduce this debt as much as I can. Should I focus on reducing my student loans or should I work on the car loan? I am still uncertain about whether I will try to keep the car while in school, but since I don’t have any savings, I can’t even afford a junker so I need a car for at least another 10 months.
– Kat

In your situation, I would get rid of the high interest debt, then start making minimum payments on the other debts while building up an emergency fund.

The reasoning here is simple. Once the high interest debt is out of the way, the minimum payments on the remaining low-interest debt are small and they aren’t accumulating interest very quickly. If your future is uncertain, a hefty emergency fund will keep you from falling back into a credit card financed lifestyle.

If you do find that you have a teaching position, you can certainly use the emergency fund to pay down one of the debts (probably whichever one has the highest interest rate).

Q6: Dividing up Thanksgiving leftovers
Each year, we have a potluck for Thanksgiving dinner and, each year, everyone brings enough to feed a small army. After the meal, though, there ends up being a lot of uncomfortable feelings about splitting up leftovers. How do you do this without resenting each other over who got the most leftovers?

– Marcia

Make everyone equal.

Buy a bunch of those small Ziploc tubs that enable people to take leftovers with them. Let people take turns going through the line and putting whatever they want into one tub. If everyone has gone through, the line can happen again with a second tub and a third tub.

This way everyone ends up with the same amount of stuff if they want it. The only possible route of complaint with this method is who gets to go through the line first and, if that’s an issue, draw numbers out of a hat to determine the line order.

You can’t get much more equal than that!

Q7: Which refinancing option?
We are in the process of refinancing a home we purchased 5 years ago with a 30 year loan of $142,000 @ 6.25% w/ a monthly payment of $1,153 w/ insurance and taxes included.

Now we have the options to refinance a loan amount of $136,500

15 years @ 4% monthly payment of $1,195 w/ insurance and taxes included
25 years @ 4.5% monthly payment of $1,040 w/ insurance and taxes included
30 years @ 4.5% monthly payment of $975 w/ insurance and taxes included

I am struggling w/ which option to choose. I like the idea of not having a mortgage and paying considerably less in interest with the 15.

However, this is not our final home. I would like to keep it as a rental when we move into a larger home to accommodate our family as the kids get older and subsequently bigger.

So, in my head, the 30 or 25 would make the most sense as someone else would be paying the mortgage and we would benefit on our taxes as well as be able to fully fund an emergency fund with the $180 or $115 difference.
– Clinton

The tax assistance is negligible on a home. Unless you’re already filing long form, the actual interest you would pay on any of these loans near the end would make little or no difference on your taxes.

What you’re really asking yourself is whether you’re more concerned about now or you’re more concerned about later. Right now, in the very short term, the slightly lower payment is better. If you get more than a year or two out, though, the 15 year mortgage is much better, and it gets better every. In fifteen years, there are no more mortgage payments and you own the house free and clear.

Not only that, the total interest you’ll pay on the 15 year loan is about half as much as you’ll pay on the other loans. We’re talking $100,000 in savings here.

Q8: Thanksgiving prayer
My brother and I and our wives are having another couple over for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m a lapsed Catholic (as is my wife) but my brother and his wife go to church every week and are very strong in their faith. The couple we chose to invite this year are atheists. My brother often leads the saying of “grace” before the Thanksgiving meal each year and I’m afraid this will be an issue. How should I handle this?

– Tom

Talk to each of them individually and explain the situation to them. Provided that you’re dealing with rational people, the situation will resolve itself quite well.

With the atheist couple, I’d simply explain that my brother is a Catholic and it’s a part of his Thanksgiving tradition to say a short prayer before the meal. With your brother, I’d simply explain that the other guests do not follow the same religious views as he does, so it would be polite to keep it short.

Most reasonable people can meet in the middle on things like this. I know that if I were dining with any person of a different faith who wished to pray before a meal, I wouldn’t be bothered at all.

Q9: Making money with online surveys?
Can you really make money filling out surveys online?

– Karen

You can, but you won’t make very good money for your time. You will make far less than minimum wage, and much of that return will be in the form of store credit at some shop or in the form of prizes that you don’t really want.

To put it bluntly, there is no way to simply sit down at your computer whenever you feel like it, click your mouse a few times, and make a lot of cash. It simply doesn’t happen – there’s no one that’s going to pay you more than a pittance to do this.

Having said that, there are some programs that will reward you small amounts for filling out surveys and the like. This is the type of thing that some people do during commercial breaks on television shows, for example. Don’t expect a great return for your time, though.

Q10: Game for family this week
You’ve written many times about your love for board games and you’ve now got me interested! When I was a kid, my two brothers and I used to play a lot of Risk and we often play a game or two of it over Thanksgiving week. What would you suggest as a game we might like?

– Alan

It depends heavily on whether it’ll just be the three of you or you’re going to try to convince others to play.

If it’s just the three of you, I would probably suggest either one of the “revised” Risk games (probably Risk 2210 A.D.) if you just want to mix up the experience of playing Risk, Memoir ’44 (my favorite wargame, which can be played in half an hour but only allows two players, which means you’d have to alternate), or a deeper game like Tide of Iron or Axis & Allies (both large-scale war games with more complexity than Risk).

If you can rope others into playing, I’d get one of the big so-called “gateway” games, probably Ticket to Ride. I’ve had a lot of success getting people who have basically never played a board game before to play TtR.

If you’re the type of siblings who are sneaking in multiple games of Risk during Thanksgiving, then these games will be right up your alley and will almost assuredly be well worth your time and money over the years.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. re: Q4
    My sister made the cutest place cards for Thanksgiving that had your name on it and space to write what you were thankful for. She put one at every plate along with a pen, and we all shared what we wrote down before we ate.

  2. Jules says:

    I get along quite well with religious peoplesdespite not being a believer myself. There’s no reason not to take a moment to think about all the good stuff you have in life, even if you think Santa Claus is Jesus.

  3. Telephus44 says:

    RE: Survey Sites

    I have been doing online surveys for almost 10 years, so I wanted to offer some advice.

    Firstly, yes, you will not get rich by doing this. My best year ever I made about $300. I average around $200. This isn’t monthly, this is annually. I keep track of how much I “make.” I also choose to include the value of products I get to test in my metrics (if I’m testing diapers for example, and I get a pack of 30 to try out, I’ll figure that as $7 since that’s the average cost of a pack of diapers. Same with shampoo, deodorant, etc.). I do not include the “retail value” of “merchandise prizes” because they are so far off from reality. I once received a suitcase valued at $170, but I could find them online as low as $40 for the exact model and ended up selling it for $20 on eBay.

    Many survey sites do offer payouts as gift certificates (to places you may or may not shop at) or merchandise. Yes, a lot of the merchandise is really cheap. In addition, it’s also been a trend for several years to instead offer entries into a drawing for some cash prize.

    Pay attention to the time it takes to complete the survey versus the cash payout. If I’m getting paid $3.00 for a 10 minute survey, that’s $18.00 an hour. Last night I was offered a 30 minute survey that paid $.60 in Amazon credit. Many sites have point systems, so do the math and figure out if it’s worth it for you. I work full-time outside the home, so I personally strive for $10/hour as a break-even, although I’ll make an exception if I think it’s leading to a product test.

    My basic strategy when I started was to join every site I came across. After 6 months, I would go back and see how I fared. If I didn’t receive any surveys, or everything was a drawing, or I got tons of qualifiers that never led to a paying survey then I would drop it. After many years, I have a small set of sites that I stick with. Certain sites are also better for certain people – I found out that after I had a child and bought a house, that put me into a different demographic and some sites became much better for me and some sites became worse. I’m sure some sites are better for high-income, lower-income, minorities, what region of the country you live in, etc.

    It really is more of a hobby than a get rich quick plan. I get the most enjoyment when I have about $100 in Amazon gift certificates that I always use at the end of the year to complete my Christmas shopping. As a reference point, I spend about 2 hours a week on surveys – I usually wait and do them on the weekends.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q4 – If the crowd is large enough & you’re not sure who’s speaking to whom, in this case I would NOT use place cards. Let everyone pick where they want to sit. Maybe even set up 2 tables instead of one gigantic one. Those who want to avoid each other will find a way to do so, or as host you can steer them away from each other if you think they’d rather pick a fight.

  5. Kyle says:

    Q7- If you plan on potentially renting the house I would opt for the 30 year and just make extra principle payments as if it were a 15 year loan (assuming there is no pre-payment penalty). If you do this from the beginning this will save you much of the interest you would have saved with the 15 year loan. Then if something happens and you need the extra cash flow you can always reduce your payment back to the original 30 year payment. This could also help you when renting the place as well since you can lower the amount of rent you need to charge or conversely have a larger net income from the property.

  6. Marie says:

    I feel sympathetic toward Q5 (paying off loans before grad school) but am laughing at the line about how Madison is expensive. I went to grad school there and now live in the D.C. area. Talk about high cost of living! Madison is dirt cheap in comparison. Best of luck to you, Kat.

  7. Jackie says:

    Q6, I am in the same situation, the losing end too. In my family we each have been bringing the same thing for years. As one of the youngest, I’ve been assigned “salad” since my poor college days, despite being now 30 and quite capable of bringing something more substantial. My cousins, who bring ham and turkey insist that they get to take all the ham and turkey leftovers. Oh well. I just choose to pick my battles and not get upset over going home without anything, and eat my fill at dinner.

    Q8. I don’t think you needs to make a big deal out of it. Presumably everyone is a grown up and the Catholics have met non-religious folks before. And Athiests have been dealing with the same situation for as long as they’ve been Athiests. Your brother doesn’t have to give up his prayer, he just can’t expect else to participate.

  8. LB says:

    Q8- I’m an atheist, and I expect that when I’m a dinner guest that I will be partaking in the customs of my hosts. This sometimes means that I hold hands with the people on both sides, bow my head, close my eyes, and sit in silence for a few seconds. Not a problem. Just don’t make a big deal if they decide not to close their eyes (how would you know, anyhow?). If they are respectful guests, it will be a non-issue.

  9. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    I wasn’t quite clear about whose house this dinner will be in. My usual rule is that the owner of the house gets to make the decision. However, they should be polite about it and inform other people of their traditions before hand to prevent any conflicts.

    I’m an atheist myself and last year I had my family over for a Rosh Hashana dinner (Jewish New Year). I told them that I intended it to be a secular, family affair and not a religious one, so I would not be saying any prayers and that was it.

  10. Johanna says:

    Q2: Melissa, you’re right that your debt to credit ratio does have an effect on your credit score. But since you say you’re not looking to buy a home until after the second card is paid off, that should not be a problem.

    You could also try asking the issuer of the third card to increase your credit limit.

  11. Tom says:

    I can’t believe how many petty family thanksgiving emails you get. I should be thankful to not have to deal with that kind of stress.

    To question 9, Karen: my wife left her job in July to have our child, and as of last week she just earned her first $10 doing online surveys. They don’t come as frequently as you would think, and when they’re for real cash, you might wind up getting 70% through a survey and then get ruled out (they already have enough respondents of your age-race-gender-income) and get nothing for your time. Other companies might offer a partial credit for attempting a survey (I use erewards, they do this), but those don’t offer you money, just prizes like airline miles or magazine subscriptions.

    I guess $10 is better than $0, but it certainly won’t replace income.

  12. Petunia says:

    Q8: I am an athiest, and quite used to sitting quietly while others pray before a meal. I’m sure your friends are, too! It’s not at all offensive. Have a happy holiday.

  13. Petunia says:

    Q7: Under no circumstances would I choose the 25 year term. The interest rate is the same as the 30, and you can turn your 30 into a 25 by simply making the payment of the 25.

    Since you think you will keep this home as a rental, I think you should take the 30. You need to save up a down payment for your next house, and the 30 gives you a bit more cash to work with.

  14. spaces says:

    Q5, if someone is not funded in a graduate program, then they ought to question whether the program is right for them or if the program really wants them, particularly if they are paying out of state tuition. There are many alternatives to paying out of state sticker price for a graduate degree. You could search for a program that will fund you or, at the very least, offer you an out of state tuition waiver. You could move to the state where the program you will attend is and live there long enough to establish residency to qualify for in-state tuition.

  15. jim says:

    Q7 : Take the 30 year loan. Especially since you want to rent it in the future, that will make your cash flow easier. YOu can always make extra payments if you want to pay it off faster. 4.5% is still a great rate.

  16. Brittany says:


    Second reader mailbag in a row for me to push CreditKarma. It’s a free service, and has a lot of good tools to check your credit score and estimate the effect of different actions on your score, including closing your oldest card. Also, have to tried calling your back and switching your account to a different card (one with lower rates and no fees)? Many banks will let you change card types, without closing your account, which lets you keep your oldest account open and not have to pay the fee. I’m sure with a good, long credit history, you qualify for a better credit card.

  17. LeahGG says:

    Q6 – weird. We always have the opposite problem. We have too much of everything and my parents will be left with all the leftovers for weeks, so they push them on all of us as forcefully as possible without causing injury. (just kidding)

    In our family, making food for each other is a sign of love, and eating someone else’s cooking is a sign of appreciation…

  18. Jane says:

    Answering surveys onlne is all a matter of the time you have to give to it. Trent is 100% correct in that it does not pay a reasonable hourly wage. I work at home, am handicapped and have lots of little freelance businesses to contribute to my savings. I am on the computer from early morning till late at night but take breaks to go to the store or read for a while. Basically though, I spend much more time online than most people. I do surveys three times a day for half an hour at a time. I get checks or Amazon gift points or gift cards. I just gave my brother-in-law a subscription to Rolling Stone that I got free with survey points (I know it’s not “free” but it is found money for me). I have given a $25 AmEx gift card and bought books, pots and pans and candles on Amazon for gifts. If you group your purchases together, you get free shipping when you spend $25 or more. I put the cash into a savings account. I have been doing surveys since July 5th (and have dropped some and added others) and my savings account has $755 in it. You also can get asked to do product tests. I just tested some kitty litter for a company for $25. I was recently selected for a face-to-face focus group which will pay $115. I’ve been asked to contribute to an online community for $10 a month and you just have to log on for 15 minutes a week. Just Google “paid surveys no scams” and you will get a list of reliable companies. Skip the ones that pay you in some obscure way (checks, gift cards and Amazon points only) and keep track of how each one performs. It will take a few months for you to work up a track record with the survey companies – they want to see how reliable you are about responding. After a while, the higher paying surveys come. If they are major companies – Toluna, Opinion Outpost, Focusline, Valued Opinions, IPSOS-iSay, Opinion Place, MySurvey, Lightspeed, Springboard America or Mind Field, you are safe and secure but don’t deal with any company that asks for credit cards or your Social Security number. Google “focus groups” and get a list of companies that invite you to participate in those. They pay well but they don’t use you that often and the sessions can be during the week. I figure as far as answering surveys goes that it beats watching TV with my time – the History Channel doesn’t pay me $100 – $200 a month!

  19. AnnJo says:

    Q3, Peter, one consideration in buying a home is where you think we are in the real estate meltdown process. I’m not optimistic, because from what I’ve been seeing lately, the bad habits that got us into this problem, bad lending, still continue. For example:

    Yesterday, I was looking on Zillow at houses for sale in my neighborhood. This is an occasional source of morbid entertainment, as I watch houses that I have seen on the market in past years selling at prices brushing the million dollar mark, now gradually descending from the stratosphere to nestle on Alpine foothills – still far above sea level but still a shocking plunge.

    My eye was caught by a 1,200 square foot 100-year old house of modest quality, not updated in 30 years or more, listed for $475,000. Zillow told me the house had first been listed 17 months ago for $695,000 with price drops at intervals, until it was taken off the market 11 months ago at a listing price of $595,000, before being relisted two months ago at its current listing price of $475,000.

    Curious, I checked county assessor and auditor records. Sure enough, the house had hit a tax valuation high of $664,000 in 2009, and is now valued for tax purposes at $518,200.

    The house has had the same owner since the 1970s, an elderly lady of modest means (I know she’s elderly and of modest means because she qualifies for substantial low-income senior discounts on her property taxes.)

    But there was more and here’s why I’m convinced we are still digging at the hole we have fallen into:

    Between taking the house off the market at $595,000 in December and re-listing it at $475,000 the next September, this elderly lady took out an FHA loan for $562,500 in April.


    A house that qualified for a government-guaranteed loan like that just five months before, is listed for sale (and not selling) at nearly $100,000 BELOW the amount just financed on it.

    This housing market is not being allowed to correct itself, and government programs are continuing to guarantee unsupportable loans. Because of short-sale pressures, etc., there are some bargains out there, but there are even more opportunities for making a serious mistake.

  20. jim says:

    AnnJo, 1200 sq ft modest houses for $475k is not the norm. location, location, location. Overpriced houses in California big cities may certainly drop a lot in value but homes in Texas or Iowa are much safer.

  21. AnnJo says:

    @jim, sure, location has a lot to do with value, but no area is safe from the effects of horrifically bad federally-guaranteed lending practices on the economy, tax levels, etc., since these problems have been federalized. Folks in Texas and Iowa are going to be paying for the FHA losses incurred on the loan I was talking about, even though the house is on the West coast (although not in a California big city). The bank that issued the loan is a national bank, already in deep trouble. Its collapse, closure or more likely, bailout, will have a national impact.

    Peter of Q3 would do well to be aware of all the risks, which today are very different from a couple of years ago

  22. Steve in W MA says:

    Regarding q1, the repeated power steering failure:

    1) you don’t need power steering in the first place so this repair really doesn’t have true urgency. (although it’s mighty convenient for parking). At driving speed there is no significant difference between power steering and no power steering because power steering systems are designed to provide maximum assist at parking speed, trail off the assist as speed increases, and very little above 40 mph.

    2) I don’t know how the Prius gets its power assist (in a conventional car, a hydraulic pump run off of a belt run off of the engine crankshaft provides hydraulic pressure to assist at the steering rack, but who knows how the Prius gets its assist since it doesn’t have a constantly running engine), but you need another mechanic if it keeps breaking. It really can’t be that complicated.

    3) It’s very possible that this is an ongoing problem that is known about at the dealership. Check with Toyota as there may be a recall in the power steering system.

  23. Steve in W MA says:

    Also, q1 Prius,

    The best place to check about issues with your Prius is with the online Prius community.

  24. kristine says:

    I do e-surveys. They have a very limited selection of rewards. I do a survey now and then when I feel like it (they come to my e-mail). Over the course of the year it generally adds up to” A Wall Street Journal subscription, a Food and Wine subscription, and 15 dollars in Borders bucks added to my orders rewards card. Little per dollar, but something to pass the time while I wait for cupcakes, or eat lunch, and these are things I truly enjoy, but would not otherwise spend money on, as they are luxuries.

  25. I participate in several of the online survey sites. Your return really depends on the company, and the surveys for which you qualify / you select. I typically only do the ones that pay at least a rate of $10-$12/hour, and even then, I just do them when I am bored… so I miss out on a lot of higher paying ones. I only go for companies that offer checks, amazon gift cards, and paypal deposit. If you want specific recommendations, feel free to use my contact link on my blog, and I can give you a few names.

  26. Jamie says:

    @ Steve in W MA: Thank you for the response!

    1) I agree that the power steering isn’t totally necessary (my arms are getting amazingly muscular, too) but because this car was made to have power steering, the steering is far more difficult than a car built without power steering, without it, there are other components affected by the steering, and at low speeds it’s very unsafe… And parallel parking is impossible.

    2) I use the same repair shop repeatedly because it is actually the steering unit part that is the problem; my evil warranty company will only pay for used or rebuilt parts, which Toyota *and* the repair shop strongly recommend against, but if I get the new part the Warranty Company will not pay a single dollar for the repairs (bumping the repairs up to several thousands of dollars).

    3) Unfortunately, there’s no recall on this one. That was the first thing I checked :-(

    If you have any other nuggets of wisdom, please throw them at me!

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