Updated on 09.03.08

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: More Truck Troubles Edition

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, my truck acted up yet again, with the truck chugging badly before shifting gears (with the chugs vanishing quickly after the shift). Before long, the ol’ “Check Engine” light came on.

Since I don’t need it for much of anything for a while, my wife and I are currently leaving it in the driveway while we make up our minds whether or not yet another repair bill is the correct route to follow, or we should just hang it up and get something else.

Given that it’s already accumulated about $3,000 in repair bills over the last year before this – almost adding up to the Blue Book value of the truck – we’re very hesitant to keep throwing money into an unreliable vehicle.

On the other hand, during the week it’s almost never used other than the mile-long trip to daycare and occasional trips to the library and the grocery store. Can we survive with just one car, at least for a while?

Lots of questions, no clear answers – yet.

Yard Sales: An unclutterer’s ultimate, how-to guide This may be the best guide for running a yard sale that I’ve ever seen. (@ unclutterer)

Comparing Air Fares: An Impossible Task My sister-in-law travels quite a bit by air and has a limited budget, so this is an almost-constant war for her.(@ queercents)

How Much do You Spend on Kids’ Sports? (And Ways to Save) After watching the expenses that my nieces and nephews have racked up with sports equipment over the last few years, this is something I’ve been thinking about with regards to my own children’s future. (@ free money finance)

How to Install a Programmable Thermostat This was actually a how-to I had in mind to work on – either way, it’s useful information, especially given how much a programmable thermostat can save you. (@ frugal dad)

The Inner Workings of a Car Dealership (and How To Use Them to Your Advantage) Pretty timely advice for me. (@ get rich slowly)

How Our Financial Attitude Is Changing With Increasing Income One of my favorite personal finance bloggers was offline for six months dealing with some of the legal backwaters of blogging. He’s returned with an excellent article here. (@ money, matter, and more musings)

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  1. Frugal Dad says:

    I drive an old 1991 van to and from work (5 miles one way) that I wouldn’t dare take on an interstate, or a longer trip. However, it has served my purposes well over the years, and apart from maintenance and absolute required repairs (brakes, bearings, etc.) I’ve done little to it. As a matter of fact, my last repair job cost about $400, and the girl in the front office of the auto shop laughed after telling me the total cost, “And that’s why I don’t drive used vehicles.” I laughed back, “Yeah, but your car payment alone is more than my repair bill–and repairs are required only a couple times a year, but your payments are required every month for several years). I think she got the message.

    By the way, thanks for the link on a great roundup this week!

  2. K says:

    I agree with Frugal Dad. It doesn’t make sense to me when people compare the cost of repairs to the value of the car. If a new car payment would be $350/mo and you spend $1500 every 6 months on repairs for your old one, you are still coming out ahead. Now there comes a point where reliability becomes an issue, but if you have a reliable car for long trips, even a breakdown in town in the way to the grocery store wouldn’t be the end of the world, so it might make sense to keep it.

  3. Onaclov2000 says:

    I can’t remember for sure, but how far do you live from the daycare and whatnot, if you don’t live all that far, just spend a couple hundred (not sure how much it costs) on a reliable bike and carrier, if you can somehow manage to bike the little one to daycare, you’re now getting a workout, getting some fresh air and saving some money, and that money would be offset by the amount you didn’t spend fixing the truck, and in the long run the gas you aren’t using, although if you live quite a distance, this whole suggestion is a moot point.

    Have fun, good luck, I wish cars didn’t ever break down, although then alot of people would be out of jobs.

  4. bill says:

    Did you try some slick 50 transmission treatment in the tranny? My old car (150k) had that problem and it was simply a sticky transmission valve. Car would chug because it was in the wrong gear until it finally shifted. Slick 50 fixed the issue.


  5. Greg Smith says:

    I’m going through a similar situation and I agree with the others here on comparing repairs vs payments. My truck has 130K miles on it and I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky. Almost nothing has failed on it. Yet I seem to spend at least $1000 a year on repairs. Part of the problem is those repair bills come all at once compared to a payment which is less.

    I never looked at my vehicle as a investment (its a tool) and therefore don’t care about the bluebook value. Spending a few thousand a year keeping it running doesn’t bother me. What does worry me is the unknowns, parts that are near failing but haven’t yet.

  6. Joe says:

    K – yes, but once all the car payments are made, you have a relatively new car as an asset (admittedly depreciated asset) whereas after all those repairs, the old car eventually cannot be used.

    The point is that the car payments are going towards the purchase of a (depreciated) asset, whereas the money spent on repairs is a cost that vanishes once the old car ceases to be useful. Not to mention many new cars give better mileage and can save money that way too…

  7. Lucky says:

    As Click and Clack say over and over – it is always less expensive to keep repairing an old car than it is to buy another car.

    Keep fixing it and drive it until it won’t roll anymore. And then fix it.

    Or, admit you want a new(er) car and get one.

  8. Jason says:

    Very little info to diagnose, but I had something similar happen on my 95 Jeep Grand Cherokee. This…after two transmission rebuilds…scared me silly. Took it to my trusted mechanic and found out that I had a short between two of my spark plug wires.

    Might be worth an hour or two to buy a distributor cap, rotor, and new wires. You can replace them yourself. If it doesn’t work, you can always return the parts.

    Also, this should be fairly easy for any trustworthy mechanic to diagnose.

  9. RT says:

    Trent, I’m in a similar situation. I was in an accident where my new car (less than a year old) was basically totaled. My husband and I work in the same part of town and have a bit of a commute, so we have been carpooling for the past 9 months. The new car replaced a car we almost had paid off but had a serious transmission problem. I’ve been kicking myself for that move ever since we started carpooling.

    I’m somewhat relieved that now we can be down to one vehicle and be fine, but I’m still a bit afraid of when my husband and I need to be a different places at the same time. It will make planning ahead of time a lot more important.

    I’m saving back those monthly payments (and the reduction in insurance premiums) in a fund for our next vehicle.

  10. Jason says:

    Every time I make a repair to my 1992 Chevy S-10 I think of it in terms of payments. If the repair is $400, then that’s two payments (I’m very cheap when I buy cars… my monthly payment on the S-10 was $182.75 when I bought it). Anyway, if the repair can make the truck last long enough to be worth it, I figure I’m coming out ahead.

    By the way, I only drive the truck about 4000 miles per year and only fill it up a dozen times per year as well, so even though it gets crummy gas mileage it’s still a winner of a deal for me. I’m taking the monty that we manage to save by not having a car payment and investing it. We could buy several cars with cash now… but why?

    Besides, my personal sense of self worth doesn’t revolve around having a new car. Let them laugh at my junker! We’ll have a pile of money saved for retirement and they’ll have pics of all the shiny new cars they’ve owned throughout their lifetimes that are sitting in the junkyard.

  11. Aggie says:

    When I bought my last car, I calulated the yearly mileage and gasoline use– then looked at MPG VS initial cost+tax+tags+ yearly insurance AND the average number of years I keep a car. I tend to keep them until they are wrecked into for me.. .which so far has been about 7 to 8 years.

    You can get MPG from fueleconomy.gov.

    The best way to save money really is to drive them into the ground. Look at the long term goal: how many cars do you buy in a decade? One car per decade is a lot cheaper than two per decade.

    Also with this last car, I had to look at my family’s needs over the next decade. I have two boys in a rural area that will be drivers soon. A second car was going to happen regardless… so I made the decision to purchase when it was best for me.. not when I was forced into it. The second car will be better worn when it comes time for them to drive, and I will know it’s maintenance history.

  12. K says:

    “We’ll have a pile of money saved for retirement and they’ll have pics of all the shiny new cars they’ve owned throughout their lifetimes that are sitting in the junkyard.”

    And they will be able to display those pictures in their cubicles until they can retire at age 75!

  13. kz says:

    Unrelated to the vehicle issue, I’m a little surprised that you recommended the last article as “excellent.” While it’s the right of that blogger to do what he/she wishes with the increase in income, the spirit seems to run contrary to what you talk about here.

    Maybe, though, my surprise is just because I disagree with the article…

  14. Rick says:

    Just curious… what kind of truck? Year, make, model? How about the mileage? Some vehicles have common problems, so you may only be out $50 to get it fixed. Let me know.

    BTW, I appreciate your website. You have definitely inspired my wife and me.

  15. michael says:

    Just dropping by to post on a slightly related topic: I just paid off my motorcycle — WOOHOO!!

  16. Dariaclone says:

    A mile is walking distance in the city–can you use a stroller (or bike as suggested above) to get the kids home from daycare?

  17. Troy says:

    I agree with KZ regarding the last recommended artice.

    That article focused on splurging, indulgence, and inattentiveness, all qualities generally not found on this site. I was not impressed.

    Regarding your vehicle, regardless of the money you have spent previously, you are still at zero in terms of your current decision. Have you diagnosed the problem and do you know the cost of the repair.

    Once you have that info, then you can make an informed decision, although I usually lean towards repairing the vehicle unless it is extremely cost prohibitive.

  18. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I can’t exactly use the bike to get kids home in an Iowa winter.

    It’s actually the kids that are the big push towards getting something more reliable. I flat-out don’t trust driving my truck any more with them in it, and I don’t exactly think being stranded along the side of the road with a two year old and a one year old is a strong idea. If they were older, we’d be okay, but it’s pretty hard to calm down and explain the situation rationally to two toddlers.

  19. mjukr says:

    “It’s actually the kids that are the big push towards getting something more reliable.”

    I think you’ve already made up your mind and you just don’t realize it yet ;)

    Get the newer car! Heck, if nothing else, it’ll give you fodder for multiple articles about your buying process!

  20. MB says:

    I’m a member of a 1-car household in Iowa. I strongly recommend that you try a month as a 1-car household, then re-evaluate this question. You might be suprised at how little you actually need the second car.

  21. Jeff says:

    Yeah kz,
    Money matters and musings post was so lame. “I make more money now so I don’t mind spending it on stuff and conveniences. I used to buy generic (gasp!) and now only Kellog’s for me…”
    Ughh. How unimaginative. Kellogs for god’s sakes! That is completely un simple dollar like.

  22. Kevin says:

    Sounds like you are mentally leaning towards the new car and considering the repair bills lately, it might be a good time to take the plunge.

    I have to agree with kz and Troy about the last article recommended. Not very frugal in my opinion. Also, I went back in the archives to see about the legal issue you discussed. It sounds like he/she was actually upset to be making money on his/her blog? I’m confused. I won’t be returning to that one.

  23. Xerloq says:

    It’s necessary to compare the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when trying to decide if you’ll keep the truck or not. Among other things, TCO includes: (1) monthly payment, (2) insurance, (3) gas, (4) maintenance and (5) taxes. You should compare the TCO of your truck and a new(er) car (or no car) before deciding to repair or not. Only when the TCO of the current truck exceeds the TCO of a new(er) truck should you ditch the truck.

  24. Macinac says:

    I understand about the Iowa winter since I live just north of there. When it gets really cold, all other considerations fall away.

    On the other hand, when I was growing up, nobody had two cars. The question was not 1, or 2 (or 3) but 0 or 1.

  25. Ed says:

    I drive a 1988 Ford Bronco that was a gift from my grandfather. I work about 5 miles from my home. Whenever my vehicle is in need of maintanence and/or repairs, I ask myself all the same questions you do as to whether or not to repair it, replace it, or go down to one vehicle (Our other vehicle is a very reliable 2006 Toyota 4Runner). Aside from the sentimental value of the Bronco, I always end up deciding to put the money into and keep it for a number of reasons: 1. Even more costly repairs are less than the cost of replacing it. 2. Because it has a back seat, it fits my whole family and we use it to tow our trailer when we go camping 3. It’s just plain cool!! I’ve had the Bronco for 3 years and I doubt I’ve put more than 2k into it.

    Oh and I’m no mechanic, but have the oil pressure switch checked out…it’s cheap to replace if that’s the problem.

  26. KC says:

    I still think you’ll come out ahead repairing that truck instead of trying to make do with one car or buying another car. You can always give the make do with one car plan a try for a few weeks. But having kids has to make it tougher.

  27. Carmen says:

    I think you’ve already decided on getting a new car too.

    But I would opt for the repair/go without option since it would be massively cheaper. A mile is no distance and would be good exercise for everyone. Both your children could walk it, but you could take a stroller with you for your youngest if you wanted.

    Also, I’m not sure why they would freak out if they broke down with you. If you’re anything like me, you’d have emergency snacks on hand and books in the glove box to occupy them. And if you join the AA you have total peace of mind that you’d get home in no time.

    Alternatively, have you priced regular taxi use? Whilst it seems crazy to spend x on taxis, if that figure is less than ALL the associated costs of car ownership (including depreciation), then it makes sense. Same goes for occasional car hire or car leasing (is that big in the US?). For this exact reason we have a “transport budget” in our monthly expenses since DH uses the bus and train to get to work.

  28. Carmen says:

    Forgot to say that we have only ever had one car in our family, but have costed getting a second car on more than one occasion. It would be so useful.

    It is just so expensive when you total all the costs in doing so, including the opportunity cost of the money spent in purchasing one of course.

    So having come as far as we have without a second car, I really can’t see us ever getting one without a huge change in (non-financial excluding the Lottery!) circumstances.

  29. Natasha says:

    Bicycle + carrier for the win! It’ll be your daily exercise, some fresh air, close to nature, change of scenery, and if you really need a car, you can just share the wife’s (drive her to work in the morning to coordinate use)

  30. Mike says:

    Well, if you do decide to get a newer car, please write an article on the whole process of the experince of buying a car – from saving for it to closing the deal to what happens to the old one etc. Thanks.

  31. Maureen says:

    My husband and I didn’t have ANY cars for the first 6 years of marriage. We used public transport, bikes and our feet to get around. Save a bundle! We finally broke down and got a vehicle after the birth of our second child. My husband drove it to work. the kids and I still used buses and walking to get around. We wore out 2 strollers but we were very mobile, even in Canadian winters. A mile to daycare should not be a burden. Get a double stroller and when they outgrow that a wagon. It’s healthier for you too!

  32. Maureen says:

    Just wanted to add, we’ve been married 25 years now, dd1 is in university, dd2 in highschool and we still have only one vehicle. I can count on one hand the number of times I felt I missed having a car too. I used taxis then. Much cheaper than keeping a second car on the road for 20 years.

  33. David says:

    Trent: waited to see if anyone else said it, but I didn’t see it: how much you have already put into it doesn’t matter. It is sunk cost…spilt milk over the dam, if you will. $3,000… $300… $30,000… all the same. The number that matters is how much you spend IN THE FUTURE to keep it working safely and reliably. You and your mechanic should be able to do a once-over and project how much you will have to put into it in the next year or two (transmission… valves… head gasket… engine block… 8-track radio…) to keep it moving. THAT is the number that you have to sleep with at night.

  34. pam munro says:

    I agree with the post that said to try additives! I had a NEW car (my only one) that had a transmission that would stick and not go into reverse. When I took it back to the dealership, the mechanic recommended I try some transmission cleaner before taking the engine apart. A trip to the store and a few dollars later – voila! the transmission was fine! I just put in some more treatment every time it got stuck – It was dirt or something. Recently the garage said we should replace the radiator on our truck – but was it worth it? I said to my husband, why not try some Stop Leak stuff first- we did & it’s been going fine through this hot S. Calif. summer! It pays to know just a little bit about cars when yours are old….I have learned a lot thru the years.

  35. pima says:

    Try getting by on one car for 3 months see how it goes…

    I have a friend who is a retired car repair shop owner
    his advise is to buy a car for 90% of your needs and
    rent or borrow a vehicle for the other 10%

  36. steve says:

    I would log onto a ford truck internet forum and post the issue, along with a FULL list of all the work you’ve had done and the cost.\

    you will find help there.

    heck, email the list to me too and I’ll give you an opinion.

    without knowing all the background repair work, it’s hard to say what’s a good idea or not.

  37. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The last article was good because it was honest, well-written, and thought provoking.

  38. Shevy says:

    Thanks for the link for how to install a programmable thermostat. I’ve been putting this off for a year and I really need to do this before the winter.

  39. Robert says:

    First guess is fuel filter, possibly fuel pump but much less likely. If you’ve never replaced the filter it needs it anyway; it ususally takes a screwdriver and a little common sense (and possibly some vice grips and a popsicle stick).
    I wouldn’t put anything made by Slick 50 in my car. If you want to try a transmission additive in an auto tranny, put a half-can of Sea Foam Trans-tune in it.
    Good luck.

  40. justin says:

    Hey Trent,
    I just wanted to share my thoughts on why I think you should buy a new vehicle.

    1. You can afford it.
    2. You need a reliable car for your kids sake (you never know when an emergency will happen)
    3. you have done the research on which cars are reliable…. Toyotas, Hondas, ect. Also, chevys are very reliable cars. My dad was a used car dealer for many years. Most people in the business know that chevys are a lot better than fords.
    4. its true that new cars depreciate quickly, but toyotas and hondas hold their value a lot longer. (which you indicated that you would probably get several times)
    5. I disagree with this line in comment #2:
    If a new car payment would be $350/mo and you spend $1500 every 6 months on repairs for your old one, you are still coming out ahead.

    That is not really true if you think about it. All that money spent on car repairs would add up to a really large down payment on a new car. Spending $1500 every six months on car repairs for a piece of junk car, would be like remodeling your home, even though the foundation was falling apart.

  41. Darin says:

    FYI, you can go to Checker Auto or Autozone and they will let you check the diagnostic code (Check engine light) for free. They let you use the code reader that plugs right into the connector under the dash.

    It may not be anything you can fix yourself, but it might give you an idea of what the repairs could cost before you take it to a mechanic. You can also clear the code and see if it comes back or if it was an intermittent problem.

  42. Lorax says:

    Before you go for the bike option, check the safety of the route – especially in the winter with a trailer.

    It’s only a mile… if the road is safe enough for pedestrians, I’d get a double stroller and walk there until the snow banks get too tall.

  43. steve says:

    I wanted to comment on the “my kids will be freaked out if the truck dies” comment of Trent’s and say, although I don’t know his children and different children have different temperaments, young children usually pick up a big part of their reaction from the adults who are with them. If you are dad and the car breaks down and you are upset, the kids will be upset. If you actually feel calm and relaxed, even if inconvenienced, the kids will probably feel fine too. It’s also not hard to explain to young kids what’s happening, too, since young children are mostly concerned with whether they are physically comfortable, safe, and with a protecting adult. They don’t even develop a mental concept of “things going wrong” until maybe age 5, when they start to form abstract mental plans and goals and maps. Children under the age of 5 or so, for example, when lost in the woods, will usually find a nice comfortable place to rest and stay there. Kids over that age, and many adults, will have a mental concept that “something is wrong” and start to panic, starting a chain of events that tends to get them more anxious and more lost. (Check out the book “Deep Survival” if this fact interests you). Definitely having some snacks and drinks in the car is a good idea, and realizing that it’s probably not going to be that upsetting to them if something happens is another. The only issue here to my mind would be my own anxiety and being worried that the kids will get impatient or uncomfortable if they don’t have anything to eat or drink.

    I would like to say that I fully support Trent or anyone else getting a new or newer car if he decides he wants to. It’s really none of my business, and he is best equipped to know what is best for him and his family.

    But I I would be surprised if another $1000 in the truck didn’t fix it up to the point where it stopped being unreliable and started feeling reliable and safe.

    One of the above posters disagreed with the idea that “If a new car payment would be $350/mo and you spend $1500 every 6 months on repairs for your old one, you are still coming out ahead”, giving the reason that “All that money spent on car repairs would add up to a really large down payment on a new car. Spending $1500 every six months on car repairs for a piece of junk car, would be like remodeling your home, even though the foundation was falling apart.”

    I will address this in two parts. In the first place, no one spends $1500 every six months on repairs on into the indefinite future. What happens is that you spend 1500, then another 1500, then if you’re unlucky another, then you don’t have to spend much of anything for 5 more years, at which point the car is pushing 20 and it makes absolute sense to get a different one. In other words, the repairs themselves are nonrepeating events for all intents and purposes. When you fix the tranny, the tranny is fixed. When you update the brakes, the brakes are fixed. After that, you just have suspension and engine stuff. Even if it adds up to a large down payment on a new car, the fact is that with the new car you are gonna still have pay the rest of the cost., whereas with the vehicle you already own, you will have to pay nothing but the future repairs.

    In Trent’s case, he has already spent $3000 in repairs and I would be surprised if he had to spend $1500 more. So the question really is, what kind of a car can Trent buy for $1500? I’d say, not much of one. It makes sense to me to keep the vehicle and have maintenace and replacements done on it. Don’t wait only until things fail, do an head to tail assessment and make a list, then do the important things. Then you’re done.

    The only other question is, will the $x of repairs now? be so costly as to not be worth it? I would say, estimate how long the frame of the vehicle will last, because that’s how long you can realistically maintain the vehicle. Then see if the repairs in that time frame would be more or less than putting out for a newer vehicle.

    I would also say that for safety, pay attention first to Brakes& suspension, and secondly to the condition of the engine and transmission.

    I do think that anyone who owns a vehicle more than 5 years old and doesn’t own at least an aftermarket service manual, such as that published by Haynes, and read through it, is just setting them up for surprises.

    I will also admit that I am biased, as I do a lot of my own mechanical work, including the “big stuff”, and learning how to do it has made me a lot less scared of my own vehicle. I know exactly what is up with it, what to expect, and have a list of procedures that I plan to do (usually) or have done (more rarely) and when to do them. It is very rare that something surprises me when it goes bad. Either I knew to expect it, or I pretty quickly can see what it is. In most cases, the car never breaks down anyway, because i saw that problem a year before it was gonna create a “situation” and dealt with it. If the car does break down (92 Honda Accord), I am not panicked, I am more, like, curious and intrigued.

    Best luck to all and also to Trent with his truck/vehicle decision!

  44. Lynne says:

    My husband “bought” his truck 3 times over in repair costs. I finally said this is it, no more money into repairs. A co-worker’s son came by & got the thing up and running properly. The only thing, though, was that it was primarily used for pulling our travel trailer, and neither of us felt safe using it for that purpose. Unfortunately my husband hated to part with Old Blue, so it sat in the drive for another 4 years until I could finally convince him that registration & insurance costs were wasted on a truck that wasn’t being driven! But back to your own personal truck problem Trent. Have you looked into the possibility of bartering? I know you have skills others are looking for, so it may be a solution. These days most mechanic shops have computers for diagnostic purposes, as well as office use. There must be someone in your area that needs your skills as much as you need their’s. Just something to think about. Good luck.

  45. reulte says:

    In regards to the children, I agree with Steve (#37). Children will generally response to your actions and emotions rather than your words (and this can be embarressingly true in all circumstances). Reassure them once that everything will be all right, that daddy/mommy will take care of the problem and hand them something to occupy their hands (food, toy, book). Roll down the window so they can ask you questions or so you can hear them if they cry/wake up/start fighting/unbuckle themselves. If you’re in a situation where you have to walk somewhere — remember that children have to walk twice as fast and twice as far simply to keep up with your pace.

    The yard sale article had some great ideas – especially since I’ve been going over my household inventory and marking stuff to get rid of very soon. I think that going over an inventory is an easier way to determine what to get rid of. There’s very little emotions overtones attached to an inventory and the cute little object isn’t sitting in your hands going “love me, keep me”. Also, something you’ve forgotten you had is automatically marked for sell.

  46. Ewest says:

    Consider doing the work yourself? There’s a sense of personal accomplishment and confidence in the work that just isn’t there when you go to a shop.

    It’s my belief that ANYONE can do work to their car simply with the shop manual and a few tools. My husband hadn’t ever done work on his car till two years ago; he redid the timing chain in his car and has since done the brakes in both of our vehicles. I rebuilt the carburetor on our motorcycle last month, and I’ve never worked on a motorcycle in my life before. If a diagnosis is the issue, the shop manual has a troubleshooting section, a list of regular maintenance, or you could go to a dealer or shop that will diagnosis for free (good idea if you want to gauge whether or not it’s worth your time).

    There are so many times shops cut corners and do the work improperly, it’s worth the piece of mind alone to do the work yourself (not to mention the money). The only situation I can think of where it’s really impossible is if it’s the dead of winter, you don’t have a garage, and can’t get the car to a friend’s garage to work on.

    If you are in the market for a car, consider a Toyota Echo, mine regularly gets 40 mpg. My husband has a Saturn SL2 ’93, still going and there are several people we know with the same model that took it over 200K, and even to 350K. Dont forget, stick shifts are better for mpg and have lower maintenance costs.

  47. J says:

    I would concur with the idea of getting the truck checked out fully (as if you were buying it) with your mechanic. With the chugging and check engine light, this could be something as simple as a gummy fuel line, clogged filter, vacuum leak or other thing that would be an easy fix, or a sign of something really serious, but $80-100 down at the shop to get a diagnosis could save you a lot of money elsewhere.

    Especially since the truck is paid for and not really “required” for day-to-day stuff like commuting, your job, etc.

  48. StephanieG says:

    I can tell that some of the posters here are unfamiliar with transportation options in the US Midwest. As a lifelong midwesterner, I’d like to clear a few things up.

    The weather is usually OK for cycling about 20% of the time, I’d guess. But even those times, a quick storm or wind gusts can crop up without warning after you’re already on the bike. In the plains areas, the wind can limit all but the strongest to walking their bikes.

    The worst thing about biking, though, is the roads. It’s very common for there to be no place at all for cyclists. Rural roads and suburban arteries are often two lanes with no shoulders. Drivers here are NOT paying attention, they are NOT expecting to see cyclists and a few of them will run you off the road.

    Public transportation is weak. Only inner urban areas have public transportation that can be used conveniently. Suburban areas have spotty coverage that may result in a 30-minute car ride taking 2 hours by bus. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s my actual commute time from the suburbs by car or by bus.

    Taxis are rare and very expensive. A trip to the airport that takes me 10 minutes by car is $25 by taxi. Since it saves me parking fees in that case, it can be worth it. Actually getting a taxi to show up when you call them, outside of airport transportation and urban areas, is a fun game.

    Add to that that most midwesterners in suburban and rural areas have not a single business within a 1 mile walk! And, when they do, we’re back to roads without shoulders or sidwalks, vast parking lots with no sidewalks, and drivers who don’t expect to see pedestrians or cyclists.

    As a consequence, every person of driving age who doesn’t live in an urban area NEEDS a car. Going without a car is a huge hardship here, often resulting in inability to get/keep a job.

    I realize that it’s different in other parts of the world, even other parts of the US.

    So, those of you who live in these areas and make do with just one car: hats off–you are truly frugal and have made quite a sacrifice. I just can’t picture it.

  49. lcs says:

    My husband and I have been married 19 years, have 2 small children, and have lived in 3 different cities in 2 states… and we have never had a 2nd vehicle! (I would also add we do not reside near relatives with a fleet of available cars and have borrowed another person’s vehicle maybe twice in this entire time…) If you take the plunge you may find you do not miss it at all. Even when you are not driving it, there it sits sucking up registration and insurance expenditures daily. I pay a little extra annually for delivery services like compost drops or the occasional furniture delivery fee, but nothing that in any way comes close to the tied-up capital and overall hassle of owning and maintaining a second car. So I say, try it… you might like it! Love your site. L.

  50. CD says:

    I relate to Trent right now. I have 2 cars – one with 225,000 on it (89 Celica convertible) and a 2000 Saab with 125,000 on it. Together, they have cost us $6,000 this year to repair. And the Saab still has check engine lights and numerous other troubles (but it runs really strong and is safe/great mileage). THey have almost no resale value so we need to run them into the ground unless we want a car payment.

    I carpool 3 kids now – on the freeway – daily – as we go to a special charter school. My husband takes the 3 year old to preschool every morning. Safety is a huge issue and I will NOT take the kids on the freeway in my little Celica. It’s a flying tin can!

    Safety IS an issue with kids. That being said, I’ve broken down several times, once in the MIDDLE of a huge intersection, and the stupid emergency light wouldn’t work. It’s not fun, but I just called AAA and we dealt with it.

    If a car becomes completely unreliable, get another one, but not a new one. You can find a good, reliable car for around 5K (i.e. a 5 year old Camry) if you’re not picky.

    Unfortunately, I’m picky. :( so we just make do till we have more money saved…..

  51. Todd says:

    I’ve been driving my ten-year-old car without a/c–and it has been in the 90s here. It also needs several thousand dollars in other repairs. I need a different car too.

    I think you should treat yourself and your family to a new minivan. Then, maybe you could challenge yourselves to paying for the cost (or most of it) by cutting back on other things in creative ways and writing about it on the blog. I’d love to hear “How to pay for a new car within your existing monthly budget.”

  52. CD says:

    Just curious why so many folks dislike that last article. For the ones of you who disdain convenience (which costs $$) – have you ever worked very long hours, found that in order to keep up with the cleaning and meal planning, etc. you had to do it late in the night after the kids are in bed, etc.?

    Perhaps it’s a dual income situation with small kids but I have been going through the gamu of extreme frugality to complete loss of control and finding somewhere in the middle makes most sense. To be EXTREMELY frugal requires quite a bit of TIME… and if you work 10 hours/day and spend 6-7 caring for children, what’s left? It comes out of your sleep.

    Since hiring help around the house and allowing budget for some convenience items, our stress levels have STEEPLY declined. And one hour of my working pays for a housekeeper, and one hour of my time pays for 2 non-stressful nights eating out with no dishes.> Time we spend WITH OUR KIDS READING or playing a game, isntead of leaving them to themselves and cleaning up the kitchen.

    Convenience can buy you some real quality of life. It’s the same argument for people who can afford to have an At Home Parent – the loss of income is WORTH the price you pay.. (and I know all about this one since I am partly supporting my Mom now who didn’t work – she now has $800/month to live on – $500 which goes to medical needs….)

  53. Jade says:

    I spent several months earlier this year in a somewhat similar situation with my car. We eventually got it fixed, but for a few months I was rearranging my schedule to include ample time to get a ride or take public transit in case my car wouldn’t start or stalled on the way to where I was going.

    You mentioned that during the week you use the car for the occasional grocery store trip. When I went to the grocery store while my car was still acting up, I brought along an ice chest (and my AAA card and fully charged cell phone) and got a bag of ice with my perishibles. That way if the car died on the way home at least I wouldn’t be out $40 for groceries. The extra buck or two for the ice was worthwile insurance for the $40 of groceries, and once I got home I put the cubes in my potted plants so they’d get watered.

    Some people mentioned keeping drinks and snacks and a book or toy in the car for the kids, and I would do this regardless of how reliable the car was. No matter how reliable the car itself, you never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic, or stuck waiting for a 100-car freight train to pass at 5 mph and stop a few times along the way, or stuck waiting for a drawbridge with a yacht parade going under it. I keep a bottle of water and a granola bar in the car for myself for just these situations.

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