The Price You Pay to Drive

I almost added "a used car" to the end of the title, but I think the title works as is. My point being that it doesn't matter if you drive a used car or a new car, driving in general assumes some risk. If there weren't risks with driving, you wouldn't need insurance, right? Anyway, We've been faced with a challenge this past weekend when I tried to leave the office last Friday evening and my car wouldn't start. She's a 1998 Grand Prix with about 151,000 miles. Every time I tell someone who knows something about cars that I drive a 1998 Grand Prix, they say "oh man! That engine will run forever!" Yup... if you can get it started...

Fixing the Car

By the grace of God, I was able to get it running after about 25 minutes of fighting, slamming my head against the steering wheel, and praying that it would start. Well, it did, but at the same time all the dashboard lights, brake lights, and parking lights were flashing.

Nevertheless, I made it home with the lights flashing, but once in the garage, couldn't get it started again, and with the key out of the ignition... all the lights were still flashing.

I then spent all day Saturday trying to figure out what in the world was wrong with my baby (I've been driving it for over a decade now.... we go waaaay back!).

I won't tell you the whole story, mostly because at this moment, it's still un-written (It's still sitting in the garage and won't start). But, there are some key lessons in vehicle ownership, car maintenance and vehicle purchasing that can be learned from this inconvenient scenario.

Expect Breakdowns

When things are going well with our vehicles, it's funny how quickly we are humbled. We save back some money every month to cover things like oil changes and wipers, and in years when we know we'll need tires, we'll save extra for those as well. But, when something major goes out like the A/C in our van (hello $900 repair this July), we're left scrambling a bit to fit it into our budget.

Whether we anticipate it or not, cars breakdown. And not just old used cars either, new cars breakdown too. At this point I'm thinking we need to allocate more cash toward our car repair budget than we have been to catch some of these wonky things that are happening.

Weigh Your Options

The easiest thing to do when a vehicle breaks down is panic. And panic can lead to poor decision making. I'm learning this first hand with this current issue.

The first thing I do, is call someone who knows more than me to get their opinion about what's going on. This could be a trusted friend or family member who is mechanically inclined, or a trusted mechanic. For me, it's always my dad (he used to be a mechanic and is the world's greatest handy man).

Gathering knowledge is the biggest key. Again, I'm learning from experience, but here are a few options you have that I've learned the hard way.

  1. Fix the problem yourself: This requires a great deal of time, googling skills, tools, and patience. There are endless amounts of car forums for nearly every issue, the trick is finding the specific forum thread that deals with your problem. This alone can be exhausting. If at all possible, use the buddy system and have a few people look for solutions.
  2. Have someone else fix it for you: I have this trust issue with mechanics based on one bad experience. Probably not valid if I would just avoid that one mechanic, but this is typically the last option for me. It might be the first option for you based on the relationship with your mechanic, and your DIY attitude, and availability from the "fix the problem yourself" point.
  3. Buy a different car: This probably falls into the panic category. What tends to happen with this option is you trade one set of problems for another. You won't come out ahead on buying a new car, and if you buy another used car, it's sure to have it's own set of problems as well. It's a tough call to know when to pull the trigger on a new ride. Probably worth it's own post at some point. For example: This car that I'm trying to fix now, I've driven for the last decade. It was purchased for Kelsey when she was in high school. We've been driving it for over a decade, and probably put around $2,000 into it (That is about $17 a month). With that perspective, this car has been very reliable, and only caused a few minor inconveniences over the years. I have to remember that point this week while we are a one vehicle family. It's inconvenient, but not the end of the world. We'll get through it... I hope...

Know Your Limitations

At the same time you're weighing your options, it's good know your limitations. I'm not very good at this at all. I often talk myself into being able to do more than I really can. Part of that comes with the risk of getting everything tore apart only to find there are two tiny bolts for which you don't have the tool to remove, and you run around town and the internet trying to find it, and it's about as rare as the one ring to rule them all...

I love a good challenge, but this one is testing my limits for sure...

Above all else remember safety first! And if you're not comfortable with your own abilities to take things apart and put them back together, then it's probably best to just find a good trustworthy mechanic.

For me, I'm willing to invest the time to save some money. There is risk to this strategy for sure. I thought I would have this job done before the weekend was over, but here we are having to manage with one vehicle down, and balance a busy week schedule while also trying to get the car fixed.

Coverage for Your Risk

One thing I've learned through this process, (thanks to a friend) is that our auto insurance has a free roadside assistance program that will tow the car for free should we need it. It's nice to know if we get stranded somewhere, or in this case, I can't get the car running after all and need to go with plan B and have a mechanic fix it.

Another option if you're auto insurance doesn't cover towing is to look into getting a AAA policy for your family. It's an inexpensive way to have the piece of mind you'll be taken care of in the event that you need a tow.

Whether we end up needed the tow service or not, I'm glad I remembered that our insurance coverage has this feature built into the policy. It's peace of mind for us in situations like we're in now.

While the car still isn't fixed, we're learning how to manage these types of scenarios. It can be very frustrating financially, and test your patience for sure. We're learning how to work together, communicate, and compromise as a family. It's a beautiful thing. We'll get through it...

How do you handle breakdowns?

P.S. Kelsey texted me yesterday that our dryer wasn't working...