Saturday, August 22, 2009

New Car On the Horizon

A few days ago, I was driving home on the highway and may car starting making a noise somewhere between a screech and a whine. It was a constant sort of noise, but once I got off the highway, I found that it varied depending on the speed of the wheel - I assume it was once per revolution. It also sounded worse when I applied the brake. I pulled into the gas station, but did not see anything wrong with the wheel right off.

As I continued to drive home, the noise stopped abruptly with a little *plink* sound, and it looked like a washer or something similar was bouncing around behind my car. This was not a comforting development, even though the noise went away.

I took my car in on Monday, and they charged me $50 or so to diagnose the problem. They didn't actually find anything that would result in the noise and missing part that I described, but they found plenty of other problems:

  • Air dam deflector - $151.00 - This is apparently a piece of plastic that scoops air into the engine area. I see no reason to spend $151.00 on a piece of plastic.

  • Front brake pads and resurface rotors - $180.00 - I knew I needed new brakes soon, but I think they are now likely to find something else wrong with the brake assembly when they get around to putting new ones in.

  • Transmission side cover gasket leaks - $274.00 - This one makes me a bit nervous. It evidently isn't leaking horribly, but a leak of transmission fluid is bad. I am clearly an auto maintenance expert, you can tell.

  • Rear sway bar links - $244.00 - I knew about this one from awhile back, and they said it wasn't critical. The sway bar distributes load from side to side, so the fact that mine is broken makes my handling worse on turns, and I'm more likely to slide around. It hasn't been a problem yet.

  • Left/Rear strut with spring - $531.00 - They skipped this in their haste to go over the list before closing. It's expensive and sounds important. At the moment, I have to plan on fixing it.

  • Serpentine belt - $92.00 - The main belt, apparently. They said it has major cracks and they found part of it wrapped around the axle, so it's already falling apart. This is the most pressing issue.

  • Muffler strap - $99.00 - This is just a simple bracket that helps hold the muffler on. There is no reason this should cost $99.00, and I refuse to fix it.

All told, the things that aren't completely trivial would cost $1321 to fix. I also need an oil change soon. Thus, I entered into a cost analysis to see if getting a new car was a better investment than continued maintenance.

Car: Civic Corolla Focus Prius
Price1: 18225 16750 15995 22000
Monthly cost2,5: $285.94 $255.21 $239.48 $364.58
Monthly Insurance3: $25.5 $26.00 $24.83 $21.83
Monthly Total: $311.44 $281.21 $264.31 $386.42
Months to recoup4,5: 18.69 20.69 22.02 15.06

  1. Price is base price of a model, not including any packages. I don't need any packages or options, but dealers rarely have plain cars in stock, so this price will probably be an underestimate. It also doesn't include fees, taxes, charges, whathaveyou.

  2. Monthly cost is based on a 48-month 0% loan. I probably can't get that rate at the moment, but it also doesn't account for any down payment or trade-in money, and so shouldn't be too terribly far off.

  3. Monthly insurance is the cost to insure the new vehicle minus my current monthly rate on my old car.

  4. Months to recoup is how long I would have to keep driving my current car to make the repairs worthwhile.

  5. Figures reflect a $4500 price reduction corresponding to a CARS trade-in (my family has an old van that is rapidly dying). This represents an opportunity cost associated with repairing my current vehicle as opposed to buying a new one.

At this point, I find it unlikely that I can drive my car for another year or two without the need for further repairs. The bonus of a $4500 price reduction makes getting a new car very practical!

UPDATE (08.22.2009-1019): It would appear that we cannot get into the safe deposit box that contains our car titles, so there can be no trade-ins. With the $4500 bonus out of the picture, the recoup time becomes just 2-4 months, making the repairs far more practical. No new car for me!

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