h1

to car or not to car?

February 9, 2010

that is the question.

alright, people, here’s what it’s come down to: my much beloved car is now 17 years old. it has issues. there’s an electrical short (i think) in the dashboard, it needs to be smogged every year, the cv joints need to be replaced, and then there are various cosmetic issues as well (rust spots, broken glove box). every year, in addition to the smogging and registration and insurance and oil changes and gas and other normal car expenses, i usually end up dumping $500 – $1000 dollars into it in repairs (2009: brakes; 2008: radiator, starter, alternator; 2007: tires; 2006: some valve issue). if i pull off any repairs this year, it’ll be the cv joints, which i’ve been told will cost between $300 and $600.

when does my car become a money pit? my state-mandated furlough starts this month, which means i’m making less money this year, and it’s not like any of my bills have been reduced by 4% to match my pay cut. in fact, a great many things – like BART – are more expensive now. so there’s a part of me that thinks it would be fiscally responsible to sell the car for whatever i can get for it, to save money by no longer requiring a parking space or insurance or any of the rest. i can live without a car – i did for years. i can take the bus, i can take BART more, i can walk more, i can get a zipcar account. it wouldn’t be the end of the world. 

but every time i think that i’ve decided, that i’m resolved, i flip out. i LOVE my car. i love having a car. i love the freedom and the mobility. i love the rhythm of the clutch and the gear shift. i feel like i’m betraying my car just by thinking about letting her go. and if i do sell her, i can’t take that decision back. 

and what if it turns out that i don’t actually save any money every month? what if the increased bart/bus fees i put out, not to mention what it might cost to get down to santa barbara every once in a while (an anticipated 3 times this year, btw), don’t actually offset what i’m saving? what about the extra hassle and planning all my transportation will require? (for instance: presently it takes me 10 minutes to drive from my house to my editor’s, where i go a fair amount. it’s a 40 minute walk; on the bus, it would take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, and the buses stop running around 11:30, while when i babysit for her i am sometimes at her place until midnight. and when i housesit for her, i spend a lot of time running back and forth between her place and mine.)

to sum up: if i sell the car, i’ll have a (small) nest egg now to offset my impending pay cut, and at least on the surface i’ll be reducing my monthly costs. but i have no way of knowing what it’s really going to cost in time and money to be car-less. i suppose there’s a compromise – keep the car but don’t repair it – but that seems to be a bad idea on all fronts (i’m not at all comfortable driving my car long distances with bad cv joints, so i’d still be renting a car or taking the train to leave town).  

so i’m putting it to you guys. what should i do? all input is welcome.

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2 comments

  1. Broke-as-shit wisdom says keep her and run her into the fucking ground. When the transmission goes out or she catches on fire, shed a tear, rip off the plates, and walk away.

    $500-$1000 dollars a year is just what most cars cost. Either you plunk down the cash for a decent used car, say $4,000, which will last 4-10 years but still need brakes, belts, tires, etc sometimes, which works out to the same amount per year, or you lease a new car for $300 a month. So I don’t think your car is a money pit yet.

    If the Bay Area had decent public transportation, I would advice selling it, but it doesn’t. The transportation options are insulting. Buses that stop running, trains that cost the price of two beers, four at happy hour, that don’t go where you want to go anyway. Were you in Boston, NYC, D.C., you could happily go without, but not the East Bay, especially not where you live.

    It sounds like you’re worried less about spending the money on the cv joints than about some abstract idea of the wisdom of spending money on a car that eats it– like you’ll be taken for a fool, if only by yourself. I think that’s a false voice. The true voice says you love your car and value the freedom it gives you. That’s worth a grand a year. Think of the lesser things you spend that on.

    My 2 cents.


    • this reminds me of the saying “poor people have less of everything except cars and dogs.”

      flippant remarks aside, i appreciate the input. i’ve set myself an end-of-month decision date. the cat goes to the vet next week, and once i’m assured she will require no expensive procedures, i’ll be in a better position to decide what is and is not possible in re: fixing my car.



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