When cars go bad

This week has been a challenging one for me with regard to our kid hauler.

There’s been a recall notice that I’ve sat on for forever, and since I’m on vacation this week I decided to take advantage of some free time to get it taken care of. Unfortunately, the Toyota dealership didn’t have the part to repair our 2000 Toyota Sienna, but one has been ordered and I’ll have to take the minivan back out for the final repair when the part comes in.

Toyota inspected the vehicle, and found that the alignment was off. They offered to fix it for $119, but I decided to pass. I called around and found a tire place not far from our home who would do it for $89, and decided to go that route. The alignment was successful, but they also found another issue with the CV joints. They are broken and leaking grease underneath. I was able to see the damage myself and confirm that this is something that should be taken care of.

However, I was quoted $500 ($250 per side) to have it fixed, and I decided to hold off. The van is only worth between $1,500 to $2,000, and I couldn’t see spending up to one-third of the vehicle’s worth on repairs when we already planned on replacing the minivan in the first quarter of next year.

I was distraught by the news. Although we have no debt, we don’t have enough saved up for an all-out replacement, or even a minor step up in vehicle. So my options were, as I saw it:

  • Switch vehicles with my wife until we can save up money for a replacement and risk a catastrophic failure, or;
  • Go buy a new (well, used) car using credit

As difficult as it is to think about, I was tempted to go buy a car on credit. I rationalized in my head how we could get an inexpensive enough replacement minivan and have it paid off by the end of the year. We could use the same vigor we applied to getting out of debt by June and then be debt free, again, by December.

But the more I thought about that option, the less comfortable I became. Did we really just bust our butts to get out of debt only to go back in again? How would we feel going back in debt after we’ve done all this grandstanding to get out of it?

So I did what I’ve learned to do in my mature years: I gave it five (proverbial) minutes.

After having student loan debt for so long, I have excellent credit. I could have gone out and bought anything I wanted and had it sitting in the driveway when my wife returned home from taking the kids to a dentist appointment. Instead, I opted to contact three people I consider wise, present the problem to them, also talk to my wife, and then make a decision.

The consensus was, generally:

  • You should consider repairing it
  • You’ll hate going back into debt
  • See what else you can think of

In an moment of clarity, I came up with a third option, and ran it by my wife, Amy. “If we could pay $100 per month for five months for you to drive the kid hauler safely and buy us enough time to save up cash for another minivan by December, would you do it?”

We were already on the same page. “We should fix the van,” she said.

I called the repair place, and asked if they could come down on the price. They knocked $60 off, and I agreed to the deal. We dropped off the van to get fixed, then packed up the family of five into my little Toyota Corolla and went to a local water park to enjoy the afternoon.

I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.

It appears we get to keep our dignity in tact. Granted, I would much rather put that money into a new vehicle. But talking it over with Amy, she jolted me back to my senses. The line where we say “enough” to borrowing money has been drawn, and we’re not backing down from it.

Rosie‘s days with us are numbered, but at least they won’t come with the stain of a car payment. Let’s just hope this plan works out.

Update – July 31, 2018: There ended up being some additional repairs that needed to be done to fully fix the van. With the alignment and CV joint repair, the total repair cost came to almost $800. Although that tweaks the above numbers a little, it didn’t change the outcome. We still believe it was better to spend $800 now, than to go in debt even for a vehicle we don’t plan on keeping much longer.

It still hurt to pay it, though.

5 thoughts on “When cars go bad”

  1. I was rooting for the decision you made as I read through your post. I drive a 2000 Chevy Blazer, a vehicle I bought new 18 years ago when I was younger and dumb. I recently paid $450 for the break booster to be repaired after I couldn’t triage the issues it was having. I’ve decided i’ll keep fixing it (most times myself) until I am ready to downsize to one family vehicle, I am never making a car payment again and glad you guys made the decision to continue your debt free trend.

    1. I appreciate the support! I added an update to the bottom since you left your comment.

      While I’m thankful for the age of being able to find many DIY repair videos and tutorials online, sometimes you just have to call in a pro to get it done.

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