Michael on May 20th, 2008
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I have a car. Its name is $aturn. I bought it new in 2001. I’m not sure I’d buy new today, but I’ve been a fan of buying a car and then driving it until it drops. I think it’s the most economical way to go. Once I’ve finished paying it off, I enjoy years of no car payments. It makes saving much easier when you quite suddenly have a $348.50 monthly bill disappear.

I bought a car seven years ago because my first car, the ultra-sleek babe-picker-upper extraordinaire tough-hauling Plymouth Neon had died. With a bit less than 100,000 miles, it needed $2,500 of repair work. Blue book value (assuming it was fixed) was about $1,500. You don’t need to be a CPA to figure out that fixing the car was a losing investment. So I didn’t make it—and neither did little red neon. I was able to get $1,250 for the car at the $aturn dealer, (not bad given it was actually worth negative by my calculations) and bought a $aturn.

I figured this nearly $20,000 car would be more durable (less plastic) and I could drive it to, perhaps, 150,000 miles or more without recurring major expenses. As a very low mileage driver, the car will reach its seventh birthday this summer with only about 80,000 miles on it. I think I should be enjoying years of no payments on this car.

But I’m not.

And that’s annoying.

Mr. $aturn keeps asking for money. Since January 1, here’s have been its requests:

Hotel $aturn

Despite the fact that the car is garaged, the rather hospitable $aturn managed to welcome—no, invite—a mouse to live with it. Not only was the rent-free housing not reported as imputed income by the mouse (I hate freeloading taxpayers), but the mouse did some significant damage. Turns out he wasn’t inside the car, he opted for the blower motor as his new domicile. Unfortunately (and somewhat ironically) having a brain the size of a mouse proved to be the downfall for this little guy.

Turns out a blower motor is not such a safe place for anything that wants to live.

My $aturn was bummed too, since he lost his tenant. The mouse’s death caused other problems as well. Most notably, on January 14, there was an enormous noise when I turned the heat on. Why do I remember the exact date? Because my daughter was born on January 13 and now $arturn had only a “no heat” option for me to pick her up in. Remember, this in New Hamphshire. In January. Deciding not to invite correspondence, let alone a personal visit, from Child’s Services – I borrowed a car. Later that week, I said goodbye to $500.

That’s Not Fruit Punch

In late April, my wife noticed that the floor in the passenger seat was wet. I told her it was rain, which I honestly believed, since it was pouring that day. Unfortunately, it turned out, upon closer examination, that the liquid on the floor was bright pink. I remember learning about the dangers of acid rain from 8th grade earth science, but I was pretty sure this was a more acute problem. Further research showed there had been a major leak of antifreeze. Nice. I didn’t want that $435 anyway.

Live Warm or Die

It hasn’t been that warm yet here in New Hampshire, but last week we went south—to Massachusetts. With all four of us in the car on a rather sunny day, it made sense to put the AC on low. You guessed it. AC provided no comfort. Or cool air.

Thank you Mr. $aturn for withholding your AC. Fortunately, I have a friend who is as handy as I am not. He looked at it, since, apparently there might have been a way for him to bring up the charge of the AC and add Freon. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, and of course, the AC charge is as dead as a doornail (or a mouse in a blower motor for that matter).

If it were just me, I’d possibly consider skipping the AC fix, but with a wife and two little girls, that’s just not an option. Besides, if I trade in the car, I know from previous experience, they’ll check the AC. So even if I don’t pay to get it fixed, it will cost me on trade-in value. How much will fixing the AC cost me this weekend? I don’t know, but if I had to guess: about $500.

So here I am with a seven-year-old low-mileage car that has cost me about $1,500 in just a few months. From this point, $aturn could give me a few years of good and very little non-routine maintenance expenses. Or, it seems, it could ask for another $500 every few months endlessly.

I’m going to get the AC fixed because, like I said, I’ll pay for it either way. But the next major repair, I’m not so sure. I’d like to get another few years out of $aturn. But it’s testing my patience and my steadfastness that this is a good financial move.

What do you think?

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5 Comments to “My car is driving me–nuts”

  1. Jan says:

    check internet for info on common problems with 2001 Saturn. You will find that you are going to keep having problems. Fix the AC, buy a new, well-respected car.
    GOOD Luck!

  2. Brett says:

    What you are paying is called the Patriot Tax. You bought an American car and it is falling apart.

  3. I have heard a few stories about Saturn’s having issues… Clicked through to your site from Carnival of Personal Finance #154. Luckily Mr. A can do many of the repairs – he is gearing up to change the timing belt and water pump on my 1996 Nissan Pathfinder that has over 250,000 miles on it. It’s still going strong. So far I still find the repair costs to be much less than buying something else.

  4. Cleta Akins says:

    My vote is to repair the Saturn and lease your wife a new Lexus. You will not be laying out a LOT of cash plus additional registration fees and insurance on a new car. At the end of the lease, if she likes the car, she can buy it at approximately its market value, and avoid something that used to be a consideration – the luxury car penalty. Since it’s been a few years since I used this system, that may no longer be an issue.

  5. Patriot Tax says:

    I particularly enjoyed your article because of the personification and your sense of humor. In reality, the situation is nothing to laugh about and I know because I’m in the same situation with my Dodge Intrepid. Looks beautiful because I haven’t been able to drive it much since I bought it in 2004. One costly problem after another and an upside down loan to go with it. Pariot Tax indeed!!
    I hope you have better luck than I am having. I went and bought an Xterra so I’d at least have dependable transportation. Now I have two car payments, but at least I have one dependabe mode of transportation.

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