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May 28, 2009

car woes

I hit a pothole the other day, a big one. I didn't see it and I was going faster than I would have if I had seen it. Ever since, the car has had a bit of shimmy, a little extra vibration. It went in that instant from driving normally to driving like an Old Car. 

Now "Harriet" is 7 years old - right at the age when things start going wrong with a car, but she's a Honda, and I've been diligent in doing preventive maintenance, so I thought I would be ok for another few years before the gigantic shop bills started rolling in.


I think my first error was taking the car to the dealer. But I knew the car needed a good once over - inspected brakes, tires, alignment, belts, pumps, etc. It probably needed its transmission fluid replaced (a year five service) and would probably need new tires in the next year or so. Plus I wanted to get the shimmy looked at by someone who would know what they were doing.

But nothing prepared me for the call from the service guy (Stu) at 2. I wish he had asked me if I was sitting down, because sit down I did during his litany of things wrong with my car. Leaking right front strut, unevenly wearing tires (their perp in the vibration mystery), lower arm joint thing cracked and worn, improperly installed battery (this one's my fave - apparently the Jiffy Lube guys installed the wrong battery in my car 8 months ago - the terminals are reversed, and too close to the hood prop, and in danger of electrical fire/explosion should the hood prop hit the terminals. At least this is what the dealer tells me) and finally, and most terribly expensively, apparently the timing belt (and the water pump and oil seals) all should be replaced at 7 years. I had thought that the timing belt was a 100,000 mile/10 year fix, but apparently its 7 years. My car is no where near 100,000 miles, but it is 7 years old. I don't want to mess with the timing belt - I've heard the catastrophic horror stories.

But its $1300 to replace. More than my RENT. And that doesn't include any of the other work. Or that oil change. Hell.

Things like this leave me feeling helpless. I don't know enough about cars to really know what these guys are talking about, so I don't know if I can say "Nah, I'll do the timing belt next year." I'll be doing a good amount of driving this summer and I don't want to be worried that the car is going to blow up literally or figuratively at an inopportune moment - but as soon as the service guy says it, it's like the fear of breakdown has been planted in my mind.

Ultimately, though, it's about trust. Who do I trust? Does this mean I can't trust the jokers at Jiffy Lube who slapped whatever battery they had in my car? Or is the dealer making a big deal out of nothing, and just padding their charges to make their monthly service quota in a bad economy? If I took it somewhere else, would any other mechanic look at the mileage and year of my car and suggest the timing belt fix? I hate not knowing who to trust and oscillating between worrying about spending money needlessly (LOTS and LOTS OF MONEY - more than a year of savings GONE.) and worrying that I'm not properly taking care of a vehicle that I want and need to have last me 3 to 5 more years.

Sigh. I get it back tomorrow night. Stu promised me some "discounts." Said he'd "See what he could do." So we shall see what the ultimate damage is, but I suspect it will be well into the 4 figures.

May 28, 2009 at 07:43 PM | Permalink


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Wow. Tough break.

I think you've done more-or-less the right things, though. Maybe now (or soon) is the time to find and establish a relationship with a non-dealer mechanic for the next go-around, but my gut instinct is that even if the dealer is taking you for a ride, he's not taking you very far.

In the (*cough*) twelve years since I bought my car, I've spent nearly $11,000 in parts and service, almost as much as I spent on the car itself. (Quicken rocks.) Now, a good chunk of that was undoubtedly on body work, the car-expense equivalent of elective surgery, but still, that plus gas plus the purchase price is all part of the "total cost of ownership" on the car.

One repair bill is just one bit of data in the total picture that is the car, and I think when you string out the TCO over the seven years you're still winning on this one. If I include gas and insurance, I'm around $4k/year for this car. I could have reduced it by driving less and/or having fewer accidents, perhaps, but it's still pretty good. Even that is a snapshot, though, because I've had cheap years in the past and I think I'm going to have an expensive one or two before the old horse heads to the glue factory. (Any year now.)

You could also figure overall cost per mile, using a site like fuelly.com.

Posted by: pjm | May 29, 2009 8:33:13 PM

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