What To Do About Unexpected Car Expenses?

charlie_imageAs the Christmas season moves in, like a thief in the night (not really but it sounds cool), it puts pressure on our budget. To mount even more on top of the holiday season, we are having problems with our car. Doh!!! Ya we have 140,000 miles on our 2005 Honda Odyssey and we have been having electric issues. Over the last two weeks I've had to have my car towed twice for repair. First, we had a bad driver side door sensor and secondly, we had to have our car towed in because it wouldn't start for some unknown reason. Before I get too far ahead of myself let me give you some background.

This summer and fall I've had the following repairs to my van:

  • $1852 – I replaced the timing belt, struts, and I changed the van oil and flushed the transmission fluid. Van was
    overdue for the timing belt and my van was vibrating when I would slow down from speeds faster than 55 MPH. Did these repair in Aug at 134k miles
  • $79 – replaced battery. Battery was under warranty with Autozone, and I was able to get some of my money back on my 4 year old battery.
  • $320 – replaced passenger side door rolling ball. Keeps the door from jamming, which was happening frequently, because the part was going bad and transmission flush.
  • $32 – fix driver side door sensor. I was able to utilize my free StateFarm one time towing service.
  • $214 – tow my car to a local repair shop and test out battery and alternator.

what to do about unexpected car repairs

So as you can see my costs since about August have quickly been accumulating on my high mileage van. It definitely has this thrifty guy concerned. Concerned on whether I'll be able to re-coop. It just tears at me to see my van sucking down costs. I have to figure out how long it would take to break-even with these costs verses buying a used car.

Things to consider be sinking money into an older car:

  • How long do I want to be able to drive it until? How many miles?
  • How long will it take me to re-coop my costs?
  • Have I kept up with the general maintenance?
  • Have I started saving up?
  • How much could I get for my old car?

Here is a breakdown of how these questions show up in a depreciation equation:

Car Depreciation Equation

This whole equation is based on what I've put in over the summer/fall (assuming no more money would be put in for more repairs). In moving along in my decision I think what is more alarming to me is how behind I am in saving. I literally have nothing saved for a “new” car, because I've been so aggressive in paying off my mortgage. So based on where I'm at today. I need to save about $625/month for 24 months until my car hits 200,000 miles.

Amount needed to save per month for a new car

These are all the things I'm weighing as my car bills continue to mount. It isn't any fun, but is a reality that everyone faces as they consider getting a new or used car. In blogging about it and talking with Mrs. Thrifty, I realize I'm behind the schedule. For a guy that operates in zeros and ones in the IT world this math doesn't add up to me. Time for action! That is why I need to get busy with my side hustles to generate passive income streams and quick!

I know I'm not the only one that weighs the costs of repair, depreciation, and how much a new car would cost. What else do you consider when weighing the options of buying a new car or repairing your existing one? Let me know your thoughts below. What do you do about unexpected car costs?

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  1. Sorry about your troubles. We just made a purchase when the Old Grey Goose began running hot, needed new rotors, suspension, and was within 5,000 miles of new tires. She was 12 years old with 180000 trouble-free miles. The blue book value was $3500 and we figured it would be almost $2000 in repairs with the unknown cooling issue. My rule of thumb has been repairs of 50% of the value once you are past 100,000 miles tip the scales.
    The way we have handled unexpected repairs is quite simple. We just always put $250 per month in a top-secret, don’t touch or else fund. This is done once payments and warranty end. If you purchase for cash it’s the same deal. We look at it the same way as folks who lease – we accept a car payment but I would never lease – since we have a fund readily available to handle issues.
    It also allows you to purchase insurance with a higher deductible and thus save $$ there as well.
    The best part is that during a family emergency you have a cushion – and after 24 months could buy a beater outright to get you through a tough spot.
    So it’s frugal all the way around as well as smart. Pay cash, if financing is necessary keep it short, and NEVER lease – all the while saving money…. and building financial character.

  2. Interesting that you got Autozone to offset some of the cost of your battery. They were my favorite place to get auto parts from but they pretty much completely blew it last year. We had previously purchased a battery for my wife’s car and last year, we had a couple times where it wouldn’t start. I took it to Auto Zone and they tested it and said…it was fine. I took it to two other places just to get it tested and they told me it was bad. Went back to Auto Zone, told them about the other reports, and they still refused to do anything about it.

    That’s a solid way to lose a customer, right there, and the sad thing is that they’ve cost themselves more in lost business that I’ve directed elsewhere than it would have cost them to just give me half credit on the darn battery!

    • Moneybeagle – ya I’ve been a huge fan of Autozone for years! They are always willing to help and explain how to resolve issues. Plus I love all the curb side assistance they give you in testing your car. I’ve never seen a better place!

  3. I had a Ford Explorer Sport Track 2001. Ordered this truck brand new from a paint chip in 2000. I loved this truck, but after 15 years this was the final year for me with my wonderful truck. She was having break issues and the last one was when the breaks no longer worked when I was driving and tried to stop. The dealership could not find anything wrong, but it scared me enough to know it was time for a new vehicle. My plans were to hold out for another 2 years, but that did not work out. For me the signs were there, it was time for a new vehicle. I bought a 2015 Ford Edge and trying to get use to the new technology I feel I made the right decision. Getting stranded is not fun, I had been stranded 3 times with my truck. Maintenance bills vs car payment is hard, but I am sure you will make the right choice for you.

    • Geez Sue! I think being afraid if the breaks were going to go out on me would be enough to push me over the top in buying a new or used car. Thanks for the remind that being frugal shouldn’t come at all costs!

  4. If you knew someone who was familiar with repairing the model of your van they could go to pick a part and do the work for you which in my area is a lot cheaper than a repair shop. You know your vehicle and it all comes down to if it is costing more in nerves and your wallet than is worth it? I loved my ford Escort wagon, bought two of them. The first one was totaled by a huge buck. The second one cost me thousands. Sensors went, break lines went from winter road salt, then the gas tank strap broke, then the tank sprang a leak. I junked it as it would hiccup every time something was getting ready go again. BUT I loved those cars. Being frugal means letting the bad go and reformatting your thinking.

    • Nancy – your comments resignate with me! I loved your last statement of “being frugal means letting the bad go”. Definitely food for thought!

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