The Car Dilemma


#1

Hey guys, looking for some advice.

My trusty S40 that I purchased almost 10 years ago needs a bunch of work. It’s driveable, but the turbocharager is currently offline pending a bunch of part replacements, the air conditioner compressor needs to be replaced, I’m probably looking at replacing the timing belt (they’re rated for 10 years, and if they go, the engine is kaput), and it’s due for a 7,500K service.

I’m shopping around with mechanics, but the dealer said I’m probably looking at about $3.5 to $4K, which is about the trade-in value of the entire car according to KBB.

The thing is, it’s been paid off for years, I really don’t want the hassle/expense of a new car loan or a lease, it’s a good car and doesn’t look outdated, and I already sunk about $2k into it last year for new brakes, tires, and a repair to the cooling system. And it only has 87K on it after 10 years. But is that sunk-cost fallacy kicking in? The dealer said that they believe they diagnosed everything, but they can’t be sure until the new parts are in. So I’m sorta rolling the dice on that.

I suppose I have some options. My brother died a few years ago, and my folks couldn’t bear to sell his Acura. It’s older and double the miles, but they had it totally repaired by the dealer. And they don’t use it; it’s just sitting in their garage. Or, I could just bite the bullet and do the lease or something.


#2

Were you without a car, would you buy a 10 year-old S40 with 87k miles and a new timing belt, AC compressor, and other odds and ends for about $3.5-4k? If the answer is yes, go “buy” it. If not, time to waive goodbye.


#3

Yeah, Dan_Theman’s analysis seems on point. You clearly have some doubts about the (I assume it’s a) Volvo, and really, unless it’s belly up the Acura doesn’t sound like a great improvement, not at 170k miles or whatever. If you’re not a car guy, the prospect of payments sucks hard, because there isn’t much value-added for your money if you don’t viscerally enjoy driving. I can definitely see that.

Sinking as much in maintenance/repair into a car as it is worth seems logical only if you really love the car, and if the costs over the next say three years will be lower than the costs of taking that money and using it to open a three-year lease on a new car, plus lease payments of course. If the car after repairs is cost-free for the next three years, yeah, you’ll save money, but you will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. If you lease, yeah, you’ll be out $XXX per month, but you won’t have to worry about the framulizer blowing up, either.

Hell, you can get a decent if not exciting car for probably $200/month on a lease these days. Might be worth it.


#4

I kinda like the look of that Volvo, it’s a nice car. You don’t seem that interested in all the latest features and tech of a new car, or the cost of a monthly payment, so I’d base it more on how much you like it. Don’t look at the KBB, the whole market is carefully designed and managed around convincing people that old cars are worthless and new cars are awesome. At 87K, the engine and suspension should be fine. Personally I’d give it one more go.


#5

So turbocharger and associated parts, timing belt, AC compressor (and probably a couple of associated parts there as well) plus a dealer 90K/100K service that will likely change out some belts, filters and fluids as well. Total cost ~ $4,000. And you already have new tires and brakes and some other stuff from the sound of it.

I would say if you really like this car, spend the money. With all the repairs listed above this car will likely run another 50,000 miles with standard maintenance, which is around 5 years at the rate you’re driving it. That’s well worth the $6K total investment between what you’ve already done and what you’re considering doing in repairs.

Another thing to consider…do you have any kids, or a niece or nephew, who will turn 16 in another 3-5 years? If you repair the car now, a Volvo S40 with 120K miles would make a very cool (and safe) first car for a kid down the road.


#6

Yeah, I really like the car, and it’s got AWD, which makes it perfect for the winters around here. If it snows, I’m not trapped, and I can hit the mountain passes without worrying about chains most of the time.

Thanks for the advice. Waiting to hear from some Seattle-area Volvo repair shops right now.


#7

I went through something similar with my 2004 Trailblazer this summer. The cylinder head died and the replacement was about $2500. The original price was $3k, but they gave me the option of reboring the valve or just replacing the head. I think they did the math and decided that it was easier to just have the mechanic replace the head and do other jobs, so they gave it to me at the lower price.

The truck had 133k miles on it. Almost everyone I talked to said “why didn’t you just buy a new car?” Well, because a new car, even used, for what I want is about 18-20k. It was better to just pay for the fix. The car is in the twilight of its life, but I think it’s got a few more years left.

The only thing I will say about the Acura is I’m pretty sure you can drive an Acura into the ground, and the ground might still lose the battle. Hondas I think are cheaper to maintain than Volvos. But, at least it’s an option if the Volvo just goes south one day.


#8

I have a 2004 chevy 2500 HD 4WD truck and I’m of mind to spend at least $3K per year on repairs to keep it rather than plunk down $55K for a new replacement truck.

Granted, mine was only $35K in 2004, but damn if I’m going to spend $50K or more on transportation. I just can’t.

$4K for what you mention are all easily done repairs except for the turbo charger. From that quote, it sounds like you are at the dealer, which they charge 2-3x over what a normal repair shop will cost.

Don’t call dealers, find a repair shop that works on volvos.


#9

The dealer near me is the exception on this rule. He is pretty close to my local repair shop in prices. Where he beats the local guy is turnaround time. Typically my local guy won’t call me with a diagnosis until mid afternoon; the dealer calls me that morning.


#10

Point taken, I’ve had so many bad experiences with dealers that I resolved a decade ago to never visit them ever again unless it’s for warranty repair.

I am blessed with a local repair shop that is so awesome that it’s a 3 week wait to get routine things done but if you have a problem preventing you from going anywhere but the repair shop, they’ll get you in.

This is a small family business that is technically a 2 bay shop, but they manage to get at least 4 or 5 vehicles in there and they are always swamped.


#11

Well, if there’s one thing that Seattle does not have a shortage of, it’s Volvos and Volvo shops.

Good news, first ballpark estimate came in and it’s currently only about $2.5K. Well try and firm that up.


#12

I’ve been there, not that long ago. My father, an accountant of 35+ years gave me this advice on cars: Even when you don’t have a payment, consider that you should be saving the amount of a payment for maintenance, or your next car. It’s solid advice, and I wish I would have paid attention when he said it. You’re here now because you are looking at your car as a free ride, which it has never been. Knowing that, make a decision now on just how much you like it, not the cost of what your repairs are. If you come out at around 4K over the next year, that’s over a year of $250 car payments on something else. And you’re talking about some major items here, a turbo change out isn’t exactly light work for a car at 87K miles.

I went your route with my last car, paid for an expensive repair (1.5K) ended up with another item going bad (2K) and finally waved the flag when the next item came up and the shop started throwing high numbers my way, again. In hindsight, I should have just stopped at the first sign of issues. You’re rolling the dice once problems start that it’s just that one little thing that needs tweaking. In some cases, it’s just the tip of everything else giving up as well. You’re also rolling the dice on the mechanics doing a first rate job and not messing up anything else in the process.

It was also so easy to trade my car in that I felt like kicking myself afterward. If it runs to the lot, that’s all the care about. (some don’t even care about that part.) Most used cars are sold wholesale anyway. I guess my long summary here is, really think this through. If you LOVE that car, stick with it. If not, a car payment isn’t something to run away from. You can find some really good deals on used cars that might be in better shape with lower milage.


#13

Okay, only one estimate had come in, but it’s from a pretty reputable Volvo shop. Looking at $2,700 total, which is a lot lower than the dealers estimate.


#14

Dealers always suck. My wife brought our car in once because the AC had stopped blowing while we were still under warranty. The dealer told us that there wasn’t a problem there, they hadn’t seen any issues. We said that it was blowing at about 10% of nominal, they said it was normal. Then they said there was $2000 of other work we needed done and they didn’t want us to drive it out of there and none of it was covered by the way (there was nothing else wrong). We told them to go fuck themselves and brought it to our normal guy. He comes out 10 minutes after we got there and tells us that a plastic grocery bag in the glove compartment had gotten sucked into the intake and he took it out. Cost $20.

Dealers are crooks.


#15

They aren’t called stealerships for nothing.


#16

Back in the day, my family owned a mid-1990s BMW 318i. (Actually, my mom still has it, but she tried to drive it to the shop when the water pump went bad and warped or cracked the head, so it’s the bad kind of garage queen right now. Also, I think there are wasps nesting in the trunk.)

We had a similar problem. My dad and I spent a weekend tearing the dashboard apart and looking for the blockage. On Sunday evening, we discovered that the airbox around the fan was broken, so even at full blast it was just pushing air around the engine bay. Thirty minutes later, we’d fixed the problem. It took a little while longer to get the dashboard back together.

Moral of the story: check the simple things first.


#17

A $2700 bill on a $3-4k car is still a bad deal IMO.

If the Acura runs you could take that for free at least while to save some $$ and have time to make a decision.


#18

The math on this stuff is actually a little complicated… I’m in a similar boat to you with my 2004 Mazda with no payments but starting to need some repairs.

My first thought is to look at payment vs repairs. So if I’m starting to think it’ll cost me $2700 a year to run my car, and car payments on a $25000 car with a 6 year loan run $381/mo (or about $4575 a year), then in my head I am down $1875 a year if I buy the new car.

But, at the end of that 6 years your current car will be done. Value is basically $0 and by then probably the costs of ownership (i.e. repairs) have gone up. Meanwhile on the new car you’ll still probably have $10k of value left in it and your non-tax/fee/gas/maintenance costs of ownership will drop immediately to something pretty close to zero. Maybe a couple hundred bucks a year. So really you need to take the 10K out of those payments and look at it something like building a little equity.

And meanwhile that $1875 a year is buying you a lot of peace of mind. The car runs better, you don’t have to worry about maybe being stranded on a trip. The yearly cost of fixing won’t jump up dramatically. You can drive people around and not apologize (maybe that’s just me, lol).

I’m moving towards this myself, but it’s taking a lot, because money seems to matter most and the gains are all hidden.


#19

My way of thinking is the longer I can avoid having to make payments on a car, the better off I am. I want to put as much cash down on my next ride. A 5-6 year payment plan is murder if you lose your job, or it’s just a shitty car and dies while you are making payments.

That said, if the ride is in the shop every 2 months for major work, or you’ve got one of those expensive problems that’s hard to pin down and various fixes don’t work, yeah, it’s time to go.

I don’t regret getting the head on the my 2004 replaced at all if that means I can delay payments.


#20

I have nothing to add other than to say I’m sorry for you and your parents about the loss of your brother. Even if it was several years ago, I’m sure it is hard. My condolences.