Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Little Ponies

All 165 of them, are sick. I have a major car repair looming in front of me that I am not looking forward to. And the worst part—it's all my fault. You see, I did not do the regular oil changes on my Subaru Forester as I should have and ran it until the oil was nearly dry. Which damaged the engine bearings. Which is an expensive repair. Even more expensive on a horizontally-opposed Boxer-style Subaru engine because the bearings aren't as easy to get at.

It's still drivable for the time being. But I have to take care of it. There's no way I'm going to attempt a cross-country drive later this year when I know the engine could seize. Scoob wants to just sell the car (it is paid off) and get a new-used one. (Sometimes I swear he thinks money grows on trees.) I, on the other hand, do not think taking on a car payment right now is a good idea when I know we'll soon be carrying 2 mortgage payments until the house in Fremont sells after we move.

Then Scoob said we should just sell the car when we move and not drive cross-country. Great. That solution leaves us without a car when we get to North Carolina, which, given how far removed we will be from town, won't last long and we would still have to buy a new-used car.

So like any woman with a truck driving mechanic father would do, I called my daddy. Who laughed at me. Not really, but I know he was laughing inside. And he pretty much said I was screwed. From my conversation with him, we figured I was looking at a $2,000–3,000 repair bill.

So that leaves me looking into repairs. I have 3 choices. I can remove the old engine and drop in a used one, I can have the engine remanufactured (uses the existing engine and remachines the damaged parts), or I can replace the short block (lower half of the engine) and remachine the bearings. Oh, and that $2,000–3,000? Don't make me laugh. Or cry. The lowest possible solution came in at $4,800.

I looked into several independent repair shops and my local Subaru dealer and found I could save $600–800 on whatever repair option I choose by going with an indie shop. However, the Subaru shop offers better warranties. Given that we're moving cross-country, if I actually need to use the warranty I'd much rather have it be through the Subaru dealer than an indie shop in northern California. There's no way I'm driving my Subie back to California for repairs. So, I'll be working with my Subaru shop.

I've taken my Subie there once before for big ticket maintenance service and really liked the guy, Kevin, who dealt with me then. So I asked for him when I called. Kevin has been very patient with me as I figure out what to do. I took my car in for diagnostics and he refused to do it, saying "I don't feel right charging you for a diagnostic test when we already know what the problem is—you damaged your bearings by running the engine without oil stupid lady." I've paraphrased a bit.

The least expensive option is to drop in a used engine. We did manage to find a used 2005 Forester engine with only 10,000 miles on it in Idaho somewhere. But here's what I thought, "If I have almost 120,000 miles—about 20,000 miles a year—on my engine, that means the found engine was only driven for a year at best and has been sitting all this time." What this means to me is that seals and gaskets will probably be dried out and cracked and I will likely have another expensive repair bill to fix them. Also, I don't know what happened to the car that engine was in. There could be other damage I just don't know about. And Kevin agreed when I told him about my misgivings.

The next least expensive option is the remanufactured engine. This option offers a 3 year/50,000 mile warranty, but only on the parts. Since the remanu option uses all the existing parts, they'll all have 120,000 miles of wear and tear on them. And, as it turns out, Subaru sends the engine out to an indie shop for the remanu and the warranty would be through the indie shop.

So that leaves me with the last option; the short block. Subaru will do all the work with this option and the warranty will be through them. It's 1 year/unlimited miles parts and labor. With the short block I'll also be getting a new timing belt (due for service), new drive belts, new water pump, new thermostat, and new gaskets and seals. The price difference between the remanu and short block options is $400, about the cost of servicing the engine for its 120,000 mile check-up and taking care of the timing belt. This will run close to $7,000 +sales tax on the parts.

For me, I'm thinking this short block option is the most sound decision.

I had planned to install a hitch before we move so we can pull a small trailer for things that won't get packed in the moving van. I'm pretty sure we'll have the cats in the car with us, with their carriers and a litterbox there won't be room for much else. The hitch will cost about $400 parts and labor.

So all told, I'm looking at about $8,000 in work on my car (I've factored in sales tax for parts) before we move. $7,500 of this I did not anticipate spending right now. And certainly not on my car. That's essentially my furniture fund for the new house.

I love my Subie, but it really may be time to part ways. I keep weighing the options of parting with $8,000 right now, or buying a car with monthly payments, which will let me hang onto the bulk of that money for the immediate future while we're going through this financially stressful process of building.

When we sold Scoob's car in January 2010 we took it to CarMax. We were dealt with in a straightforward manner and received a very fair deal for his car. We had such a good experience selling the car, we talked about buying a used car through them if we ever needed to purchase another car. So I went to the CarMax site and did a search for vehicles available for $10,000 (the lowest price option available). There's quite a bit out there.

It turned up 15 sport utility vehicles (same class as the Subie) and 2 already have trailer hitches installed: a 2004 Chevy TrailBlazer with 110,000 miles, and a 2004 Nissan Xterra with 111,000 miles. There are also a few interesting van/minivan options with decent gas mileage. Particularly this 2005 Dodge Caravan with 84,000 miles (and a DVD player, hey, it's a long drive) for under $9,000. We don't have kids, so I never thought I'd find myself considering a minivan, but I'm thinking the extra cubic interior space a van offers would eliminate the need for towing a trailer.

I looked up the Kelly Blue Book trade-in value for my Subie in fair condition—$6,400. Given it needs a major repair, let's say I get half that—$3,200. If I put that as my down payment on a $10,000 vehicle at CarMax, even at a 7% interest rate my monthly payment would be under $200.

So I'm stumped. On the one hand I want to fix and keep my Subie even though my gut tells me this may be the beginning of a very expensive relationship. On the other hand, I may have admit Scoob was right with his first suggestion, selling the Subie and purchasing another vehicle may be the best decision given the situation.


1 comment:

  1. I'd don't envy your position. We in that position, too, 5 years ago. But we had money in reserve to trade in the junker car we had for a new one and only made payments for 9 months. Trust your instincts.