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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Suddenly, I Need a Car

Last night, I was driving home to Pittsburgh from the Business Smart Tools conference in Connecticut. I was driving uphill, in the rain, and I heard a rattle in my engine. Since my heat shield has been loose numerous times in the life of my car -- a 2000 Honda Civic with 152,000 miles -- I figured I'd need to get it tightened when I got home.

Then, something shot out from underneath my car. Sparking, smoke, a THRUB THRUB THRUB noise coming from the engine...

I decided to pull over.

So, at around 9:30 on a rainy Wednesday night in the middle of I-80, my 2000 Honda Civic came to its final stop. The tow truck driver explained that I'd shot a rod through my engine block, which (if I understand correctly) means a piston escaped from the motor by way of the motor casing. That means the motor has to be replaced, which would involve disassembling (and then reassembling) the entire engine -- around a $1000 to $2000 repair for a car that's worth, at best, $1500.

Side note: I'd introduced Scott Monty from Ford at the BST Conference just a day before. At this rate, I hope I never have to introduce a heart surgeon...

So: Anyone have any car-buying advice for a guy with strictly average credit and a very slim rainy day fund?

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  • I'm sure Scott would love to have you driving a Ford and blogging about it. If he can't hook you up, I'm sure there are car dealers that would resort to dueling pistols at 20 paces for the privilege of selling you a car in this economy.

    By Blogger Joe C, at 11:49 AM  

  • $1500 is a low number for a 2000 civic. Personally, I'd buy another civic, but I'm biased.

    Check out this guy's advice on the car buying process:

    Also, check out Edmunds' True Cost to Own estimator:

    By Anonymous Steve, at 11:55 AM  

  • This happened to my 1992 Geo Storm GSi. Your motor committed suicide much the same way mine did. Mine also destroyed the valve cover, spraying bits of metal over the right side of the engine.

    Definitely not worth repairing.

    I found both of my Mazdas via Both came from a dealership in Irwin, PA and both were used. I have absolutely no regrets using the AutoFinder service or purchasing my cars from this particular dealership.

    Outside of the obvious new/used decision and looking at how long you'll want to own another car, I can recommend some makes/models off of the blog if you give me a little criteria to work with.

    Lastly, as a car geek, I will be happy to go with you to inspect/purchase a new car. I used to visit car dealerships in college to interrogate salesmen for fun, finding that I almost always knew more about the car than they did.

    And fortunately for you, if you can get credit, this is a good economy in which to purchase a vehicle.

    By Anonymous Jenda, at 11:57 AM  

  • I'm gonna second the Mazda's... my 2000 VW passat died back in October, timing belt :( I was in the same boat, didn't want to pay for a new engine on a car that wasn't worth it... I've since been saving and looking at Mazda's. Most are offering 0% and 1.9% financing which is incredible! Che che check em out. Good luck!

    By Blogger Mandy, at 12:21 PM  

  • Wow - that's certainly a completely dead car, and what a way to go out. Sorry, Justin!

    While it may be a minority opinion, I believe very strongly in not borrowing money for a car, including leasing, and certainly never buying new or having a car payment. Buy used - get something that's crazy cheap, a beater car, and save cash for an upgrade. It's a tortoise and the hare mentality to personal finance - you'll make out in the long run.

    Even if you have to drive to Connecticut often, I'll bet you can find a used Honda or Subaru that will make that happen for you.

    By Blogger jdhtwo, at 12:22 PM  

  • Buy a Buick, nice but inexpensive, particularly used, get the low end 6cylinders, they last forever. And they are really comfortable, important to me because I commute 3 hours a day regularly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:19 PM  

  • I don't know much about cars, but a guy from GM told me at CMU earlier this week that soon we'll all be driving autonomous self-driving cars.

    So I'd say hold out for that. And in the meantime, just bum rides off of people...

    By Blogger Jia, at 5:24 PM  

  • How did you get home? Finish the f***ing story man!

    By Blogger John Carman, at 6:54 PM  

  • Thanks for all the advice, everyone. (Steve, that YouTube video is great!)

    As for how I got home: my girlfriend Ann (and our puppy, Rufus) hopped in her car and drove 3 and a half hours through the rain, in the dark, down roads she'd never traveled, to pick me up at the Flying J truck stop where the tow truck driver had been kind enough to drop me off. Then I drove us home. (Rufus hyperventilated the entire way, but otherwise, it was fairly uneventful.)

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 7:59 PM  

  • Good story, very dramatic...makes you kinda seem like a douche though.

    If you ever adapt this story for an STBD episode plot, make sure the guy playing you has a fiendishly evil mustache or something so we know where our sympathies should lie :)

    By Blogger Jia, at 8:10 PM  

  • Big props to Ann for driving out to get you (and to Rufus for being brave).

    I echo the earlier commenter about not borrowing money for a car. It seems counter-intuitive in our culture, but after working in the auto industry for six years, I learned that most dealers and sales consultants -- wealthy or not -- never took out loans. A mortgage is (maybe) one thing; a car is another.

    I'd suggest leasing or buying a used car. Since you're self-employed, you can write off a large chunk of the lease payments, which is not the case for a car purchase. The cost of a lease is pretty comparable to loss in value of a purchased car over two years, plus the potential tax benefits, which leaves you coming out ahead. The downside is if you find yourself in a worse credit/savings position at the end of your lease, because then your only option will be to pay cash for a used car.

    By Blogger Marina Martin, at 8:44 PM  

  • Justin - first of all, I'm glad that you're okay. That sounds like a scary situation. As far as another vehicle, I could recommend a Ford Focus as a very comfortable entry-level vehicle that comes with some great technology (like the SYNC system) and is of high quality. Speaking of which - did you know that Ford just surpassed Honda in quality ratings, and is now tied with Toyota?

    If there's a way we can help, let me know.

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