There is nothing more frustrating than having an older car and having to put money into repairing it because you don't have enough cash to buy a new one. When does the point of no return finally occur and you want to just get rid of it and get something new? I can tell you about a couple of them.
When I was in high school, my father went to our local Volkswagen dealer and put a deposit on a brand new Rabbit hatchback as my first car. Naturally, my mother had a small cow, screaming, “Why does need a new car and not a used car.”
The dealer had just gotten a used Beetle, in a trade; I didn't like it. It was a cream colour and looked as if the previous owner didn't take very good care of it. The next car they showed me was a green Squareback, their version of small four-door station wagon. I liked it a little better and took it against my better judgment.
The two things I truly hated about that car was the lack of heat and air conditioning. I froze in the winter and sweated in the summer. This car had a VW air-cooled, rear placement engine. While good on gas, it lacked in many other areas.
One of the first things I got was an FM radio adapter, since it only came with an AM radio. At the age of 17, I wanted to listen to WPLJ-FM, WNEW-FM and 99X, not WABC-AM.
The other problem, which developed over time, with that car, was it leaked oil, and we couldn't figure out from where. We brought it to a VW specialist in Huntington, New York, and he worked on it for weeks. Finally, he thought the problem solved from something he did, but no, the leaked continued.
Then all of a sudden, the leak stopped, by its self. The only problem was the floorboard, on the passenger side of rear seat had rusted through. With a little ingenuity, I cleaned up the hole, cut a piece of sheet metal to put over it and super glued it down. The rug covered it up.
Something else I remember about that car was being so tired on my way to school, that I almost fell asleep at the wheel. I was at a stoplight and all of a sudden, WHOOMP! Someone slammed into me from the rear. It turned out to be a cute girl and since there didn't seem to be any damage, I let it go.
As it turns out, one of the supports for the rear-bumper was broken and it was flapping in the wind. As a permanent temporary fix, I cut a piece of 2” x 4” lumber and fitted it between the bumper and car body. It worked, and I only had to tighten it up every now and then.
We bought the car for $1776 in 1976 and I sold it in 1980 for $900, which we put towards a brand new Datsun 310GX. It was a nice car, but it didn't have air conditioning!
I sold that car in 1986 and got a brand new Ford Mustang GT with the 5.0 liter, 350 horsepower engine. That car hardly gave me any trouble and I only sold it when Michelle was born in 1996, as driving a baby around in a 2-door sports car wasn't practical.
We got a new 1996 Pontiac Grand AM; I really enjoyed that car until the head gasket went and the mechanic said it would cost $1500 to repair it. The car was only worth $3000, so it didn't pay. I sold it “as is” and bought a used 2001 Nissan Altima GX Special Edition. It had 15K miles on it and we got it for $12,000.
Here's where it gets very fun. Although the car was fairly reliable and good on gas, little things were always going wrong. Both front power windows stopped working and thanks to a little know recall, I was able to reimbursement for the repairs.
Over the years, we've replaced the tires, serpentine belt, alternator, battery and various other parts. It's over the last couple of years that the repair costs have gone up.
First, the motor in the driver’s seat went and it was stuck in a very far back position that Marcy prefers. I can't drive that far back, so I avoided it like the plague. When Michelle took the car, we decided to fix that motor and paid $400 to do it. Just before the 90-day warranty was up, the motor crapped out and the mechanic replaced it.
A year later, the driver’s seat broke, again; of course, it was stuck in the far back position again because Marcy had driven it last. We just can't get a break! Michelle drives it with a pillow behind her. I still refuse to drive the car.
Then the radio stopped working. Michelle wanted a new radio, so split the cost with her. That wasn't so bad, only $140 installed. The speakers were good, as I had replaced them a few years before.
Awhile back, the horn and alarm system went crazy. It turned out that Marcy hadn't closed the trunk all the way. Problem solved or so we thought.
Michelle is driving the car now and the horn starts to go off. One of her friends cuts a wire, without telling us, and pulls the horn module from under the hood.
One day, a couple of weeks ago, Michelle had to take her grandmother, Liz, to physical therapy, and the horn of course didn't work. Liz was so mad. She called Marcy that night and told her to get the horn fixed.
We brought it to the mechanic and they figured out that all the problems stemmed from the alarm and lock assembly in the driver’s door. So let's spend another $340 to fix that or the car won't pass inspection. Oh yeah, I had to buy two new remotes from E-bay for $20 to replace the old ones that broke. The mechanic had to program those to work with the car too.
How about this one, Marcy had taken the car to work last winter and somehow managed to drive into an ice bank. She cracked the bumper in several places. I got some Gorilla tape and did the best I could to patch it up.
That repair lasted a year, until this week when Michelle called me in a panic, saying that she was at her grandparent’s house, and the front bumper fell off the car. I told her to go to Johnny, the next-door neighbour, and have him take it off, which he did.
I was telling some people at work what happened and one of my co-workers tells me his uncle owns an auto parts store. My co-workers made a phone call. I end up talking to the uncle; he tells me he can get me the bumper cover for $49.
The next day, I text my friend and tell him to get it for me. He tells me I can pick it up at the distributor in Queens, which I do. Earlier in the morning, I had stopped at three auto repair shops and got prices of $350, $400 and $450. Huh? I called the shop that I had used the last couple of times and he gives me a cash price of $320.
Ok, let's do it.
I meet Michelle down there after I pick up the bumper in Queens, and Mark asks me if I have all the clips, screws, whatever to attach it. Nope, they're long gone. Ok, so that'll be another couple of bucks.
Michelle and I leave, and five minutes later, Mark calls and tells me that when one of his guys was unpacking the bumper, a piece broke off, can I sent Michelle back to see if it will be seen or hidden?
OMG! I try calling Michelle, and she's not answering. I text her and she finally calls me back, and I tell her to go back to Mark and see if it will still fit. Luckily, it does, and they'll paint it that day or early the next week. At that point, we'll drop it off, let them attach it, and pick it up, good as new, $400 later.
Another of my co-workers used to sell cars. I tell him all this. He says better to repair a car that, over all, works well, than have a monthly car payment. The problem with older cars is the amount of work and money spent to keep them running, safely, adds up.
Don't get me started on the 1998 Saturn that we used to have, that's another story. I really, really hate older cars.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.