Saturday, January 31, 2009

Entry for January 31, 2009

ARGH! More darned vehicle repairs!

My paternal grandfather never owned a car; he walked to and from the factory every workday for 30-years. He warned all of his children and grandchildren that cars keep most people broke.
Papaw was a smart man.

We all know that a new vehicle is only new until we drive it home. Once we park it in our driveway, we then own a used car that loses value as fast as a 401K plan did in the year 2008. My spine convulses every time I look at the sticker prices of the new vehicles. With few exceptions, after 10-years and 150,000 miles, the vehicle we paid $25,000 - $50,000 for is essentially valueless.

Before the crash of the financial institutions, some people financed vehicles for 84 months in order to afford the monthly payments. Many people owe far more money than their respective vehicle is worth; they are “upside down.” When they go to trade in their old wreck, they wind up rolling the amount they still owe into the loan for the new vehicle (such subprime loans are probably now nearly impossible to obtain). Whether you pay cash or make payments, a new vehicle is one hell of an expense.

Fortunately, my 1999 GMC Safari van was paid off long ago. I need to balance the expense of repairing it versus the expense of buying something new. Alas, it has once again betrayed me by going berserk; the starter began mysteriously engaging when the engine was running. Yep, there is nothing like driving down the road to the sound of your starter randomly grinding away at your flywheel. Normally an engine will only start when the transmission is in park or neutral. Mine decided it would start with the shift indicator in ANY position. Having a vehicle that will start while in gear is not a good thing. According to some internet searches, a wiring harness may have shorted out due to the years of abuse from the tilt steering wheel. Others search results say the problem is the ignition switch. Diagnosing the problem is straightforward; replace expensive components until the problem goes away. If I screwed up while trying to change the ignition switch myself, I could wind up with a face full of inflated airbag. Not feeling adventurous enough to try the repairs myself, I got the old van started and then yanked the “enable relay” to keep the starter from trying to engage during the drive to the repair shop. When the repair shop gave me a free loaner vehicle, it was a hint that the repairs were not going to be cheap.

Annual repairs on the old van are now over the line, costing me more than half of what it would cost to finance a new vehicle of equal size and equipment. With the hope that General Motors soon will be building some better gas mileage into their bigger vehicles, I’m still going to try to last another year or so with this van. It is hard for me to remain optimistic; so much has gone wrong with it lately and so many expensive problems are still possible. It has become a jinx; each time I think the van is running extraordinarily well, some new gremlin attacks.


1 comment:

Steve said...

One of many possible components of the economic stimulus bill that Congress is chewing on now is incentives for people to buy cars. It would probably be in the form of a tax credit. So maybe 2009 is the year to buy a new vehicle. Of course this provision may not make it to the final bill, it might be too anemic to matter, it might only apply to vehicles that no one would buy otherwise . . . but we all need to keep an eye on this program to see how it applies to us.