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Getting the most out of a beater car is frugal. It means driving with no payment and consciously limiting the money you’ll spend on repairs and, especially, knowing when saying goodbye to say goodbye to an old car.
Dear Frugalites, I have some sad news: Rosie is no more.
As some of you know, I have been driving a beater car named “Rosie the Golden Rocket” for four years, and she has been very good to me! Sadly, not long after her first taste of fame in her feature article, Rosie developed a strange noise and totally conked out about a week later.
In this article, I share the frugal tips that help me get the most out of my beloved Rosie. I will also share the factors I weighed to make the momentous decision to say goodbye to an old car.
Be (Emotionally) Prepared to Say Goodbye to an Old Car
Despite my deep attachment to Rosie, like a good Boy Scout, I am prepared. True to my Frugalite ways, I know that Rosie can only stay as long as she is a good financial choice. In that sense, I hold lightly to her steering wheel. I am ready to pivot. I am emotionally prepared.
In a more practical sense, as the driver of a beater car, I always carry an AAA/CAA membership with the Premier level. That way, if Rosie had a problem, I got a tow back to my mechanic with no extra cost to me. Especially with COVID, I didn’t drive outside the range of my Premier level, which gets one tow of up to 320 km. To me, that is peace of mind all year long!
Have a Good Mechanic
I love to support mechanics who own small garage operations, are family-owned and operated, and employ multiple generations. I am still in touch with my mechanic in a city I have not lived in for almost 20 years! They say a good mechanic is worth his weight in gold, and that is true. Whenever I move, I use local word-of-mouth references to find a mechanic that I trust without hesitation.
Because I drive beater cars, my mechanic is a crucial member of my Frugalite team. I keep an open, ongoing dialogue with my mechanic about the state of the car and its life expectancy. I am clear with my mechanic about what I hope to get out of my current car and why. That helps them understand more clearly what I want. Some of the questions I ask my mechanic are:
- What repairs does the vehicle need NOW?
- What can wait?
- Can I pay in cash?
Not long before Rosie’s troubles arose, I had asked my mechanic to look at Rosie with an eye to safety when she was up on the hoist for an oil change. My mechanic came back with the good news that she was looking safe and adequately solid. That was important to me. I want to be frugal AND safe!
Set a Repair Limit
Living a frugal life requires that you create a budget and stick to it. A good budget should include all the most important items, like food, utilities, rent and, in some cases car repairs!
For clarity on the decision-making around keeping or scrapping, I set a repair limit for my current car. If you are not sure what your repair limit could be, this is an excellent discussion with your trusted mechanic. For Rosie, I had set her repair limit at $400, which was the amount I keep in my cash emergency fund.
My mechanic had endorsed Rosie as a safe car, and her engine had a reputation for going well beyond her current 193867.812 miles. So, I was initially willing to put some cash into a repair, but only the cash I had on hand.
Assess the Context and Do What you Can
One day, Rosie developed a new noise that did not sound good. Immediately, I called my mechanic and asked if I could stop by that afternoon and have the computer reader see what repair/problem codes were on her online computer system. However, the codes we got were not indicating any major problem: an oxygen sensor, the catalytic converter. The junior mechanic told me the head mechanic would call me the following week to discuss the situation. OK, maybe it was nothing…
I tried a cleaning treatment for the top of the engine that previously loosened a seized valve in Rosie’s intake manifold. It was my first time doing this by myself, so I watched a few YouTube videos and instructional videos for the engine cleaner. The treatment seemed to work, but it didn’t stop the noise.
A few days later, on a Friday night, Rosie’s engine seemed to be having more difficulties. I barely made it home from work and then made the difficult judgment call that she was no longer safe to drive. I know the dreaded moment had come. I knew when to say goodbye to an old car.
I had a decision to make….what to do?
I live in a rural area where we are all entirely dependent on our cars. I needed to drive to work on Monday. One friend that might be able to help me was working on Monday. I didn’t want to ask my elderly aunt to drive me to work. It was becoming clear to me that going without a car for any period would be difficult.
- I could use my CAA to have Rosie towed to my mechanic’s garage for an assessment of the problem. The garage would not be open until Monday. They would likely assess the problem on Monday, but there was no guarantee they could fix her on Monday. There is a cost for the assessment and risk that the repair might be more than my repair limit of US$400.
- I could rent a car for the week, have Rosie assessed without any time pressure, and decide what to do after hearing back from my mechanic. A friend would have to drive me to a neighboring city to rent the car and pay about CA$30 per day for a car. Realistically, this would be coming out of my repair limit money, too. Pretty quickly, this wasn’t looking like a good choice.
- I could buy a “new” car. If I did this without having Rosie towed, I could put the theoretical money it would cost to have her assessed into my new car. I talked to a good friend to see if he would be willing to drive me to a more distant and much larger city with a solid used car market. He was.
My Final Decision to Say Goodbye to an Old Car
In the end, I decided to leave Rosie where she was on my land and proceed with buying a new car right away. Part of this was trusting my “gut instinct” that what was happening with her engine was a more significant issue that would require more than my repair limit to assess and fix.
The tipping point for this decision was that I quickly located my used “dream car” in the larger city for a great deal. When I talked the seller down $795 on his price, I committed to come and get the car on Sunday with my friend.
I will share my tips on identifying and shopping for a good deal on a used car in a future article. I promise!
RIP Dear Rosie the Golden Rocket, 2001-2021
A happy outcome, the next week, I scrapped my dear Rosie for about $435 when I had bought her for around $475! They even came to get her! So, not including buying a parts car, I was able to drive Rosie for 87,000 miles for $40. I consider THAT a WIN!!!
She was a good car!
Have you ever driven an old car until it no longer made sense to do so? What was the breaking point that finally made you say goodbye? Let’s talk about it in the comments.