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  • Old-ish car with large repair

    I think this is in the correct forum....

    I have a 2002 Honda Civic, and it has run so nicely for years (bought it Certified, pre-owned in 2005), with no major issues so far.  I found out yesterday that it may have a head gasket problem and the estimate is very close to $3000 for the work.  I have a $10k emergency fund.  I think my concern is that I don't want to spend $3000 now, and then down the line there will be other problems.  But I can't quite afford to pay cash for a certified, pre-owned car at the moment.  I know how WCI feels about buying a beater, which I get, but I just wouldn't feel safe driving around outside of the city here with a car that might be as old as mine, would definitely have more miles than mine does, and might have the same exact issues as my car.  I should be an attending by late summer, but right now am working with a resident salary.  I've been thinking about financing a car since yesterday, only because the cost of the repair is so high.  Just wanted some input/thoughts from financially savvy folks...Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    You'd be putting $3,000 into something that is probably a $1,000 car.  Not a good move.

    If you're a PGY3+ you should have enough salary to go and finance a new civic or something similar for about $20k or less.  I'd probably step up to an Accord, which you should be able to get for almost the same price as a Civic since they discount Accords more.  I just checked honda's website and they even have 0.9% financing right now, a no-brainer.  As long as you drive this one as long as you drove the last one, it should be a responsible, financially sound choice.

    Edit to add - for what it's worth, sounds like that's a really high quote.  Seems like you should be able to swap in a whole new engine in a 2002 Civic for $3,000.  You should shop it around if you decide to keep that old car going.

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    • #3
      Agree that I wouldnt pay more than a car is worth in a repair. Thats kinda the point with beaters right? If this kind of thing happens you get another slightly less old beater.

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      • #4
        Agreed.  Would avoid spending more on the car than its worth.  Even with new head gaskets the rest of the engine is 15+ years old.  In terms of the new car, the easy financial decision would be to buy another beater car that is 8-10 years old and drive it into the ground.  But if you must buy new, then Craigy's plan regarding financing a new Honda at 0.9% would be reasonable.  But you would need to admit to yourself that you are splurging on a luxury you clearly don't need (considering you've been driving a 02 Civic up till now without issues).

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        • #5
          Without going too far off topic on this, IMO buying another beater at this point (last year resident almost an attending) is probably more headache than it's worth.  Aside from busy resident schedule, there's a job search and interviews happening at this point, and when you start, you want to make a good impression, be on time, etc.

          Running the risk of a breakdown or having to deal with hassle (and expense) of repairs on the "new" beater seems like a poor choice.  Plus it will be more difficult to find, inspect and purchase a beater, and you'll be having this same issue in another few years (or sooner) and be buying another beater again.

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          • #6
            What do you mean that you "may have" a head gasket problem? Did they do a leak down test or coolant system pressure test? $3000 is way high for this repair...granted most of the bill will be for labor. If it's truly a head gasket problem on a $1000 car I would scrap it. In your situation, I don't see anything wrong with financing a CPO car for about $10-$12k at a reasonable rate. That should last you out of residency, fellowship (if you go that route), and well into attendinghood.

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            • #7
              I agree with the others:  there's nothing wrong with financing a car in your situation (either a certified pre-owned or a new low-end vehicle like a Honda Civic) provided you commit to driving it until the wheels fall off and you finance it for as short a period as you can manage (ideally no more than three years).  The "don't buy cars except with cash!" rule is intended to keep people form convincing themselves they "need" a brand-new vehicle whose price tag equals or exceed their annual salary and that they can "afford" it because they can finance it over a 7-year period.  You're not one of those financial fools, so bending the rule isn't likely to get you into trouble.

              When the car I was driving as a PGY-2 died I financed a new Subaru Outback Sport over a three-year period, figuring that would insure that when I finished residency 3 years later I'd own a fully-paid off, nearly new vehicle which had been well-maintained and had low mileage on it and was unlikely to give me any trouble in the event I was unemployed for a while after residency.  I drove that car for over 13 years, so my plan worked out well - and when it was time for a new vehicle, I'd saved enough money to buy my current car with cash.

              As long as you see cars as expensive, depreciating assets and necessary tools, and not fun toys, you'll be all right.

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              • #8




                What do you mean that you “may have” a head gasket problem? Did they do a leak down test or coolant system pressure test? $3000 is way high for this repair…granted most of the bill will be for labor. If it’s truly a head gasket problem on a $1000 car I would scrap it. In your situation, I don’t see anything wrong with financing a CPO car for about $10-$12k at a reasonable rate. That should last you out of residency, fellowship (if you go that route), and well into attendinghood.
                Click to expand...


                As it was explained to me, the coolant level was found to be low, but the technician did not see any external leak; this led to the inference that the leak was "internal" and it was burning off (so nothing leaking on the ground).  I did pay ~$50 to the dealer to check what was wrong.  It didn't specify whether a leak down test or coolant system pressure test was done. I figure that they would be systematic about their approach to checking for a coolant leak.

                Part of the estimate for the work covers replacing the timing belt (since the engine will have been taken apart anyway) and a water pump.  They said 12 hours of labor in the dealership, and they would have to send the head gasket to a machine shop to check for whether there is any warping or other deformation in the head gasket.

                I really don't know car engines...

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                • #9
                  Thanks for the advice.  I feel better about the idea of financing, if it is done in a manner that enables me to live within my means during the last few months of training and during the transition period to being an attending. In recent years, I've been on trips and rented different Toyota Corolla cars, which have also been fun to drive, so CPO Corollas are a possibility. I didn't give a lot of consideration to a new car but it's a good thought if the interest rate is low.

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                  • #10
                    I bought a Corolla as a first car at auction. You might be able to find a few that have done 20k, 2-3 years old for 10k and pay cash. Look for an ex-fleet car that has not likely been driven hard (I.e not driving school, ex-taxi type enterprise). I bought an ex-health service vehicle and I had no problems.

                    They are hard to find at the end of school year as more demand from kids finishing school but that seasonal bump may have passed. Otherwise you may be able to find a Camry of similar age and milage that is the same price as they seem to depreciate faster than the smaller cars. The extra size may come in handy if you have a baby in the future. Make sure you look at the inspection report before buying, they usually have an inspection report at auction. And check for keying if it was a credit repossession. Maybe avoid repo if it is your first auction purchase.

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                    • #11







                      What do you mean that you “may have” a head gasket problem? Did they do a leak down test or coolant system pressure test? $3000 is way high for this repair…granted most of the bill will be for labor. If it’s truly a head gasket problem on a $1000 car I would scrap it. In your situation, I don’t see anything wrong with financing a CPO car for about $10-$12k at a reasonable rate. That should last you out of residency, fellowship (if you go that route), and well into attendinghood.
                      Click to expand…


                      As it was explained to me, the coolant level was found to be low, but the technician did not see any external leak; this led to the inference that the leak was “internal” and it was burning off (so nothing leaking on the ground).  I did pay ~$50 to the dealer to check what was wrong.  It didn’t specify whether a leak down test or coolant system pressure test was done. I figure that they would be systematic about their approach to checking for a coolant leak.

                      Part of the estimate for the work covers replacing the timing belt (since the engine will have been taken apart anyway) and a water pump.  They said 12 hours of labor in the dealership, and they would have to send the head gasket to a machine shop to check for whether there is any warping or other deformation in the head gasket.

                      I really don’t know car engines…
                      Click to expand...


                      If your only car symptom is low coolant, then sounds like you can just top off your coolant and keep running until you reach attendinghood.  Then you buy whatever car you want, guilt-free.

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                      • #12

                        As it was explained to me, the coolant level was found to be low, but the technician did not see any external leak; this led to the inference that the leak was “internal” and it was burning off (so nothing leaking on the ground).

                        Coolant is pretty cheap. Unless you are blowing white smoke out the exhaust (indicative of burning coolant) or going through so much coolant that it's excessively burdensome for you to add some more every so often, I'd just keep adding coolant...

                         

                        Also, it doesn't sound like they did a proper test for a failed head gasket. They should pressurize each cylinder and measure the leakage. It sounds like they didn't do much in the way of diagnostics, and immediately jumped to the most expensive repair option.

                        Replacing timing chains is a nice, regular maintenance item, but it's certainly not necessary. Nor is the water pump. If the car was worth something, it might be sensible to do those repairs while the engine is apart, but for a beater like this? Don't bother. You're paying big bucks to replace functional parts just to pre-empt possible future failure of them.

                        This shop is taking advantage of your lack of mechanical knowledge. Go buy a bottle of pre-mixed coolant, top off the reservoir yourself on occasion, and forget about it...

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                        • #13
                          I had an old truck that I used through residency and fellowship that slowly leaked coolant for the last 3 years I owned it.  There is a sealant glue which is bad for the engine but will slow the leak.  I kept a bottle of coolant in the back and topped off every 3-4 times I filled up the gas tank.

                           

                          You're about to be an attending.  Muddle along with this one for a few months then buy a new car or CX-5 type SUV.  The crash protection in a 2018 car is so much better than a 2002.

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                          • #14
                            KBB value of my Subaru $248.

                            Over the past 9 years, I've averaged <150/month in costs (oil changes, maintenence, wipers, tires, fixes, etc). No car payment.

                            3 years ago, I was told my headgasket was cracked and leaking and "needed to be replaced". The car was running fine, but "it'd need to be fixed someday".

                            Last December, it finally died. I spent $3,000 to rebuild the engine and fix it. I've since paid $50 for an oil change.

                            I decided I was comfortable with the car, knew the rest of it was working well, and that for 3k, I'd have a car that worked. I weighed that against buying another car, and decided this was a better option. For any "used" car, under 10k, I was taking the same risks. Both had risks of something breaking, and at least I knew the status of the car I had... I also didn't have to spend much time looking, no time at the DMV, no transaction costs, etc. That time was worth something to me too. So far it has paid off.

                            Sometimes, a new or improved car is better. I argue that sometimes it's better to keep the old thing working. It's an investment, but  My spouse drives a newer vehicle, but I don't have a need for something fancy.

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                            • #15
                              I would take the car to another shop, find a good independent mechanic that can look at it.  The parts for this job are farily inexpensive.  If you did go down the road of fixing this I would have the timing belt and water pump done, but they should really only be charging you the cost of the parts for that.  They need to check the cylinder head itself for warping, which is usually a few hundred.  I do not like the method of diagnosis as others had mentioned.  Having said all that, I would not put 3 grand into this car, especially since this might not even fix the problem.

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