Mourning the Montana Mini-Van
If you have been reading the blog for a while, you know that I have been trying to get 200,000 miles out of my Montana mini-van. It is a 2004 model year and had been paid off for some time now. Mostly, I had been doing regular maintenance type activities. The only major repair was a new transmission at 108,000 miles although it did require $650 for a new radiator and thermostat a year ago.
Well this past weekend, it started overheating quite quickly. My boys were traveling home from practice and called me to let me know that they had stopped on the side of the highway. They let the engine cool down and got about 5 more miles before having to call it quits again. Their sister went and picked them up and later my wife and I got it and were able to limp to the repair shop near our house.
On Monday, we got the great news that it had a blown head gasket. The repair was estimated to be $3000. I took the vehicle home and now am in mourning while I figure out what to do.
Options for dealing with mini-van.
1. I figure the first option is to spend the money and get it fixed. That is a big cost to keep a vehicle running that probably isn’t even worth that much in the first place. When I went to the Kelley Blue Book Value website, it looks like it is worth between $2000 and $4000 but I assume that is before a blown head gasket. Still I would be spending about the entire value of the car to get it fixed. And who knows when the transmission will go again. It looks like I am spending roughly $2000 per year on average to keep it on the road ($166/month) in repairs above routine maintenance.
2. Try to list in on Craigslist as a mechanic special. I might be able to get about $800 for it. It still ran well until the most recent problem. Someone with the knowledge and skill to change the head gasket could get a decent vehicle for not much money plus some do-it-yourself effort.
3. Sell it for junk. If I took this route, I would try to see if I could get $500 for it. The rear tires are only 6 weeks old so the 4 tires themselves should be worth about $200. Then the rest of the van could be used for parts. It has never been in an accident and the body seems to be in good shape. This might be a fairly quick transaction and would give me some quick cash.
I am leaning toward number 3 as I am starting to spend a fair amount to keep it on the road. Plus dealing with Craigslist and having strangers coming over to case my place sounds a little spooky. I could donate the vehicle and take a tax deduction, but dealing with the IRS doesn’t sound fun either.
Now About Transportation
Next, I have to figure out how I am to get back and forth to work. Right now, I will be able to get by through most of the summer. But my options during the winter aren’t that great with the vehicle I will be using. So I am thinking I have a couple of possibilities.
1. Buy a junker. When I look for what I can get around $3000, it seems that most cars are from the late to mid-90’s with over 100,000 miles on them. If I wanted that type of scenario, I could fix my own junker for $3000.
2. Save up $8000-$10,000 this summer and buy a used vehicle in the fall. There seem to be a fair number of vehicles in this price range with mileage running between 40,000 miles and 60,000 miles. There are lots of PT Cruisers. I suppose if I could get about 80,000 miles out of it, that would be 4 years at 20,000 miles per year for a purchase cost of $2500 per year or just over $200 per month.
3. Buy a new car. Again, I have to assume that I can get at least 120,000 miles out of the vehicle. At the same rate of 20,000 miles per year, I could 6 years out of the vehicle and possibly 7 which would be comparable to scenario number 2 above. It looks like there are some decent (not too small) cars available for about $18,000. I am looking at the Mazda 3 and like the looks of it right now. Divided over 6 years, the cost would become $3000 per year of usage or $500 more per year than buying used.
The question then becomes what are the pros and cons for that difference in cost. That doesn’t consider taxes, which in the state of Indiana depend on age and type of vehicle, nor insurance. So the actual cost would be higher.
Past Experience Can Cloud Future Judgement
So maybe cloud is a bit strong, but I know that sometimes past experience with definitely have an influence. Growing up, my father would purchase used cars at times, and it seemed like half the time it would work out while the other half would be a real pain with lots of unexpected repairs. Now I am not the most mechanically inclined, but I know enough to get around and could get a car to limp along with a few basic tools and duct tape so I wouldn’t end up stranded.
But my fear regarding used cars is that I don’t want my 16 year old daughter to find herself in the same predicament. I don’t mind the adventure, but would hate to put her through that. So I am tending to lean toward spending the extra money and getting a car that is new, and presumably, reliable with the thinking that my daughter’s safety is worth an extra $80 per month in the long run.
This is just one of the issues that I have been facing recently. Isn’t life fun?