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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?

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4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Cash Flow Mantra - March 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

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Getting More Miles Out of the Old Van

My 2004 Pontiac Montana just clicked over 167,000 miles, and I couldn’t be more excited.  It is my goal to get up to 200,000 with it.  It is such a great feeling to own that vehicle outright.  Only 2 weeks ago, I had to spend $650 to get a new radiator and thermostat.  I had been in South Carolina for a week and had just gotten home.  My wife was out of town, and I was responsible for dinner.  Not wanting to fix anything after 11 hours in the car, I told the kids I would go through a drive thru.

As I pulled in, the temperature gauge flashed its warning that the van was overheating.  I was surprised since it had never done that before.  I shut it down, called my teenager to come in a second car and follow me to the mechanic and take me home (with dinner of course).  This was all within 4 miles of home.  Well the van cooled down enough while I waited, and we made it.  In the morning, I dropped off the keys and later learned the bad news that there was a hole in the radiator.  It would have to be replaced.  Oh well, $650 is better than a car payment!

In May of 2009 when the van had 108,000 miles on it, I had to have a new transmission.  The cost was just over $2000.  But to get a comparable vehicle would have cost me $25,000 or more so I think I got a bargain.  The payments would have been over $500 per month so all I had to do was get the van to last 4 months without anything major.  It was almost 3 years between that repair and this one so I am happy.  Now I should be good to go for that 200,000 goal which should be about 2 more years.

Tips to Extend a Vehicle’s Life

  • Don’t drive like a maniac.  Avoid rapid acceleration and braking.  This is tough on your transmission and braking systems.  Besides, you don’t get anywhere more quickly because there are enough stoplights in the city to slow you down.  Plus, it is bad for gas mileage.
  • Maintain a regular maintenance schedule.  I make sure that the oil and other fluids are changed regularly.  I also have the tires rotated routinely as well and make sure to maintain proper inflation.  I have my mechanic look over the vehicle and any item that needs repaired is fixed sooner rather than later.  This is especially important with belts and hoses.
  • Don’t buy gas when the tanker is dropping off more fuel at the station.  The filling of the underground tanks can stir up any sediment that is in the tank and transfer it to your vehicle when you are filling up.  This would ultimately be bad for your fuel system.  I have also heard that you shouldn’t let your tank get to empty since any sediment in your tank would be more likely to get sucked into the fuel system.  I always try to fill up at about a quarter of a tank left.
  • Keep the vehicle’s exterior in good condition.  You don’t want paint chips to develop into rusted out areas that will eat away at your vehicle.  I am fortunate that my van still looks pretty good, but I do try to take care of it.  I usually have it thoroughly detailed once per year.  It is nice to have a clean van, plus I am helping out a local business.

Ultimately, I must be doing something right.  Every vehicle I have owned has been driven over 100,000 miles.  Now I am working to extend that to 200,000 with them all.  Our Suburban is closing in on 100,000 and the teenagers’ Cobalt has over 75,000.  It is getting ready for teen number 3.  I am hoping to get it to last for several more years as well.

I have purchased all of my cars new which might not be the best thing to hear from a personal finance blogger, but I can know that the car has been cared for well during ownership.  That piece of mind is worth it to me.

Do you have any other tips to keep your car running or any other thought?  Please share in the comments below.

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8 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Cash Flow Mantra - February 1, 2012 at 5:37 am

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