Don't have money for repairs to pass inspection, what do I do?
September 21, 2012 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Car needs to pass annual inspection in Pennsylvania. Turns out I need $1000+ in repairs, and I paid $1400 for the car itself (valuable lessons about buying used cars learned). I can't afford this and it doesn't make sense anyway. I need a car. What are my options?

Here's what I see:

- Find "Take the Money and Run" inspection place (I live in Philadelphia so theoretically this should be possible, but where?)

- Sell car, buy car with what I can get

I don't know if the first is possible, and the second will leave me with an even crappier car than I already had. Are there any other options?

(inspection due at the end of the month--I know, I know, shouldn't have left it this long)
posted by schroedinger to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get a second, third, or fourth opinion on the repairs (and cost thereof)? Is this just an emissions inspection, or does PA require more than that? What exactly are the repairs?
posted by primethyme at 4:41 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do this $1000 worth of repairs, how much would that upgrade the vehicle? I mean, would you then have a car you can trust to run for a while, or would it just be an even-more expensive hunk 'o' junk that's sure to break down again soon? If the first, repair; if the second, dump it.

Alternatively: I don't know Pennsylvania car inspection laws, but here in Virginia we have an exception where, if you spend x amount to attempt to fix the problem, you're okayed even though the vehicle still isn't up to grade --- check to see if you have something like that. You'd still have to spend money on the car, but it MIGHT be less.
posted by easily confused at 4:48 PM on September 21, 2012

I have no recommendations for places and will not speak on the legality of it, but the first option does work for some. Chester is one place I've heard where this is done.

That said, if it is failing an emissions test, it is spewing pollutants and either should be scrapped or fixed, so I'd recommend either the second option or selling the car and using car-share services (e.g. ZipCar), if economically feasible. You might be able to pay for ZipCar usage on the car insurance savings alone, if you live within Philadelphia city limits proper, where car insurance is horribly expensive.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:53 PM on September 21, 2012

It would be an even more expensive hunk of junk. The repairs are stuff like:

- All tires need replacement
- Catalytic converter was cut out*
- Rack and pinion needs complete replacement
- Front axles need replacement
- Essentially everything involving the front brakes need replacement--calipers, rotors, pads
- Needs alignment

Plus a bunch of little stuff. But I guess that's a lot of major issues. It's a '94 Honda Civic, but I'm pretty sure investing the money would not be worth it.

Boy, I'm not even sure about the emissions. I'm betting it would fail that too though.

The issue I have with car shares is I use my car every day. It would also make visiting my partner out in West PA nigh-impossible.

*I don't think it was when I bought it! There was six week long wait between when I bought it and when I picked it up because the seller said he was getting the title transferred or something from the original owner . . . I feel he may have raided the car in the intervening time period. My fault for trusting him.
posted by schroedinger at 5:00 PM on September 21, 2012

If it really needs all that, it's scrap. Sorry. I might get a second mechanic to confirm that all that stuff is really wrong with it, but if even half of it is true then I wouldn't sink another dime in it. I might sue the guy I bought it from...

(For those who don't know, PA has both safety and emissions inspections, every year).
posted by jon1270 at 5:06 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't like your "Take the Money and Run" inspection idea because if all that stuff is actually wrong with your car, it's super-unsafe to drive. You should not be driving it to Western PA. You should probably see if it makes sense to take legal action against the person who sold it to you.
posted by mskyle at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh heck, all that?!? I'm sorry, but dump that thing NOW! Cut your losses and don't sink another penny into that wreck.
posted by easily confused at 5:12 PM on September 21, 2012

Figure out a way to pay, find a reliable, independent Honda shop and do the repairs. Unless you can buy a better car for the same money as the repairs, the repairs are a better deal. Any car you buy for $1000 isn't going to be worth it.
posted by donpardo at 5:14 PM on September 21, 2012

It's been a year since I bought it and I have no way of proving the guy did all that. When he gave me the car it had valid inspection and emissions stickers on it and I naively thought it must mean the car was OK. It never occurred to me he might tamper with it AFTER I put down a deposit and the stickers were obtained. Believe me, I'm kicking myself for being so trusting.
posted by schroedinger at 5:16 PM on September 21, 2012

Did you buy it from a dealer? Presumably a used auto dealer had to get the title from the previous owner is that right?

Check your state inspection laws. We bought a car that had a state inspection sticker on it, used, from a dealer. They had passed it. 3 months later we brought it in for an oil change and they said it needed a bunch of similar repairs to what your stating for your car. We got them to do the repairs for free, because if the car needed all that work, how did they pass it?

Private sales: it's pretty much buyer beware, although some people use recent inspections as a selling point.

Also, we have oil-change places here that do inspections and in general, since they don't deal with those major types of repairs, they don't try to gouge you with them. Except maybe brakes or something. It's very common here to go to a full-mechanic inspection station and get a quote for $2,000 in repairs before they will "pass" you. It's always on the news and it's illegal, but people still fall for it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:19 PM on September 21, 2012

Ah, well, in any case, get a second opinion from another place and ask around. I've found Twitter to be helpful for local recommendations.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2012

Any car you buy for $1000 isn't going to be worth it.

Yeah, but these repairs aren't happening for a thousand dollars. There's probably a thousand dollars worth of parts needed, let alone labor. I'd bet you're looking at a couple grand before it's all said and done.
posted by jon1270 at 5:21 PM on September 21, 2012

Before making any decisions, get a second opinion. There's a chance your car really does need all that work -- and there's a chance that the place you took it to is inventing problems and wants to charge you for unnecessary work. There's no way for anyone here to know which is the case.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 PM on September 21, 2012

sigh . . . that's what I was afraid of
posted by schroedinger at 6:12 PM on September 21, 2012

- All tires need replacement
- Catalytic converter was cut out*
- Rack and pinion needs complete replacement
- Front axles need replacement
- Essentially everything involving the front brakes need replacement--calipers, rotors, pads
- Needs alignment

This car is unsafe at any speed. Don't put another cent into it. Arrange alternate transportation until you can afford a safe and dependable replacement. Your life and the safety of others are worth more than any inconvenience you'll experience during the interim.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:18 PM on September 21, 2012

Any car you can buy for less than $1,500 is, by definition, a piece of junk. Taking some fair amortization of the car's purchase price into account, it's really difficult to own a car for less than $1,000-2,000 a year. Plus gas and maintenance.

You paid $1,500 and got a year out of the car. That's about what you can expect. Wash your hands of it and move on.
posted by valkyryn at 6:27 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's one way to make lemonade out of this lemon. Part it out.

I'm willing to bet that you could make maybe $2k by parting it out. That car is old but it's not obsolete. People need doors, glass, body panels etc. You can offer them up for much cheaper than any parts house or junk yard. Even junk yards charge 2/3s of retail (new parts) value.

The only drawback is that junkyards won't tow away a parted out car for free. What I've done is to either hire a tow or cut up the remains with a torch and haul to a scrap metal yard and get paid for the scrap value.

As Pudhoho says, I wouldn't put another dime into this car.

If you have the time and a drive way/side yard, whatever, that's what I'd do to turn this around.

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 7:04 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you've got the space, snsranch has a great idea: part it out --- Craigslist is your friend!

When it comes to your next car, whether you get it from a dealer or in a private sale, here are two things to remember:
*ALWAYS get a used car checked out by your own trusted mechanic before you buy it! It'll cost you (probably somewhere near $100), but it's worth it to be sure what you're getting into. Never assume it's good, just because it has current safety and/or emmissions inspections.
*Once you do buy, take it NOW. That six-week wait while this car's seller was getting the title transferred? Hell, that alone --- no matter the age or condition of the vehicle --- would've chased me off: that part about how he was 'getting the title transferred from the original owner'? What, he was selling a car that DID NOT BELONG TO HIM?!? If the seller does not have the title in their name NOW, walk away immediately.
posted by easily confused at 3:27 AM on September 22, 2012

Count me skeptical that parting it out will be a good idea in this case. Based on that laundry list of problems, I'm picturing an 18 year-old car with around 200K miles on it, which has been seriously neglected for years. Living on a tight budget in the Philadelphia area, I'm guessing the OP doesn't have much space. Having bought this car in the first place, it's probably safe to say that the OP has neither tools nor significant knowledge about cars. The payoff for selling parts is likely to be very slow in coming, and the opportunity cost high.

After confirming that the problems really are so bad, I'd find out what it's worth as scrap metal (guessing around $300), then try for a week or two to sell it for a little more than scrap value, as a parts car on Craigslist. If there's no interest, then scrap it.

OP, if it makes you feel any better, I suffered a similar loss the first time I bought a car. It was a '78 Accord trapped in an urban back yard, the narrow driveway constricted by a house and a fence, stoppered by a huge RV. The seller had his whole leg in a cast or brace of some sort, so asking him to move the RV to facilitate a test drive seemed like a big imposition. I stupidly agreed to buy the car anyhow. Turned out the frame was rusted through, and though it drove okay at the moment I left the seller's house, it was ready for the scrap yard 60 miles later. I didn't take it back; by this point it was undrivable, a tow truck would've been prohibitively expensive, and because the seller's dishonesty was now so obvious, I was scared of him. So I nursed the naive dream that I might be able to fix it. I even went to a junkyard recommended by a friend, and bought a replacement bolt-on frame member for $20. In my excitement, I left $40 worth of wrenches behind in the junkyard, and didn't discover they were missing for several days. Back at home, I realized I had neither the tools nor the confidence to complete the repair, so this rusted-out eyesore disgraced my parents' driveway for several months before I finally gave it to a scrapyard that was willing to tow it away for free.

All that to say that you have my deep sympathy.
posted by jon1270 at 4:24 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

> When he gave me the car it had valid inspection and emissions stickers on it, and...

You're assuming those stickers were legally obtained, they may not have been.
posted by fragmede at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2012

Hindsight is 20/20 unfortunately. I could give a litany of reasons why I thought it was a good deal at the time--the seller did a number of things that made him seem trustworthy, my friend checked out the car with me and said it was a good deal, originally it wasn't supposed to take that long to transfer the title, etc etc etc.

Anyway, I don't have the means to part the car out so looks like I'll be selling or junking it. Thanks for the input!
posted by schroedinger at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2012

I'm not going to speak to the ethics, just putting it out there, but your car would be worth a lot more if you found a place that would give an inspection pass. Whether or not you are comfortable with that is a different question (and gets to an assessment of the actual safety of the car, obviously), but that inspection sticker is what changes the car's value from "scrap" to "beater," not a small difference.
posted by Forktine at 2:00 PM on September 22, 2012

Just as a clarification, and each state/locality may be different, but an annual state inspection isn't always the same thing as a safety inspection. Annual inspections include things like making sure the brake lights and horn works, that it has the appropriate mirrors in the appropriate places, a quick check on the emissions, and (more importantly for the city/state) that the taxes have been paid on the vehicle.

Whether or not the brakes/steering/suspension/frame and/or body panels need replacing is of no concern to most inspection places, since they are just there to place checks in the appropriate boxes on the form and collect their $20 (or whatever). If you were to ask for something like a 30-point inspection or a used car inspection, then that's totally different than a state inspection.

tl;dr: just because it's passed "inspection" or has a sticker in the window does not mean it's a sound investment or reliable transportation.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:30 PM on September 22, 2012

I'm a couple days late on this but my boyfriend had the same thing happen with his van in Pittsburgh. He paid about $700 for the van, put a ton of work into it (out of state), we got to Pittsburgh and they said it was too rusty and it would cost upwards of the value of the van to get the welding done so that it would pass inspections. He ended up selling the van for $600 to a guy who claimed he knew a welder and taking the bus/borrowing money from me to get a different car. If I were you, I'll put it on craigslist and see what you can get out of it, and put the money you get from it as a down payment on a better car (I tend to think ~$5000 is the price where you start getting decent used cars). Also, if you've got a regular mechanic, ask him if he ever has people who give/sell him cars to fix up. My old mechanic in Pittsburgh told me a family gave him a minivan that they didn't want anymore, and he sold it to a family who needed a car for their teenager for $500.
posted by jabes at 9:58 AM on September 24, 2012

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