Reluctant commitment-phobe driver seeks short term bulletproof wheels.
June 8, 2013 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me solve my rapidly deteriorating transportation situation? I am a car dependent person who hates everything about cars, and my relatively beloved 1985 Mercedes 300 seems to have finally had it. In spite of the child's voice in my head screaming I DON'T WANT TO, I need to figure out how I'm going to get myself to and from work...maybe too many details below! Personal experience with car lease takeovers as well as general life advice about solving this problem like a grown up especially welcome!

First off, I'm aware there are car alternatives like public transportation and riding bikes. I love public transportation, but I am also an introvert with super unpredictable work hours, and adding an hour of face time with the bus riding public to each end of my work days has proven untenable in past experiments. Bike riding is something I also enjoy, but again it just adds too much stress to my day for it to be a solution. Believe me when I say I really don't want a car, but at this point in my life I think it's the only reasonable option.

So buy a car, right? I have a fairly stable income and I can certainly afford a modest car payment. BUT a series of life changes in the past six months (ending a four year relationship, moving, slowly realizing that my chosen career is probably not going to make me happy) has left me in a place where I'm seriously considering a move...likely to NYC where a car would be happily irrelevant...when the lease on my house ends in January. This makes getting into a car payment situation super undesirable at the moment.

I do have between 4-5k that I could put into a reliable used car that I could then sell when/if I leave, but that seems overwhelming for a lot of reasons. First of all, I know nothing about cars, and buying my current car was a nightmare even though I knew exactly what I was looking for. When I bought my car, my lifestyle was such that having a cheap car offset the inconvenience of having a car that sometimes didn't run. This is no longer the case in my life. I've also been working essentially around the clock lately (today is my first day off since Memorial Day) and I don't feel like I have the mental bandwidth to track down a decent car that will always run in that price range. Also, this money is part of my Quit My Job and Move To New York fund, which I am reluctant to mess with. But I am open to any suggestions of reliable cars in that price range I might look into.

As for the current car in question, it's running but the engine will lose power every 5-10 minutes forcing me to pull over and turn the car off for a minute or so. The car recently spent a week with my trusty mechanic (see above experiment with public transportation) who was able to find nothing wrong...which is baffling. I know I could find another mechanic, but again I just feel really strapped for the time I have to deal with this situation, and I really don't want to spend another week without a car. At this point, I'm prepared to get it washed and list in on craigslist for cheap just to get it out of my sight...which I realize is maybe not super rational.

So that leaves me at a lease takeover, which I haven't been able to find too much about here or on google. I've done some cursory searches on swap a lease, and found some cars that might work, but I'm suspicious about being asked to pay money up front. Has anyone done this? Is this a viable option being that I really only want to commit to something for the next 6-7 months?

Is there an option I haven't thought of? A particularly simple way to acquire an inexpensive and reliable used car? I realize my questions are broad but I am really just looking for "what would you do in this situation" type of answers.

I live in Los Angeles, if that matters. And I realize there's a lot more going on than just the car, and I'm in therapy working on the other stuff. I would really appreciate some practical advice related to getting around town reliably.

posted by justjess to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The process of finding another mechanic to figure out what is wrong with your car will take less time than taking over a lease or buying another car.

Is there an option I haven't thought of?

Independent car rental agencies and places like "Rent A Wreck" will rent you a used car by the month for a reasonable price. Even a week's rental while your cat is at a new mechanic shouldn't be a big deal.

A particularly simple way to acquire an inexpensive and reliable used car?

Find a dealer or private seller who has an old Honda, Toyota, or Nissan for sale on Craigslist and buy it. Hire a service that will take it to the DMV and take care of the paperwork for you. Costs more, but you avoid having to think about the issue.

If buying a car were hard, it would not be the case that every idiot out there seems to own a car.
posted by deanc at 12:26 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

How many miles do you actually do per week? Because that would have some bearing on the most appropriate solution.

Not sure what you mean by taking over a lease. I assume you're looking to find somebody who is in a lease agreement they no longer want to be in and take over that lease? First of all you'd have to find a genuine person who only has about 7 months left...otherwise you're stuck with a lease in January that you don't want...whatever you do don't hand over cash up front, please.

Have you considered long-term car rental? Call all car rental places you can find in the phone book and see if anybody will do you a deal for 6 months. If they won't do 6 try 3. Repeat as necessary. That should leave you with nothing but car rental fees and cost of fuel and I guess insurance excess, if you're unfortunate. If there is a problem with the car it's theirs to fix so this may be the easiest and most flexible solution for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:36 PM on June 8, 2013

the engine will lose power every 5-10 minutes

Can you elaborate on this? What kinds of sounds does it make when this happens? This sounds like a fixable problem.

Also, my SO has a 2004 Honda Element that cost a bit more than you want to spend (here on the east coast, they might be less out there in CA) that is versatile, snappy looking, safe, and could get better mileage but we love it anyway, cause it is cute and tough.
posted by vrakatar at 12:48 PM on June 8, 2013

You could also try to sublet your house and move to someplace walking distance from work on a 6 month or month-to-month lease. Even if there are moving expenses involved and even if the rent is slightly higher, it may well be less expensive than renting, leasing, or buying a car.
posted by deanc at 1:43 PM on June 8, 2013

How many miles does your current car have? Because the first thing I'd be doing here is heading over to one of those "German auto werks" shops and describing the problem in detail. Someone there will probably go "oh, that sounds like the XYZ is hosed/out of calibration/clogged!". These are popular cars, especially the diesel ones, with a relatively large following and a reputation for being tanks.

Unless the thing is thrashed and already has 300k+ miles on it, I'd make a serious effort to find someone who could sort the problem with it and just keep driving it.

But then again, I may be crazy. I refuse to stop driving my 60s car since every time it gets flaky like this its turned out to be a $40 part(and my 80s car was the same way). I also seriously considered buying one of these exact Mercedes for a very long time, and was confident I could keep driving it essentially forever just performing minor fixes which might present as potentially awful problems to someone uninformed, but was actually just a vacuum hose leak making the advance screw up and stall the engine or something.(for example)

Mostly though, I think that not attempting to fix and then hump along the car you already have for six months would be silly unless its totally trashed. And it would be hard to shake me of that if I was in this position personally.
posted by emptythought at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please look for another mechanic. If the problem happens every time you drive it, then it should be reproducible and therefore diagnosable. Fixing your current car is likely way less money and hassle than buying a new car or engineering a lease takeover. Plus if course, you will get less for your broken car than selling it in a working state. Rent a car for a week while your car is at your new mechanic. Search online for forums dedicated to old MBs, and look for a mechanic recommendation. Short term pain for long term gain!
posted by Joh at 3:19 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hundreds of thousands of taxi drivers across the hotter parts of the world are evidence to the fixable nature of your car. Go find that decent repair shop.
posted by cromagnon at 4:20 PM on June 8, 2013

I'll echo the others here, and suggest you give that car a fair chance by taking it to another mechanic. It could be something dead simple and cheap to fix that your particular mechanic just isn't savvy about.

This would be my suggested plan of attack.

L.A. is an excellent city for cheap car rentals. First, get yourself set up with a rental car.

Next, spend some time online looking into forums and message boards specific to your vehicle. Post your problem, and ask if anyone knows of a good local Mercedes mechanic.

Plan to spend several weeks with the rental, taking your car to one or more mechanics, until you get a definitive diagnosis and repair estimate. At that point, start weighing the repair-vs-sell option.

Finally, I would counsel against a lease takeover. You can get hosed so many different ways on that approach -- if you hate dealing with car stuff, you don't want to go that route.

If you post up what part of L.A you are in (if you are comfortable doing so), I'll ask around for Mercedes mechanics for you.
posted by nacho fries at 7:43 PM on June 8, 2013

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