My car is officially a money pit. Should I sell it or keep it?
July 27, 2013 9:10 PM   Subscribe

When do you know the time is right is to give up a car? Special snowflake details inside.

My husband bought a new car for himself and I am the new owner of his old car. Some background - my husband is very precious about his cars and has always been reluctant to share a car with me. I'm a newish driver and drive only a few times a week, if at all. Anyhow, the 2003 Elantra became mine for $1 and I got rid of my old beater wagon. The new car went in the garage and mine lived outside. She was in fine mechanical shape until we had severe flooding a month ago - the street filled with water and there literally was no place else to move the car. Water came up about mid-tire height.

After noticing that the brakes felt spongy, we took it to a repair shop and I'm facing ~$1500 to replace the rear rotor (which had been machined once already), seized calipers and rear brake pads. The car is only worth about $4000 and will also eventually need a new timing belt.

We just don't know if we should keep or sell the car after getting it repaired. I hardly drove all last winter despite having an old beater. I take transit because I can't afford parking downtown. It is convenient to have a second car, as it is difficult to visit my parents by public transit. I'm trying to convince my husband to share his car (but...brand...new...car!). I can't afford a newer car or finance a new car (living the dream of being a poor art student :-)).

I just need some neutral opinions from people not close to the situation to help me decide or perhaps suggest an option we're not thinking of. I don't know if the short term answer will be harmful in the long term, but any more repairs and she won't be worth keeping :\ Thanks so much in advance!
posted by Calzephyr to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
$1500 for the parts and work you describe is just larcenous. New calipers, pads, and discs, with labor, for the rear axle, all in, shouldn't be more than about 1/3 that, if that. I'd really shop the job around - it's nothing that requires special tools, knowledge or technique. Any competent general auto mechanic ought to be able to handle this.
posted by paulsc at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


She was in fine mechanical shape until we had severe flooding a month ago - the street filled with water and there literally was no place else to move the car. Water came up about mid-tire height.

Check both your auto and homeowners insurance to see if you have flood coverage. If you do, it's possible that your insurance might pick up the entire cost (or entire cost minus deductible) for the repair.

Also, this: "Anyhow, the 2003 Elantra became mine for $1 and I got rid of my old beater wagon." seems odd to me. I've never heard of a spouse having to sell the car to their other spouse, for any reason. I know this isn't a question you're asking, but it feels like your husband is a bit more than 'very precious' about his cars. That's downright weird.
posted by anastasiav at 9:30 PM on July 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I'm calling high probability of BS on those repairs as quoted. It's not like cars melt like sugar when exposed to a foot of water...so why did those mechanical parts (calipers, rotors) suddenly go bad?

I'd take it to at least two more independent mechanics (note: NOT Midas or any chain sort of place. Those repairs/quote sound like something fishy a Midas would throw at you.)

I'd stick with the car for now. It has the benefit of being the Devil That You Know vs. buying a new-to-you used car. If your husband is that selfish, ahem, precious, with his cars, then I'm assuming he's babied that Elantra, and stayed on top of all routine maintenance?
posted by nacho fries at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any competent general auto mechanic ought to be able to handle this.

Yep. I'm not the most mechanic person, but I can follow directions, and I've essentially done this work on my own in a morning day weekend. If shopping around still gets you high prices, you might have a friend who'd be knowledgeable enough to assist.



Also, it's probably worth doing the timing belt now. The Elantra has an interference engine, which means the belt could very likely do some engine damage when it goes.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: but any more repairs and she won't be worth keeping

Just to address this line of thinking:

What is the Elantra's condition, other than brakes and eventual timing belt? How many miles on that thing?

How's the gas mileage, insurance cost, and registration cost? Those are factors to consider when evaluating the true cost of ownership.

Even if you have to pony up for some brake work and the timing belt, the total/true cost of ownership of the Elantra may still be better than what you could do with a budget-priced replacement car.

How much would you and your husband be willing to fork over for a replacement car?

Unless you stumble across a friend or family member looking to unload a really solid used car at a friends-and-family price, I'm not sure you'd be able to get yourself something reliable for the amount of whatever you'd be able to sell the Elantra for (pre- or post-repair).
posted by nacho fries at 10:03 PM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sounds to me like you have a mechanic who is trying to take advantage of (aka ripoff) his/her customers using the flood as an excuse to gouge customers. Water at mid tire height should be no big deal. Heck, you should be able to drive any car through that height of water as long as you take it slowly.

My vote is that you're being scammed. I agree with much of the advice above. Try another mechanic and see what they say. You don't mention the mileage, but if it's not too high, I'd get the timing belt done as well. Interference engines combined with a lowly belt vs. a timing chain are a sadistic combo.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


From a relationship point of view if he's not going to share, you should definitely hang on to this car as long as you can just so you have your own transportation you can rely on and to avoid marriage problems down the line (it seems like you don't think it's a problem now, but the first time he refuses to help you visit your parents, I think it will be.)
posted by bleep at 12:23 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: What InsertNiftyNameHere said x1000. First of all, it's not like that is some sealed "water will never, and is not supposed to get in here" area of a car. the entire braking system gets hosed when you're driving your car in any wet conditions. If being completely freaking soaked broke this stuff, then everyone would be riding horses in Seattle.(And yes i'm very much aware that being submerged will result in more penetration of water than just being sprayed to the point of being dripping wet, but i still think it's a fairly valid point)

Second, i've owned two cars that sat for extended periods of time encased in overgrowth/moss/bushes/etc in super wet pacific northwest conditions and the brakes were great afterwards. And that's with wet things up against these mechanisms 24/7 for months or years.

The mechanic is trying to shaft you here. There may very well be an issue with the braking system, but i'm having an amazingly hard time believing that A: It's a $1500 issue and B: that it's really all that related to a minor flood.

My dad used to drive his front disk brake equipped truck rather quickly down boat launches and crash it into the water to scare me/because i'd laugh/just generally for laughs when i was a kid. The brakes were probably submerged 30 times on that truck. Nothing happened outside of the normal brake service you'd need. I've also just generally owned/operated/been around vehicles that have been generally neglected and mistreated in a wide variety of ways.

This doesn't pass the smell test.

Also ignoring the fact that 2003 is a very new car as far as i'm concerned. You'd have a properly hard time finding anything that wasn't crap for what you'd sell this car for(or worse, get as a trade in or something). The true cost of getting your spongy brakes sorted, which really sounds like a "oh, a cylinder went shitty at a wheel" kinda situation to me, will be a lot less than $1500. I'd bet even if you include the timing belt work you'll need soon you'll still be under that figure.

I would absolutely keep this car until it started having powertrain issues. Everything described here, at it's proper cost is pretty much standard "cost of ownership" stuff. And i mean, what condition are the tires in? Do you live in an inspection state? Is the exhaust and emissions system in good shape?

The way i'd be looking at this is how after this repair, and the timing belt in lets say 3-4 months do you figure you'll need more work? Because if this sets you for a while it's especially non harsh. And even if it does, it's still just not a great reason to junk a known quantity car for an unknown quantity one just to escape these issues.
posted by emptythought at 3:00 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I had a Camaro, brand new, and I drove it into a puddle that flooded the whoe engine and interior. The entire electrical system shorted out, I was stuck in the car until I got pushed out. THAT'S a flood.

All I had to do was dry the car out and it was fine. Even the electrical came back once it was dry.

Get another estimate on the breaks. At most I can see new shoes.

But yes, take the car to the dealer, pay for a diagnostic on the whole thing, about $200. This should tell you what may need replacing soo.

I do recommend timing belt and water pump. That's a thing you want to get out in front of.

I too think its really weird that you and your husband don't own both vehicles jointly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:59 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: anastasiav, that was a poor attempt at humour :-) When we switched registration, he drew up a bill of sale with a price of $1, just in case there was a problem getting the registration transferred to me. Nothing weird going on. My BILs destroyed just about everything my husband had growing up, so his philosophy tends to be that anytime you have something nice, someone else wants to wreck it. I wasn't always in the position where I couldn't afford to finance my own car - I was laid off and decided to finish my BFA. Some day I won't be in this position and I can get the Smart car I want :-)

I forgot to mention that I only had collision insurance on the car because it is fairly old and not worth so much. So I wasn't thinking that insurance would cover it, but I'll call and check.

I had the mister take the car down to the shop so I wouldn't get the "woman's price" and that's what they came up with. It did seem excessive to me too, but not to my husband, and he used to work at car dealerships. But yeah, it would be definitely good to get a second quote. My husband had always taken it into the dealer and he wasn't always sure he was getting the best from the dealer either. He had the rear brake pads replaced last year and was surprised when the shop told him they were down to 30%, but maybe this is dodgy :\ He thought perhaps they didn't replace the rear brake pads (it wouldn't be the first time the dealer charged for service they didn't do!)

He had taken it to the dealer back in the spring to get the diagnostic run on it, which is how we knew it would need a new timing belt.

I'm not sure what the mileage is, but that's a good question. I believe it's about 123K.

I had a Camaro, brand new, and I drove it into a puddle that flooded the whoe engine and interior. The entire electrical system shorted out, I was stuck in the car until I got pushed out. THAT'S a flood.

Oh no! That happened to the Elantra early on - we had no choice but to drive through a giant puddle and she hydrolocked.

nacho fries...that was what I was feeling. My old beater was a $500 car and it was a miracle that it was in such good shape. The electrical on it went futzy and someone cracked the windshield, so it seemed like a good time to retire it back in the spring.

The way i'd be looking at this is how after this repair, and the timing belt in lets say 3-4 months do you figure you'll need more work? Because if this sets you for a while it's especially non harsh. And even if it does, it's still just not a great reason to junk a known quantity car for an unknown quantity one just to escape these issues.

This is what we were trying to figure out last night - what would go on it next! Our friends think it's foolish to keep the car when the repairs will cost more than it is worth and we should get out while it's still worth something. I'm tend to agree with you more. But then our friends have never kept a car for more than three years either :-) My Dad had his van for 26 years. But Hyundais are so cheaply made...it was $23K Cdn. new.

I have to run, so I'll check back later! Thanks for all the things to think about.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:27 AM on July 28, 2013


Response by poster: Oh, the rotor has to be replaced. The dealer machined it once and said that it couldn't be machined again. The shop said it had rusted out.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:33 AM on July 28, 2013


You're being scammed on the price for that brake job. Take it to Midas, not the dealer. Midas will inspect the entire system for free. I can guarantee that the cost of any needed repairs will be far below that criminal quote you got from the dealer. There's a reason people call them "stealerships".

Rotors need to be replaced over time. It's normal wear. Usually, you can machine them once (maybe twice) before replacing. They are made with easy replacement in-mind.

I'd get it fixed and keep driving it. 123k miles is nothing. The days of cars being worn-out by 100k is long, long gone.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 AM on July 28, 2013


Best answer: $1500 a year in repairs is $125 a month. Can you buy a better car for $125 a month? It's highly unlikely...

Also, find a new mechanic. $1500 for a brake job on that car is outright theft. A lot of people could do that job in their driveway in an hour or two.
posted by COD at 5:52 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just a data point - I had a 2002 elantra and IIRC a rear brake job with new drums, shoes, hardware set and one brake line was less than US$500 at Firestone. If yours has rear disc brakes and not drums, that should be even cheaper.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:22 AM on July 28, 2013


Best answer: Second opinion. Go from there.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:02 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have you done the sums on car ownership? Maintenance, fuel, insurance, registration, depreciation etc etc.

If you're only driving a few times a week, it might work out cheaper to sell the car and catch cabs for the times public transport is inconvenient. You might be surprised how many taxi rides you can get for the cost of having a car. (The premium you put on the convenience of having a car there, ready to go, is something you'll need to work out though).
posted by pianissimo at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brakes and timing belts are something that all cars need to have replaced eventually (3-5 years depending on your driving habits), so unless you are going to turn into one of your friends who gets a new car every 3 years, this shouldn't be the end of the line for this car. Definitely find someone else to fix the brakes though. I just looked on Rockauto, (its nice because you can see a wide range of parts for almost every car), looks like you could get all four rotors for $125-250 and a rear caliper for $60-125 (not oem on the rotors and reman on the caliper). Here's a video of a profession mechanic replacing the rotors and pads on a 2005 elantra, it's a 16 minute video. I highly recommend watching the video, even though you won't do the job yourself, you'll know exactly what they'll do.
posted by 445supermag at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that your Dad could go with you or take it to a shop and get an estimate, instead of your husband? Someone who has a 26 year old van sounds like he knows a lot more about cars. he either fixes it himself or he knows a guy. Your husband always goes to the dealer.
posted by CathyG at 8:12 AM on July 28, 2013


Response by poster: The taxi option had occurred to me, but it's probitive. It's $80 to the art college and back, and $50 round trip to my folks :/I have abus pass, but wwe're in a bit of a transit deadzone. My Dad would have another stroke if he found out I was cabbing it ;-)

I did have an estimate from Dad's mechanic for $400 for the new timing belt. The Dad doesn't know much about cars. I'm mobile right now, so I'll check in again.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:46 AM on July 28, 2013


I have to politely disagree with the suggestion to take the car to Midas. They have a known history of ripoffs, at least in my area; and those chain places are often where mechanics go to learn their chops before moving on to more reputable shops. You really do want to go with an independent shop for this round of work.

And please, no more going to the dealer with that Elantra. Dealer repairs aren't the cost-savvy way to go with a car that is out of warranty.

(My dad had a car dealership, and parts/repairs were where he made his profits, not sales.)
posted by nacho fries at 10:01 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wasn't going to pipe in with this, but...

"perhaps suggest an option we're not thinking of."

Your husband learns to share his car! If you hardly drive and do not need to drive to work, you do not need two cars! As you are learning cars are expensive even if they are paid off--you have to maintain them--and paying that extra money because the husband has some car fetish is financial folly.
posted by massysett at 2:50 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you read carefully, its not the dealer who's quoting the $1500 price. They recommended the timing belt (accurately, it sounds like, with 123k), and worked on the brakes previously. It's another shop saying $1500.

The only way I can see brake repairs reaching that level of expense is because you're replacing the master cylinder/ABS controller ... which is usually mounted high in the engine compartment, and wouldn't have gotten directly soaked. Now if water got into the hydraulic system and reached the master cylinder/ABS controller, and it needed to be replaced, I could see the bill getting that high. Although maybe someone could find one used.

Some day I won't be in this position and I can get the Smart car I want :-)

I realize this is not what you were asking about, but ... I would urge you to rethink that.
posted by pmurray63 at 3:08 PM on July 28, 2013


My husband had always taken it into the dealer and he wasn't always sure he was getting the best from the dealer either

My comment re: dealership was based on the OP's husband's usual practice of taking the car to the dealer.
posted by nacho fries at 4:20 PM on July 28, 2013


Response by poster: I was so pooped from volunteering at the folk festival that I wrote all this up and didn't hit reply!

I have to politely disagree with the suggestion to take the car to Midas.

The closest one to us has some mixed reviews :\

Pmurray, we were looking at the old service records and apparently each rotor was $250 to replace at the dealer. We did get a second quote yesterday that came in considerably less, just like everyone said!

Haha masseysett, yes, we had considered that. It isn't going to change overnight though :-).

$1500 a year in repairs is $125 a month. Can you buy a better car for $125 a month? It's highly unlikely...

COD, this totally puts things in perspective for me. I hadn't thought of it like that before, and I appreciate your idea. I doubt few dealerships would take me seriously either :-) And if I got a new car, it would have to live outside anyway. I will probably write more again.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:38 PM on July 30, 2013


Response by poster: Well, the car is fixed and now that a week has passed, I think we'll keep her :-) Thanks so much for your advice peeps!
posted by Calzephyr at 1:22 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Oh, one last thing -

Yeah, I'm calling high probability of BS on those repairs as quoted. It's not like cars melt like sugar when exposed to a foot of water...so why did those mechanical parts (calipers, rotors) suddenly go bad?

The rotors were visibly rusted out. I'm not sure why it all went at once, but it took me by surprise to see how rusty they were...it's possible that I didn't notice it before either until the sponginess. Oh, and yes, hubs babied the car. He never skips on maintenance for anything.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:24 PM on August 2, 2013


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