Should I buy a new car?
November 6, 2006 8:04 PM   Subscribe

My car just died. What should I do? Bear in mind, I only need it for a couple days out of each month.

Ok I live in NYC most of the time, with no need for my car. I go upstate every second or third weekend to visit my family. My car stays up there with them and I only use it while I’m there. So basically I’m using my car 4-5 days out of every month, at the most. Since I use my car so infrequently, I was really counting on it lasting me for a while.

Unfortunately this past weekend it died completely and the mechanic is saying it wouldn’t be worth it to fix. Now I don’t know what to do. I can't see spending lots of money on a new(ish) car that I’m only gonna need once or twice a month. But at the same time, when I’m there, I DO need it for shopping and visiting friends and doing errands etc. Should I rent a car for those weekends? Should I just buy another beater for 2000-4000 bucks? Should I invest and try to get something nicer, knowing I’ll barely use it? I’m just getting my finances back in order after moving to nyc two years ago, so I REALLY don’t have too much money to play around with here.
posted by silverstatue to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about Flexcar or Zipcar? You can get those by the hour in many cities.
posted by procrastination at 8:11 PM on November 6, 2006

Rent. You'll be saving money on car insurance. Cars don't hold value well, even though you don't put on much mileage, so it's a lot of expense to own. You can always try renting for a couple months to see how it works out
posted by theora55 at 8:11 PM on November 6, 2006

$4000 rents you a cheap car for at least 100 days, right? A used $4000 car will probably run you $1000 in repairs per year (if you include your time). Also the car will break when you are the most strapped if you ask Uncle Murphy.

Thats the arithmetic you should factor in. If you lived in here in Texas, you'd have no choice but to get the car, but in NYC I say just go with the rental until you can get into a nice $10,000 used Honda in a few years.
posted by ernie at 8:12 PM on November 6, 2006

Buy a beater for less if you can swing it. Something mid-80's and japanese should do you.

I wouldn't try to do without or go with something like a motorscooter in upstate NY.
posted by SpecialK at 8:13 PM on November 6, 2006

Ok, some posters need to stop doing the "ME FIRST" here and READ THE POST:

The Car Needs To Be In Upstate New York. Where They Do Not Have FlexCar. The Poster is in NYC. The Car Is NOT.

This has been another episode of Captain Frigging Obvious, ASSHAT! Theatre. Thank you for reading!
posted by SpecialK at 8:16 PM on November 6, 2006

You know, in that price range are a number of cars that are hard to kill. If it were me, I would throw out considerations of fuel economy and "luxuries" like air condition or complex climate control and stick to basic durability.

Assuming your parents don't have one and have a use for one, maybe an older truck for hauling goods which you can split the cost on, and you get to use it when you're in town? My father-in-law, my father, and my best friend all Drive c. 2000 Ford Rangers, which seem to be doing well for all three.
posted by maxwelton at 8:21 PM on November 6, 2006

I could have sworn he wanted the car to drive from NYC to upstate NY, then back home after the visit. Does Flexcar allow this type of use? If so, then it actually does seem viable - though I'd bet the pricing is not great for multi-day use since it's designed for short errands and trips. A rental car would work well here, with Flexcar for the odd in-city use.
posted by kcm at 8:28 PM on November 6, 2006

If the cost of repair is more than two grand, I'd second the recommendation of getting a late-model Japanese car. Early 90's Toyota Corrola or Honda Civic will do the trick.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:31 PM on November 6, 2006

Zipcar is also available in Rochester, NY which qualifies as upstate for some people.
posted by saffry at 8:32 PM on November 6, 2006

The Car Needs To Be In Upstate New York. Where They Do Not Have FlexCar.

They have ZipCar in Rochester, if that's any use.
posted by winston at 8:32 PM on November 6, 2006

Response by poster: hey OP here. The car would only be in use upstate (New Paltz/Kingston/Albany area which i know, i know, its not really "upstate"). Very rarely I'd use it on longer trips to MA or CT. It would never come to nyc.

The motor is completely dead, so a new motor costs... more than the car is worth, basicaly. It's a 95 Saturn with 140k. But it's a stick shift and i swear, up to a few days ago, it was running like blazes. i dont know what happened but i'm so sad.

ok, resume with the advice! thanks everyone so far.
posted by silverstatue at 8:46 PM on November 6, 2006

The motor is completely dead,

Probably not on-topic, but there are degrees of completely dead and another (used, warranted) motor might not be nearly as much as you think.
posted by IronLizard at 8:52 PM on November 6, 2006

Oh, and I'm not sure how there rates there go, but removing and installing it shouldn't run more than 300-500. (You may also want a second opinion about the car).
posted by IronLizard at 8:54 PM on November 6, 2006

how there rates there

Err, "how high rates there"
posted by IronLizard at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2006

yeah but 95 Saturn? Not worth it, the tranny would go next If it where a 95 Honda I'd say drop the $2500 or so for a new mill. You'd be set for at least another 100k miles.
posted by ernie at 8:59 PM on November 6, 2006

I would go for a used car that has far fewer miles than the Saturn. My son is currently looking at a 99 Cutlass with less than 80k miles for $2000. I've driven the car and it's well worth it. I'm guessing you could find something like that. Or.... what he said.
posted by Doohickie at 9:10 PM on November 6, 2006

Rent. 3k is something like 67 weekends' worth of use, or three years' worth. Trying to own a car for $1k per year all inclusive doesn't add up. At a guess, the registration alone will pay for a couple weekends' use.

Renting takes the pressure off you, and when there's no pressure you're bound to find car deals that somehow never turn up when you are actually looking to buy one. Haste is your enemy.
posted by jet_silver at 9:41 PM on November 6, 2006

My vote for an inexpensive car is always Japanese. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have several vendors for imported, used, engines / transmissions from Japan . Here is a local example.

Few years back you could get a complete motor for less than $500 for a fairly new car--which would run forever. Add another $450 or so for installation, and your back in business for less than a grand.

Legend has it, car registration gets extremely expensive after only a few years in Japan. Cars are junked with very few miles on them (it's a small island). The low mileage engines and transmissions get shipped to the states.

If I were in the market for a low cost car I would call one of these vendors to check the cost of a replacement engine and transmission. Not all cars here are in Japan so its worth a call.
posted by vaportrail at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2006

I'm in a similar situation, and I rent. With the liability insurance, it's $60 + gas / weekend day. I imagine it's more expensive in NY, though.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:03 AM on November 7, 2006

I would give renting a try. Look around for the best bet, and work on building a relationship as a repeat customer. You won't lose much by experimenting -- you can still opt to buy a car instead. If you rush out and buy a car, you cannot then try out how well renting works for you.

And if your finances are fragile, renting is a predictable budget entry, which could even be skipped on visits where you were really hard up, or really tied up in family events. Car-owning is a steady drain, with occasional random high-cost events.
posted by Idcoytco at 5:44 AM on November 7, 2006

Rent, maybe from Rent-a-Wreck in Clifton Park. The stuff you pay for full-time, like insurance and registration, makes owning a car a big waste of money in your situation. If you buy an old car and it breaks, you get to pay for repairs. If you rent and it breaks, it's someone else's headache.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:11 AM on November 7, 2006

using dirigibleman's $60/day * 4 days/month * 12 months/year = $2880/year. That's a lot of cash, but... given annual costs of insurance ($600?) and maintenance ($1000 for a beater?), renting is about $1300 more per year (substitute your own values as necessary). If a new beater costs you $2600, then having it more than two years pays off. Renting saves you the hassle of upkeep, though, and hoping that such a car lasts and doesn't die on you. You can also reduce renting costs by only renting when you need it, i.e. renting for two days of each four day trip brings the cost down to $1440/year, less than maintenance + insurance.
posted by The Michael The at 8:18 AM on November 7, 2006

I say go with a rental. At least it'll keep you from taking a big up-front hit. And that way you can revisit the purchase/rent option in the spring, at which point you'll be looking at used cars that survived the winter.

New Paltz/Kingston/Albany area which i know, i know, its not really "upstate"

I spent some formative years in Highland, which to my dad (a Bronx native) was "upstate." My mom grew up in Kingston, which to me was upstate, but not to Mom -- her "upstate" was north of Albany. I came to the conclusion that upstate NY is always north of where you live; to the Gramercy Park resident it starts around Van Cortland Park, but if you ask a Plattsburgher, well, "We aren't really upstate, but my brother-in-law in Chazy, now he's upstate." I'm sure the folks who work the Champlain border crossing believe "upstate" starts somwhere between Saint-Michel and Chateauguay.

posted by Opposite George at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2006

First choice: rent. Renting is cheap and effective for your needs. However, it's nice to have a car without the hassle of renting, if said car can just sit there quietly rusting without making you uncomfortable. You have a mid-80s saturn sitckshift and the motor died while sitting there? Get a second opinion. 2nd generation saturns are known for throwing rods all over the place at speed, but a 1st gen should last a long time if you change the oil regularly, and you can't throw a rod if it isn't running at the time.

Of course, if you were driving it when it died, it's entirely possible you threw a rod or whatnot. Just get a second opinion before you call it quits.
posted by davejay at 10:15 AM on November 7, 2006

Response by poster: OP here again.

Davejay, my sister was driving my car when it stopped working. The motor started sputtering and then she kept pressing the gas but there was no power or pickup, and it gradually just came to a stop. Luckily she was literally 500 feet from the mechanic so she was able to coast into his parking lot. But according to him, the motor is completely shot. He seems to think it would take 3k to replace the motor, between removal and installation, and rebuilding a motor.

I would love to get a second opinion but that would involve towing the car to somewhere else. which i guess i could do, if i needed to.

People suggesting rentals.... I guess that's probably the route I'll go for the immediate future, while keeping my eyes open for a great find.
posted by silverstatue at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2006

Have you asked the mechanic who wrote the death certificate for advice? In my experience it's a rare greasemonkey who doesn't know someone with something to sell, assuming they don't have a few to sell themselves. If they're someone you trust to work on your car they should be trustworthy to hook you up with something for your needs.
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on November 7, 2006

Here's another option: call some junkyards near the dead Saturn. I bet one of them will put a working, used engine in for well under a grand. (I know nothing about Saturns. Are their engines unique, or do other GM cars use them, as I suspect?)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:20 AM on November 7, 2006

The motor started sputtering and then she kept pressing the gas but there was no power or pickup, and it gradually just came to a stop.

Nothing else? No banging clunking or other loud noises? Either your car was acting up seriously this or she hasn't told you the whole story. A good running motor doesn't usually just 'die' irreparably without some major warning signs beforehand. (By this I mean the kind of mechanical damage that would entail a complete bottom end rebuild. Everything else is much cheaper than 3k and can be done with the engine in place.) (Timing belt would certainly do it, but then that's not a rebuild, now is it?)Was the idle very bouncy the last time you drove it? Smoking? Backfiring? Anything obviously wrong? Did you check your oil regularly?

I would ask the mechanic what the exact problem is, because such a vague answer is unacceptable. Sounds like he just doesn't want to mess with it and hasn't even done a thorough workup. Is this someone you trust, or just the nearest shop to the breakdown point? Another common failure point on GM's is their crank position sensor, which can mimic a ridiculous number of symptoms (car won't start, runs for 3 seconds and dies, ect..).

I would seriously consider finding out what *exactly* happened, even if only for future reference.
posted by IronLizard at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2006

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