Have you ever been in the tough position of owning
a vehicle that is not worth too much money but that
needs an expensive repair? Maybe you have recently
even dumped some pretty good change into the
vehicle for items like new tires, a battery, a muffler, etc.
And now it needs a major repair!
You realize that you cannot sell the vehicle for much
without getting it repaired, and you know that you can't
afford to trade it in on another vehicle.
It seems it is never a good time to face an
expensive vehicle repair. What can you do? What
are some possible options?
A driver recently wrote to ask my advice. The woman
owned a 1998 minivan with 125,000 on the odometer.
She explained that the engine was loosing oil, smoking
at idle, and making a knocking sound. Additionally, It was
the only transportation for her and three kids.
She went on to ask about having it fixed or buying another
vehicle. If my answer was to have it fixed, she inquired if
I knew of an honest mechanic in her community. It turned
out that she still owed about $1,000 on the vehicle, and
she could not really afford to buy other transportation.
I knew that the smoking engine would require new
oil rings and that the knocking could indicate the need
for a total engine rebuild costing anywhere between
$1,500 and $2,500. Since it had over 125,000 miles
on the clock, repairing it at a private garage would
mean dumping allot of money into a vehicle with a
Since I was not familiar with her community, I could
not suggest a mechanic. I did suggest, however, that
she use the telephone book to contact vocational
technical schools located up to about 20 miles from
her home. I suggested that she inquire if the schools
had automobile (mechanical) repair classes and, if so,
for her to get the instructors' names and jot them down.
If possible, she would then make an appointment
and take the minivan to an instructor for his unbiased
evaluation. She would then see if the instructor and
the class could repair the engine (the instructor
should do the repairs or supervise the students
who do the repairs to see that the nuts and bolts
are tightened to the recommended torque
specifications, etc.). If one instructor could not help
her, she would need to go on to the next.
The cost of parts needed for the repair would be about
$150-$250 (the labor costs would be eliminated). The
parts would cost her less money since they would not
be marked up as can be the practice at dealership or
If the engine could not be rebuilt, the instructor could
likely identify a used engine from a salvage yard, and
the class could possibly install it in the minivan. The
used engine would cost about $250-$300. And even
if the class were unable to work on the vehicle, the
instructor could likely contact reputable salvage yards,
some of which would also install the engine. If needed,
the instructor could contact a private mechanic (with
whom he is familiar) to have the engine installed. The
used engine would likely cost $250-$300 and the
instillation would cost about $200-$250.
Thus, rather than having to pay off a $1,500-$2,000
repair bill, the driver would have the vehicle repaired
for about $150-$550. Regardless of the chosen repair
option, the instructor's informed and unbiased advice
is the key to ensuring the driver's best interests.
The owner will have to spend some time doing
telephone work and meeting with the technical
school instructor (it is best to make contacts well
before the end of the school year). Also, the driver
will need to make arrangements to car pool or barrow
a relative's car to drive when the vehicle is being
repaired. However, such work can pay the owner a
pretty good hourly rate in savings when faced with
that expensive car repair.
Kyle Busch - Author of Drive the Best for the Price: How
to Buy a Used Automobile, Sport-Utility Vehicle, or Minivan and Save Money.