Like many average Americans, I did not have the luxury of owning a new car. My first car was a 1989 Ford Tempo that I purchased for $500 from my pastor’s friend. After four years, I donated the car to charity. By that time, the Ford Tempo’s gas gauge and odometer had broken, the air was not working, there was one bumper being held with a wire and tape, the high beams no longer worked, and the engine stalled every other time I drove.
I wish I could say that my next car was a brand new hybrid car with all of the latest bells and whistles. With the economy going bust, I had to buy a 1995 Toyota Corolla, which survived fine in the crazy Miami heat and traffic but has now decided to cost us thousands since we moved to quiet Kentucky.
Here are a few tips on making your car last a little longer and when to decide to throw in the towel (and the car).
The car does not have air conditioning or heat.
While incredibly uncomfortable, you can usually survive through the tough months without having heat or air conditioning. For years I drove during the humid hot summers of South Florida without so much as a wisp of cold air from my A/C. If I did turn it on, the car would stall. How did I cope? Lots of water bottles to keep me hydrated, light clothing, and driving with the windows down, even during South Florida thunderstorms. In the winter, I suggest bundling up as much as possible.
The car does not have lights.
Obviously because of safety and legal issues, you should not drive a car that does not have lights. If the high beams no longer work, you might be able to get away with driving on sunny days only. Never drive at night, during a storm, fog, or any inclement weather. If fixing the lights costs more than the car is worth, it is probably time to sell the car.
The car stalls.
My old Ford Tempo could not idle. If the car idled, the car would die on me. Even a trip to the mechanics did not fix the problem. The way I handled this was using a trick an old friend gave me. While I waited for the light to change, I would put the car in park and lightly press the gas, especially when the engine was knocking or about to die. Usually this would work. Sometimes the car would die anyway.
Obviously, if you are dependent on your car, have a family, do not have access to reliable alternate transportation, or live far away from civilization, you will probably need to replace your car before it leaves you stranded. At the least, invest in AAA plus. They include several tows up to 100 miles at a reasonable price.
Your car is not reliable for long trips.
Because few of my trips are longer than two hours away, I find I can actually save money and wear on my car by renting a car for long road trips. Not only do I save myself the hassle of trying to prep my car for a long journey, I know that the rental car will not leave me stranded anywhere.
I suggest renting a car even if your own car is only a few years old. Naturally, it is pretty expensive to rent a car, but the amount of savings on your own vehicle usually is worth it. Be sure to ask for any type of discounts through your job, AAA, or other memberships.
Your car has cosmetic damage.
Whether it is peeling paint, stains on the carpet, or an unsightly dent, cosmetic damage to your car does not have to cost you money. Unless the damage affects the safety of the car (example, the driver side door cannot be opened or there is a serious crack in the windshield), you can probably get away with not repairing the damage until absolutely necessary. Sure, your coworkers might make fun of your bent fender, but at least you know that you do not have to worry about spending an unnecessary $1000.