Seven years ago, my wife and I stumbled upon one of the best deals on a car we've ever seen.
It was a 2010 Honda Fit. It was a year old with just over 5,000 miles on it. The original owner got in a minor fender and decided that they would rather scrap it than fix it. The guy we bought it from had purchased it at a scrap auction for a song, replaced the front panel, and flipped it back on Craigslist. He only wanted $11,000 for it, which was more than $6,000 under the Kelly Blue Book value.
We jumped on the deal. We called our bank about a car loan, and by the weekend, we were in a new car.
Before that, we had been driving a 1994 Honda Accord. Its odometer had long past 200,000 miles, but it pressed on faithfully. We had come to love and trust Honda deeply. We said when we bought the Fit that our future children would learn to drive in this car.
Within the first year, we drove to the West Coast and back, took multiple seven-hour day trips, and just drove around. We used it to haul bricks. We put that car to its limits, and it proved that it was more than capable of performing. It handled hundreds of miles through the mountains of Montana with the cruise control set at 95 miles per hour, and still gave us an average mileage of 30 miles a gallon. It carried a thousand pounds of bricks without bottoming out or damaging the suspension.
It handled like a sports car, hauled like a truck, and endured like a tank.
But seven years later, we're realizing that there is one thing that it is not as equipped to handle: the slow, unyielding passage of time.
The old joke about Hondas is that the engines keep running as the body of the car rusts around them. The engines themselves are built to run for half a million miles. And while we have yet to have any problems with the engine or transmission at all, we're coming into that age where wear and tear is having its way with our beloved daily driver.
The paint job has been pocked by gravel, dirt, and road salt. Seven year's worth of dings and scratches have worked their way across the once pristine body work. The interior has long since lost that new car smell, lost long ago to the endless parade of fast food meals, sun damage, and rides to the dog park. A small crack has spread across the windshield. Last month, we took it in for a routine air conditioner recharge, only to discover that the compressor has gone out.
None of this is unusual, of course. Every car will face the same issues if it stays on the road long enough, and most auto and body shops fill their schedules fixing these issues.
But somewhere long the line, our brand new car stopped being a brand new car. For years, we haven't had any problems at all. We never went to the shop except for regular oil changes.
And now that we actually have issues with our car, we're realizing what a pain in the neck car maintenance can be.
First of all, it's expensive.
In the last seven years, our car has been incredibly cheap to operate. We spent $20 a week on gas and $15 every three months for an oil change. We haven't had to make any room in our budget for larger maintenance needs.
But now, it's a different story. Repairing the air conditioner alone would cost around $1,500. And like most Americans, we don't exactly have that kind of money laying around. We've taken to driving with our windows down instead, which gets a bit obnoxious driving down the freeway.
And at the end of the day, we can live without air conditioning. We survived a four-hour road trip with the windows down—it wasn't fun, but we survived. But our finances can't really survive an extra $1,500 right now.
It's the same thing with our body work. The imperfections in our paint job are annoying, but they don't affect the functionality of the car, so we just deal with it.
Second, auto work is inconvenient.
We typically need our cars to get around. Almost every day, my wife and I are running across town running errands. And this might go without saying, but you can't really use your car while it's being worked on.
Taking our car into the shop would require us to rearrange our schedule so that we won't need a car. And considering that you can never be quite sure how long it will take to repair a windshield or replace an air conditioner compressor, planning around the lack of a car is never a sure thing.
You might say that we could just watch a YouTube video and do it ourselves, but...
You can't DIY everything.
The first thing I did when I got the quote from the mechanic was search for instructions of how to replace the compressor myself. Very quickly, my hopes were dashed against the rocks.
Besides the parts along costing upwards of $700, the compressor is buried deep in the hood. I would need to remove almost everything in the car just to get the compressor out. Then, I would need to flush the existing freon, which poses an immense threat to one's health and the environment.
At this point, we don't really have any other options besides toughing it out while we set aside a car repair fund. We likely won't be able to fix anything for a while, but a day will come when our car is in pristine shape again.
Or at least it won't have a cracked windshield.