Smokin' Van: Options for that expensive car repair
|Kyle Busch is the author of Drive the Best for the Price: How to Buy a Used
Automobile, Sport-Utility Vehicle, or Minivan and Save Money. The book can be
ordered from Barnes and Noble or Borders, or by visiting
www.drivethebestbook.com. The web site accepts all transportation questions.
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.
Given today's soft economy, what a
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 a lot of money into a vehicle
with a limited value.
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
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 dealerships or private
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 installation would cost
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 borrow 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.