posted by Joe Anaya on April 29th, 2013

My trusty Subaru Outback has given way to a new car. It’s always tough making a transition from your old car. And my struggle to decide was no different. Typically, I like to drive my cars into the ground. Like old girlfriends, I’m loyal to a fault, forgiving of all manner of flaws, and unwilling to let go until they’ve left me. Making the decision to move on is easier when the latest repair is more than double the value of the car. I’m also a fan of helping the environment by keeping demand for new cars down. Obviously, not such a fan that I’d give up my car. (I do live in Los Angeles where driving 45 miles to work is not uncommon.)

So, my car was 12 years old and had 200,000 miles on it. It certainly had a long healthy life and had done its part to slow the growth of land fills. But the “check engine” light came on and it was not going to pass the state mandated smog test which meant I couldn’t renew my registration. I can’t sell the car without passing the smog test so that’s out. Now comes the math portion of the blog. I could:

  • Spend $1,700 for repairs that would allow me to pass the smog test. However, this does not include any other repairs required including the grinding noise in my rear axle or the worn out shock absorbers.
  • Spend $40 to fail a smog test. Then do $850 in repairs. Which will allow me to get a temporary waiver to get a registration next year.
  • Donate the car for a tax deduction.
  • And finally, I can retire my car to the state for $1,000 if it meets certain criteria, namely is it old enough and runs so badly that the state will pay you to get that piece of junk off the road.

Donating seemed like an option except our accountant said the IRS is cracking down on cheating. Apparently, people were donating non-functioning rust buckets and claiming the top blue book value. So, now the charity is required to sell the car and send a receipt indicating the amount sold as your donation. The likely sale price of a 12 year-old car with 200k miles and $2,500 worth of repairs is needless to say very low.

To complicate matters, we were looking to buy a small investment property. So, if we bought a new car and paid cash, it would lower how much we could put down and if we financed, it would affect how big a loan we could get. In general, I’m opposed to getting a loan and paying interest on something that’s depreciating value, but car rates are so low these days, it’s like free money.

Oh, did I mention that my kid is only a couple of years from driving. So, there was some thought of keeping the older car and giving it to my kid to drive and when he gets in his first wreck (which all boys do), we won’t be too upset.

So, I could pay $890 to get an extension, or $1,700 to pass smog, or $2,500 fix my car or g$20,000 to get a new car. Pay cash or finance. Donate or surrender. Lots to variables. Lots of unknowns. When I write it all out, it’s no wonder we had a hard time deciding to let go.

File Under Mr. Cool