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Add Some Advice For The 1 Out Of 3 People Who Could Not Afford A $500 To $600 Car Repair Without Going Into Debt

A few days ago, USA Today ran a story about the results of a AAA study that shocked some folks at AAA!

Some motorists neglect maintenance and then when the car breaks down they can’t afford repairs.

AAA offers some budgeting, maintenance, and repair advice in the article.

What do you think is the main cause of this shocking car repair epidemic?

What advice would you add that can make motoring fit in every budget?

Motoring can’t fit in every budget, there are many people who don’t make enough to be able to afford a car but because of poor public transportation in our cities and almost non-existent public transportation in our suburbs and countryside, those people are buying cars anyway.
This is why young people are moving back into our cities, real wages, adjusted for inflation have been declining for years and monthly bus passes are a bargain. They can rent a car for trips and never have to deal with car insurance at all.


A 2016 survey by “gobankingrates” has shown that 69% of Americans have less than $1000 in their savings account. Here are some other numbers from that survey:

$0 savings = 34%
less than $1000 = 35%
$1000-$4,999 = 11%
$5000-$9,999 = 4%
$10,00 or more = 15%

With those numbers is does not surprise me at all that some people scramble when it comes to paying for car repairs. Even if they had a budget put aside for repairs, it probably will go quickly to other expenses.

I would suggest that if one qualified for a credit card to not use it other than for emergencies. Leave the darn thing at home so that one is not tempted to use it for non-emergency charges.


It’s a combination of multiple factors.

First, the economy still sucks. Sure, unemployment is “down,” but that’s fudged a bit, both because unemployment statistics do not count the people who need a job but have given up looking because they can’t find one, and also because it does not discuss the guy who used to be a mid-level corporate manager making high-middle-class wages who lost his job and now works at Lowes to make ends meet. Even those of us who were lucky enough to retain steady employment post-2008 have seen many years of low to no salary increases.

To add to that, many people lost their houses in the crash, and now rent, which means the rental market is squeezed, and so apartments that used to go for an affordable $600 a month now pull in well over $1,000 a month. In my town, a dumpy apartment in a bad part of town can be $850 and up.

So, the cost of living has risen - in some cases skyrocketed - and wages have not increased to compensate. People have less money in their pockets and what they do have flies out the door faster than it used to.

To compound that, Cash for Clunkers took a lot of serviceable used cars off the road, which squeezed that market, and now used cars are much more expensive than they used to be. Not long ago you had a decent shot at dropping a couple grand on a used car and not having a reliability nightmare on your hands. Good luck doing that today. It’s still possible, but not without a lot of luck.

And new cars aren’t any better. A Honda Civic now costs what a Corvette did 20 years ago. People are dropping 20+ grand on economy cars and thinking it’s a great price. And while yes some of that is due to mandated safety systems, a lot of it is due to price and size creep. That Civic dwarfs an Accord from 20 years ago too.

Yet many of these people have cable, fancy cell phone, playstation and so on. It’s about priorities. Too many are misplaced…


Actually cable companies are in an almost panic due to the amount of cord cutting that’s going on now. An awful lot of people, especially Millenials and young-Xers, are ditching cable.

The fancy cell phone is almost a requirement for employability nowadays. In fact if I got rid of mine I’d probably suffer at work.

I’m certainly not saying poor people never make financially stupid decisions - they do, all the time, but their poor decisions are not the reason their wages are in the toilet, and they’re not the reason it’s hard to afford a place to live and a car simultaneously.

People have poor priorities. While they may have a difficult time coming up with $600 for a car repair, they will have no problem coming up with $600 to replace their smartphone.

My wife is a veterinarian. She sees this on a daily basis. People have the money to buy a $500 designer puppy but not the $100 it costs for shots or to have the dog fixed.


That’s because they are now streaming it with their expensive unlimited cell phone plan :wink:

Sorry, but I have seen too many people bemoaning their lot in life yet feel many of these luxuries are in fact essential needs.

There are certainly victims of circumstance. But I believe the vast majority are the result of poor choices made all along the way, from a very young age.

My family wasn’t rich. I couldn’t get my first car until I could afford to buy, maintain and insure it. This meant I also had to learn how to fix it to save on repair bills. I drove beaters for a long, long time. But that frugality early on paid off big time in the long run. Too many kids/people today want everything and want it NOW. Then suffer the consequences of those decisions…


It is not just car repairs. This is a general thing. Majority of the people live paycheck to paycheck. Wages have not kept up with people lifestyles. We are a debtor nation. People are so leveraged up between home loan, car loan, student loans, credit cards, etc. This is only going to get worse with robots replacing more and more workers. In my opinion, people need to focus on education and relevant skills that will change over time. For example a TV repairman is an obsolete job these days because TV’s are engineered and built to be disposable. There are also many other reasons for depressed wages and that is more competition for skilled and unskilled workers.

Just look at the payday loan business that has exploded. These people that are paycheck to paycheck and then use one of these loan services, they never get ahead enough to actually pay it off. They just keep it rolling over and these loans can have effective interest rates of 400%+.

If you think it is bad today, just wait and see what happens over the next 30 years. People with no savings and dreams of retirement are going to realize that they are in real trouble.


The shocked folks have to be to two people who have been living in a cave for years. This is not really recent news.

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I think you’re being too dismissive of the psychology of poverty.

My family wasn’t rich either. We weren’t poor, but especially compared to most of the kids I went to school with, we certainly weren’t anywhere near the top tier. I bought my first car. And my second, and so forth. Nothing was handed to me either and it sounds like you and I have similar financial mindsets.

But if you drove beaters, you could afford to do it, which means you weren’t dirt poor. What I mean by that gets back to the original question in this topic. If you’re making $1,000 a month, and a $600 car repair comes up (which is on the cheap side these days), it’s going to hurt. Badly. “Well repair it yourself!” we might say. “It’s cheaper!” And it is, until you factor in the tools you need to accumulate to do most car work by yourself.

I easily have 5 figures worth of tools and tool storage. And my collection isn’t half of what many regulars here have, I’m sure. I’m lucky enough to have been able to acquire those tools over time, and I’m also lucky enough that should a job come up where I need a tool that I don’t have, I can probably afford to go buy it.

There are a lot of people who aren’t that lucky. These are people for whom $100 is a literal fortune. And that’s where the psychology of being poor comes in.

If you were truly poor - as in, you can’t afford to live, and you charge groceries on a credit card because otherwise you don’t eat, and you constantly live with bill collectors calling you day and night hounding you for payment, and then you stumble upon $200, it’s pretty difficult to use it wisely. You’re not going to save it because it’s just going to fly into the pocket of a bill collector. And paying down debt… Well that barely makes a dent in your overall debt picture, and so you’re in exactly the same position you were before you paid it down. The only thing that will really change your life is to buy something that most would call frivolous.

I’m not saying that’s what they should do, or that it’s the responsible thing to do, but I am saying that enough of them do it that it should be recognized as a condition that needs addressing on a societal level.

Let me put this another way: People are very quick to point at a poor person and say “You have some small luxuries, and therefore it’s your fault that you’re poor.”

When the banks crashed in the subprime mortgage fisaco, we heard a lot of people pointing at homeowners saying “It’s all their fault, they should have known they couldn’t afford it, they deserve what they get.” But I didn’t hear a whole lot of people pointing at banks when the government bailed them out for preying on poor people in order to gamble that they would realize huge profits and saying “you’re the financial experts and you approved the loans, it’s all your fault.”

Our society is very quick to punish the poor for being poor, but we’re not very eager to punish the rich when they make stupid financial decisions.

Had we been less weighted toward supplication to the rich, we’d have bailed out the homeowners, who then would have bailed out the banks by paying off their mortgages. Instead, we bailed out the banks allowing rich corporations and rich people to continue being rich, while screwing everyone else 6 ways from Sunday, including those of us who were not in default on our mortgages.

Again, I’m not saying that poor people are completely innocent victims of circumstance, but I am saying that if we were as generous in our treatment of poor people as we are in our treatment of rich people, we’d have a lot fewer desperate people.


I have a theory explaining the disparity of 76% men and 62% of women being able to afford a $500 to $600 repair. Men purchase a new pair of shoes when the old pair wears out. Note to our female members. I’m kidding.

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People aren’t poor because they don’t have money, they don’t have money because they’re poor. It’s why their health is poor: they smoke, drink too much, eat too much, laze too much. It’s why they’re paid poorly: they didn’t pay attention in school, they don’t pay attention at work, they goof off. They don’t have money because they spend every penny they get their hands on before they get their hands on it, often on stuff they could not-buy, such as cigarettes, alcohol, restaurant meals, movies…

There’s nothing wrong with debt if it makes you richer. Most borrow to buy houses, but as long as they make a good deal when they buy and keep their house in good condition they aren’t really in debt: the house is worth more than what they owe. Borrowing to fund an education can make one richer: the person who borrows $100K to become an engineer then spends her/his life working as an engineer, making $25K more annually than the technician s/he would have been without the education is richer for the debt. It’s why no one should feel sorry for those physicians with 100s of K$ of debt: they’ll be far richer than they would have been without a license to practice medicine.

If borrowing $600 to fix your car means you make more than enough more to pay $600+carrying costs back then you’re richer for the borrowing. You’re better off because you can borrow the money than do without.


I would recount my parents’ experience–as well as mine–but most people probably wouldn’t believe how they and I were able to take a very meager existence, and build ourselves up to a…let’s just say…comfortable…position in life simply by being frugal when it mattered, and by NOT living beyond our means.

If anyone wants the particulars, I will provide them, but I’m not conceited enough to think that anyone would actually be interested in the details. In any event, one can become financially secure if he/she has a lot of financial self-discipline. Unfortunately, all too many people lack that trait.

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That is rather extreme oversimplification…and it certainly isn’t the case for all poor people…One of the biggest health obstacles for poor people I think is food. Healthy food is more expensive than processed crap is. When you’re trying to stretch every dollar to pay for a $300 car repair when you’re living paycheck to paycheck because you can’t get a better job because it just isn’t available, are you going to spend the extra money for fruits and vegetables or are you going to get the box of 20 packets of Ramen Noodles for a few bucks that you can stretch further?

2000 years ago there were rich and there were poor. That fact has been a constant in can I say modern days. There are certainly idealists that believe we can alleviate all suffering, pragmatists that say we can help some, and I am not sure what the term would be, screw them, I am fine.

If you do not have the money to maintain a car, you will fall into catastrophic expenses to repair the car. What is the solution, not coming our way soon, like the health care plan proposed, you are healthy no problem, you get sick or old you will pay! I mean crap I have to pay extra for maternal benefits, that is like the schools, I have no kids why should I have to pay for others to have kids in school, or I want to send my kid to parochial school, here’s a voucher, now you get your money back and take it from the public school budget.

When you have a car problem, ask for some free advice and opinions at Car Talk forums. My participation here has definitely reduced my motoring expenses. And my vehicles purr like kittens.

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I have observed and interacted with poor people since the “War on Poverty” was started years ago. I have seen both sides of the coin. Those born with NOthing and those born with middle class advantages. I have watched those middle class advantages (and a high IQ) squandered on the path to poverty even with 5 figure inheritances added to the path to be squandered on the way back to that path. I have seen those with NOthing (not even that $100) claw their way to riches because they worked very hard and very long. I have stood in line buying food watching those in front of me talk on thier $600 iPhones while paying for processed frozen entrees with food stamps (shows my age) and paid for beer and cigarettes with cash while I bought fresh food (for less money!) that I prepared as needed.

Being poor is about giving in to instant gratification, lack of discipline and laziness. There will always be poor no matter how much money is showered upon them, Swamps will absorb every tractor’s attempt to fill in in. And those “poor” may earn $100,000 a year yet still not be able to pay for their car repair.

From a previous post of mine… an MD complaining about $2000 for a set of tires for his BMW is the same as a guy making minimum wage driving his Corolla on bald tires.

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No, it isn’t. Who prepares her/his own meals from raw ingredients (raw meat, eggs, milk, rice, beans, fresh vegetables and fruit), eats the amount that maintains a healthy weight, doesn’t throw anything away, can afford to do that on SNAP (formerly food stamps). When one of Reagan’s secretaries of agriculture took the challenge of feeding his own family on the amount of a food stamp allotment (his own money, of course), I kept the books on my diet and saw that I did it without trying. I still keep track of my food expenses. I can afford luxuries (coffee beans, nuts, chocolate, jam…) now so I spend a little more, but if I didn’t have the money I could eat well on a SNAP budget. 15% of Americans get SNAP. You’ll notice they’re disproportionately overweight. Ramen is a poor nutritional choice.

We’ve eliminated malnutrition in the US by subsidizing the production of food and giving huge amounts away with SNAP. It’s pie right here, not in the sky. We’ve eliminated smallpox and polio, could eliminate measles if people would get their free vaccine, eliminated malaria with mosquito suppression, eliminated intestinal worms by providing ‘waste’ disposal for everyone, don’t even have many of the intestinal bacteria and viruses other countries have because we clean everyone’s water, eliminated air-pollution-caused diseases now plaguing China, India, and other countries that don’t stop polluters.

If a car’s an expense then you shouldn’t own it (or should identify it as a luxury). If you’re wealthier because you have a working car then you’re wealthier if you figure out how to finance keeping it working, which could mean setting money aside every month (How much do you spend on gas? At 10¢/mile, 12K miles/year, $1,200, that’s twice $600. Set aside a nickel/mile every paycheck for the repair fund.)

Think of it as being pro-life.

'Cause they’re going to be the electricians, plumbers, physicians, engineers, nurses… who keep the world going when you’re a decrepit old man; what’ll they be without an education? Burdens on the public, in prison or on the street.

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And what about the people that are just over the income level for SNAP? I acknowledged that Ramen is a poor nutritional choice, sometimes you don’t have a choice. When it’s the middle of the winter, you have no access to SNAP, and imported produce is priced too high for your shoestring budget, you do what you have to do. It’s not as simple as telling somebody to only prepare from raw ingredients…

You’ve got to be kidding me if you seriously think healthy food is cheaper than processed crap…because I’ve been there. When we were a one income family due to my wife going to school, our food budget was incredibly tight. We cut excess out of our budget (we still had smart phones before you try to go after “luxury spending” in my budge, sorry required for her school and my work). My income was just a little too high for us to qualify for SNAP. It was ok in the summer when we could hit farmers stands for cheap local produce, but it was a lot harder in the winter when local produce isn’t available. We didn’t have to resort to Ramen every night, but it was there as a bridge between my checks towards the end of the 2 weeks.

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