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


One of my longtime colleagues fits that description perfectly

Not only doesn’t he have a dime to his name, he’s also deeply in debt. I’ve seen him make one bad decision followed by another. It adds up

And it’s compounded by the fact that he’s a drunk, plain and simple. He’s also a chain smoker, had a heart attack. He now has shortness of breath and still hasn’t quit.


I’d bet a lot of families earning a very good income still would have a hard time coming up with $600 to fix their car. Poor means you need something but can’t afford it. Rich means you have everything you need. I’ve seen fishing families in Thailand with no currency income at all who are very rich.


There are so many sides to this issue and when one position is picked and given a no holds barred effort to promote it to the exclusion of all others it’s very easy to ignore a great deal of significant opposing facts.

While I am relatively comfortable financially due to many facts, a lifetime of hard work not being the least, I do recognize that I was lucky on a great many significant aspects of my life. And when I consider the great many people who find themselves living pay check to pay check it is easy to look at how financially foolish many of them are. But then I look back at when I was a teenager in high school and working for minimum wage, earning enough to have supported myself if I had wanted to. From the time I was 13 I had more than $1,000 in the bank and when I financed a used car at the age of 17 I did so with nearly enough to pay cash for it at the time. And from the time I was 16 my part time jobs provided healthcare insurance at such a low cost it wasn’t worth considering not taking it.

Yes, Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and has been for all my life but from the early 1960s until now the buying power of the wages of the working class have declined drastically as elsewhere. When I earned $1.25 in the early 60s gasoline was 19.9c, a hamburger with fries and a milk shake totalled 55c and 4 tires for my car cost less than $60. Wages must rise to a level that allows an honest, responsible, hard working person to support themselves reasonably and offer some hope for a future. When faced with struggling with no prospect of ever getting ahead for the effort many look around for every opportunity available from entitlements to crime and it’s not difficult to recognize how that seems reasonable to many.

“The poor man mounted will ride his mount to death.” Not because he is cruel but because he is unable to afford to care for it as he attemps to gain every minute and mile of use from it. The same with automobiles. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it and if it is broke and can be patched up for a few more miles patch it. And why keep insurance when the car may not last till Friday? Same with buying tags.

I have repaired a great many vehicles for financially strapped people and some were dead beats and crooks but most were strugging to get by as best they could. In the vast majority of cases when I allowed a car to leave with an unpaid balance the owner returned to pay me just as they promised and often it was obvious that their doing so was difficult. I once had a lady call me crying on Friday to tell me she couldn’t get in on time to pay me because her boss had posted her for mandatory overtime and she would get fired if she left to pay me. I thanked her for calling and told her Monday was OK.

Most people are good and wish to support themselves earning an honest living at a job where they are respected. Such a situation is becoming very rare.


Poor folks could learn how to change the oil and filters. That is the main expense they will face over a year. They can save for tires, coolant change, trans fluid change, and new spark plugs. Maybe they could barter with car-savvy neighbors to provide labor to do the maintenance and repairs required.


That is not enough of a savings to make a big difference. There are oil changes that can be found at reasonable prices.
By the time you purchase oil ( mine requires 7 quarts) filter, not counting ramps (which one of our cars would rip off the front air dam trying to drive on ramps) it all adds up. If you are financially strapped you are going to buy kids clothes and food before you try to save 5 or 10 dollars on an oil change.


Pull the front wheels up on the curb to get more room under the car. If $10 makes a difference, it might be worth it to those people. You can get 5 quarts of oil an a filter at Walmart for about $15.


Barkydog, you have to pay for other peoples kids to go to school because childless couples paid for YOU to go to school. Are you saying public education is not a good thing ? Do you want to go back to when 12 year olds were working 12 hour shifts in factories or working full time on farms?

If you want to think about someone who might be aggrieved, consider the home schoolers. They have to have to have to have one parent stay home tp teach their children, buy their own curriculum,still pay school taxes and then pay taxes to subsidize other peoples daycare. Some of my family are part of the home school community and I never hear them complaining about paying for public ed., except about the ineffectiveness of it.


I was recapping, did not mind my tax $ going for school, even though we chose a parochial school for my daughter, If I did not have a car I would not mind my taxes going for roads, I do not mind higher premiums for health insurance so maternity leave, and reasonable rates for the elderly and sick can be maintained etc.

Many struggle,I am not sure of a solution for the unaffordable car repair.


Sorry, this is entirely too simplistic and pejorative. Being poor is sometimes about giving in to instant gratification. Sometimes it’s just about getting sick. People don’t get pancreatic cancer because they lack discipline or are lazy. People don’t get ALS because they gave in to instant gratification, but they become poor routinely because they get sick.

My spouse and I have a very comfortable joint income and have a great standard of living, but if one of us got the degenerative muscular disease my dad had, we’d be sunk because our employer-provided insurance plan doesn’t cover durable medical equipment. Dad paid well over half a million to meet his accessibility needs. He was very lucky that he had a very good insurance plan that most of us can’t get these days, and so had a lot of the costs offset, including the $40,000 wheelchair he required. And it was still tough because he had to buy the accessible house and the handicap van ($45,000 at a time when such prices were the domain of loaded BMWs). Dad was incredibly lucky that his disease didn’t impoverish him. Someone with less income or less insurance wouldn’t have been able to keep their head above water.

Most people today wouldn’t get the kind of insurance payouts he got. Most people today, if they get sick, will find themselves broke.

Blanket-blaming all poor people for being lazy and stupid is honestly asinine, and I hope that wasn’t your intent.


No it wasn’t my intent to blanket all who are poor with that statement. There are those who are temporarily poor and those that are chronically poor. There is a difference. Those that get knocked down, plot a path to recovery are thr Tractors. The medical situation you describe happens as does the economic problems that follow. Bad luck happens to everyone. How you respond to it or plan for it very often defines the difference between chronically poor (swamps) and temporarily poor (tractors).

There is a second side to that… If it is in your family history, have insurance to cover such issues. ALS has a strong inheritance factor as does pancreatic cancer. Same for Alzheimers. Pay extra for better insurance coverage because you have a greater risk. Plan for this;

Drive a cheaper car so you can have better insurance coverage. Bad stuff does still happen to hardworking people. Tractors recover from life’s bad luck. Tractors plot their way out of their problems. Swamps wallow in their problems. Swamps have blame and excuses for why they can’t succeed. I’ve observed it, I’ve lived it.


In this discussion we might consider that there is a great distinction between broke and poor. I have a close friend who earns 5X the average local income yet has never accumulated more than $1,000 at any one time and is often broke when pay pay comes despite living rent free. It baffles me.


My advice to anyone who hasn’t put aside money for car repairs:

  1. Create a budget. Start small and work your way up from daily expenses, to weekly expenses, to monthly expenses, to annual expenses. I miss having a job where I got paid twice a month instead of every other week (24 paychecks per year instead of 26 paychecks per year, same yearly salary). Not only did it save my employer money on payroll processing, it made it easier to pay monthly bills without ever coming up short. If you don’t know how much to budget for car repairs, start with $2,000 per year. Also make sure putting money into savings for future car repairs is included in your budget.

  2. Use your budget. Stick to your budget by assigning yourself a daily or weekly allowance for normal expenses.

  3. Plan your alternatives. Put together a contingency plan for getting to work when your car breaks down. If that plan involves relying on mass transit, use it before you need it to familiarize yourself with which bus or train you will take. Some mass transit systems (such as South Florida’s Tri-Rail) will let you take a bicycle on the bus or train, but sometimes you have to pre-register your bicycle, so check online, and make sure you know which train or bus to take before you need it. Since the mass transit in my area is not reliable, my alternative is to ride a bicycle 8.1 miles to work. Your contingency plan might involve catching a ride with someone who can pick you up on the way to work, or borrowing a car from a friend or relative, but have a plan ready when you need it.


How did this conversation devolve into shaming the poor? For once, it would be nice to have a conversations about recommendations that don’t involve broad generalizations that rely upon scapegoating an entire segment of our population.


Wages have not keep up with Inflation. Forget the frill items…Housing/rent and food have outpaced pay since Reagan. Some sectors, like Engineering have kept paced…but for the average uneducated worker…pay hasn’t even been close to inflation.


I can’t really disagree with anyone here. We should not stereotype though since there are as many reasons to not have money as diagnostic error codes. Some are caused by immediate gratification issues, not preparing for a career, not taking advantage of our free public education, living in the wrong part of the country, or world, disabilities, and so on. A good book is the “Millionaire Next Door” who talks about what it takes to hang onto money. I hate to say it since I don’t like him, but Dave Ramsey and his money bucket method toward being debt free has saved many a marriage for folks who have fallen off the cliff. Bruce Williams used to say that you could drop him off anywhere in the country without a dime in his pocket and he could start making money by nightfall. Just a matter of seeing opportunity and being bold.

I will say that for normal people with normal incomes and families, it is a matter of life stages. You first go into lots of debt or at least spend a lot of money getting an education, a house, a car, furniture, and getting established. Then after the 30’s or so just kind of float with family expenses, college for the kids, and so on. Toward the end you start to be able to get in better financial shape as these expenses are set aside. The lucky ones don’t have major set-backs such as health or employment and end up pretty well, but as we say “there but by the grace of God go I”.

Some years ago we were at Disney and my son drove down to be with us. He developed ignition problems with his car so I took it to a shop in Orlando. The guy said that it was not a busy time yet until people started getting their tax refunds and would get their cars repaired. This was a total shock to me. In Minnesota, you need to get your car fixed regardless of the time of year but suggested that maybe some people should just move to a colder climate but more opportunity.


That’s a ton of money. What makes them so darn expensive?


Hi. Most of you are keeping this car-related, so thank you. I think it’s best if we shy away from making generalizations about the poor or broke. If a person’s going to find his or her way to this thread to figure out how to prioritize or save money on repairs and maintenance, how they got to that point (bad judgment vs. chronic structural factors) isn’t relevant to the advice.


Wow! We actually live in a country where THE POOR DRIVE CARS!!!


People typically need cars to get to and from work.Now some are having to make choices where the limited income goes. So Maslow had a heirarchy of needs, But my guess is if you are income limited it would be food, housing, utilities, phone, tv, car mantenance. Now many might put car above phone, willing to listen


In most of the world, “being poor” means you live in a shanty, wear rags, and beg for a bowl of rice along the side of the road.
In the U.S. the “poor” drive cars, watch TV, have indoor plumbing, suffer from obesity, and throw food away!