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Opinions needed: Free Car vs. A Not Free Car (it's not as simple as you think...)

I am currently driving a 1999 Saturn (3 door, manual, 137024 miles). I am buying it from a family member, owe about $800, and have hit some financial hardship in which I can’t afford monthly payments right now of even $100(graduated from grad school with tons of debt and spotty adjunct teaching jobs that require commutes). My mother has offered to pay the remaining $800 for me, giving me the luxury of no time limit on the pay back period, so the $800 balance, though a factor (I don’t like asking my mom for $800), is a minor one in my decision.

My grandmother has recently stopped driving her 1993 Chrysler Salon New Yorker (113702 miles, with a slow oil leak). It has been offered to me for free. My cousin would take back his Saturn and sell it again, without me paying anymore (I’ve already paid about over $2000). While I am free to make whatever decision I want, I’m feeling somewhat pressured to take the New Yorker.

I commute to two different universities both about an hour from my home in opposite directions. The New Yorker is SUPER comfortable–I feel like I’m driving my living room around! It’s quiet, easy to drive, whereas the Saturn is completely uncomfortable, loud, annoying to drive in traffic (manual transmission). The New Yorker has a slow oil leak and its gas mileage is not as good as the Saturn.

I’m leaning toward the Saturn because it seems like a better long term decision, even though I don’t really love driving it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it (that I know of), while the oil leak in the New Yorker could get worse. And with as much driving as I do, the lower mpg on the New Yorker could sting.

Because my uncle can’t seem to understand why I’d turn down a free car (the New Yorker), I’m more conflicted than maybe I should be.

Opinions, please!

I understand your situation. Universities really take advantage of adjunct faculty–low pay, no benefits, etc. I’ve been on a university faculty since 1965 as a regular faculty member. I really enjoy teaching, but I would take a paying job that I didn’t like before I would accept the conditions I see imposed on adjunct faculty.

To answer your question, though, it might be a good move to pay a mechanic to evaluate both cars. The mechanic could probably diagnose the oil leak and tell you whether it is serious and how much it would cost to repair. The Saturn is newer by 6 years and if you have kept up the maintenance, this might be the way to go.

Get them both evaluated, as Triedaq suggested. The New Yorker might be the way to go since an older person drove and maintained it. There is a better chance that it was not abused. Another issue is who gets the extra cash if your cousin sells the Saturn for more than $800? If there is interest involved in the loan, you should be due anything above the remaining principal. If he refuses to do that, then keep the Saturn and sell it yourself if you choose the New Yorker. If you tell us what model (SC1 or SC2) and what equipment is on it, we can evaluate the current value better. This could help you make a decision.

I’ve seen a lot of cars that even if they were free, were too expensive. If you decide on the NYer, have it checked out by a competent independent mechanic to confirm the source of the oil leak and whatever else may be wrong with it. Rear main oil seal, brakes, tires, transmission work, etc. could make this “free” car very expensive and not worth fixing.

Worth checking them both out mechanically, make a list for each of repairs needed and the cost. Those New Yorkers were not particularly trouble-free, and it’s 6 years older than your Saturn, it gets worse milage. It’s not so obvious as your uncle thinks, your Saturn will only cost $800 more, that’s almost ‘free’ these days, and you’re used to it. But it’s really kind of a tossup, your Saturn’s not God’s gift to cars, either…I guess I’d be inclined to keep the Saturn, but it’s close.

One should note that the mechanics who check out these cars for you are probably making a lot more money than YOU are?? What’s wrong with this picture?

I’d be inclined to keep the Saturn. It shoudl be cheaper to operate in the long run and has no apparent problems. And it’s newer.

I know what you’re saying about teaching adjunct. Sincere best in finding something full time soon. Unfortunately, while the more affordable colleges do well on enrollment in economic downtimes, they also cut back on full time positions and fill the gap with adjuncts, so their increased enrollment does not manifest itself as more full time positions.

I’ll play Devil’s Advocate and say the New Yorker. I’d rather be comfortable and have crappy gas mileage then to be cramped in a car that gets good mileage. But, as was stated, have a mechanic(not from a chain store like Meineke or Sears) give both a used car inspection first. I’d ask if they could have the oil leak fixed before you take possession of the New Yorker and have any and all maintenance caught up on it too.

You’ve paid $2,000 so far for the Saturn. If you give it back to your cousin and he sells it, you get nothing from the sale of the Saturn? I think you should sell the Saturn and with the proceeds pay off the $800 you owe on it. Then, you can take the “free” car and have some money for some repairs it will likely need. You are going to be driving the '93 car more and that will burn up some gas and tires, etc. Therefore don’t just give back the Saturn, take the $800 from mom pay off the family member and sell it yourself.

The best thing the Saturn has going for it is what you like the least, and that is a dependable manual transmission as long as know how to drive it without abusing the clutch. The New Yorker on the other hand is crusher food once the transmission goes.

Maybe kmitchellg is doing what he enjoys. Have you put a price on that? Check your 'tude, Caddyman. If we were only in it for the money, we’d all be disgusting, selfish financial titans.

Cynical and Optimistic JT collaborated on this response.

I’ve made my living teaching for more than 40 years. I turned down a job in the business world that would have tripled my salary. I love the teaching profession. My parents were educators and my son is a teacher (maybe it is a genetic deficiency). However, I don’t like the way colleges and universities take advantage of adjunct faculty. With low pay, no benefits, etc. and the time needed to prepare for each class and the time spent grading tests and projects, these people probably don’t make minimum wage. Yet, in many colleges and universities, these adjuncts teach more than half the classes.
My brother earned a doctorate in English and had a full time position at a small state university. When the president told the entire faculty at a meeting to quit complaining about their salaries because faculty were a dime a dozen, my brother wrote out his resignation, gave the president a dime and said, “Go buy a dozen”. He is now a plumber, but teaches as an adjucnt in a small college. He drives to work in his plumbing van in his sport coat and tie, teaches a couple of classes, then goes into the restroom and puts on his coveralls and heads off on his service calls.
One thing I learned working my way through graduate education and starting at the bottom of the teaching profession is how to do alot of my own automobile maintenance, how to find a used car that has the maximum service life for the minimum dollar, and so on. This is the situation that kmitchellg is in. I would still be leaning toward keeping the Saturn.

Sorry if already suggested…I suggest keeping the Saturn and consider the following. In the ideal world, a free car with potential problems isn’t free but could lend itself as something that you could sell and use the money to pay off Saturn and keep extra, if any, in a car repair account ?
I know it’s a tough family decision either way but abject “poverty” trumps feelings every time. I would certainly respect the decision of my niece and offer her “value in kind” for the gift car car and help her sell it, if that were her wish.
If this were a Corolla or Camry gift car, it might be a different decision. You need the money, not a potential money pit. I hope your uncle considers that. He may not “understand” til now because he can afford to dump repair costs into a car while you can’t.
Best of luck in your final decision.

Thank you everyone for your comments. It has helped me make my decision to keep the Saturn. It makes more sense financially, even though comfort-wise, driving that New Yorker around for the past few days has been like driving an over-stuffed sofa, while navigating with my little finger. I’ve never experienced such comfort having driven cars like the Saturn my whole driving life!

I should have clarified for those of you who suggested selling the Saturn or New Yorker. I love those ideas!However, my uncle is going to sell the New Yorker himself if I didn’t take it. If I did take it, he was going to help my cousin (his son) sell the Saturn again and split the money. Either way, I would not make any money from either deal.

And I’m so glad I got the discussion going on adjunct teaching! I do enjoy teaching, but if jobs were growing on trees I might consider something else since the pay is, like one poster observed, about minimum wage after it’s all said and done. Therein lies the catch22 however, as one needs the experience teaching to eventually land that coveted full-time teaching position.

Thanks again, all, for the advice.

While my comments might be a bit late I will deviate a bit and suggest you go with the New Yorker; contingent on getting this oil leak looked at. That leak could be trivial and cheap to fix whereas;

the Saturn is over 10 years old, has well over a 100k miles, and the situation regarding the timing belt/water pump/tensioners is not clarified. If these items have never been replaced then belt breakage is an accident waiting to happen at any time. The New Yorker uses a timing chain, so therefore no problem.

You might price the timing belt repair when weighing these 2 cars against each other. The oil leak may be nothing more than an inexpensive oil pressure sender or something like that.

As a teacher of over 40 years who has helped many of his former student teachers seek jobs, the two biggest factors that help in securing a decent paying job in this field is flexibility in teaching field(s) and the willingness to move to ANY location.
Best of luck to you.

I think what Caddyman might be saying is that (and I am going out on a limb here), is that some lowlife non college educated greasemonkey is making more than a college educated teacher, and that it is not right because God forbid if some blue collar schlubb that is intelligent and works hard makes more money than a teacher its a crime… his statement could be taken either way.

Fwiw, I am a former Ase L1 tech, that had enough and got out of the automotive repair business for good. One of the things I was tired of was the public perception that mechanics just a bunch of melon heads, especially by the university crowds that were highly intelligent but can’t fix a sandwich. I worked hard, studied hard and took my job seriously, I got to the point where I was one of the better techs in a shop with 40 other guys. I was proud of what I did, and my last year doing it I was “rewarded” with 52k, minus tool expenses.
I am now in another field and will make more money in my second year of apprenticeship than I ever did in a year of wrenching.

So Caddyman, if I misunderstood what you said I apologize and must scold you for being so critical of the original poster, However if I did understand you properly I will say this, I know of some worthless drunken lowlife mechanics. However I also know of some Teachers that are also drunken, uncaring, and useless.

My vote is keep the Saturn.

“. . .especially by the university crowds that were highly inteligent but can’t fix a sandwich”.
By calling people like me who are in higher education intelligent may be giving us too much credit. I learned probably as much of my problem solving skills having mechanics explain things to me as I did going through many of my classes. When I was in junior high school, I started reading the monthly stories in “Popular Science” about the fictional mechanic named Gus Wilson and his model garage. I really admired old Gus and the way he could solve a problem. These tales from the Model Garage and the actual mechanics that took the time to explain things to me were invaluable in helping me develop analytic reasoning skills. I use these skills daily in helping students write programs and run down errors in the software assignments I give them. The same reasoning skills in diagnosing an automobile problem are used in diagnosing software errors.
I enjoy reading this board and reading the solutions proposed to problems by the professional mechanics that take the time to answer questions.