To buy or not to buy

I am writing in hope that you will help me with a decision–that being, to buy or not to buy a new car. I am currently on deployment with the Army Reserves in Iraq while my 2000 Volvo S-80 Turbo with 140,000 miles sits waiting for me in my brother?s back yard. I bought my car used while working in business, but have since changed careers and gone back to teaching, which pays about a third of what I was making when I bought the car. My Volvo will be paid off by the time I return home and I would love not to have a car payment to worry about, however, there are a FEW repairs that need to be done. I really like my car and would love to keep it, but I don?t want to continue dumping money into a lost cause (if that indeed is what it is) especially when the repair costs are so high. Below is a list of needed repairs and the dealer?s estimated costs. What do you think? Should I throw in the towel and buy a new, ?more affordable on a teacher?s salary? car or fix the one I have? --Mary

Timing belt replacement --$585.00 installed

Upper engine mount is torn–$175.00 installed

Left upper spring seat plate installed up side down–$130.00 to put right side up

Oil leak from crankcase ventilation breather box seals–$460.00

Oil leak from turbo drain tube seals and gaskets–$490.00

Left inner tie rod has play–$315.00

Left and right side front arm bushings at rear and front arm are cracked–$320.00

4 new tires (17 inch)?about $700 ??

A new paint job due to top coat bubbling/pealing (I?m thinking caused by the sap of the trees I park under). Cost to be determined

Keep it. Most of these items are maintenance and will have to be done on any car. Think of these items in comparison to loan payments. Save your money while you are in Iraq for a start on the repairs. Figure out which are most important and start there. You should probably do the suspension work all at once, and that will be the biggest single hit. I’d start with the timing belt then do either the leaks or suspension and the tires last. That depends on how badly worn the tires are and how bad the leaks are. If you aren’t using much oil, you might do the leaks last.

I think I would keep it. However I would consider getting a second opinion. Some items like the timing belt are maintenance and you can look in your owner’s manual to determine if and when they should be serviced/replaced. Some of the other items would be based on observation and opinion and you might get some different opinions on the need to replace or service them. Also it is possible (really likely) that a local independent mechanic will do all that work for far less than the dealer.

  Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car.  They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies.  They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent. 

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

There is no need to bring your car to the dealer for any service other than service that is going to be paid for by a recall or original warrantee.  During the warranty period be sure to document all maintenance work.

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic. 

Thanks for serving.

First, I commend and thank you for your service to the country. Secondly, as a teacher, I appreciate seeing someone changing careers from a more lucrative position to the teaching profession.

One factor in your decision is where you will be located when you return from Iraq, how far you will be driving the Volvo to and from your school, and what kind of alternate transportation might be available in the event that the Volvo is laid up. If you will be in an area where there are mechanics that have seen a Volvo, and you won’t have a long commute to work, it makes sense to me to do the repairs to the Volvo. My son took a teaching position a couple of years ago. He bought a house within 10 minutes of his work as opposed to puchasing a house for $10,000 less but would give him a 45 minute commute each way. His car was old and had quite a few miles and he realized that he might have to be buying a newer car if he put on the extra miles. He has a double bonus with the higher cost of gasoline and also having the extra time that he otherwise would spend on the road. What I am saying is to weigh in the amount of driving you will have to do to your job in making your decision.

One other consideration: you need a car the fits the teacher. Richard Dreyfus, the college history professor in the short-lived television show “The Education of Max Bickford” drove a Volvo. If you are going to teach in the humanities, then by all means keep the Volvo. On the other hand, Richard Dreyfus, as a music teacher in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” drove a Chevrolet Corvair. You probably don’t want to follow this latter example.

Seriously, you like the car and it doesn’t sound like a lost cause to me. A good independent tire and alignment shop may be the place to check for the tires and suspension issues. A good independent shop that will work on Volvos may be able to give a good price break on doing the timing belt and the oil seals. Avoiding car payments is always great.

I would get a second opinion on just what is “needed”. Some of these repairs may not be necessary, depending on the severity of things like “leaks”. You can get cheaper tires and probably cheaper repairs. Thank you for your service to our country.