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Job loss – prepare by saving or debt reduction?
DFA reader Benedictus asked:
- Should I spend another $6,000 to fix a vehicle that is only worth $4,800?
- Should we just park the vehicle until we can save enough money to fix it and continue to make $291 monthly car payments and $75 monthly insurance payments until we can save up $6,000 (which would certainly be a year or more)
- Should I sell the minivan for parts/needed repair and use that money to buy another older used car with unknown problems and high mileage?
- Should I borrow the money to do the repairs, spending more to repair it than the vehicle is even worth, and having to pay both a car note and repair note?
- What is the best angle, financially, to deal with this situation?
We have a 2006 Dodge Caravan Minivan with 52,000 miles that we purchased new in 2006. It has a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty. We had the van in the repair shop and found out yesterday that the entire engine will have to be replaced at a cost of +/- $6,000. We owe about $5,800 on the vehicle. Trade-in is around $3,200 and private party value is about $4,800. However, neither of those two figures matters because it would have to be repaired first before we sold it or traded it in. WE DO NOT HAVE $6,000 TO REPAIR THE VEHICLE. My husband just recently had to take a second job delivering pizza just to make ends meet and we just started working on re-building an emergency fund after our previous $15,000+ emergency fund was depleted from him being out of work for 5 months before he got the supplemental pizza delivery job. I don’t want to borrow money to fix the car because I would be paying a car note and a repair note. We could almost buy two older used vehicles for what it is going to cost to repair our minivan and I would have to have a vehicle large enough for a family with three children. Then I would be getting an older car with someone else’s problems. Even if we purchased two older vehicles instead of repairing my minivan, then I have a useless 3 1/2 year old vehicle sitting in my driveway. The only solution I could come up with was for us to park the vehicle and be a one-vehicle family until we could save the money to fix it, but I hate to keep making $291 monthly car payments and $75 monthly insurance payments on a vehicle we can’t even drive.
~Thank you, Benedictus
What Makes The Most Financial Sense?
There are many variables here, so naturally you have questions. I will try to answer all of them beginning with your last, “What makes the most sense financially? The answer to this question is usually, “Do not go further into debt.” In fact, owing money on this vehicle is a big part of your dilemma. Adding more debt will only compound the problem. Therefore, I would say the one thing you absolutely should not do is borrow money for the repairs (this is Debt Free Adventure after all.) With that option off the table, we will look at the pro’s and con’s of the other possibilities you listed.
In situations like this, we tend to feel let down by the vehicle we have. This makes us want to junk what we have, and try for anything different. Caution is warranted, as disappointing as it is, solid vehicles break down sometimes, and recklessly jumping to another vehicle may not alleviate the problem. As you noted, few people sell perfectly good cars, so anything we buy will have problems of their own. That being said, if you have to have another vehicle now, a used car that you can afford may be the only option.
Unfortunately, the payments will have to be made no matter what you decide. Since you owe more than the vehicle is worth in its present condition, whether you scrap it, park it, or fix it, you will have to keep paying on the car note. More unfortunately, it is likely that you will have to maintain full insurance coverage as a condition of the car loan even if you park the vehicle. Check your loan documentation to find out for sure. If the option is available, you could save money by parking the van, and only maintaining the comprehensive coverage.
You may not have the money now, but once you save up the money, this is still a good option. While the vehicle may not be “worth” that much, that is not an important consideration. Vehicles are an expense, not an investment. We spend money on vehicles for transportation, and eventually they end up being worth $0. What that means is you are asking the wrong question. The question is not whether it is worth $6,000 to fix your van, it is whether $6,000 would buy a better vehicle. The answer depends upon your local used car market, but consider that because you bought this van new, you know if it has been maintained. That is worth something and should be factored into your calculation. If a better vehicle is available, buy it, if not, fix the one you have. Finally, before you make a decision on this point, I would get a second estimate on the engine. $6,000 sounds a little steep to replace the engine in a domestic vehicle; I would have expected it to be closer to $4,000.
In Summary – What is the best way to deal with this situation?
- Should I borrow the money to do the repairs? No.
- Should we continue to make payments while we save? Yes, the payments must be made no matter what you decide as the van is worth less than you owe.
- Should I spend $6,000 to fix a vehicle that is only worth $4,800? Yes, if a better vehicle cannot be bought for the same amount.
- Should I sell the minivan? No, better to still have the van after making payments, than to sell it and make payments on nothing.
I think you were on the right track before you wrote to us. If I were in your situation, I would live for a time as a one-car family. Your financial situation makes this necessary. While it is no fun paying for a broken car, a contract is a contract. Learn from the experience; buy your next car in cash. Save your money for the repair; next year you will be a two-car family again; your low-mileage van will have a brand-new engine, and you will be one step closer to being debt-free.
Do you have any other advice for Benedictus?
Have something to add? Please share your wisdom and experience and help point Benedictus in the right direction. Thanks!
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