Paying for repairs wins out over purchasing auto

By Norman Knight

I just picked up Becky’s car from the repair shop. It was a major fix, a three-day project, so they gave me a car to use. Even though the loaner car was newer than ours, included all the latest technological bells and whistles and was very sleek, it is good to be driving the old car again. It feels comfortable. It feels easy. I am a big fan of easy when it comes to cars.

Even though we are joint owners of our two cars, we call the blue car hers and the gray car mine. She loves her blue car and keeps it in good shape. Since we are both mechanically challenged, we regularly and religiously take our cars in when the recommended mileage rolls around. It is a good plan for us except when those surprise problems pop up. Oil on the garage floor was the surprise that led to the latest repair.

This is the most recent in a series of repair jobs during the last year. Both the blue and the gray car are 2009 models, so it is never really surprising when our nine-year-old vehicles develop problems. Each time the representative at the repair shop explains that something needs to be fixed or replaced, Becky and I have a discussion about whether we should go ahead with the repair or start shopping for a new car. In fact, we had that discussion before we gave the OK to work on this last repair.

We did the math figuring a monthly new car payment against the amount spent over a year on repairs divided by 12. We remembered that to purchase a new vehicle, we would need money for a down payment. Having just finished our taxes, we were reminded that taxes on our older cars are much less that what a new car’s taxes would be. Insurance premiums would be higher on a new car, as well. Even though we usually do the cost-benefit analysis in our heads, a consensus of Internet experts confirmed that it is almost always better to repair a car rather than buy a new one. As long as it makes economic sense to keep the old cars, I always vote for that.

I also vote to keep our cars for reasons other than economic ones. The thing is, I don’t like shopping for things — especially big, expensive things such as cars. I don’t like going from car lot to car lot while comparing the details of the various makes and models as I try to make an informed decision. Also, I am not crazy about the wheeling and dealing that goes along with buying a car. And the truth is I have come to realize I don’t like change as much as I did at one time. I prefer our gray and blue cars even if they occasionally need some extra care.

I know cars are big business. I know this because I witness the number of auto dealers who shout at us during commercials. I also understand cars and trucks are very important material objects for people. Not only are they necessities, but for most of us Americans the vehicles we chose reflect something about our personalities. In a way, we are our cars.

And that goes for me, too. I like the feeling that I am getting as much as I can out of my vehicle, that I am not wasting anything. I like that my old gray car is still rolling along, even if it sometimes needs minor surgery. I like that it is fairly easy to get along with except for an occasional petulant mood or temper tantrum. I like that it is comfortable.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to