Life Developments of the Automotive Kind

[A few weeks ago….]

ME: Hi, I was wondering if you can get my 2012 Kia Soul in for service? It needs an oil change and the ‘Check Engine’ light just came on.

MY MECHANIC: Sure, I can get ‘er in tomorrow!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This car has a long history of the Check Engine light coming on for a day or two and then going off again for six months. This time, not so much.]

[The next day….]

ME: (on phone, around noon; our mechanic is a “drop it off in the morning and then he calls us when he’s got something to report unless we call him first” kind of guy) Hey, just checking in on my Kia Soul?

MECHANIC: Oh, hi. [I’m already sensing bad news] So the oil change is done, but the Check Engine light log referred us to an oxygen sensor. When I checked that out, I found that the flange for the catalytic convertor is rotting out…[my brain doesn’t process much of what follows because we all know what it means when the mechanic refers to your catalytic convertor in ANY context]…estimated repair cost of $2100.

ME: Huh.

[end of scene]

Some years ago I started up a dedicated savings slush fund just for car repairs, after one large repair on a previous vehicle cleaned out my entire personal savings account. This practice has proved wise over the last few years: having the money already set aside to cover stuff like a brake job or a faulty sensor will save you so much emotional and mental anguish, I can’t overstate it. My Kia Soul, though, as noted, was a 2012 model, so I’ve been aware for a while that its time of replacement was coming up sooner rather than later. I’ve also been fortunate the last two years to have no major repairs crop up, so I was able to convert some of the Auto Repair Fund to a Future Vehicle Down Payment Fund. My hopes were to make it to 2024 before starting to look around seriously for the next vehicle, but as you can see by the Dramatic Rendering above, the Car Repair Gods had other plans.

The Wife had to buy a new car herself two years ago, and she liked the sales rep at the local dealership she dealt with a great deal, so she contacted him. And that dealership is literally at the end of our street. So, appointments were made and test drives were done and long story short, yada yada yada, exeunt the 2012 Kia Soul which was originally my mother’s car. Enter my new 2019 Buick Encore!

Mr. Sulu, set a course for adventure!

Two previous cars of mine were Buicks, both of which I liked enormously, so I was predisposed to like this one. We did our test drive due diligence, though we only got to test out two vehicles (the other being a Chevy Trax). I did some online research, and this particular vehicle was a gem in the waiting, having only had a single owner and only 14000 miles on it. Not bad, considering! I’m quite happy with what I got.

But man, is this a bad time to be forced into the car purchase racket, folks.

I’m sure we’ve all heard about inventory problems and supply-chain issues, but the long and short of it is this: new cars are simply not out there in any appreciable volume, to the point where new cars are literally being made to order, with really long lead times. I know a guy at work who ordered his new pickup truck last August; he finally got his new truck a month ago. My sales rep told me of a guy who ordered a new truck of his own, just a standard bells-and-whistles Chevy pickup, with a lead time of a year. All this puts enormous pressure on the used car market, driving inventories down and prices up.

While I did get a good deal with which I am quite happy, I was very much constrained by low inventory and, therefore, fewer options. I put the question out to Facebook when this all started, and I got a lot of recommendations for good cars in response; few of those were available in my price range at all. (And while I do like buying used, because let’s be honest, you can easily replicate the New Car Smell and these days a three-years-or-less used car might as well be new anyway if the previous owner wasn’t a shit and your dealer isn’t a shyster.) I feel strongly that I was lucky to get a car I’m happy with this quickly.

(Now, I had some time; my Kia Soul wasn’t undrivable. But its issues meant that it would not pass its next New York State Inspection unless the catalytic convertor and the exhaust system were replaced, and my inspection was up in July. If the inspection had had until September, then I would have had more time to play with, alas.)

I asked my sales rep if he saw any light at the end of this tunnel any time soon, and he bluntly said, “No, I think it’s gonna be this way for a long time to come. If you think you’re going to need a car, you either need to order it early, or accept being at the mercy of existing inventory when the time comes.” Ouch.

My attitude on cars, shared by The Wife, has always been to drive them until ongoing maintenance costs make little sense. This particular repair need gave me pause, because I could have had the Kia fixed! I could have afforded it, quite painlessly. I could have bought another few years in that car. Maybe. But you never know, do you? The last brake job I had done on that car was four years ago, so that would almost certainly be coming up soon–and quite possibly before I had a chance to save up for that.

And all of that would have depleted my ability to make the down payment on the next car.

So, yes, I thought about just having the Kia fixed. But in the end–and this was a decision quickly made–it just didn’t make financial sense for me to put over $2000 into a ten-year-old car.

That Kia Soul was a good car. We had a lot of good times in that car…or, we drove to a lot of good times in that car. The Soul was never a car that I would have chosen for myself had I been buying new; it was just a bit small for my tastes. But it was reliable and comfortable (for me, anyway; The Wife had other opinions) and The Dee-oh-gee liked it a lot. Here’s hoping the new Encore serves as well. There’s a solid chance–maybe just this side of unlikely, but still within possibility–that this vehicle sees me through to retirement. We’ll see.

(What would I have purchased had inventory and money not been factors? Either a Subaru Outback or a Crosstrek. I’ve long been a Subaru fan.)

(Oh, and not long ago I considered a ‘Reverse Camera’ a gimmick. Now? I love it!)

(Kudos to my sales guy for always being willing to listen to “Yeah, I don’t like this.” He openly said, several times, “Look, you gotta like your car!” And another time, “I am not the kind of guy who wants to put you in a car you don’t like because I get a sale.” That meant a lot. One model Trax he showed me didn’t come with cruise control; I said before I got in the car, “Yeah, I need cruise.” He said, “OK, this car’s out, then.” I don’t use cruise control all the time, but I want it there for when we’re doing long stints on the monument to ennui that is the New York State Thruway. I am surprised to learn that you can still buy cars without cruise control! I have to admit that by this point, I consider cruise control and air conditioning standard to the point that they’re just assumed. Like, I don’t know, wheels.)

(Are you self-conscious about your signature? Buy a car. You’ll get over that shit real quick. Holy shit, that was a lot of signing!)


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3 Responses to Life Developments of the Automotive Kind

  1. Roger says:

    Reverse camera is GREAT!

  2. Paul says:

    I gotta ask: did they make you pay for the oil change? Working in the auto service industry my hackles were immediately raised by the phrase, “the oil change is done, but…” If one of my mechanics came to me after completing an oil change and told me the car he was working on needed a $2000 repair, my first question to him would be, “why did you do the oil change before we called the customer about the rest?”

    • ksedinger says:

      I wouldn’t say my mechanic MADE me pay for the oil change, but I did pay for it, yes. We’ve been with this mechanic for years and he’s been very trustworthy with us, never doing skeevy upselling or any nasty shit. Plus, as my ‘Check Engine’ light had been on, I was at least partially prepared for bad news. And this particular engine issue wasn’t instantly a death sentence; the car was drivable and, according to my mechanic, would have remained so for months. The only way in which time was a factor was that the car would not have passed its next New York State inspection, and that was in July. I have faith that this particular mechanic would not have bothered with the oil change if he had been in the position of literally condemning the car on the spot. (I get your meaning, though…we’re lucky in having found a decent and honest mechanic!)

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