When is it time to “pull the [financial] plug” on an older vehicle?
When is it time to “pull the financial plug” on

After becoming 100% debt free in February 2019, I was the very proud owner of a 2004 Volkswagen Golf GLS. I knew when I bought it for $2,500 while I was paying off the last of my debt, due to it already having 150,000 miles on it, that it wouldn’t last me more than a couple of years. I don’t do a lot of driving since I work from home, so it was a reasonable assumption. I always heard that Volkswagen made extremely reliable cars, and thought it would be worth the risk.

I adored this car from the very beginning because this was going to be my “debt-free” vehicle. Following Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Principles, I sold off a newer car with a loan attached to it and helped shave down my debt. That is when I locally bought my Volkswagen Golf. I started putting some work into it immediately and hoped that my investment would keep me on the road long enough to save up for a newer vehicle.

Photo by Jess Baker on Medium

For about six months, my car was a champ despite now being up another 4k in miles. Then, I started to experience a car owner’s worst nightmare — “mystery” issues that make a mechanic scratch their head. Murphy’s Law (i.e., “if something can go wrong, it will.”) had busted down my front door like the Kool-Aid man, and I was at a loss.

At this point, I was so emotionally and financially invested in my car that I finally broke down and brought it to the dealer when no one else could figure out the issue. After inspection, they deemed it to be a worn part in the transmission system. Their diagnosis for why it was causing the symptoms it was was spot on to what I was experiencing, and I jumped at the idea of fixing it. After all, I was still saving for the actual replacement vehicle.

As someone who lives on an extremely tight budget even after becoming debt-free, the most logical choice for me at this point was to drop the $3,000 on the replacement parts.

Alternatively, I would be spending it on buying another beater and starting over with fixing and maintaining an older vehicle. When you drop money on tires, brakes, oil changes, tie rod replacements, etc., it’s not something you want to do again soon.

So, spending the $3,000 to replace the transmission parts is what I did. We live and learn. You know what? It worked wonderfully for another couple of months. It drove like a brand new car until it didn’t. I can’t blame it, though. I live in Las Vegas, and when things start roasting at 115+ degrees in the summer, things go wrong.

It seemed like I took one step forward and two steps back when the same problems came up. So, I faced the moral dilemma of bringing it back to the dealer to rack up another several grand to replace something else or get out while I still could. So, I ran.

On a whim, I started searching CarMax and other dealers’ websites to see if anything caught my eye. I wasn’t entirely sold on buying a new vehicle, but I wanted to know if I could find a similar car for under $10,000 with lower mileage. That’s when I founder her — a 2011 Volkswagen Golf with 48,000 miles for $12,000. When you live as close as I do to California, every used vehicle sees more highway miles than it should in its short lifespan. For this car to see less than 6,000 miles a year was nothing short of a miracle.

I was, practically and intentionally, in love, and I’m not even a car person.

So, what does one do when you’re an avid Dave Ramsey listener, are debt-free, have less than $1,000 in your car replacement fund, but have $14,500 in your emergency fund?

I used to be a rash decision maker with my finances before achieving financial peace, but I wasn’t going to do that with this. I sat on the car for a week and discussed what I should do about my current car situation with my fiance. After several days of talking about it, it was evident that I wouldn’t be spending any more to try to fix the transmission on my current car. We also felt like starting over with another beater would be a waste of money. Ultimately, we settled on the fact that the only logical option would be to use my emergency fund to get into something more reliable and rebuild from there.

I took to CarMax again after that week and was pleasantly surprised to see that the car I fell in love with was still available. I was almost sure it would have been swooped up, but it was still there, patiently waiting for me to make my decision. So, I requested the transfer to my local store, and the rest is history.

Photo by Jess Baker on Medium

I have learned many beautiful and challenging financial lessons in the last three years since starting my financial peace journey. So many that I could, and will, write many more stories about them in the years to come.

For the sake of time, I’ll leave you with a few lessons I’ve learned when it comes to buying and maintaining vehicles:

  • Never put more money into a car than it’s worth. Your investment will not go as far as you intended.
  • Cars wear out with age and mileage no matter how well a previous owner maintained it. Fix the small things, but if the big things go wrong, cut and run while you’re ahead.
  • Create slush funds for both car repairs and car replacements and budget what you can for them monthly. Repairs and replacements are not always an emergency, they’re inevitable, and you should budget for them.
  • If you’re going to buy a car, save up and buy it in cash. Even when you’re intentionally debt-free, it’s tempting to finance a vehicle for a low-interest rate. Don’t listen to that little financing demon in your head. Pay cash and only pay for it once; it’s cheaper in the long run.
  • Don’t ever make a big financial purchase on an impulse. Sleep on it for a few days, talk it over with a loved one whose opinion you respect, and do some soul searching to ensure what you’re buying will bring you joy (or peace of mind).

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