When Enough is Enough for Car Repairs

We spent 4 hours of our Saturday sitting at Firestone. Between being harassed by an old guy who obviously felt really ornery that day and watching the mechanics all stare at the Xterra’s undercarriage in bewilderment, we had quite an emotionally draining day. The check engine light – the one we attempted to repair by replacing the gas cap – had come back on, making it impossible for us to pass our required emissions test this month.

At first, they told us we were looking at $338 for the diagnostic and to replace a valve on the evap canister. Since this was right in line with what we were expecting, we told them to proceed. But as luck would have it, they found something else. The evap canister itself was cracked and needed to be replaced. The recommended repair was now going to cost $775.54, in addition to the $99 diagnostic they had just performed.

We told them we needed some time to think. And think. And think some more.

If you’ve been following us for very long, you probably know how we feel about car payments. They are evil and we don’t want any part of them. We’ve been of the mind set to do almost anything to keep the Xterra running so as to avoid buying a newer vehicle. But sometimes enough is enough. Over the past 12 months, not counting routine oil changes, we’ve sat in a repair shop 5 times and shelled out $1,445.71 to fix various problems that included:

  • December 2015 – $351.64 – Replaced Valve Cover Gasket & Intake Manifold
  • December 2015 – $81.94 – Repaired Vacuum Hose (Check Engine Light)
  • March 2016 – $290.03 – Repaired Rear Electrical & Problem with Radiator Hose
  • June 2016 – $597.30 – Replaced Timing Belt, Serpentine Belt and Water Pump
  • November 2016 – $25.80 – Bought New Gas Cap (Check Engine Light)
  • December 2016 – $99.00 – Ran diagnostic for Check Engine Light.

If we added to that the cost to replace the evap canister then we’d be looking at more than $2,200 in repairs (or an average of $184 per month).

Now you might be thinking (as we were for a minute) that given all these major repairs were already done, wouldn’t it be possible that nothing more would need repairing for a while? Sadly, no. 2017 was already going to be the year for new tires and brakes and then there’s a little issue with the heat shield. It needs to be welded back together.

Not bad from a distance, right?
Not bad from a distance, right?

On Sunday afternoon, we cruised the local car lots for an affordable, newer model car that would get better than the 17 MPG gas mileage that our beloved Xterra boasted. Have you ever shopped a small town’s car lots? If you want to fully understand why the people who live there are always broke, then I encourage you to do so. The only thing we found remotely in our price range was yet another 2003 Nissan. This one was a Sentra with more than 150K miles on her. She was metallic blue from a distance but upon closer inspection looked like she’d lost a fight with a roll of barbed wire. This little beauty has a Blue Book dealership value of about $2,600 but the fine folks at “Small Town Motors” were selling her for only $5,995.

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Enter Carvana.

You’ve probably seen the commercials where cars come out of something like a vending machine when you order them. Yes, that’s Carvana. We’ve passed their 5-story building in Nashville numerous times and it does indeed look like a vending machine. It’s a catchy concept and one I never thought much about before – ordering a car completely online, sight unseen, without ever having to talk with a pushy salesman or haggle over hidden costs while waiting for the dealership to pretend to discuss their “best offer”.

I admit, we’ve been looking at cars on Carvana since our $600 repair bill in June. On Sunday, we decided to finally press the button – literally. We ordered a car online – a 2015 Chevrolet Spark. We drove a Spark around Hawaii for a week in 2014, on 2 tanks of gas, so we’re familiar with it’s look and feel. It’s a tiny peanut compared to the Xterra but sometimes it pays to go small. The Spark happened to be in our price range ($9,000) and still has more than 60,000 miles on the manufacturer’s powertrain warranty but best of all, it gets 31 MPG City/39 MPG Highway.

I thought the decision to part with so much money would be hard but after looking at what we’ve spent on the Xterra this year, Angie and both felt more relief than stress when we placed our order. The buying process has been super-easy (so far). Our new-to-us car will arrive on Thursday and I plan to write more about Carvana (and how this purchase fits with our budget goals) then.

3 thoughts on “When Enough is Enough for Car Repairs

  1. Nooooo!! If your 2003 xterra died, ours can’t be far behind. Thankfully ours only has about 70,000 miles. Glad you found something you both like!


    1. Hi Barb! As I was writing this, I was thinking about you guys. We had 173,000 miles on ours so hopefully you’ve got a ways to go with yours. I think in the hands of someone more mechanically inclined, ours might have a good 2nd life somewhere 🙂


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