The Value of a Car…

If there’s anything that’s become apparent in the past month, it’s the necessity for having a vehicle in order to hold a job.  There’s always public transportation if both your home and job are near a route, but it’s highly possible that either one or the other won’t be near one and in that case, a car is vital for a livelihood.  Such was the lesson when multiple vehicles in the PracticalDad household simultaneously opted for a sit-down strike, creating mayhem in the otherwise smoothly flowing schedule.

This is a family that has lived with a vehicle philosophy:  buy newer used and run them until the wheels drop off and by that, I literally mean that.  Except for my wife’s Toyota – now at 11 years of age and more than 180000 miles – we’ve always driven used and four of the cars throughout our 28 year marriage have been towed away for salvage.  Some have died quietly, with a whimper or a simple passed away in its sleep overnight and one went with a violent fit, tossing a piston through the engine while running at 60 miles per hour on a four lane highway.  The point is that we drive them until they simply won’t be driven ever again.  Until recently, the stats on the four vehicles were that the youngest was my wife’s, at eleven years of age although that was also the highest mileage, followed by my rolling dumpster with 151000 miles.  Each of the older kids had their own beater, one a hand-me-down from Grandmother when she gave up her license, and each needed it since both worked two summer jobs to beef up the bank account for the school year.  We also know kids who have had to borrow one or another of our own in order to get back and forth to jobs because of their own want of a vehicle.

But the past month was a figurative wreck as first one car – Eldest’s – went down with what appeared to be terminal issues, followed by my own.  This left us with a math problem:  two vehicles split amongst four drivers, one of whom requires a fully functioning automobile and another two that have to make it to another four separate jobs between them, each job working a different shift each day.  The ten point question is this:  how do you make this work?  Given that Youngest also had his own set of activities and I run the household, the only way to conceivably make it work was to revert back to earlier years when Dad literally ran a taxi service.  If one of the working kids had a late shift and no one required use of a vehicle, then that kid drove to work; otherwise, it was once again Dad’s Taxi and it wasn’t uncommon for me to toting and hauling on a midnight run to a job.  It was the first of a series of lessons for the kids – the need for many of the working poor to have a vehicle in order to even have a shot at holding a job at all.

So apart from that realization, what other lessons came from the experience?  First was whether it was even an option to even repair it and Eldest already had done a visit to Kelly Blue Book to ascertain the value of her vehicle.  The second lesson was the value of a good mechanic.  Since I was out of town that week, she and my wife had it towed to a shop that’s done some of our repairs in the past but with which I’ve become increasingly concerned over the past year.  When they reported that her car had a cracked head gasket with repairs at a cost of $2700 – outstripping the car’s value of $2200 – I had it towed to another garage for a second opinion, recalling last Autumn’s out of state car repair event when the repair cost was significantly less than originally anticipated.  In this case, the second garage fixed Eldest’s car for less than $60; which was also the third lesson, the value of a second opinion.  Throughout the process, conversations with the kids about the progress continued so that they knew what was happening as it occurred.  The point was to not only keep the costs down and the vehicles running, but also to teach them so that they would have an idea of what to do should this happen to them in the future. 

The final lesson was about how to purchase a new vehicle and surprisingly, it was Youngest who came along for those sessions since his elder siblings were working.  While my van was likewise repairable, the risk of running old vehicles made it apparent that we still needed a more reliable car and since she deserves it, it would go to my wife.  Youngest sat in on the sessions with the sales reps but all heard the questions and commentaries to my wife – what do you really need and what do you really want?  Once the parameters were established, it was a question of finding what worked and most cost-effectively. 

So we now have a new 2015 to complement the others.  Both mine and Eldest’s were repairable and are in use, although mine is now used solely for hauling equipment, debris and yard waste.  It’s a little more for the insurance but it’s still cheaper than ruining one of the other vehicle’s interiors or renting a pickup truck.  The final point is this:  these experiences and decisions are all part and parcel of adulthood and it’s better to teach the lessons yourself when they’re available than just expecting that the kids will figure it out when they’re older.  If situations arise, identify them to the kids and talk through the process with them, engage them whenever possible and share the results with them.  For these everyday adult occurrences, no young adult should ever have to look back and say I wish someone had told me before.

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