The $200 New Car

I've talked a fair amount in the past about my old car. It was a 2005 Pontiac Vibe. I bought the car for $8,000 cash in 2011 after a deer killed the Neon I was driving. Honestly, it was the best thing to happen to me. 

I had the Vibe for 6 years and put just about 100,000 miles on it. In that time, I replaced a few tires, the serpentine belt, countless oil changes, swapped out the OEM radio, and countless other small tweaks and repairs.

Lately, though, the car has had some issues. It wasn't accelerating quickly like it used to. Using the brakes was like trying to stop the car with fleece in between the rotors and brake pads. The tail light went out and just swapping out the bulb didn't help. I was worried it was a wiring issue, which would be $$$$ to fix. My license plate didn't want to stay in the designated spot on the back of the car because the screws were rusty. Oh, and now that I was driving 10+ hours a weekend to see my boyfriend, the lower mileage was causing me to pay more for gas and I needed oil changes more often.

It was time to reevaluate the car situation.

So what to do?

I didn't have much cash on hand thanks to all the work I've been doing on the house. That meant buying a decent car outright was off the table this time. I'd need to finance the vehicle. I haven't had a car payment in 7 years, and didn't want one. I love knowing the money I'd be spending on a car payment stays in my pocket instead. Could I handle owing money to someone for a depreciating ‘asset'?

I could buy used. It'd be cheaper and I'd be buying the vehicle after most of the initial depreciation was done. With the trade in of the Vibe, and a bit of cash I wouldn't be financing too much.

I could get a brand new car. They're pretty cheap these days since my good credit (I mean, my good credit before someone hacked Equifax) would get me a low interest rate. I could get a new car financed for 0% interest! That would let my money continue to grow in the markets and I'd have a new car. This would also mean I wouldn't roll the dice with a used car and pray I got one someone took good care of while they owned it. Not to mention, I could get exactly what I want with the features and really enjoy it as I drove into the ground.

Ultimately, though, I went with none of those.

I just couldn't stand the thought of throwing $12,000-25,000 after a new(er) vehicle. I spent $200 on parts and 8 hours of time to get a brand new car- my 2005 Pontiac Vibe.

“Wait- keeping your old car and calling it new isn't how the world works, Gwen.”

Well, this is my world and I say it does. After I replaced a laundry list of parts, my old car performs like a new car again! Or at least, it drives like it did when I first got it 100,000 miles ago.

I don't have the tools, the space, or the know-how to work on cars…… but my friend's dad does. They consider me part of the family, so he was happy to devote most of a Saturday to work on my car. I usually bring something for them in exchange for working on it, so this time I brought a ton of apples over. The apples I got when my boyfriend and I picked off my work wife's trees! He loves working on cars, and his wife likes him working on cars that won't hang out in their driveway or garage for years at a time.

I got most of the parts ahead of time, so we'd have as much time to work on the car as possible.  I bought spark plugs, a new tail light, and rotors to start.

The tail light turned out to be an easy fix. I was replacing the wrong bulb. I spent a grand total of $10 and 10 minutes to fix that one.

The spark plugs were a little bit more complicated but we got them swapped out as well. It turns out you're supposed to replace them every 70,000 miles or so…. meaning I was in desperate need of new ones. You know it's bad when the car guy pulls them out and goes wow….. Whoops! Who knew replacing spark plugs was a thing. Time spent on those was about 45 minutes and cost $5 for 4 of them (as I have a 4 cylinder engine).

Then we moved onto the tires and this was where it got tricky. The first wheel came off fine, but when we pulled it off, he found a frozen caliper. This meant my brake was only grabbing the inside of the rotor to stop. The inside brake pad was considerably more worn down than the outside brake pad. He pounded the stuck caliper, put some brake cleaner on it and then had to let it sit for a bit while we moved to the other side. Besides an incredibly rusted rotor, everything went fine with that removal and replacement scenario.

We went back to the first tire and ended up having to go back to the store for a new caliper kit. While we were there, we also got a fuel injector cleaner kit since I don't think my car has ever seen that done. My car resisted as best it could, but eventually we prevailed and got everything reassembled correctly. The total time and money commitment to that is as follows:

-2 people @ 3 hours ea: 6 hours of labor
-2 rotors @ $35 ea: $77
-1 brake pad kit @ $54 ea: $54
-1 caliper kit @ $17 ea: $17

I also feel obligated to mention the $1 in screws we bought to replace the rusty screws for my license plate and the 5 minutes and $8 dollars spent on the fuel injection kit.

So, the grand total for the day:

8 hours of work
New brakes and rotors: $141
New spark plugs: $5
New tail light: $10
Fuel injection kit: $8
Screws: $1

Total: $172

Now, I didn't take it into a shop for an estimation beforehand, but I can safely say it would've been a LOT more than $172 and 4 hours on a Saturday to get all that done. If I'd brought it into a shop, the chances are high I would've also paid some sort of unofficial “lady tax”. Every time I go to get my oil changed, people think I don't know anything and try to pull one over on me. And that's just for an oil change! Imagine what they would've tried to convince me needed to be done on top of everything else. I'm happy I don't have to deal with that headache now, I'm absolutely thrilled my car isn't breaking any laws anymore, and I'm over the moon at how well my car runs now!

What cars do you have? What will you do when yours gets older? Sound off in the comments below!


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31 thoughts on “The $200 New Car

  1. YEAH!!! So happy all it took was $200!! I am not so lucky. As you know, my beast has had some issues but I can’t bare to trade her in!! Recent issues have been a blown starter, brakes, and new exhaust. I went to have my tires rotate a few weeks back and he said the front ones are so bald they legally can’t rotate them. I now have to get new tires but am wondering if it is better to get rid of her and move on. Chance are, as soon as I get the tires, she will die and those tires will go with her. Gosh…is this what it is to get old? I’m going to have to save a lot of money to pay someone to take care of me when I get there!!
    Miss Mazuma recently posted…The Do’s & Dont’s of Walking the Camino de SantiagoMy Profile

    • Yeah at some point there will be a tipping point where it’s not worth it. I haven’t hit that yet with Levi…. I don’t know if I can say the same thing about you and The Beast :/

  2. Nice job. Spark plugs are something that my wife’s car needs, but I thought wires were supposed to be changed at the same time, I need to look into that more, that might be a lot easier than I initially thought.

    Bigger jobs I did in the past year or two have been replacing the oxidized headlights with new ones from Amazon. You don’t realize how bad that gets until you’re out of the city and off the interstate. Pretty straight forward thanks to YouTube videos.

    • CRAP! That reminds me! We didn’t clean off the headlight covers. Oh well, I have toothpaste I can use. Thanks for the reminder.

      • No problem. I did the clean thing on one car, effect was okay, but lasted less than a year. I think there was solid value in the replacement–but then I drove around for a couple months with slightly too short of a thrown beam that I had to adjust.

  3. I cracked up at this: ” “Wait- keeping your old car and calling it new isn’t how the world works, Gwen.” Well, this is my world and I say it does.”

    Hey, if it runs like new, then why the hell wouldn’t you call it a new car?

    Been reading for a long time, and only recently am I starting to partake in the FI community. Thanks for all of the insight you’ve given us, and looking forward to your future stories!

  4. Well done! Reminds me of my dad working to keep my old Chevy Citation alive.

    These days our vehicles are fully paid off and five or more years old, but still shy of 100,000 miles. I have high hopes for my Fit reaching 300K before we’re through.

    • Woo! Good luck! It probably would have been a good idea for me to look up the mileage replacements before I drove it 100k miles but you live and learn! Ha!

  5. Nice, always a great thing when you can use the resources around you! We are considering buying a second car as the heavy impending snowfall will make our carpooling (or me taking the car and G biking) a lot more complicated. On top of that my work would appreciate it if I could work in the office 30min away once a week (no, the bus doesn’t work, the earliest I could get there would be over an hour late). However I can’t quite justify the cost and being a new homeowner just like you there are other places that need my money. I’m interested to see how the cooler weather affects us and will take it as it goes for now.
    Vanessa @ Achieving Freedom recently posted…La Vita è BellaMy Profile

    • Yeah public transport doesn’t really work if you’re not in a really big city. Living so far north with such unpredictable weather only complicates things further!

  6. Congrats! I do most of my car maintenance and I find it very rewarding especially the part where I can pat myself on the back for saving a boatload of money (except that one time when I overtightened a spark plug and it shot out like a bottle rocket… I was not happy with that tow bill)! Oh and remember, all the things we have to do on a used car we would have to do on a new car as well (eventually). A buddy of mine has a Vibe and it is a solid vehicle. Keep the maintenance up on it and it will last longer than you think.

    A couple of things to point out if I may. I only say this out of internet friendship and not as a random know it all internet commentor…
    1) Did you also replace your spark plug wires? Those need replacing from time to time as well. It will further improve performance.
    2). Looks like you got the cheapest spark plugs which is fine but they may need to be replaced sooner so check the manufacturers reccomendation. I paid extra for my fancy pants iridium spark plugs that should last 120k miles and provide better fuel economy, but then again I am a Prius snob.
    3). Those NGK’s you took out are the worst plugs I’ve ever seen. I’m impressed.
    4). Great job! Learning new things is awesome and not having a car payment is even better! You’re a great example for us all.

  7. Way better to fix the old than to buy new. Way to go! Even if you still want to sell it, think of how much money people would have tried to talk you down from in your sales price because of all the issues! It’s good to have helpful friends and family.

  8. I recommend checking out your manual for a maintenance schedule going forward. Just a few hundred dollars in preventative care can go a long way in hopefully extending the life of your vehicle another 100,000 miles. Obviously you don’t have to follow this exactly, but you should at least try to keep it close!

    If you lost the manual you can always google something like ‘2005 pontiac vibe maintenance schedule’ and I’m sure it will be online somewhere.

    My previous car was also a Dodge Neon – totaled when someone hit my car and I only had 80k miles on it. Was super disappointed at the time.
    Debt Hater recently posted…Net Worth Update – August 2017My Profile

  9. This is awesome, Gwen! Inspiration for me as my own beastly ride creeps toward the 200k mark on the odometer, haha! Mechanically-inclined friends/family are GOLD when it comes to living frugally!

  10. Way to go! That’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Plus…. now you know a bit more about car maintenance, that can only help you in the future.

    We drive a Honda Fit. Most of the maintenance is done at the dealership but being a Honda we find it to be quite reasonable. We owned one for almost 10 years before upgrading to a “newer” used Honda Fit from 2014. The only thing I’ll do on the car is changing the winter/summer tires and washing/waxing/vacuuming twice per year. Although I did recently change the air filters which saved me $60 and was EXTREMELY easy to do. Oil changes is probably the next on my list to learn.
    Owen @ recently posted…DYK? Your Marginal Effective Tax Rate Could Be 60-70%!My Profile

  11. Nice! It’s amazing what a little know-how, some effort, and a few bucks can do.

    I’ve been pretty good about trying to fix up stuff around our house (plumbing, furnace, etc), but cars are beyond my comfort zone…for now 🙂

    • It helps me to know when I work on stuff that it’s not my one and only. I wouldn’t have worked on the car myself without my friend’s dad being there. No way was I going to mess up my car that I need to get to work!

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