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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35 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. Car main­te­nance sounds like one of the best mon­ey-sav­ing skills to have. I guess I need to start learn­ing! Good deci­sion to stick with your cur­rent car, espe­cial­ly since you boyfriend’s dad was will­ing to help.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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!

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. I think every car own­er needs to have basic car main­te­nance knowl­edge. Because by using this tech­ni­cal skill, they can resolve some issues on their own which will not only save their wal­let in the long run but also cir­cum­vent dis­pens­able trips to the auto repair shop. No doubt, a car requires reg­u­lar after­care over its ser­vice­able life and the fact is, many vehi­cle own­ers will throw book at its care to get it oper­at­ed. But if you have right tools and a lit­tle fun­da­men­tal appre­hen­sion then you can def­i­nite­ly resolve sim­ple errors with­out tak­ing the help of car pro­fes­sion­al. Still, if you feel your car is too old and it is not worth spend­ing mon­ey on its main­te­nance, then you should go for a new or sec­ond-hand vehi­cle as per your spread­sheet.

  14. Love the main­te­nance aspect of keep­ing a car. One NFL play­er, Alfred Mor­ris, keeps his old Toy­ota from the 80s even though he’s like­ly mak­ing mil­lions. Car pay­ments have been out of hand, so if you can stave it off, all the best to you!

  15. Looks like you had a minor typo on your costs: “2 rotors @ $35 ea: $77” should be “2 rotors @ $35 ea: $70”.

    This would make the low­er “New brakes and rotors: $141” cor­rect, as 70 + 54 + 17 = 141 while 77 + 54 + 17 = 148

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