If taking the bus is not possible and buying a new car is out of the question, what do you do if your car is on its last legs? What are the alternatives to going deeply into debt with expensive car payments?
It may not be glamorous, but limping along in the old jalopy for another year or finding a decent used car at a reasonable price may be your best choice. Both, however, are easier said than done.Here are some tips from professionals on how to tackle those problems and save money at the same time, without letting your blood pressure boil over like a hot radiator:
-Making the old car last a little longer. Mechanics and car experts say the critical first step in extending the life of an aging automobile is to accurately assess its problems and potential lifespan. A thorough examination at a garage can cost anywhere from about $50 to more than $100, based primarily on the type and size of vehicle. Checkups for foreign-made cars and luxury cars generally cost more.
A trusted friend or relative who is handy with tools might be able to perform a rudimentary examination to reveal any obvious problems.
One way to get a free automobile inspection is to take it to an auto mechanic class at a local high school, said Dick Proulx, coordinator of automotive training at Mid-Florida Technical Institute, Orange County's adult vocational education facility in Orlando.
"We take them here too, because it's a good learning and training experience," for students, Proulx said. Always check first with the instructor at the school to make sure the school's garage is not already full.
Just because a car has 99,999 miles on it does not necessarily mean it is about to pop a fan belt or belch black smoke, mechanics say. If you have owned the car all along and know it has had oil and filter changes at the manufacturer's recommended intervals, or more frequently, chances are good that its engine life will exceed 100,000 miles.
If the automobile has had full maintenance checks and servicing at the recommended intervals, usually 5,000 to 7,000 miles for cars built in the past six years, then chances are even better that any major developing problems would have been noted earlier.
"I recommend even more frequent oil and filter changes, about every 2,500 to 3,000 miles," Proulx said. "If a car is taken care of there's no reason it shouldn't get 200,000 miles or more."
Proulx said his own car now has more than 100,000 miles on it and is still going strong. "I bought it used, too," Proulx said.
Major internal problems typically include worn engine rings or pistons. They sometimes are more expensive to fix than the car is worth.
-Buying a used car without being abused. Buying a previously owned car can be risky because in many cases there are no warranties as there are with new cars and trucks. But financial planners point out that buying a used car can be a good way to save money because new vehicles lose their value - "depreciate" is the technical word - so rapidly.
But the money-saving idea can go up in smoke if the car turns out to be a financial drain as a result of major or constant repairs. The trick is to get a used car in good shape that will last, and that means checking it out first.
Mechanics say that many of the same simple rules for examining and taking care of your own old car also apply to a used car. The first problem, however, is that in most cases you don't know the history of the automobile and how well - or poorly - it has been cared for.
For that reason, buying a used car from a trusted friend or relative sometimes is the best bet. If that is not possible, there are ways to help hedge against buying a real lemon from a used car dealer.
Some dealers will provide the name and address of the previous owner if pressed. If they will not, get the vehicle identification number, which is usually on a small metal plate on the dash near the window on the driver's side. Contact the local tax collector's office or state Division of Motor Vehicles and request the name and address of the prior owner, said Sue Williamson, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Consumer Services.
Getting a quick checkup at a garage is a good practice but there are a number of things anyone can look for on their own before making a purchase.
"I look for new nuts and bolts holding things together," Proulx said. It can be a tipoff that the car has been in an accident.
A fresh paint job might be covering a minor problem such as a small dent that was straightened or it could be an indication that the automobile was wrecked or damaged seriously by rust, according to Bob Galloway, owner of The Car Exchange in Cocoa and president of the National Independent Auto Dealers Association.