Buicks, Budgets,
and Lessons Learned
from My Check Engine Light

Posted on 1 Comment 5 min read 1077 views

This summer, I found myself sitting across my from my loan officer, about to sign the dotted line on a shiny 2017 Hyundai Elantra, and I couldn’t do it. I had done the math, completed the test drive, and even picked out a fun red color to cruise around in. My husband was on board, too. Plus, let’s not forget the incredible gas savings!

Despite checking off several boxes on my wish list, I didn’t sign the papers. In fact, I called the dealer and backed out of the deal shortly after the meeting with my loan officer. 

Why did I do that? Let me start at the beginning.

At the end of January 2019, my husband and I made our first real, big purchase. We bought a used 2014 Buick Encore to replace my dented 2006 Mazda with no AC. We had saved for months and put 90% cash down, only financing a small portion to build our non-existent credit history. 

I loved my new car. It was techy. Navigation, bluetooth, blind spot sensors. It was even AWD to combat crazy Kansas weather and had extra traction to support my long commute to work. It was just what I had wanted, down to the teal accent stitching on the seats. I was going to drive this car for the next ten years — minimum. 

Imagine my distress when — 6 months later — my check engine light blinks on. I took my little SUV to a local small business mechanic. We first tried a few low-cost troubleshooting options, but the damage was inevitable: I needed a new turbocharger for my engine. An estimated $1,400 repair. 

Being the Frugal Fanny that I am, I wondered if the dealer would repair for cheaper since I just drove it off the lot (not even) 6 months ago. I called, wondering if a kind soul would help me out, and he did. To summarize, the dealer offered to complete the repairs for $800 and cover the cost of a rental car. 

Great! Except that the part was on backorder. Like, so much on backorder that there was no end in sight. We called every shop in town that had the part in stock, and no one would sell it to the dealer repair. After 31 days of waiting for the part to come in (and driving a loaner), we had to look at other options. The dealer suggested he get me out of the Buick and into something more reliable. I went with his suggestion. I was concerned that with such a large backorder of that part, maybe the car I had loved so much was not as reliable as I once thought. 

Dismayed, I mourned the upcoming death of my perfect little Buick. I picked out the Hyundai and was just waiting to sign papers. 

Then, the bad gut feeling hit. I didn’t want to lose my car! Sure, the dealer was giving me a way out of my dud car and into something more reliable, but I didn’t like the impact it was going to have on my budget. My car insurance was going to go up. The trade in value for my Buick wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be. Finally, the small car loan I had on my Buick was about to increase to a sizeable loan, with a $150 increase in payment per month. Sure, I am saving $500 per year on gas, but I couldn’t get over the other numbers. Either way, I was losing in this situation. 

I’d made up my mind. I was going to save my car. So what if there’s not an authentic GM part? Fine. I will find a way. At this point, I could do with a refurbished part (and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner). After all, the $1,400 repair option is obviously cheaper than buying a whole new car. I called the local mechanic, and sure enough, they had an aftermarket part! I backed out of the loan and told the dealer I wanted to fix my Buick. He was very understanding and paid for my month’s worth of rental car expenses as promised.

My Buick went to the shop the following Monday and was fixed within 3 days. Now she runs like a champ! The cost came a little higher than the $1,400 quote ($1510); however, I didn’t mind. I was just so happy to be in my own car again. Plus, I’ll give my money to a small business instead of a dealer any day. #ShopSmall

Could I probably have saved myself a lot of stress by making different decisions than I did? Yes, but this was such a great learning experience on the car repair and buying process that I would not have had otherwise! Sometimes the hardest lessons learned have the biggest impact, right? 

Below, find a few tips to consider if you are faced with a similar car dilemma. (Seems like we all have ‘em at some point!)

  • Advocate for yourself. Whether you are dealing with car repairs or you’re on the new car lot buying a new vehicle, you are in charge! The car salesman doesn’t make money without you and will work hard for your sale. You have the power to back out of any deal, at any time. If something sounds fishy, or doesn’t fit your budget, be sure to trust your instincts. 
  • Always have an emergency fund.  I haven’t Googled this, but I would guess that most individuals use their emergency funds to cover car-related expenses at some point. Cars are a part of life, and unfortunately, so are car repairs. So set yourself up for a lot less heartache by having an emergency fund. Trust me. It’s worth it.
  • Get quotes.  Got a car repair? There’s no harm in calling around to find the best deal and price. You’d be surprised just how good a company’s customer service is! Don’t forget about the small businesses — they often are super honest and willing to give you 5-star, personalized service. (Looking back, I should have just stuck with my local mechanic, but who knew the part was going to be back ordered to Timbuktu!)
  • Consider your budget. Always weigh the impact that this car purchase and cost of repairs will have on your financial goals. If your car truly isn’t worth repairing and an upgrade is needed, just make sure that your budget agrees! Consider the cost of gas, the impact on insurance, and monthly payment or savings amount involved. 

I know my situation is unique, and you may never find yourself in a similar situation. But if you do,  I hope that by sharing my story you can walk into a sticky car situation feeling a little bit more in control. Dig deep and don’t be afraid to press in and question the answers. 

Have you ever had pesky car situation like mine? Drop your story in the comments!

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1 Comment
  • JS
    July 11, 2020

    Great personal example! I think stories like this are the best way to teach. As we learn we can transfer the lessons learned on to others.

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