A Tale Of Two Drivers (Part 2)

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If you haven’t read Part 1, read it first HERE, then come back and finish the story 🙂

Driver #2

“This sucks.” Not only has today already been a long day at the office, but you still have a ton of stuff to do at the house. Fixing the car is now a priority because you rely on it for work, so you’re going to have to re-prioritize. But good thing you took Jake’s advice and learned some basic car maintenance, so you know you way around the car’s engine.

You pop the hood, and there’s coolant everywhere. Hmmmm.

You check around for a leak, but you can’t quite tell where it’s coming from. You know that the engine isn’t damaged because you shut it off before letting it fully over heat, and since you can’t find any leaks, you decide to start it up. You still don’t see the leak, so you let it idle for a few minutes. It doesn’t seem to overheat, so you decide to start driving, very carefully. You crank the heater and keep all the windows open. You drive carefully.

You barely limp the car home.

You have to turn the car off at stoplights because the temp gauge creeps upwards when you’re at a stop. You make it home, but barely. You pop the hood right away to try and see the leak, but it’s too dark at this point. You hope the car is in good enough shape to get to work the next day.

You make it work and back, but it’s not good.

As you pull in the driveway coming home from work, the car is almost overheating again. You immediately pop the hood and look for the culprit. AND THERE IT IS. You see a leak under the distributor, but you can’t seem to find the hose that it’s coming from. You hop online and do a quick search. “1994 Honda Accord coolant leak under distributor.” The first result that pops up is the perfect answer.

You click on the youtube video that details exactly how to replace the offending hose.

Could it be any easier? Since you’ve got a basic set of tools, you’re all set for the task. You call the nearest O’Reillys and ask if they have the part in. They do. BOOM! You watch a video a few more times and you’re ready to go. You drain the coolant, pull off a few things, finally get the old hose off and pop on the new one. You put it all back together, poor in the new coolant and start the engine. You let it warm up and idle while you open the bleeder valve wit burp the system (just like the video showed you). After a few minutes, you’re back to normal.

Time for a test drive!

Covered in sweat and grease, you wipe off and hop in the car for a test drive. There are no leaks in sight, and the temp. gauge is looking good. You slowly back out of the driveway and head out into the neighborhood. So far so good. After a few blocks comes the real test. You click on the A/C, you hear the compressor kick on and you keep on driving. After a minute, you start to feel that ice cold air coming out of the vents and your temp. gauge still shows a cool engine.


The Cost Implications

Both Driver #1 and Driver #2 got stuck in the same crappy situation. Both were frustrated by the situation, and both had to make quick decisions on how to get back on the road because they need a vehicle to commute with every day. Driver #1 let the frustration lead him to the dealership and getting rid of the object of his frustration. Driver #2 took the issue in stride and turned his frustration into an opportunity to learn and grow his skill set. Both had a working vehicle by the end of the ordeal, but Driver #2 had to put in a few hours of work. Let’s see if it was worth it.

Driver #1 Cost Impact

Towing bill = $0 (covered by insurance)
Car Service Quote = $0 (rolled car into new purchase, so no charge)
New Car Purchase Price = $2,000 down + old car ($17,000 total)
New Car Monthly Payments (@ 3% interest) = $270 per month for 5 years

Total Cost Impact After 5 Years = $18,172

Driver #2 Cost Impact

Car Parts = $60 (replaced radiator hoses as well because they were old)

Total Cost Impact After 5 years = $60

Note: This does not even include the opportunity cost of having $18,000 less to invest. The impact is much greater than shown above.

Which Driver Are You?

It probably seems like I write a lot about cars….probably because I do. Mostly, it comes from my background of knowing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about cars until about age 20, and realizing how much money I wasted, and how much money I WOULD waste if I continued down that path. I know what it’s like to not even know where your oil dipstick is in the engine bay. I understand the panic of a car breaking down and not knowing the first thing about what to do. And I totally get the temptation to want to take what seems like the “easy route” (but in reality it’s not) instead of accepting the challenge of diagnosing a car issue.

I get it.

But since I started learning about how cars work, what used cars are reliable and how to do basic car maintenance, I realized that cars are the absolute MAKE OR BREAK for the middle class. Your relationship with cars can define whether you build a solid financial future or stay broke. I absolutely believe that. So I encourage ANYONE who drives a car (AKA everyone) to invest a little time and money into understanding your vehicles and start making wise choices in how you purchase and maintain them. It will literally save you tens of thousands of dollars (as shown above) every decade.

So what’s it gunna be?

I am totally fine with someone choosing driver #1 as long as they admit they are losing $100,000+ out of their future retirement to drive a shinier hunk of metal around. Me? I choose to be driver #2. Even if I get a newer vehicle, I will buy it near the bottom of the depreciation curve, I will do my own maintenance and save thousands in labor cost, and I will not panic when something goes wrong because I choose to equip myself with knowledge. And honestly, that goes for EVERYTHING that has to do with money.

Knowledge will make you rich, not your income.

So choose wisely. Challenge your excuses and take control of the second biggest purchase of your life.

Happy driving!

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

18 thoughts on “A Tale Of Two Drivers (Part 2)”

  1. Great post Jacob. I think you’re right, the thing that frustrates people most about having an older car is not knowing enough about how to maintain it, which leads to very poor decisions. I’m not fully driver #2, but I’d like to be!

    BTW, Brian at Luke1428 had a great post today about knowledge being a better investment than the stock market, you should check it out!

  2. Good post – car maintenance is definitely something I’m not good at and should probably read up on as I’m the main driver in our family. I’m probably #1 at the moment, though I’d love to be #2!

  3. Admittedly, I am 1.5. My radiator cracked and had to be replaced. I paid to have the mechanic replace it vs. trying to do it myself. I definitely wouldn’t have thrown out the car.

  4. Yay for Driver #2! As the proud owners of a 1996 Honda Odyssey, my husband and I do everything we can to keep her running ourselves. And, small as it is, I am very proud of myself for changing a tire entirely on my own! I agree with you that it’s all about taking a step back from the immediate crisis and realizing that you can learn how to do just about anything yourself.

  5. My hubby is amazing at learning how to do most any repair via Youtube and Internet searches, and we have saved SO much money this way. His most recent conquest was learning to do a radiator flush on his pickup. There were a few bumps at first, but now he’s got it down and will be doing our Surburban next. Great post, Jacob!

  6. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m very nervous about DIY car maintenance (maybe something to work on!) but I do have a mechanic I trust that I know won’t rip me off. However, I certainly wouldn’t be like driver #1 and just buy a new car. 🙂

  7. I’ll choose Driver #2. Drivers should learn basic car maintenance and repair. In case their car will break down in the street that far from the car repair shop so they can repair their own car. But it’s better to learn more about maintaining and major repair to avoid paying the high cost. I had fun reading this. Thanks for sharing your article.

  8. My wife and I had a similar issue with a coolant leak recently, then we realized our water pump had a large leak. The problem was that we were 12 hours from home and we were in Denver, so we were forced to pay more than we would have at home and we had no choice of whether or not to fix it. It all ended up working out and we didn’t pay a ridiculous amount.

  9. I think which route you take depends a lot on your confidence in knowing the car. I’m always worried about safety, but when my alternator started to go, I was able to google it successfully and see that it wasn’t life threatening. If you can diagnose with confidence, then it makes more sense to take care of it yourself.

  10. I am definitely not as good with car maintenance as I would like to be, but I am getting there. For awhile I wouldn’t even start my car to let it warm up, but I eventually realized that letting the car warm up also helps with saving gas.

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