Pretty much everything I did with my money immediately after college was a mistake, starting with a series of loser boyfriends and progressing into a love affair with vintage clothing, karaoke and crazy costume parties. But through it all, I had one trusty, but rusty, hunk of scrap metal by my side: my sweet '91 Buick, affectionately named Klunky.
Klunky was a wonderful car. He was made from real metal, not like any of these flimsy plastic cars today. Cosmetically he wasn't perfect — a little blemish here, a rusty hole there — but what do you expect? He was pushing 20. I live in a majorly congested area of Minneapolis; who would actually want a nice car when everyone is just going to run into it?
Klunky was usually pretty faithful about getting me from point A to point B, that is, unless it had rained hard or temperatures dipped below zero. Klunky had his ticks, but don't we all? Like how he only liked to roll down the back passenger side window, and how the parking brake rarely seemed to work, or like the time my sister broke off the inside handle on the driver side door and I could only get out through the passenger door. But that wasn't his fault ... it was hers.
The sad thing is, I know there were countless other things that went wrong too, but I needed him to get to my job. I felt that a 2.5 hour bus ride each way was unreasonable compared to a 15 minute drive. Changing jobs wasn't an option, as the stock market had crashed and I was clinging to my engineering internship for dear life with no prospects of being hired any time soon.
I used every reason known to mankind to keep rationalizing the money I continued to pour into my car. I did as many of the repairs as I could by myself, but even that was hard. Have you ever bussed to the auto parts store and brought home a car battery in your backpack? I don't recommend it.
None of the repairs were easy, not even getting the old battery out of my car. It took me, two friends, two police officers, jumping the old battery with the new battery at a gas station, two great uncles, my dad, and my granddad before the devil's iron grips, from the seventh layer of hell, finally gave way. Every little thing with him always turned into a never-ending headache.
Yet, time and time again I kept finding excuses for the maintenance, the heroic lifesaving measures, because he was my Klunky. We were truly inseparable. He was even so in sync with my bank account that every time I started to save a little he managed to claim every last dollar.
I kept telling myself that I couldn't afford a new car, and stayed determined to drive him into the ground. Having such affection for my sweet little rusty bucket prevented me from seeing every single time he was begging to be put down.
In the end I spent $2,000 for the car, and roughly $6,000 in repairs on a car that got maybe 19 miles to the gallon with the wind at my back. When the head gaskets started leaking, I decided that I couldn't handle one more morning stranded on the side of the interstate.
I ended up purchasing a newer car for $6,000, from my grandparents. The “Golden Girl” and I don't have quite the same synergy, but she has been amazingly reliable. I know that no one can foresee the amount of repairs that any car will ever need, and I'm not advocating that everyone should run out and buy a brand new car, but sometimes you need to know when to cut your losses.
Looking back I spent $8,000 on a car only worth its weight in scrap metal. In my case, the gas savings alone from a new car would have covered a car payment. If your car is named Klunky, and it’s tried to kill you — multiple times — then maybe, just maybe it’s time to look at ways to invest in something newer.