when it rains it pours but we keep trudging through

February 23rd, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours – But We Keep Trudging Through

On Friday, I got into the trusty Toyota (the 1996 Corolla with 203,000+ miles) to drive home from work.  Upon turning the car on, I was greeted with a light on the dashboard I’d never seen before.  Check… something.  Some weird alien-looking drawing.  I took out the manual as my heart skipped a few beats, and found the decoder there – this was the Toyota’s check engine light.

Great.  I have to admit I got out of the car and kicked it.  Lightly!  But still.

I do have to admit, it took over 200,000 miles for either me or my spouse to ever see this light, and the just-turned-100,000 mile Saturn has given us its light so many times I’ve lost count.  But still.  I wasn’t pleased.

So as I pondered the fact that cars drive me crazy, my spouse made an appointment to take it in on his way to work today.  And the diagnosis?  A failed oxygen sensor, which in the Toyota is a bit under $400 to replace.  (It’d be cheaper if we could do it ourselves of course but that is not happening, I want to be able to drive the car again someday.)  Interestingly enough, this is one of the few drawbacks to the Toyota vs the Saturn, the same exact repair was about half as much in the Saturn a few months back.  But I digress.

By a stroke of cosmic coincidence, about $400 was the exact amount I had just moved from our checking account to our savings account to begin growing our emergency fund over $1000.   If the Saturn hadn’t emptied and then some our car maintenance/repair fund in January, we’d have some money saved specifically for repairs, but we don’t yet.  So, that $400 comes back out of the emergency fund, we replace the oxygen sensor, and the emergency fund is again back at $1000.  I am beginning to think that the world would like our emergency fund to stay at $1000 for some undecipherable reason.

So the emergency fund is still at $1000,  we’ve made zero progress on the new-to-us car fund, and the last remaining debt is being eliminated at a snail’s pace.  2009 is shaping up to be one rocking year.  I am using positive thinking to expect March to be better.  On to March!

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34 Responses to “When It Rains, It Pours – But We Keep Trudging Through”

  1. This probably won’t give you much solace, but these setbacks you’ve had to face make your blog a hundred times more interesting than the other personal finance blogs out there. I mean who wants to read about someone who sets a pf goal and has smooth sailing right through to the end? How boring would that be? And how utterly impossible to relate to? And what insight would they gain along the way? As long as you keep fighting the good fight and don’t give up the way many people would, you’ve got a story on par with Moby Dick (your debt being the whale).

  2. Isn’t it always something with cars? I also have an emergency fund that was just $1200 but went down to $1000 due to having to put new brakes in our jeep. It’s wonderful having an emergency fund though, isn’t it? :)

  3. i know how you feel. when january began i was about to pay off one of my 14 credit cards;when i took my 2001 kia sephia in for inspection. the kia passed inspection except for the rocker panels. they needed to be replaced which can run from 1000-1500; my uncle’s wife has a friend who offered to do it for 100 bucks but than backed out because he couldn’t find a garage to do the job. but it didn’t matter because at that point the transmission started to go anyway.
    now i have 13 credit cards that need to be paid off and i owe my uncle 7000 for the 2001 toyota camry that he took out a home equity loan to buy for me.

    i signed up for training as a lna that starts in april and i still need 665 for that plus a uniform, shoes and a watch with a second hand.

    when it rains it pours

  4. Replacing an O2 sensor is actually one of the easiest repairs you could do. The sensor itself is probably less than half the cost.
    I imagine you are also getting ripped on labor. It should only take about 15 minutes for a tech to do it.
    I am a pastor who does as much as possible on his own cars. I could change it in under an hour.
    Before you get this done, please look into it further.

  5. I agree completely with Melissa. My wife and I had to undergo a ‘restart’ (like you’d blogged about earlier) to our finances this year to recover from some lame Christmas overspending, and I remember as we were going through it I thought back to your post and I thought – “well, if they can do it we should be able to too” and it’s working out. It’s irritating to pay for things with money JUST transferred to savings (had to do that a couple times as well) but at least you’re paying for it out of savings and not having to go the credit card or loan route.

  6. Did you take this thing to a dealer? Is that why the price is so much? Maybe you could have purchased the part (online for less than $100) and just paid for the labor to have it installed? I know labor is around $85 an hour here in NY but it wouldn’t take 3 hours to replace the sensor. I learned where mine was in my Chrysler and did it myself and saved $$$…and I’m a girl too! You should see the look on the boys’ face at my local parts store when I tell them that I change my own oil. I need a photo.

  7. It could always be worse. I’m still paying for a mistake I made five years ago when I went out bought a brand new car with a six year loan. That was during the peak of my financial-stupidity. Fast forward to now – I still have 15 months left to pay on it and I have racked up over 90,000 miles. It will easily have over a 100,000 on it before it’s even paid off. So, the odds are good that I will be in the “emergency-repair-zone” while I’m still making payments. There’s nothing I can do now except suck it up and keep my fingers crossed.

    I swear – if I could go back in time I would kick the crap out of myself.

  8. I knew if I posted the price I’d get rebuttals ;)

    As for us fixing it – seriously, it doesn’t matter how easy it is. We’d break it. Just trust me… from experience of changing my own oil once upon a time. Heh. That is a story and a half, actually… Oh, and the Corolla has 2 O2 sensors, I have no idea which one is the problem. So if it was me, I’d have to do both. If I trusted myself to do it. Which, I do not.

    Anyway. It is not at the dealer, and we did some price comparisons once we knew the problem and this was the best we could do with the resources we have in the location that we are. We’ve made efforts at finding one of those elusive trustworthy and cheap mechanics everyone references as fixing their cars, and none of our friends here have found one either. My father even had one… too bad that one is 900 miles from here. ;)

  9. HANG IN THERE! You are showing us all how difficult real life can be when you are trying to reach a goal. You’re doing the right thing and eventually will come out ahead. I have found your blog to be something to which I can always, always, relate. It’s frustrating when we finally decide to do things a certain, more frugal way, and then we are immediately tested. (or punished, is what it feels like sometimes!). I am rooting for and inspired by you. Keep up the good work.
    Do look into all options for getting the sensor replaced…..I would bet there is a slightly more affordable option available to be found. Good luck-

  10. Is your ’96 Corolla champagne/gold too (it was the lease color, I think, I have to have a bumper sticker to find mine in parking lots)? I love mine, all 83k miles of it. I’m going to keep the oxygen sensor in mind now. I had major maintenance (timing belt et al.) done last year and will be doing the rear brake drum and summer tires back on in a month or so. I love that Toyotas tend to need work done on a pretty routine schedule. It may stink but at least I can save up in advance.

  11. We have a Saturn, too, and that engine light is on 85% of the time. There is nothing wrong with the car, either.

    I worry about stuff like this – expenses that can’t be avoided. At least you had the money in savings. You’ve not used your credit card to pay for the cost of fixing the problem, nor have you had to put off the repair. So – you can be proud of yourselves.

  12. Ouch – it’s nice to know that you have that cushion. It’s truly an emergency & that’s what your fund is for. It’s better than using your credit card!!!!

  13. Gah! I feel less alone now. Although for some reason since my husband’s layoff I can’t seem to get my emergency fund to live above $400 for 30 full days.

    I try and remind myself that before we had an emergency fund and a budget that things like car repairs would have had us begging family for money or just ignoring the problem…but it’s cold comfort sometimes.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  14. You said that you’re looking forward to March being better. My personal experience is that whenever I said to myself that I hope the next year would be better, it turned out to be worse.

    I finally made a conscious choice to say to myself, “It really was a pretty good year.” Then each year started getting better.

    Go figure. ;)

  15. Murphy is such a great guy isn’t he? For those that may read this and don’t know, I am referring to Murphy’s Law.

    With over 200,000 miles on that car and a $400 repair is all you need to do is fantastic. I have a Saturn as well and I know what you mean about being half the price to fix it, but quadruple the amount falling apart.

    I guess it will eventually come down to where do you draw the line, at what cost? Too bad we didn’t get a little insight on when something breaks, how it will cost to fix and how long it will last. It would make this whole repair versus replace equation a lot simpler.

  16. I feel your pain, we have been switching repairs back and forth between the two cars each month – tires, tune up ($600!!) and then 2 days later that dreaded check engine light was on again. Same problem as you – but luckily DH can fix it – as soon as we get the $100 for the part. Hopefully friday. I wish you the best of luck. I enjoy reading your blog, and find comfort in not being alone in my trials.

  17. Hey! You’re OK!!! The EF did the right thing for you! I think we should all just consider the EF another regularly paid bill. Instead of a goal amount, just keep paying into it a certain amount per pay period/month. Might make it less agravating to see it depleted??! And how great you could pay outright!
    I second having a pro do the work. Some cars are too tricky to do at home. We don’t even do our own oil changes in our CRV: way too funky to do.
    Also agree with Melissa, though I’m not sure if its your debt or just the **car[s]** that are your whale …..cuz, if it weren’t for them……
    Fight the good fight!

  18. I love Jen’s comment about EFs…they are there to be spent (and rebuilt). The whole point is to have enough to cover these things without borrowing…and it worked. I remember when you had the engine fall out of one car…and you had to really scramble to come up with the money. This time, you could just pay it! Yeah! The EF worked!

  19. I feel your pain, ugh. Our Saturn SL1 (at just 50k miles) has given us a lot of problem recently, though I suppose nothing out of the ordinary for an 8-year-old car. Still, sometimes I wish I’d kept my 1995 Toyota Celica with 90k miles, instead!

  20. I’m right with you. Our Honda got into a fender-bender and is scheduled to be fixed and today my Jeep is in the shop to figure out the weird noise it’s making … Goodbye February. ON TO MARCH!

  21. Paidtwice, sorry to hear that. At the least you should get a few more quotes. Check out AAA approved auto repair network if you don’t already have a mechanic that you trust. Dealers always charge 50-100% more than outside for comparable work and there’s no reason to have a 200k miles Toyota fixed by a dealer.

  22. Are any of you familiar with Liz Pulliam Weston on MSN? She wrote an article recently (yesterday) called How to Plan Your Emergencies and on it there’s a link to Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own feature. It gives you an approximation of how much you’ll spend on maintenance and repairs for recent car models (unfortunately, it won’t be of any help to you PaidTwice – except maybe when you pick your new-to-you car).

  23. You might want to find a mechanic that can find you used parts in the future. Four years ago, when I was driving a 1992 Camry with 185k+ miles, I had the same thing happen. My mechanic found me a used part (since my car wasn’t expected to last more than a few more years anyway) and I got the job done for about $250.
    By the way, will you post your savings updates with your debt numbers? It would be fun to track your progress!

  24. $400! Yeah, I have a Nissan Maxiima that has oxygen sensors on either side of the catalytic converter. One went out, and the “check engine” light was on for months. I ‘fixed’ one sensor (these things are such a rip-off!) just in time to get my state inspection.

    Not more than 3 days later, the “check engine light” came on again for the other sensor. It’s been on ever since.

    I guess I’ll have to fix it before my next inspection!

  25. I know this may not be the same circumstance, but I once had a car that had the check engine light come on–took it to 2 places and both could not figure out why the light had come on. I drove the car for a couple more years with the check engine light always on and had no problem–later sold it.

  26. We didn’t have the car fixed by the dealer! I promise! You don’t want to know what the dealer would have charged… lol

    The cars might be worse than the debt, but we can’t fix the car situation any faster than we can the debt one. Although, the Toyota is not the problem – this is just an incident. The Saturn is the problem. If I had known then what I know now…. lol

  27. I’ve had that happen – I’ve finally put money away only to need that exact amount.

    I look at it as this – if you HADN’T have put that money away – your savings would now be $600.

    You HAD the money instead of suffering without – or losing more of your savings.

    It will happen – slowly. I’m not able to quite yet build my savings up to anything above $200 – but I’m getting there. Everytime I get past that $200 mark – something comes up. I’m good with that – because we HAD the money to use.

  28. Jason got here before me: I wuz just about to ask whether this oxygen sensor gadget is crucial to the car’s operation. How long will the vehicle run without it, and will it do any damage to run without fixing it for awhile?

    It has the sound of one of those parts stuck under the hood to control pollution. if that’s the case, you’ll have to get it fixed before your next inspection, but you may able to let it go until then. Given your circumstances, I’m sure G– will not hurl a thunderbolt at you if you wait until you have a few more bucks stashed in savings.

  29. Slowly but surely right? You never can tell what the fates will dish out to you next and the fact that you had that extra 400 recently added to the emergency fund is something to be happy about. I hate when my savings get dipped into below the ‘standard’ amount they had rested at for any period of time but at least you didnt have to get dig your debt hole any deeper!

  30. You go girl! Don’t dwell on setbacks–they happen to the best of us. (This is Negative Nancy preaching here!) I am actually not a person in debt, but your blog has proved so interesting & helpful to me that I have recommended it to 2 of my girlfriends who are in debt. You should be so proud of your savvy money-saving techniques & the fact that you have paid so much debt down in such a short time! I rue the day you are debt-free as I will miss your blog. ;) I wish you the best of luck & hope you can enjoy some real luxuries once in a while once your debt is gone, gone, gone! And again, my deepest sympathies for the loss of your father–I hope things are getting easier each day. (Lest you think my life is all roses, I lost my mother Oct. of ’07 [father in ’93], am out of work w/ Congestive Heart Failure [fluke virus-I’m 31] & managed to plan an extravagant NON-REFUNDABLE dream wedding before I got sick [my own fault-I’ve been so good w/ $, I thought I could splurge w/ my small inheritance just this once! But then God smote me. ;) ]. But I refuse to be a Dorothy Doom anymore!) Thanks again.

  31. kentuckyliz Says:

    March 22nd, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Yeah, I recently paid $1600 for repairs on a car worth less than that, but heck, I think, that’s about just four months of car payments.

    I keep two beaters and at least one of them works.

    I’m surprised when the check engine light goes off. LOL


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