Car Woes

So, last year, I purchased a used 2003 Saab 9-5 Linear sedan.  I bought it out-right, with money I got from my mom’s life insurance, for $8200 (that was with splitting the cost of a brand-spanking-new Bosch OEM alternator with the Macedonian man who owned the European Import-specialist used car lot).  I thought that was a pretty good buy, and I’d tried to do as much homework on it as I could (my car-buying process was a several week long affair, with a LOT of time spent online reading and researching, and a few days dedicated to going to dealerships and driving representative sample cars of all of the makes I was considering).  The maintenance records looked excellent, CarFax report was good, and I even tried to have a professional inspection done on it (with less than satisfactory results, but that’s another story of woe and frustration altogether).

I like my car.  It’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s reasonably quick, and it gets pretty decent gas mileage (22-24ish city, 33-34 highway).  It’s definitely the nicest vehicle I’ve ever owned, and I like some of the Swedish Saab quirks it has.  It’s no Mercedes-Benz, but still a nice car.

Less than two weeks after buying it, I had it in the shop at the Saab (/Cadillac/Hummer) dealership in Fort Wayne.  Two trips in there to fix various issues – expensive labor for rewiring work in the rear to get all the lights back there working properly, a new Direct Ignition Cassette, new battery, new spark plugs, a couple of other minor things I don’t remember now.  $1100 more sunk into the car.  Irritating, but I still had money left from the insurance.  It was supposed to be in “great shape” other than those issues I had fixed.

Everyone who’s looked at the car in any professional mechanical capacity has said the same things about it, more or less: “It’s in great shape.”

A few weeks before I allowed my life to fully implode in Huntsville, my car developed an irritating and inconvenient problem: the battery wouldn’t hold a charge.  I thought something was draining it that shouldn’t be when it was turned off.  The battery was less than a year old, it COULDN’T be the problem.  After getting jump-starts twice (once from a friend who drove from the other side of town, once from my next door neighbor with whom I’d never even spoken before), I paid what was, at the time, very precious money for a low-end “jump box” from Wal-mart.  It got entirely too much usage.

A little more than halfway back on the drive from Huntsville to Midland, a new concern popped up: the Engine Malfunction light switched on, and stayed on.  Then over the next couple of weeks, it’d go on and off relatively randomly.  Great.  So, I needed to find somewhere I could get my Saab worked on.  I thought it should be no problem, my dad has a friend (for whom he does bookkeeping and tax preparation) who is a mechanic who specializes in Imports.  His shop is even named “World Class Automotive.”  As it turned out, he does pretty much just Japanese imports, and domestic makes.  No European stuff, and definitely not Swedish.  No Saab dealer anywhere in West Texas, short of El Paso.  DFW or maybe Austin are the closest Saab dealers.  Bloody Wonderful.

It turns out, it’s pretty damn hard to find someone to work on a Saab in West Texas.  When I bought the car, never for a second was, “I wonder how hard it will to get it worked on in Midland, Texas,” an item of thought or consideration.  After some calling around and chasing down referrals, we found one company that said they could scan the Saab’s computer and who worked on Saabs: Littlefield Automotive.  We took the car in, they took entirely too long to figure out what the deal with it was (bad thermostat and temperature sensor) and then informed us they’d have to order the parts, and that it would take “a couple of days” to get them in.  I got my car back (paid for by my Dad, who, I am certain, is keeping a penny-accurate tally somewhere), and we were going to come back in after they got the parts in – presumably the next week.

A week and a half later, we finally get a call informing us the parts are in.  This is the week before Christmas week. Well, trying to get it worked on with the shortened week before the Thursday Christmas just seemed impractical.  The next week, with a similar situation with New Year’s Eve/Day, also seemed impractical.  Now, I’d started to notice a concerning sort of grinding noise coming from the front wheels when braking, or at low speeds even when not braking sometimes shortly before Christmas.  I didn’t think too much of it, but wanted to have them see what was wrong when I took it in.  The next week after New Year’s week?  Nope, my dad had a trip to Corpus Christi that week, which he left for on Thursday, so I needed the car that weekend too.  Finally, Wednesday the next week after that, I get the car in to Littlefield’s.  Like, 3 1/2 weeks or so, closeish to a month, after the parts finally arrived.

That concerning grinding noise?  Oh, that was my front brakes being almost entirely gone.  Know what it costs to replace the parts of a Saab’s front disc brakes?  I had no idea.  I know now with a painful clarity.  $134 for a break pad set.  $119 each, x2, for Discs (aka rotors). $144 each, x2, for front calipers.  $12 for brake fluid.  $672 in parts alone.  Tack on $391 for labor (including labor for putting on the parts from before that were on order that we’d already paid for), EPA fees, and tax . . . and there’s an $1131 front brake job.  3 weeks pay for me, with what I’m currently making.  That effectively delays me a month or thereabouts on any hopes of getting my own apartment.  That’s pushing me into March (possibly late March) to move with a reasonable buffer established, maybe longer if more expenses mount up to surprise me. *le sigh*

In addition, I know that my rear brakes (which were essentially working overtime with my front brakes gone) will need attention fairly soon.  I’m hoping I can put off having to buy new tires (and possibly new wheels with them – 2 of my alloy wheels have bends in them which I don’t know if they’re reparable with any cost-effectiveness vs. replacing them) until next year, or at least late this year.

Next time, I’m buying Japanese.


2 thoughts on “Car Woes

  1. Joe,

    You said you bought your car with your mom’s life insurance money. I don’t know when you lost your mom, but I just wanted to express my condolences. My parents disowned me three years ago, and it’s been really hard.

    There are so many “good deals” right now because of the economy, is there any way you could get something else instead of sink more money into your car? Your car sounds beautiful, but as you said you’ll buy Japanese next time. If you find yourself in Midland again you might go by Toyota and see what you can get. We bought my Corolla there. Juan Diaz was the very honest salesman we dealt with. We moved from Midland almost two years ago, but he should still be there. Anyway, good luck with your car issues.

  2. Right now, a car payment of almost any amount really isn’t something I can feasibly fit into my budget. The extra year’s depreciation lowers the trade-in value of my car even more, and compared to the significantly higher resale value of Hondas or Nissans (I’m not really a Toyota fan, personal thing), I’d end up going with an older, higher mileage car to get anything approaching even trade dollars. Even with cheaper (generally) to fix Japanese vehicles, I’d be in the same of out-of-warranty situation.

    My mom passed in late February last year, from a massive aneurysm. She was planting roses, and passed out. She was woken up, said she was fine, refused to be taken to the hospital, then passed out again – for the final time, though she was on life support for a couple of days.

    Disowned? Hrm. I’d like to learn about what happened there, but comments here aren’t the appropriate place.

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