Buridan’s Ass: Car Edition

So I was out driving and the car got tagged in one of the hailstorms that you see on the news. Stuff the size of golf balls.

Well, I was in the car when it happened. I was more irritated than scared until the windshield got hit just right and it spiderwebbed. At which point, I decided to be equally irritated and scared. The hailstorm ended, I drove to where I was going, and I got out of the car and it, sympathetically, was a golfball too. With a broken windshield! And a broken plastic casing on the headlight! And one of the tail lights!

I called up my insurance people and told them “I was just caught in a hailstorm!” and they asked me “Are you in Colorado?” So we did the thing where I told them my name and policy number and they rattled off my car make and model and we agreed that I was me. We scheduled the meeting for last week and, yep, the car has been totaled.

Which leaves me with a decision:
A: They take my car and they send me a check.
B: I keep my car and they send me a smaller check.

My car, currently, is a nice little 2013 Yaris.

I talked to my coworkers. I had one who was a fan of option A. If I choose A, he explained, I will be able to put one heck of a down payment on a gently used recent Yaris with all of the recent bells/whistles but have a car payment for the next however many years. You know how cars start acting up at some point? You could reset this timer and kick that can down the road!

I had another co-worker who was a fan of option B. “WHAT WOULD DAVE RAMSEY SAY?!?”, he asked me. If I choose option B, he explained, I will spend some of the money on fixing the windshield and headlight and taillight casings and then still have money left over to put in savings. In Colorado, hail damage officially counts as “cosmetic damage” so the title will not be transformed automatically into a “salvage title”. Sure, it’s a shame about the cosmetic damage, but I’m not a particularly cosmetic kinda guy.

So I have a ton of good reasons to pick A.
And I have a ton of good reasons to pick B.

And I think I need a bunch of people to talk about car theory to help sway me one way or the other.

So… what would you do?


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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46 thoughts on “Buridan’s Ass: Car Edition

  1. Oh, and I have already talked all this out with Maribou. She said “Wow. There are a lot of really good reasons to do either. I have a small preference for one of them, but there are enough good reasons to do the other that I wouldn’t have a problem with you choosing the other one too.”

    I have a very small preference… but I feel it’s small enough that I would benefit from other people giving their take on it.

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  2. I would go B but I am perhaps not the best judge. I bought my CRV new in 2011 and drove it through 5 foot high brush at the farm the next week because I reasoned it would happen sooner or later so I should get it over with.

    I also like the idea of having some extra money in the bank.

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  3. I’m currently on my 4th car* in the past 2 years. I’d say keep your car. Buying a car is a hassle. And as time drags on and you don’t find a car that fits you exactly like a glove, the pressure mounts on you to settle. My current car is a 12 year old VW golf. I’ve had it for just a bit more than a month and it hasn’t been giving me problems. I really lucked into this car**.

    *My first car was a Mazda 6 which gave out within 2 weeks of purchase and which then spent more than 3 months in the workshop. The second car, a skoda fabia got totalled (my fault) within 4 months of purchase and the 3rd car, a Vauxhall Agila got totalled a year later (not my fault, someone rear ended me while I was stopped at a red light.)

    **I was going to buy an Astra and had already paid for it when I found that it was leaking coolant after driving it home. The garage gave me the golf as a courtesy car and told me that I could keep the car (with the price difference returned to me) if I liked it better.

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    • I’m not too familiar with a yaris specifically, but toyotas in general are of decent quality and should have a total of 8-10 good years on them. The key question for you is whether
      1) Your yaris happens to need a bit of servicing at the moment and
      2) you can easily find another car that is at least as good as your Yaris.

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      • The bit of servicing it needs is its oil change.

        It’s coming up on its 75,000-mile service. (120700.8km, if you’re from a country that hasn’t been to the moon.)

        It doesn’t need a new transmission or anything like that.

        To this point, it hasn’t given me a whole lot of trouble. It’s exceptionally reliable. That said, it’s got 75,000 miles on it. If things start getting dicey around 100,000 miles, that’s only two years away or so.

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        • This was material information that should have been in the OP.

          Option A.

          Because shit starts to go wrong right about now (my funk soul brother) with cars that even good maintenance habits will not prevent.

          I’m a drive-it-into-the-ground guy unless you give me a good reason to sell and I’m telling you, the the money and get something newer.

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          • Why? He’s got already got a 2013 car. At best A gets him a 2015 yaris. This kicks the can only 2 years down the road and the car he has now is a known quantity in a way that even a somewhat newer but still secondhand yaris is not. Any newer and he’s paying far too much for something which has very quickly depreciating value for very little marginal reliability. Any older and the the absolute improvement in terms of reliability is too little to matter.

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            • Isn’t the age of a car more accurately expressed as 75,000 miles / 120,000 km than as 5 years? That is, a 2015 Yaris with 75,000 miles on it is the exact same age as the previous one, but a 2012 with 50,000 miles on it is about 2/3 as old?

              Not that it necessarily influences the correct choice, and for heaven’s sake don’t anyone go taking my opinion about cars.

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              • My third car, the Agila was a 2010 with less than 10 000 miles on it. My second car, the Fabia was a 2010 with about 40 000 miles on it. The Agila gave me more rough driving and needed more things replaced than my Fabia did. Lots of miles means its getting serviced fairly regularly. So, there are guys keeping track of everything. Fewer miles on an old car means that things may stiffen up, rust or rot. More importantly, time and environment can do as much if not more damage than use. Having someone look at your car every 9 months or so (because thats how long you take to do 10 000 miles) means you’ve got someone keeping an eye on things every 9 months.

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    • HA! Last week my trusty 2008 Tribeca decided to shred the rear differential. Cost of replacement (no repair option available) was greater than 50% of the KBB. Wasn’t planning on getting a new car for a few more years, but the dealership offered a reasonable trade-in value, and the bank offered very reasonable terms (3.3%), and work had a program where we got the car at invoice, so I got a nice 2018 Venetian Red Crosstrek with a CVT and the Eyesight system. Payments are a bit, but cost of ownership for the Crosstrek is much lower than the Tribeca (Tribeca was a heavy 6 cylinder that got maybe, on a good day with a tailwind, 20 MPG on the highway, Crosstrek gets better than that under city driving).

      So far, happy with the decision.

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  4. I had another co-worker who was a fan of option B. “WHAT WOULD DAVE RAMSEY SAY?!?”, he asked me.

    I like Dave Ramsey; although, his advice tends to work best if you’re committed to working his program.
    That said, one of the best rules of thumb in personal finance is ‘don’t borrow money to finance a depreciating asset.’

    I would go B. Or I would go C, which is take the check, buy a car that’s done with most of its depreciation, and keep saving until the value of that car plus your savings gets you back into the car that you want to be driving.

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  5. The cheapest, best deal on a car is always the one you have. So I vote B.

    A year ago my workhorse 2010 Dodge Journey that had racked up 190K+ miles the hard way was totaled in an accident (I wasn’t in the car) two hours after the note from paying it off appeared in the mail. (as it had been a very low interest rate I had just let it ride and not worried about it) My intention was to drive it till it fell apart on the side of the road. While my insurance was quite generous and more than I thought I would get, it still wasn’t nearly the day to day replacement value of not just the vehicle but the elimination of that payment. But such is life.

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  6. Based on the Blue Book value of a 2013 Toyota Yaris with 75k miles, I would take the $ and repair…

    Presumably the check also includes the new windshield replacement? Windshield coverage is pretty much standard and they send someone usually the next day and fix it at your house or even at work.

    The Yaris scores high for reliability, so at 75k miles you have quite likely 3-5 more years of low maintenance (pending RNG dice rolls).

    And, as you probably know, the Yaris has very low Positional Goods value… so a golf-ball Yaris might actually increase your Positional value slightly owing to the “funny thing happened to me and my little Yaris” story. :^)

    On the whole… keep driving the pock-marked Yaris 15k/miles/year and keep the money. Your eventual decision to buy a replacement vehicle for the Yaris is some years away and won’t be impacted much given how little the Yaris yields in trade-in value anyway. So your future decision really isn’t impacted much by your current decision… its practically free money falling from the sky.

    In the end, I think the particulars about the car and what it does for you (seems to be low-mileage commute) would lean towards Option B. Unless you are witholding some particulars about how the Yaris is a souped-up model with custom paint and is heavily tied in to your internal and projected identity…

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  7. Another of my co-workers explained that Colorado still had its electrical car tax credit and so I should go with Option A and get an electric car. “You’ll only fill up the tank once a season.” “You spend $20 a week on gas, your electricity bill goes up less than $20 a month even when you charge every night.” “It’s a $40k car but after your tax credit and the check from insurance, you’ll have a monthly payment that is quite reasonable!”

    My co-worker who is in favor of Option B yelled “$40k? You could get 40 decent cars for that!”

    The voice in the back of my head said “$40k? That’s more than half what my parents paid for the house I grew up in.” (That was Michigan, I had to point out to myself. AND THOSE WERE FORD DOLLARS!)

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          • I knew it without ever clicking. Great tune!

            My debt-averse advice to you is take the check and fix.

            The question that really begs to be answered is how an adult human can fit inside a Yaris. I test drove one and I would have had to cut a hole in the roof for some headroom.

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            • How similar is a Yaris to a Honda Fit? I’ve driven and passengered my friend’s Fit, and found it super comfortable, fun and easy to drive (my main basis of comparison being our pickup truck, in which I still don’t feel confident that I know where the corners of the vehicle are).

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                • Same thing with my husband. When my 07 Sonata finally gave up the ghost in May, we looked at the Yaris but there is no way he could comfortably drive it or even ride in it.

                  We got a good deal on low mileage Kia Soul though and for a small-ish car he fits in it very nicely – there’s even a bit of head room to spare.

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        • well, yeah, if you can fix cars, maybe. I can’t. And I have little tolerance for stuff being in the shop. I may love how vintage MGs look but would never ever in a million years own one.

          I also suspect – based on my own hobbyist stuff – that that $1000 car winds up costing a lot more than $1000 when he gets done with it

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          • I also suspect – based on my own hobbyist stuff – that that $1000 car winds up costing a lot more than $1000 when he gets done with it

            That depends on how the labor gets accounted for. My son’s aging Honda Civic was sputtering from time to time. He ran the diagnostics in the shop manual, which pointed to the ECM (engine computer module). The dealer wanted $1000 to replace it. My son bought a certified used ECM for $75. He and I spent a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon replacing it (IIRC, four screws and four plugs from the wiring harness, only one place and orientation where each could go). So replacing that was either a $1000 job, or a $75 job if time was billed to “doing something constructive with my son”.

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            • Until I was in my 20’s, all my cars were Wonder Cars (TM). Cheap to buy, less cheap to own, but weekends spent under the hood with the Chilton Manuals from the public library taught me an awful lot about how to be a mechanic, which later got me an ‘A’ school slot in the Navy.

              The only reason I don’t do my own car maintenance now is I frankly don’t have the time, and I own warranties (and I use the hell out of them).

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            • I stand corrected. Fabric and pattern for a dress cost more than the deadest dead-cheap “fast fashion” dresses, and yarn for a sweater can run (easily) into the low three digits.

              Granted, there’s the fun of making it, and the satisfaction of (a) better quality than what I could buy ’round here without spending a lot and (b) knowing it’s not made in a sweatshop, but….you can’t say any more that you can make clothes cheaper than you can buy them.

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    • I’d like to get an electric, but can’t justify replacing my 2008 Honda Fit. Now that I’m largely retired and putting less than 6,000 miles per year on it, there’s a reasonable chance that it will outlast my ability to drive safely. Guess I’ll wait for an autonomous version.

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    • AND THOSE WERE FORD DOLLARS

      I knew Henry was a power on his own, particularly in Detroit, but I didn’t know he issued his own currency.

      Or are you talking about chits that you could only use to buy things in the company store, or pay rents in the company housing?

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  8. I drive a Forester that is on a salvage title. Minor fender bender but the insurance company said “to fix that body damage costs the value of the car, here have a check.”

    (My rates didn’t even go up, other guy’s fault).

    Now, I only drive about 4 miles a day and Jack is 2 years from driving so having a literal piece of junk that he can bump into something (hopefully not someone) is a big plus.

    The miles you drive a day matters, because you are that much closer to the major repairs, tho.

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  9. How easy/hard would the repairs be? How much agony? That’s what would tip my choice: is it going to be more agony (more dealing with people, especially either pushy people or people who drag their feet and can’t keep to a schedule) to get the necessary repairs done vs. buying a new one.

    Some years back a colleague had a car that got left out in a hailstorm. No windshield damage but there were divots all over his car (we all called it the Dimplemobile for a while). He was handy enough that he took the smaller check and managed to pop most of the divots out (without damage to the paint! I think he used one of those suction cup things) himself.

    He sold the car a couple years later.

    I dunno. I think my inclination, as someone who really loathes car shopping, would be to find a good place to fix the stuff and hope they either do loaners or that my insurance will pay for a rental. (I live alone, have but one car, and so if my car is out of commission – I also live in a rural area so walking places, unless it’s just a day or to and is just work or church, is not really an option)

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    • I’ve been taking the car to the dealership for its oil changes since I purchased it. Whenever it had a thingamabob show up, I had the dealership take care of it.

      So, for this too, I’d have the dealership take care of it. The repairs, at this point, consist of a broken headlight casing, a broken taillight casing, and a broken windshield. As I mentioned above, it’s coming up on time for the next oil change (the maintenance light juuuust turned on).

      The insurance wants me to make a choice between A and B before Friday (like, this coming Friday).

      If I am going to give up the car to the insurance company, I am not going to bother getting the oil changed.

      If I am going to keep the car, I am going to have the various casings replaced when I get the oil changed and I will use a personal day and make use of the limo service the dealership provides and spend the day at home.

      If I keep the car, I will likely not change its dimples and, when the time comes to get a new one, sell this one to one of the nephews for a thousand bucks or something and use that thousand bucks as the new down payment for the new and improved Birdmobile.

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      • I’d go for plan B. Shopping for a car is time consuming and if the damage is only easily fixable and/or cosmetic, taking the slightly reduced check seems like the obvious choice to me. 75k is nothing on most Toyotas, so you should get at least couple more years out of it.

        If you can, do what my parents do and put the money in a savings account where you make payments to yourself that will go toward buying the next car for cash (or with the lowest loan possible).

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  10. If this year is indicative of the future for Colorado Springs, option B. When you have to make a slightly different version of the same decision again in a couple of years, at least it won’t have been a newer car that got hammered.

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  11. I’m going to buck the trend and say option A, based on the assumption that the payment is enough to get a vehicle with some warranty left on it, and you don’t have an immediate need for the extra cash. My biggest priority* around vehicle ownership is avoiding hard decisions around maintenance and repairs. Nature has given you an opportunity to do somewhat of a reset. I say take it. Yes you could theoretically come out ahead down the road with option B but my experience is that most people who take that path end up outsmarting themselves and/or pissing away whatever little difference they pocket anyway.

    *I really like new cars and opportunities to get new cars. This probably biases my recommendation but I still think the logic is sound if you have similar priorities.

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  12. I remember my dad’s little 85 Chevy Cavalier that he drove back and forth to work getting dinged up in a hail storm around 1995. I remember going with him to the insurance agent to get a check for the repairs. When we left he acted like he had just won the lottery. You had to squint to see the dings and he had a couple thousand bucks in his pocket. It was a good lesson in economics for me.

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  13. Fish: If you don’t care about the hail damage, option B is for you. Take the money, fix the windshield and lights, bank the rest.

    Or, ya know…buy a Crosstrek! :-)

    I was literally in Jaybird’s predicament a couple of months ago, except my Toyota was a Prius and had 125K on it.

    I happily went for option B. But damn if I wasn’t looking with lust at all the Crosstreks I saw on the roads in the subsequent weeks…

    More seriously: Jaybird, whichever option you pick, make sure that you get the “comparison sheet” from your insurance adjuster. This is the comparable vehicles they see on the market now, upon which they base your car’s street value. Ten times out of ten you can find better-priced comps and drive up the payout.

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