The Wind in My Hair

Despite what I said yesterday while waiting for the Toyota dealership to reattach the front undercarrriage shield on the Camry, I may decide to get rid of the beast. The reason is this: according to the service advisor and the mechanic, several issues with the car could be dangerous if not addressed. The rack and pinion steering needs to be replaced. The CV axle is shot and needs to be replaced. The oil pan gasket needs to be replaced. And there’s more. The costs, were I to have the dealership do the repairs, would be roughly $2100. I’m sure I could have it done more economically, but the cost would be significant, nonetheless.

This news comes on the heels of what I was afraid was the failure of the air conditioner compressor. Fortunately, I watched a YouTube video that described how I could check to see whether, instead of the compressor, the problem could have been a faulty air conditioner relay.  I discovered that, indeed, the relay was bad. I spent $18 to buy a new relay and installed it myself; an easy and inexpensive fix. But I’m driving a seventeen-year-old car; the AC compressor could die at any moment. From what I’ve been able to find, it appears the cost to replace the AC compressor should be between $700 and $1000.

I noticed something else yesterday that has come to my attention before; cracks in the leather seats could break through the depth of the leather at any time. I remember checking into the cost of replacing the leather seats on my 1997 Avalon, many years ago; if memory serves, I believe the cost would have been upward of $3000. That was at least nine years ago.

So, I’m thinking about the potential costs of keeping the old Camry in working order.  Even though the costs would, in all likelihood, be less than the cost of buying a replacement vehicle, the prospective inconvenience of having to be without the car for unknown periods is arguing that it may be time to replace the vehicle.

According to Kelley Blue Book, the private seller value of my car should range between $2400 and $4000. Trade-in value would be far less; $1200 to $2000. The income from selling the Camry is, in other words, close to negligible.

What kind of car might I get to replace the Camry? It wouldn’t need to be one particularly well-suited for road trips because we can continue to rely on my wife’s car for such rare excursions. But I have grown to rely on the back-up camera in the Subaru; I’d like a replacement car to have that feature. And I’ve come to appreciate the GPS on the Subaru far more than I thought I would; it would be nice to have that feature in a replacement for the Camry.

While I haven’t even decided whether to replace the Camry, I have started looking at options. One such option might be a Kia Soul. I found a certified 2018 model on the outskirts of Memphis; a bright red car that meets all the criteria so far. I’ve never driven a Soul, though. The ride could be choppy and uncomfortable; that would be a deal killer.  Another vehicle that intrigues me is a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring. That car is in Dallas, but would be shipped free to Shreveport, which CarMax seems to think is the outlet closest to me. The idea of driving a little convertible appeals to me. I’m not sure my wife would appreciate the six-speed manual transmission, but I would. And the wind in my hair….

Obviously, I’ll have to narrow my interest in cars’ features before I go shopping for one in earnest. And I’ll have to answer my own questions about whether I want to invest a lot of money in a car, just to increase the likelihood that it will be more reliable than the Camry. And the Camry has been pretty damn reliable for the past 17 years. Selling it and getting a newer model would, I think, feel a little like replacing my wife with a younger woman. Or an older one with different features. (I did find an intriguing 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera that’s extremely appealing.)  But it’s okay to look. And maybe a test drive?

I posted my intent yesterday, on Facebook, to hold onto the Camry until it’s at least 18. But that was before I was told about its potentially dangerous ailments. Now, I’m wavering. I’ve done that before with the Camry. And I’ve begun to question whether it has been so reliable and carefree as I’ve made it out to be. After I got home yesterday, I went through the maintenance and repair folder my wife keeps for each car. During the past five years, I’ve spent well over $3500 (probably closer to $4000) on repair and maintenance on the Camry. Granted, I would have spent considerably more had I bought another car, whether a cash purchase or on monthly payments, during the period. But I’d have a car that would, most likely, have considerable life left in it. I can’t say that about the Camry.

Let’s say I spend $2000 on getting the Camry repaired and then the AC compressor goes out in a month. That would be another $1000 or so. And it’s getting to the point of needing new tires. I tend to spend quite a lot on good tires, so I would probably be looking at $700 or so for new rubber. I’m sure there’s another $300 or more in repair/maintenance just waiting by the wayside, too. So, that’s $4000 that could have gone toward a shiny, low-mileage jewel. And, if I could sell the Camry for, say, $3000, I’d be $7000 ahead (when considering that unspent $4000 repair and maintenance bill). That’s $7000 toward the cost of a car I buy for $23,000 or so. And that’s not even considering the outlandish costs associated with replacing/repairing the leather seats.

I don’t think I’m dealing with this thing rationally at the moment. I have to step back and consider the real world. Maybe I should take the Camry to another mechanic and tell him I want to get the car in great shape for a cross-country road trip and ask him what the car might need in preparation for that grand adventure.

I don’t know. I’m going to just chill for a while and consider my options. I do like the idea of wind in my hair, but I wonder if that’s just a symptom of late-onset middle-age crazies or early-onset something else.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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