Alright, I didn’t literally ditch my Jeep. I just decided it was time to send it off to a scrapyard. When it came down to it, I was getting tired of patching it up every couple of months. Sure the lack of a car loan was nice, but breakdowns were happening too often, and mechanics had to start finding creative ways to work around the rust. Needless to say, it was time for an upgrade. Or was it?
Table of Contents
The Decision to Ditch My Jeep
At 23, I don’t have many goals. All I really want to do is pay off my student debt, begin a career in a field that I love, and travel the world. To me, everything else is extra.
My First Repair
So where does the Jeep come in? Well, Ol’ Bessie, as I called it, was a ’97 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. It was my first vehicle, and I got it as a gift from my parents during my junior year of college in 2014. Unfortunately, college parking was insanely expensive, so I left the Jeep with my parents until I got home in the summer. At that point, I moved in with a friend of mine and started an internship with General Electric.
My daily commute was about 30-40 minutes both ways. As you can probably tell, I was beating the hell out of that old car. In fact, by the end of that summer, I had to take my car into the shop for the first time. While it wasn’t a huge deal, it was pretty embarrassing because I had lost the muffler. I ended up leaving work early just to drive all the way back home with the muffler tied up. Fortunately, the shop had me back on the street the same day.
By the end of that summer, I found myself back at school without my Jeep. Nine months later, I graduated and started working full time at GE. At that point, my parents wanted me to get a new car. I didn’t really want a new car, but they were worried I’d get hurt or stranded. I imagine that’s why they got me a membership to AAA.
Like a good kid, I started looking into new cars. I was pretty much dead set on a Subaru Crosstrek, but I was not ready to double my debt. Instead, I decided to hold onto that Jeep. As the months went by, I kept clinging onto my money as the reason not to get a new car.
But Wait, There’s More!
So how did that play out? Well, I managed to work about three months before I had to get my Jeep inspected (thanks, PA). In order to pass inspection, I had to replace all rotors, all brake pads, and the front shocks.
Three months later, I found myself in the shop because a governor pressure sensor had gone bad. Two months later, I had to have my Jeep flat bedded out of an Olive Garden parking lot because a blown fuse kept it from starting. A month later, my Jeep wouldn’t start again because the battery had a bad positive terminal.
About two months after that, I was enjoying my first anniversary at work while preparing for a move down to Atlanta. I figured it would be a good idea to take the Jeep to the shop for a little inspection. Naturally, they said I needed to replace both of the front axle joints and the right front wheel bearing.
Once I made it to Atlanta, I had to get my vehicle registered in Georgia. To do so, I had to pass an emissions test. Unfortunately, Georgia’s emissions test is quite a bit more comprehensive than Pennsylvania’s. Of course, the Jeep failed. As a result, I ended up getting an oxygen sensor replaced which ran me about $500.
A Look at Cost
As you can probably imagine, getting these sort of repairs isn’t cheap. However, it still ends up being quite a bit cheaper than paying a car loan. Let’s take a look.
Since I got the Jeep in 2014, I put about $4,500 into repairs and general maintenance. In other words, the Jeep ran me about $136 a month. So all things considered, keeping the Jeep had been relatively cheap. However, that figure doesn’t include values like gas, oil changes, and insurance. In addition, that cost doesn’t include all the inconveniences and risks that can occur by keeping an old vehicle.
So what is the real cost of owning a car? According to NerdWallet, the average person spends about $8,500 a year owning a car. However, I don’t really fit that profile. Fortunately, I had a record of almost everything that was ever done to my Jeep since 1999. All that information is included in the table below.
|10/18/99||1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo||29,113||$18,764.00|
|06/27/00||4 Fresh Tires||42,581||$322.82|
|07/01/00||Front Rotor Replace (Recall)||42,777||$-|
|09/05/00||Inspection, New Rear Brakes||46,196||$130.97|
|05/18/01||Oil Change, Spark Plugs, Rotor||59,562||$42.00|
|09/11/01||Inspection – New Front Brakes||65,500||$137.75|
|04/15/02||New Speaker, Distributor, Freon||73,563||$53.50|
|05/17/02||Fixed Evaporator, Driver Door Hinge||74,430||$-|
|01/10/03||4 Fresh Tires||86,204||$303.25|
|08/16/03||Inspection, New Rear Brakes||97,417||$98.42|
|08/23/04||Inspection, New Front Brakes||107,778||$110.29|
|05/10/05||Transmission Filter, Gasket, ATP||116,717||$48.60|
|08/10/05||4 Fresh Tires||119,591||$251.53|
|01/05/08||Spark Plugs, Cap, Rotor, Oil Change||156,020||$200.05|
|02/22/08||4 Fresh Tires||157,095||$311.43|
|03/12/08||Slot for Caster||158,239||$89.04|
|05/09/08||Front Brakes, Rotor||159,772||$143.68|
|05/18/08||Oil Change, Air Filter||160,199||$49.22|
|07/17/08||Radiator, Rear Brakes, Rotors, Inspection||163,156||$718.81|
|03/03/09||Oil Change, Transmisssion, Filters||172,137||$130.00|
|03/19/09||Valve Cover & Transmission Gaskets||172,490||$126.00|
|06/08/09||Oil Change & Brake Check||173,366||$73.14|
|02/16/10||Repair Wires from Fuel Tank to Fuel Pump||180,457||$143.10|
|12/13/10||4 Fresh Tires||185,994||$336.82|
|05/19/11||All New Brakes, Water Pump, Rotors||190,257||$550.56|
|11/16/11||New Motor, Evaporator, Inspection||191,284||$1,672.04|
|10/20/12||Belt, Idler Pulley, Oil Change, Inspection||195,509||$190.01|
|11/20/12||Alternator, Passenger, Tail Lamp||196,011||$567.00|
|11/27/13||Brakes, Steering, Axle Shaft, Exhaust, Inspection||204,000||$1,465.2|
|12/17/14||Spark Plugs, Cap, Rotor, Oil Change||204,547||$306.07|
|05/08/15||Rear Seal, Door Hinge, Valve Stems, Wipers||206,050||$440.16|
|07/05/15||Oil Change High Mileage||210,129||$57.01|
|11/12/15||Snow Tires & Lugnuts||212,345||$456.15|
|11/18/15||Wipers, Front Steering Dampener, Pinion Seal, Weld Frame||212,548||$646.62|
|11/10/16||Inspection, All Brakes & Rotors, Front Shocks||213,178||$767.25|
|05/17/17||Positive Battery Terminal||224,712||$6.65|
|07/18/17||Oil Change, Front Axle Joints, Right Front Wheel Bearing||230,123||$607.51|
|08/12/17||Emissions, Driver Door, O2 Sensor||232,358||$493.95|
What can we learn from this data? I think the most important thing to point out is that the upfront cost is easily the most expensive part of owning a car. After 20 years, the cost of owning this Jeep just barely managed to match the upfront cost (excluding insurance costs). If you’re forced to take out a loan for a car like this, you might end up paying even more. For me, a new car was a definite no-go.
Well, what about a used car? Yeah, I thought about it, but it didn’t make sense with the perfectly good used car in front of me. If I was going to make any sort of investment, it would have been to repair the Jeep. Instead, I decided to ditch my Jeep.
No Rest for the Weary
I never even thought of getting rid of my Jeep until right after Hurricane Irma made its way through Atlanta. No, Irma didn’t destroy my Jeep or anything. Instead, my Jeep had failed me again. I had driven down to the store to pick up some supplies since we were out of power. About half way down the road, the old check engine light blinked on. Also, I noticed a noise that reminded me of when I had to replace my right front wheel bearing.
Great. Just those two incidents were enough to get me pretty frustrated. That was until I got home. As I pulled into my parking spot, I blew a break line. I just knew it because the pedal went all the way to the floor. After I got out of the car, a large puddle of brake fluid started forming near my left front tire. Luckily, it had happened when it did because I was safe. However, I was so frustrated that I ended up kicking my bumper before wandering back to my apartment.
Now I didn’t decide to ditch my Jeep right there. In fact, I was really more worried about how I was going to pay for it. At the time, I was planning a little vacation, getting ready to get one of my cats fixed, and paying a deposit. None of those were cheap expenses, so the breakdown was infuriating.
After thinking a bit, I decided it would be best to just get rid of the car. After all, I was largely working from home, so I only ever used it on weekends. In the meantime, I was paying all sorts of annoying fees for things like car insurance, registration, and emissions tests. In addition, I was worrying a bit about job security, so I figured I could save the extra money. At that point in my life, it just made sense.
I officially decided to get rid of the Jeep after having a chat with my dad. I was worried he wouldn’t like my idea, but he was all for it. That sort of support is what made me go through with it, and I still stand by that decision to this day.
The Side Effects of Driving a Beater
I know a lot of what I talked about in this article was about cost. That’s largely because I’m data driven, and I think decisions should be based on facts. That said, there were a few other reasons I decided to ditch my Jeep.
I tend to consider myself the type of person who doesn’t care about the opinion of others. After all, I’m a social outcast. I play video games, practice instruments, watch anime, write code, and listen to the types of bands you only see on Warped Tour. So yeah, I typically don’t make my way out to parties or clubs. They’re not my scene.
That said, driving a beater took a lot out of me. For instance, the upholstery on the ceiling of my Jeep was held on by hundreds of randomly placed staples. I honestly didn’t notice for probably a year. I was just happy to have my own car, but I know other people saw it and silently judged me. To make it less awkward, I’d point it out any time someone new got in my jeep. People would typically say “oh, I don’t mind,” but I know at least half of them made a joke to their friends later.
At times, driving a beater is not just embarrassing, it’s humiliating. Humiliation is a bit stronger of a word, and I’d use it to describe scenarios when my car would breakdown. There’s mainly three parts that suck about this scenario: the realization, the resolution, and the begging.
Every time my Jeep has broken down, I’ve been surrounded by people. For instance, when my Jeep broke down at Olive Garden, I was with my family. Thankfully, my dad knows the situation all too well, so he was pretty helpful. Regardless, it’s still pretty humiliating as people walk by to see me poking at things under the hood.
Unfortunately, the humiliation doesn’t really stop at the realization. After that, the situation needs to be resolved. Usually this involves calling AAA to get the car towed. When the Jeep broke down at Olive Garden, I was stuck sitting around for an hour next to a dead Jeep. I was hoping AAA would just show up and tow the Jeep, but that’s not really how this exchange went down. Instead, the driver decided to quiz me about the situation only to reply with silly advice like “I bet it’s out of fuel.” No sir, it isn’t.
After all that, the only thing left is to wait out the repair. However, while the car is getting repaired, it’s not like the world stops. In most cases, I was stuck begging for rides. People are generally nice about it, but it still sucks to ask. I know I’m inconveniencing people, and they typically wouldn’t let me pay them back. This sort of thing happened to me so often that I eventually just started offering lunch to anyone who would drive me to work.
Edit: Since writing this article, one of my friends decided to share a nice tidbit:
It really was special having a car this rugged. Part of me misses having a beater like that.
The Plan Moving Forward
So now that you know that I decided to ditch my Jeep, you’re probably wondering how I get around. If you’re not aware, I currently live in Atlanta which is one of the most spread out cities in the world. So, it can be hard to get around without a car. Fortunately, I don’t live alone. I share an apartment with my girlfriend, Morgan, and she’s the only one who really needs a car. In addition, there is public transportation as well as services like taxis and Uber. If we were living back home in Erie, I wouldn’t have been able to make this decision.
That said, moving forward is going to be a little tough. I work in a rotational program where my job changes every six months. For this rotation, I can get away with working from home because I work remote. However, next rotation I could be based in Atlanta which means I’ll probably need to get a new car.
If things don’t work out, I could even be jobless. Honestly, that scenario is really what fueled the decision to get rid of the Jeep. Ditching it gives me the opportunity to save up over the next six months. That way we can survive a short period of unemployment if it comes to it.
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