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The Big Fix

If you are trying to really trying to get a lot of miles out of a vehicle, sooner or later you will be faced with what I call "The Big Fix".  In the case of the Project 300K Subaru Forester, it happened when I took the car in to my Subaru Dealer in July 2013 (at just over 203,000 miles) to have the timing belt replaced (the recommended interval is 105/210 but I wanted to get it done before school started).  Besides, the car had been leaking some coolant and I thought that it was just a bad hose or other trivial problem that I couldn't find.  Well, it turned out that it was a blown head gasket.  Not good!

I don't envy people who make a living as a service advisor.  Calling someone to let them know that their vehicle needs an extra 1000 plus dollar repair can't be a lot of fun. Still, I had to make a decision whether to drop the 1700+ bucks to fix the thing completely (the head gasket as well as the new timing belt job).  To me it was a no-brainer - I authorized the repair.  I suppose the other option was to simply tell them to pull the car out of the service bay and I would just come and get it.  Even with the leaking head gasket the car still ran "fine".  I suppose I could have just drove it until it died.  My decision was based on the overall condition of the car (which is still very good) and the fact that every month I drive the car is probably saving me 300 to 400 dollars that I'd be spending on a new car.

I think that each "big fix" decision has to be governed by two questions; will I actually amortize this "investment" and "is it really necessary?  In my case the answer to both is a definite "yes".  Assuming I get another 100K out of the car, 1743 out the door is only 1.7 cents per mile. 

I did catch a bit of a break here.  Replacing the timing belt is about a 200 dollar job in labor.  Since all the steps necessary to change the timing belt as the same as repairing the head gasket the dealer only charged me once for the labor (they did charge for the gasket!).  Additionally, the job also includes things like servicing the radiator, a new thermostat, new spark plugs and belts.  I must say that driving the car without the constant faint smell of coolant is a pleasure. 

Should you be faced with the need for a "big fix", don't rush the decision; 1700 dollars would have been a nice down payment on a new vehicle.  Of course, you also have to factor in that in a "needs to be repaired" state the value of your vehicle is greatly diminished.  Face it, no one in their right mind is going to buy a vehicle that instantly needs a big repair unless the asking price is adjusted accordingly.  It's really a no win situation.


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