Car trouble in paradise – “That’s not a Buick!!”

It was a random Tuesday. We had just gotten home from work and had commenced unpacking lunch boxes, loading the dishwasher, and started talking about the day’s events when Monica casually slipped it into the conversation… “Oh, yea. My car got hit in the parking lot at work again.”


“Wait. What?… How bad are we talking?”


She continued, “Well, I’m not sure. You’d better take a look at it. The girl left a note, though. So we should be all good.”


Humm… OK. Now that I’ve got the narrow range from front end caved in, to a scratch under the headlight as an expectation, I couldn’t possibly be surprised with what the actual damage was… Another good setup by the Mrs.


After much inspection, I concluded the damage was minor but there was some missing paint and a dented fender immediately in front of the left front tire that could pose a safety risk down the road. Throw that on top of a leaky power steering line and we thought that with the offender’s (girl that backed into Monica) insurance footing a majority of the potential bill, “what the heck… Let’s take it in for an estimate.”


There’s a local shop right down the road from us that has done some mechanical work on our cars in the past. We’re starting to trust these guys for doing good quality work at a reasonable price, so we dropped it off. A few days later we got the estimate back:


$2,100 – Total!!


About $1,100 from the body work, $240 for the power steering line, and a previously unknown $760 for new front tire rod and wheel bearings. The latter of which we learned posed the most serious of safety concerns while the power steering and bodywork were potential and cosmetic issues, respectively.


I need to overlay this $2,100 estimate with everything else that is happening in our lives currently. Although we have an emergency fund for situations just like this one, Monica and I are in the middle of a large-scale project that requires additional monthly expenses in the middle 4-figure range. We expect (and hope) this project will last another few months until these multi-thousand dollar bills fade to the background, at which time the reaping will commence from the sowing we’re currently doing (here’s to hoping). This is good news, so no worries, and if all goes we’ll I’ll be able to report about the project and all I’ve learned from it in the very near future… Stay tuned.


Back to the Buick. 


She’s a 2007 Buick Lucerne with about 63,000 miles on her, and she’s been in the family for her full life (the Buick had previously been Grandma’s). There are some sentimental ties to the vehicle, sure, but business is business and we quickly started thinking of ways to mitigate this cost while keeping the fam’ safe.


A few days had gone by when I called up the note leaving offender to relay the estimate for the body work. Needless to say, she was a little shocked. I told her we’d get another estimate and that I’d call her back in a few days. She called me back the next day citing photographic evidence that the majority of the bodywork had been caused by the first collision with Monica’s Buick (caused by ’scrape-and-run’ – who earned the nickname by not leaving a note), about 8 months before. This first collision apparently took place by a coworker of the offender’s that no longer works at the same office. Even though scrape-and-run didn’t leave a note, she did take photographs that were given to the offender’s office manager (all of these women work in the same building as Monica – different office).


We put our forensic scientist hats on and validated the pictures and story from the offender as true, and that hardly any damage to the Buick was actually caused by her… The ‘offender’ will now change to ‘good samaritan’ for the remainder of the story. Good samaritan still offered to pay a portion, to which I said, “Thank you but no chance. You shouldn’t pay for damage caused by someone else. I apologized for not doing my research up front and thanked her for her help.”


Now we’re stuck with a $2,200 total with no offender and no insurance to back us up. All of the above information will help with the choice we were left with below:


A) Trade in the Buick (~$7,400) and buy a 2010-2012-ish Camry (~10-12k) 


Finance the remaining $3-5k over 2-3 years to eliminate the $2.2k hit to our evaporating emergency fund. Sure, there would be extra interest to pay, but the appeal was a minimal upfront cost for a little extra per month for the next few months. After things settled down with the project, we planned to pay it off in full.


B) Suck it up and pay the bill


We currently had the cash in the emergency fund – isn’t this what it’s for? Maybe we could deal with running out of money from the project if and when that happened…



We ruminated for about a week trying to decide which option was best for our situation at the time. Monica was leaning toward fixing and keeping the Buick while I strongly considered trading her in (it sounds a bit foolish to me now…). We decided about 7 days later to trade the car in.


Three hours after that – and before we went to a dealership – I came to my senses and called the shop back to setup an appointment to bring our car back in for some work.



What would you do given the above information and trying best to put yourself in our shoes? Let me know in the comments section



We ended up going with option C – getting the mission-critical issues fixed while ignoring the body work that turned out not to pose any safety threat going forward. 


Also, since we took the car in for an estimate, the power steering fluid was no longer leaking (I’m starting to think the just tightened something up during the estimate for us – they seem like nice guys). That left us with about $760 to get the car back to road-ready mode. …But I didn’t stop there. When I called to make the appointment, I asked if there were any promotions or discounts they could apply to this work. It was a shameless request that had absolutely no downside.


Final tally – $670 for a safe, low-mileage, former grandma driven Buick that gets my wife (and at times daughter and me) around town. The best part: the ‘Buick waves’ we get to exchange with other retirement-benefit earning individuals in our local area!


That’s not a Buick!! Oh, wait – it is… And we love it!



Thanks for reading!


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– Mike


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