Choose What Works for You

Have you ever struggled with a decision, and been unsure about what’s best to do? (Who hasn’t, right?) While this story talks about my car, it’s really about choosing what works for you — about having the guts to go for what you really want. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll at least know that you tried. And that’s worth quite a bit.

When my car hit a tree a while back, the rough estimate to repair it was $8K. I spent a lot of time debating between repairing it or replacing it. No one I talked to thought I should repair it. No one. Even though I loved the car and the alternatives I checked out were in the $30K-$35K range, most people thought I should either go buy a new car, or at least replace my current car with something similar. The body shop itself told me I should send it to the junkyard.

Not worth it

The common refrain was that it wouldn’t be worth it to repair it.

After all, it was old. (22 years old, to be exact.) It had a lot of miles on it. (About 227K.) I couldn’t even look up its Blue Book value online because of its age, but I’m guessing it would have been $900 or less. (However, the 90 Miatas we found for sale within the US ranged from about $3K to $15K.)

I also agreed that $8K would be kind of crazy to spend, but I wasn’t ready to give up. For me, it wasn’t just about the money.

Potential problems

So I talked to the shop about the possible worst and best-case scenarios. While my car didn’t have a lot of obvious mechanical damage, and the shop could only see one bit of structural damage, they couldn’t tell if other things might be wrong with it until after they made some of the repairs. They warned me that they could get into it and find a whole lot more wrong, and then I’d either have spent thousands of dollars for nothing, or would need to spend a whole lot more to keep going IF what they found wasn’t an irreparable safety issue. Best case, of course, was that it would be limited to the damage they could easily see.

So I spent like 10 days agonizing over this. I loved the car. I wanted to get it fixed. I literally cried at the thought of sending it to the junkyard. I knew I was being irrational, but…I still wanted my car back if it could be safely fixed. (Most of the obvious damages were things like needing a new fender, hood, and bumper.)

I probably called the body shop a dozen times. They assured me that they did things like this all the time on $40K+ cars, that things had changed in 20 years, and that it was perfectly safe to fix. Just expensive, and not worth it in my case. My normal mechanic told me the same thing. That it used to be a real pain and not always successful, but that with the new equipment they had available to use, it was fine.

I liked the Minis and a BMW, but…really wanted my Miata.

Not a life-changing decision

It finally dawned on me that this was not a life-changing decision, and it didn’t have to be an either or kind of thing. I could get my car fixed and get a new car, if I really wanted to. There’s no rule that says you can only have one car. I could put a few thousand dollars into my car and see where we were then. I could just keep walking. I could take my car home and let it sit there for “someday”. But whatever I decided, it didn’t have to be a permanent choice, so long as I didn’t send it to the junkyard.

And a lot of life is like that. Sure, you want to make the “right” decision, but…if you don’t, or if it turns out not to be the right decision for you, you can often change your mind. Looking at the worst-case scenario is a good idea to do in instances where you’re debating between options. In this case, worst-case would be that I’d have spent a few thousand dollars for nothing.

Well, I could live with that. I also knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t try.

So I decided to give it a shot.

The result

I explained to the shop that I realized it wasn’t the logical thing to do, but that I really loved my car and wanted to at least try and get it fixed. What was the bare minimum we could do to see if there was other damage? How could we keep costs down? Could I fix some of it myself?

They pointed out that the biggest expenses were OEM or aftermarket parts, and professionally painting each individual body part. I sure didn’t need to do that. I could just get the whole car painted later at someplace like Maaco instead. They charged me their cost for parts, and worked with me to find used parts for it, going so far as to send someone after hours to meet me at a junkyard to pickup the parts. They agreed that I could surely fix some of the things myself. They gave me discounts on labor.

My car is home now. Its used replacement body parts still need to be painted to match the rest of the car, so it looks pretty rough, but it actually seems to run and drive better than it did before. It rattles a lot less, and drives straighter and smoother. I lucked out, and there was no additional structural or suspension damage. And I paid about $3500. Not $8K+. You can bet I will be recommending the shop to anyone who needs collision work done, and writing them some glowing reviews.

A happy ending, either way

Sure, this story has a happy ending. But while I would have been ridiculously sad if it hadn’t turned out well, I still would have been glad that I tried. That’s because I made the decision that was right for me. I know from past experience that every single time. I’ve gone with my head over my gut, I’ve regretted it. I went with my gut, and my gut said to give it a shot.

So sure, seek advice. Get opinions from experts and people you trust. But in the end, choose what works for you — whether or not that makes sense to the majority of people you know. They aren’t you. You’ll be glad you stuck with what was right for you.

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20 comments

  • Very interesting post – usually when facing tough decisions I always go with what the logical thing to do is. However, I can definitely see your point as well – if you are attached to something as much as you were to your car, it becomes more than just a method of transportation – it is a part of you. Totally understand what you did – I hope everyone can take away something from it!

    Thomas

  • There truly isn’t a right and wrong decision. It’s not life changing so it’s just a decision. If you are happy then it’s all worth it. Right?

  • I actually think that in life changing situations, it’s even more important to go with what is right for you. It would be so much less expensive for C and I to have a child the old fashioned way. I have great health insurance and disability would pay for 4 weeks worth of leave (67% of my pay over 6 weeks).
    Instead, we’re adopting. We have no idea what the total out of pocket cost will be, and while FMLA will still protect my leave when we bring a child home, it will all have to come out of my PTO.
    But adoption is what feels right, so we’re forgetting logic and going with the right decision for us.

    • Oh yes, I agree — it’s even more important to do what’s right for you in life changing situations. Happy adopting :)

  • I think that it’s important to feel okay about doing what’s best for us, no matter what others might think or if it goes against conventional wisdom. Now, in some cases that could be a very bad idea. However, in the case of your car, it’s not like you’re harming anyone. You made a choice of action that worked for you in particular, and that’s fine since it’s your life. I’ve learned to apply this principle in recent years, money and otherwise, and it’s rewarding in terms of happiness.

    • Hm, if it’s truly best for us, I can’t think of all that many situations where it would be a bad idea. But yes, it is rewarding in terms of happiness to choose what works best for you.

  • Sounds like you REALLY love you car and I’m glad you did what was right for you. If you have the money and can afford it it doesn’t matter what general consensus is. If it makes YOU happy and you’re OK with it than go for it and I’m glad you did. Congrats on making the right decision for you!

  • Sorry to hear about your car, but glad you got it fixed! I probably would have said it wasn’t worth it to pay to get it fixed myself, but that’s fabulous you were able to cut the cost down to $3500. That’s sweet too that it’s running better now!

    • It’s probably about what I’d have spent to replace it, but this way I know exactly what it’s been through.

  • What a great story – glad it had a happy ending (well, $3500 may not sound happy to your bank account, but still…) That shop sounds way too nice. I would be bringing my car there if I were close.

  • You made the right choice and were smart to realize that $8k was too much too spend. Where there is a will there is a way. Your will said that you wanted to keep the car AND spend less than $8k and you found a way. Nice job!

  • I’m afraid I wouldn’t have 10 days to make a decision plus the time to have the repairs done. I drive my car every day and it would be a great disadvantage to be without it for that long.

    • I drove my car everyday too, but could walk, ride my bike, or get a ride to work. I could have actually taken the bus too, but it’s faster to do one of the other three because of having to either walk halfway already or change buses. I was actually without a car a little over 3.5 months, between trying to decide what do do, getting it fixed, and waiting for my son to get his truck fixed first.

  • The way you talked about your car being at home now reminded me of how I talked about my dad when he came home from the hospital after his last surgery – “he’s home now, resting, and doing well.” In all seriousness, I know that sometimes I am prone to making too much out of decisions, even the less-important ones. I blame it on my type-A personality.

    • What’s funny about you mentioning that, is that while my car was in the shop my husband and I were joking around about it being in the car hospital, and going to visit it ;)