My Life In Cars

On the way down to work, I was pondering how much I’ve spent on vehicles over the years.  Now, in this, I didn’t want to count “generic maintenance” like oil changes, tires, alignments, and spark plugs.  Actually, for all but two of my vehicles, I never did any sort of preventive maintenance on them.  I bought them and drove them.  When I first started out, I did experience a rash of flat tires, but I suspect that this is due to them being so well used when I got the car and me not replacing them.   I also understand that insurance can be costly and changes from vehicle to vehicle.  It also changes from driver to driver and gets relatively cheaper as I get older.

The first portion of this is ramblings, but later I get into story telling mode. Skip to the end to see my summary.

1997 – 1998:

These first three vehicles were provided to me by my family and were “hand me downs” from my sisters.  I tried to get the order and years correct as much as possible.  I won’t count these vehicles/years in my total.
81 chevette
 - dinged it up and sold it
1998 – 1999:
red car from amanda
 - died at breezewood intersection
power wagon
 - never died, forget what happened to it, probably sold
1998  $400
some white boat – $400 tagged
 - think dad got it, then laura when I bought my next car.

1999: -$50
oldsmobile calais
 - paid $350 for car + tags
 - about $100 more getting it inspectable
 - hit a dear near Christmas
 - insurance cut a check for $500 — $50 gain

buick skyhawk – $600 tagged
 - engine went out, replaced for $200
 - engine went out again, replaced for $300 this time
 - stopped working again, sat for a while
 - bought a ford aerostar for ~$800
 - transmission went out, junked it
 - i got this while the skyhawk was down, but before the jeep
jeep cherokee – $500 + $100 tagged
 - after several months of driving, engine went out
 - drove my dad’s boat
 - got engine replaced for $500
 - skyhawk died around the same time as the jeep needed its engine replaced
I got skyhawk working again.  My friend Curt helped me rip computers out of junkyards and we finally found one that worked.
Then, a friend was driving it and a piston rod broke in it.  The car was junked after this.

For some reason, the Jeep was acting up again — electrical issues.  I parked this at my parents and bought the Ford Probe off of my Dad for $500.  Call it $600 to get tags transferred.  I believe this happened in 2002.

Deployment, 2003.

While I was gone, my Dad took the Probe in and got it tuned up for me at some unknown price.

Let’s see.  I spent a lot on this car.  This was around the time that I was learning it was nicer to keep a vehicle running than to replace it.  I really liked driving this car, and it only broke down on me once, toward the end of its life.

In 2004, the car would shake around 65mph and had an exhaust leak.  On a recommendation, i took it to Lashlees and asked them to look at both issues.  They charged me $400 for the exhaust work and when I asked about the suspension, they said “oh yeah, that’s really bad and could kill you.  It will be $600 if you want us to fix that.”.  I was furious because I would rather have had them fix the suspension issues than a noisy exhaust.

Faced with this, I was torn between spending more money on the Probe.  At this point, i felt i already had too much into one vehicle, based on past experience.  So I decided to spend $500 and bought a VW Fox from a friend of a friend.

About 3 months later, a wheel came off the Fox on the turnpike, nearly killing me.  Instead of loose lug nuts, it was a loose axle nut.  The force of this caused the suspension to get messed up, very similar to the issue the Probe had. 

I was now out of money.  I had spent my “car fixing money” on the Fox and was now worse off than before.  I got the Fox towed to a friend/mechanic and parked in his yard.  I was going to be deployed again in a few months and would use the money from that to get it fixed.  Having no recourse, I continued driving the Probe.  It gave me no issues as long as I watched the speed.

During my 2004-2005 deployment, the Fox got fixed for $100 and the Probe sat idly by.

I came home during a bit of leave to drive the Fox around and the linkage went out.  I was stuck with 3rd and 4th gear.  I also had a bad battery, which meant it would drain out a lot and need push/jump started.  Disgusted, I parked it and made arrangements to get the Probe fixed.

After that, the Probe got $500 pumped into its suspension by the one mechanic and was ready for me when I got home.  The Probe was now up to $1500.  I traded the Fox in for a snowblower.  The person I traded the Fox to got the linkage fixed, replaced the battery, and then rolled it into a ditch.  That car was bad news all around.  I had $600 into the Fox, but got about $50 worth of a snowblower out of it.

After two deployments, I had little money to work on my vehicle.  I ran tires till they were bald, didn’t change the oil, etc.  The car kept running, but did need some muffler parts replaced, and a bit more suspension work.  In all, I put in about $200/year in various repairs during 2005 and 2007.  At the end, the radiator hose blew out, which I had to replace.  It turned out that the head gasket was bad and dumping coolant into the exhaust system (and exhause into the radiator system).  I had $1900 into the Probe.

I parked the Probe and got my sister’s car for free, which she had got from Dad.  We didn’t even do anything with the title.  Later that year, I got a job and bought the Kia Sportage.  Laura wanted nothing to do with the old car, so we got it junked.

In the meantime, in 2006 I bought a Jeep for $500 and put a new used engine in it for another $500.  This was for the business.  I put another $200 into it, discovered it had transmission problems, and drove it to a Junk yard and got $300 out of it.

I ended up selling the Probe for $500, which took my $1900 down to $1400. 

2007 – 2010:
I bought a Kia Sportage for $3100 tagged.  A few months later, the transmission went out of it and I ended up putting another thousand into it.  After that, I didn’t have to do much to it for a while.  In the summer of 2009 I experienced some issues with misfiring, which lead to a number of troubleshooting repairs.  First I fixed a hole in the exhaust for $50, then spark plugs and wires and even a timing belt.  I had a friend help me with all of this, so I had about $150 in this.  The issue ultimately turned out to be a coil pack for another $55.  Then things were good.  I added some manual locking hubs for $150.

In the meantime (late 2009, we purchased an 89 BMW for $1100 tagged.   I added a set of brakes for $10 and new struts for $120.  I also paid $100 to a friend to help me get it fixed when it broke.  $1330 into the BMW.  This is used as a spare car.

In 2010, I started experiencing a rash of various issues with the Kia. The BMW came in usefule for these.  The alternator went out, costing me $340 (got ripped off), the starter coil went out, costing me $90 (put it in with the help of a friend), the rear brake drum went out costing me $230 (garage/labor).  Also in that mess, the other coil pack acted up an cost me another $60.  I also had to g
et the rotors turned down for another $40.   The problem was that each of these issues (except the rotors) was a show stopper and all happened within a three month period.  So: 340+90+230+60+40=790.  I have $5155 into the Kia for a 3 year period.  This, by far, is my most expensive vehicle.


year    vehicle    cost    average    per month
1998    white boat    $400.00       
1998    calais    -$50.00       
2000    skyhawk    $600.00       
2001    ford areostar    $800.00       
2001    skyhawk repairs    $500.00       
2002    jeep cherokee    $1,100.00       
2002    ford probe    $600.00       
2003    deployed    $0.00       
2004    ford probe repairs    $400.00       
2004    vw fox    $500.00       
2004    vw fox repair    $100.00       
2005    vw fox trade    -$50.00       
2005    ford probe repairs    $500.00       
2005    ford probe repairs    $200.00       
2006    ford probe repairs    $200.00       
2006    jeep cherokee    $1,000.00       
2006    jeep repairs    $200.00       
2007    jeep junk    -$300.00       
2007    ford probe repairs    $200.00       
2007    ford probe sell    -$500.00       
2007    kia    $3,100.00       
2007    kia repair    $1,000.00       
2009    kia repair    $405.00       
2009    bmw     $1,100.00       
2010    bmw repair    $230.00       
2010    kia repair    $790.00       
    13 years    $13,025.00    $1,001.92    $83.49
    9 vehicles           

Yes, in 13 years of purchasing and driving 9 vehicles, I spent about $13k in vehicles, or less than $85/month.

Floor Fan

No, I’m not saying I’m a fan of floor (though they are pretty nifty and useful), but rather that putting a fan in a floor is a nifty idea.
I have this room that I call the “server room”, mainly because it is a room that contains servers.  I have been experimenting with different ways to keep it cool without running the air conditioner.  With the door and windows closed, it can heat up to 80+F in the room, even in the middle of winter.  During the winter, I had no actual windows in the room and one air conditioner in the wall.  This meant that with -7F outside, I had to run the air conditoner to keep the room cool.  No, at those temperatures, what really happened is that the A/C unit simply acted as a fan and probably never ran the compressor.  However, as fans go, the one in the A/C unit is fairly inneficient.
At that time, I cut another hole in the wall and installed a dual-window fan.  One fan was set to suck air into the room.  I angled that one to blow towards the wall.  The other fan is angled to blow to the center of the room and works as an exhaust fan.  Between them, they kept the room around 50F throughout the winter.  Up until this week, the room has been staying around 65F (On a side note, this room is somewhat insulated from the rest of the house).
Starting yesterday, the room started mirroring the outside world: 80F outside = 80F inside.  I tried switching completely to exhaust with no change.  Therefore, the A/C has been on again, at least during the day. Today however, I have implemented my new plan.
This room sits directly over the basement, which stays relatively cool year-round.   So step one was to pick up a floor-vent, cutting a matching hole and dropping it into place.  Step two was to create a wooden box big enough to hold an 11″ x 11″ box fan.  I then screwed the box fan into this box and attached it flush to the floor underneath the vent.  The final step was stapling an air-conditioner filter to the underside of the box, keeping basement dust out.  There were a few minor details — I had to remove the louvers on the vent so that the fan would fit up close to the grill, as well as cutting a hole for the plug in the box.  Since the server room is trafficed only by me, I decided to run the plug up into the server room, across 1.5′ of floor and plug it into the server room wall.  Otherwise, I would have plugged it in under the floor.  I also moved the server rack in position between the floor fan and the exhaust fans in the window.  My goal is to have cold air from the basement being blown up into the server room and then pulled through the server rack by the window fans.
Immediately, cold air started flowing up into the server room.  In the last half hour, the room temperature has come down from 83F to 79F, which is a nice 4 degree drop. According to my thermometer in the basement, it’s currently 70F down there, which kind of surprised me.  It feels much cooler.  So, it’s still to early to tell, but one would like to see the server room drop down to under 75F.  Most people like to keep these rooms around 65, but my servers are operating in acceptable ranges:

Sensor Location Temp Threshold
------ -------- ---- ---------
#1 PROCESSOR_ZONE 38C/100F 62C/143F
#2 CPU#1 37C/98F 73C/163F
#3 I/O_ZONE 48C/118F 68C/154F
#4 CPU#2 37C/98F 73C/163F
#5 POWER_SUPPLY_BAY 31C/87F 53C/127F

While it’s still too early to tell, I could see putting these in a couple other rooms.  Of course, these would have to be plugged in in the basement, but with the option to flip an on/off switch from upstairs.  I sniffed around the air coming into the server room and I’m not getting any sort of wet basement smell.  We’ll have to check again after a good rain.  I could see two of these in the front room (pool table room), one in my office, and one in the work shop area.  The living room just got new carpet, and I don’t want to cut it up anytime soon.
The cost?
(1) 10″ fan — about $12  at most dept stores (I had a used one)
(1) 1×6 wood, about 5′ long ($3 at YBC)
(8) 1.25″ screws dug out of a screw jar (< $1) – these are used to build box
(4) .75″ screws dug out of a screw jar (<$1) – these screwed the fan to the box
(1) 4 angle braces + screws, sold complete for $6 at Zimmermans
(1) air conditoner filter – $1 at most dept stores
(36) staples to staple the filter to the box.  $0.10?
Not counting the fasteners, you’re looking around $22 in parts.  If you have a cool basement, this provides a cheap source of cold air. You know.. to offset the carbon footprint of running behemoth servers 24×7.

Lentils of Yore

I’ve only heard of lentils in passing.  Before yesterday, I don’t think I’ve ever actually noticed them sitting on a grocery shelf.  Once in a great while I’ll see someone mention them, usually something like “when I was in college, I lived on lentil soup” and I believed that they were a type of noodle, similar to ramen.  Despite the occasional off-hand comment, I never put much stock in anyone ever eating these voluntarily.  However, I was doing some grocery shopping in the Dollar General (or the “DG” as we call it around here) and saw a bag of them next to the dried beans – $1/lb.  I figured “why not” and picked up a bag.  They are not noodles of course, but look more like dried peas.  Like rice, these things take a 2:1 (water:product) ratio (or higher) and will swell up to aroundt 3 times their size.  So a 1lb bag should come out to around 3-4 lbs cooked.
The bag had instructions on making some monster soup including 40 different vegetables and seasonings, but I wanted to try something much simpler that didn’t involve a trip out again.  Searching the Internet, I discovered that these things were incredibly bland and you used them as a base for some other kind of soup.  I finally found a recipe on that stayed fairly basic.  I did 2 cups of water to 1 cup of lentils and boiled away.  I added some salt-free garlic+herb, as well as some Italian seasoning, some salt, and some ground peppercorn.  After cooking about 10 minutes, it became apparent that I needed to add another cup of water, so in this case it was 3:1.  Unlike rice, you can apparently open the lid and stir these as you cook.  With rice, if you mess up your water:rice ratio or open the lid, your rice is ruined.
After 20 minutes, they were much more tender, but even with my seasoning, very bland.  I added some tuna fish which did just about nothing for the flavor.  Finally, I added a can of diced tomatoes and simmered them for another 5 minutes or so.  This plus some more peppercorn did the trick.  I had probably 2+ lbs of something that tasted incredibly good.  I figure the tomatoes were $1/can and I used just under half a bag of lentils (1 cup), so add $0.50 and I have several meals here.  The tuna did nothing either way,  so I’ll leave that out next time.  I’ll just guestimate and say I used $0.10 in seasoning (though it probably works out to much less if I buy in bulk).  I believe this 2-3 day supply of food could be had for < $2.
John Tomatoe Lentil Soup Recipe #1

  • 1 cup washed lentils (wash in cold water)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can (1.5 cups) petite diced tomatoes or similar
  • Ground peppercorn and other seasonings as desired
  1. Boil lentils and water together
  2. Reduce heat, add some seasoning – this will get the seasoning into the lentils
  3. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender — feel free to taste test as needed
  4. Add tomatoes and simmer for another 5 minutes
  5. Add more seasoning as needed

The Internet recommends adding salt in towards the end as salt will harden the lentils, causing them to take longer to cook.
Dried lentils can apparently be stored indefinitely in an airtight container in a dry environment, as can canned tomatoes.  If you are preparing for some sort of post apacolyptic scenario, you wouldn’t be too bad off to store this stuff in bulk, assuming you can find a way to boil water in your underground bunker.

HSA – health insurance savings

Ok, following up on the last post, I found something called HSAs which I have not hear about before.  This is not surprising because up until I started my current job, I had never heard about a flex savings plan/account — this has a lot to do with my lack of hospitalizaiton.  Unlike the flex plan, an HSA rolls over each year and works like a savings account/IRA.  Essentially, you open up an HSA and put money into it, either pre-tax or as a tax deduction.  You spend this money on medical related expenses, also tax free.  The account can earn 1-2%, tax-free.  An individual can put in up to $2850/year or a family can put in $5,650/year.    Again, this is untaxed money.  If you are putting the money in from your net pay, you can deduct that amount from your taxes.  If your employer or retirement/investment account puts this money in pre-taxes, you are never taxed.  You can then spend it on medical expenses such as doctor visits, band-aids, or lasik eye surgery without paying taxes on it.
Now, the really interesting part that has someone like me excited is that health insurance providers provide special rates for people with HSAs.  Essentially, you pay a higher deductible for lower rates.  For someone that is healthy, this is very exciting.  You put your pre-tax money into an HSA and then pay a lower fixed monthly payment.  For example, I can get a plan with $1250 deductible, $15 doctor’s visit, and 0% copay otherwise for $75/month.    Now, that $1250 deductible is pretty scary until you realize it’s $104/month for the first year ($179/month for the first year), and once you get it built up, it’s there until you use it, earning 1% interest.  If you put more into your account, you can use those savings for things like co-pay and prescriptions ($5 generic).    From the same company with $0 deductible, $20 doctor visit, and $15/generic prescription would cost me $139/month.    The HSA would save me $64/month ($768/year).  If I was smart and put $139/month into my HSA for the first year, I would have $768 + interest in my HSA, unless I’ve used some of it to pay deductibles/copays.
So until you get your HSA built up, you’re taking a gamble that you won’t need to get work done and pay a deductible.  This is a relativley safe gamble in that you can probably work out a billing arrangement with the medical facility if you do end up needing their services.    Once your HSA is built up however, you can add to it at  a much slower rate or even stop contributing once you get to double your deductible or double your maximum out of pocket expenses.  Essentially, you can decide how much to put into the HSA based on your comfort level with meeting medical expenses below the deductible.
For further research, I did a quick search on HSA Insider to see what a 63-year woman would have to pay.  A $0 deductible, $20 co-pay (plus $15 generic prescriptions) would be $613.57/month.  An HSA compatible plan has a worse deductible in this case.  The cheapest plan is $224.10/month, but with a $3,750 deductible ($15 office visit/$10 prescriptions ).  The next best plan (ignoring all the co-insurance ones and those that don’t cover doctor’s visits) is $316.58/month with a $1250 deductible ($15 office visit/$5 prescriptions).
Again, I just discovered these today and this is rough math, but my initial impression is that an HSA definitely saves you money in the long run and, depending on your medical expenses, could save you money in the short run.  The thing that could hurt is if you get hit with a high medical bill (like an extended hospital stay) in your first year of using an HSA (before you get your account built up).  It will of course, be cheaper than no insurance and an extended hospital visit, which could be between $1000 and $5000/night.
Another advantage is that money in your HSA can be used to pay for the deductible, medical supplies, and even uncovered procedures (like lasik).  Also, in times of financial hardship, you can make withdraws from your HSA as well to cover basic living expenses (there may be tax restrictions on this).
As a final note, tt seems I pay $68/month (no deductible) through my employer-sponsored program.  I couldn’t find a plan that really beats that.  There was a $60 plan with a $2500 deductible and  $51 plan with a $5000 deductible.   $5000/$17 = 294 months or 24 years.   $2500/$8 = 312months or 26 years.