Good news: my car’s transmission is failing!

Possibly, my last car

Focus… on your DOOM! Great on the Autobahnen, not so much for quick trips around town

On Monday evening, I dropped my 2008 Ford Focus diesel wagon at the dealer to get the timing belt changed and other 180,000 km/10 yr maintenance done and winter tires put on, with a request that they call if it was going to be over 100 EUR more than the 1350 EUR on the quotation.

On Tuesday morning, they called to tell me that the trouble starting I reported was actually to do with the transmission, and they had the failure codes from the ODBC to prove it, but were not sure that doing the 450 EUR transmission oil change would fix it, my first reaction was panic, assisted by already panicking over what my fellow Americans would do that day at the polls.

But then I remembered that I had ridden to work with my colleague, and was planning to take the U-Bahn and walk to the dealer to pick up my car. In fact, I drive to work about once per month and to the grocery store most Saturdays. I could buy another 10 year old Focus wagon for about 4000 EUR, if it turned out I really did miss having my own car.

On Tuesday afternoon, I asked for a purchase offer; the most the dealer was willing to pay was 650 EUR, because my car is pretty much unsaleable in Germany (older diesel + automatic transmission). Instead of spending the minimum of 1800 EUR for the scheduled maintenance and attempt at fixing the transmission, I paid 75 for the initial diagnosis and installation of my winter tires, with the intention of driving it until the transmission really did go.

On Wednesday morning, as I drove home from the dealer, I saw all those sketchy-looking used car lots, promising cash purchase for all cars…

The first wasn’t interested because of the automatic transmission, but the second offered me 1700, down from my opening offer of 2500. I smiled, thanked him and said I’d think it over while driving home to pick up the car’s title.

I pulled over at another car lot, and a fellow came running across the street, asking if I’d consider selling. I nodded and told him I’d be very happy to have 2500 for it. He countered with 1500, I with 2000, and we finally agreed on 1800. I dropped into a more permanent-looking lot downtown, but the most they’d offer was 1300: “Our friends to the East don’t like automatic transmissions.”

On Wednesday afternoon, instead of spending 1800 plus 1000 on the year’s insurance and taxes on a car that might or might not make it another year, I deposited 1800 EUR in my bank account, for a net 4600 EUR. I might have been able to get somewhat more by listing it on autoscout24.de or ebay-kleinanzeigen.de, but not much more – there’s no way I couldn’t tell a potential buyer about the transmission.

It will force me to walk and bike more, to be more careful at the grocery store, and should save us at least 3700 EUR/yr, long term (see below). For long trips, renting is surprisingly cheap: I just booked a station wagon for our post-Christmas ski week for 230 EUR – ADAC is amazing. Instead of hoping my transmission won’t finally give up in the Swiss Alps, we’ll get to drive a nearly new car! And my husband still has his smaller, cheaper car when I actually do need one.

The day after finding out my car might need a new transmission turned out to be great; my fellow Americans came through on Tuesday, too, making it even better 🙂

Seven years of the Focus – the boring arithmetic

Starting Kms: 61000
Ending Kms: 185600
Total Kms: 124600
Purchase price: 15100 EUR
Sale price: 1800 EUR
Depreciation: 13300 EUR
Annual registration tax (higher because it is a diesel): 308 EUR * 7 = 2156 EUR
Annual insurance (I kept comprehensive with a 2500 EUR deductible; this was silly after the first few years): started at 1100/yr, got down to 730 = 5990 EUR
Annual maintenance in non-transmission oil change years: 400 EUR * 5 = 2000 EUR
Annual maintenance with transmission and brake work in 2014: 1500 EUR
Two sets of tires, plus mounting to rims: 600 EUR
Semiannual wheel changes (winter+summer): 70 EUR * 7 = 490 EUR
Fuel with average consumption of 6.5 liters/100km, at price of 1.225 EUR/liter (range: 0.95-1.40 EUR/liter): (124600/100)*6.5*1.225 = 9921.28
Annoying habit of burning out headlights: 20 EUR/yr * 7 = 140 EUR
Total cost of ownership: 36097.28 EUR, 5156 EUR/yr, 430 EUR/mo (0.29 EUR/km avg)
Total cost of ownership, minus fuel (because I’ll have to buy that for rental cars, too): 26176 EUR, 3739 EUR/yr, 311 EUR/mo (0.21 EUR/km avg)

Conclusions and expectations upon going semi-carless by choice

  • Buying a three-year-old, off-lease car was an excellent idea; it was over 30000 EUR new
  • Buying an automatic transmission in Germany was not an excellent idea
  • Owning a diesel with extremely comfortable seats made sense when I drove 85 km each way every day to work
  • Owning a diesel for weekly grocery runs and occasional long trips does not make sense
  • An annual transit pass that lets me bring my bike and/or husband around on weekends and holidays for 780 EUR/yr is worth considering
  • Despite six weeks of annual vacation time, there is no way I could blow an additional 2900 EUR/yr on train tickets and/or renting small station wagons
  • Panic-buying a replacement car is *always* a mistake; you are better off renting for a week or two if you absolutely must have a car
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