Money matters. Seriously need your advice!

I need a $1200 car suspension repair. It’s causing my tires to cup, so I don’t know how much longer my car is going to make it without getting this fixed. I can’t just ditch the car, because it won’t be paid off until May 2014. I was hoping some of you financially-savvy dopers might have some advice. I don’t currently have any savings or ability to save up that amount in a timely fashion, and I’m running out of ideas. I have a small 401k, it’s worth $1900 right now. But only because I accidentally contributed about $50 to it from my first work paycheck 4 years ago, and it’s grown. Can I take a hardship 401k loan against my current investment portfolio, or could I only withdraw the amount I’ve actually contributed? I’ve tried Lending Tree, and my credit’s not good enough for them (I had a bankruptcy 3 years ago and am still rebuilding my credit). My credit cards (one $300, one $500) are near-maxed, but slowly being paid down from emergency dental work and my last car repair (left front control arm and bushing). I also have a checking account in good standing with Chase. If I put up my car as collateral, would they give me a loan for something like this? I am pretty sure I could only afford to make $50 payments a month, though.

I got a payoff quote for my car, and that’s $4600. It’s a 2006 Ford Five Hundred, in very good shape except for this issue, never been in an accident. Should I just try to sell the car, pay off the auto loan, and hope there’s enough left over to make a down payment for another vehicle? My current car payment is $300, and when I got it my credit was in worse shape than it is now. So I think I’d qualify for better interest rates (I’ve actually gotten a lot of junk mail from my current lenders and others about refinancing my vehicle, although my principal is too low for that now). I’d really rather avoid that option… but if I have to sell it to keep my job, I have to sell it.

To clarify, I’m absolutely **not **asking anyone here for money or a loan. Just some ideas. Thanks in advance.

Is this a local mechanic, or a dealer? Because, if you throw yourself on their mercy, a local mechanic might be willing to accept the fifty bucks per month. (Actually, a dealer might also cut you a deal.)

(But did you really grow a single fifty dollar 401(k) contribution to $1,900 in four years? If so, bravo. That’s really outstanding.)

Is there anyone you can borrow the money from who would accept $50 a month in repayment? Friend or relative?

Family is an option I’ve considered tapping. My sister lives in Texas and we have a good relationship, but she doesn’t make a whole lot more than I do. I’m not on speaking terms with my father because he was abusive, although my sister still maintains a relationship with him. I don’t *want *to re-establish a relationship with him, but I realize that I might need to do that. I’m not sure if he would even be willing to lend me the money, though. “Hey dad, haven’t talked to you in 5 years, now will you gimme some money?”–not a conversation I’m looking forward to. But I’m considering it as a last resort, before selling the vehicle.

My mother is going through problems of her own with qualifying for SSDI, she’s on long-term disability right now because she cannot work (diabetic retinopathy, on the path to being declared legally blind). I’d really rather not burden her with this in the first place, and I’m not sure she has that kind of money readily available anyway.

You could talk to a used car dealer about trading up based on the value of your car minus the repairs. If you can only increase your current payments by $50 a month, the trade may not be in the upward direction though. The idea of getting a local mechanic to accept payments may work, especially if you can afford to pay for the parts up front.

Could you rotate the tires or have them remounted on the rims so the wear goes to the other side? That shouldn’t take much money ( the rotating you can do yourself or with a friend with a jack that knows what they are going).

Also tires can be very worn and still be safe to drive. AS LONG as you don’t drive in rain/slush/snow conditions. I spend several college years driving on tread bare tires. I just didn’t drive when it was wet/raining.

What’s the repair? And where’s the quote from?

The repair is for struts. I’m not sure for how many. I’m guessing a full replacement (2 or 4, however it works?) due to the cost, but I don’t have the paper in front of me. The estimate was done by Merlin, which is an area chain (franchise?) that seems to be managed like a small car shop. They’ve always been the cheapest when I compared them to other shops in my area.

The tires aren’t bald, they’re just cupping. I’m led to believe that eventually they will blow out due to wear, but I have no idea when that might be. Either way, I cannot refrain from driving in adverse conditions. My total commute is about an hour a day, 5 days a week, and winter’s a-comin’.

If I could perhaps get away with merely new tires, that would be good to know.

That depends on the problem. They could probably tell you. Did they mention anything about a front end alignment? I don’t want to recommend this specifically because it depends on the actual store, but I’d go to a tire store and see what they say. They usually do alignments and front end work and they might know if it’s something that could be adjusted instead of replaced. But then you have to trust them to tell you the truth instead of what you need to hear to buy new tires. The same problem you’ll have everywhere you go.

Cupping is typically caused by worn shocks (rear) or struts (front). Which tires are cupped, though? The rear shocks are much easier to replace, so if it’s just the rear tires, you can save some money by only getting two. $1200 is way high for two shocks. I think it’s high for 4 but I’ve never worked on a Five Hundred. I know some models have expensive self-leveling shocks in the rear. For your sake I hope you don’t.

You could also just replace the tires and live with it. If the ride doesn’t bother you, the only downside is that your tires will wear out quicker. Not the best long term solution but cheaper in the short term.

I’d also get a second opinion at an independent shop.

Hey, thanks! I really think it’s just the front tires that are cupping. I don’t recall there being anything about “shocks” on the invoice. As far as I can tell, the rear of the car is fine and the front-end is the problem. Two tires is something I can work toward affording. In the meantime, perhaps I will get a tire rotation to extend the life of my tires as long as I can.

If anyone has a recommendation for a great independent shop in the western suburbs of IL, please let me know.

Okay here is what the invoice says:

Items Declined by customer
1 - 72256 Sensa-Trac Strut 213.85 — Labor 110.00 — misc. deduction -32.08
1 - 72255 Sensa-Trac Strut 213.85 — Labor 110.00 — misc. deduction -32.08
2 - 71120 Monroe Sensa-Trac\Reflex Strut 355.66 — Labor 220.00 — misc. deduction -53.34

Total = 783.36 parts + 440.00 labor = 1223.36 - misc deductions of 117.50 =
Final Total: $1105.86

You’re getting the squeeze from the mechanic. As long as the struts are not broken or rattling, you can get away with a couple cheap new tires to get you through the winter.

And a very fast online price-check reveals that you can buy the struts (the $213 parts) for 62 bucks on Amazon. You’ve been given an inflated estimate, and can definitely negotiate some better pricing.

You definitely need to shop around on this one.

They want to charge you for all four struts ($783.36); I’m skeptical that it’s necessary to replace all 4.

I found all 4 available for $286.40 at, same part numbers and everything. I know they have to make a small profit on parts, but $500? Yikes. I’d find a different shop.

eta: beaten several times over. I blame my kids for distracting me.

My new favorite place to go when I can’t afford something is You trade your skills, stuff, and talents to others. Need a mechanic? They may have a mechanic in your area who could use some help with something you specialize in and you could make a trade.

Wow, that place is a jerk. sigh. And I had thought they were so nice and honest. I’ll work on getting a tire rotation/alignment and move the front tires to the back. Hopefully that will get me another 6-8 months, by which time I should be able to afford 2 new tires. I don’t mind a bumpy ride as long as my tires don’t blow out at 60+ mph.

Thanks so much for the help, guys. I feel much less hemmed-in and hopeless than I felt this morning. I would buy you all bagels if I could. With extra cream cheese! =)

Your suspension system is what keeps your tires on the road surface, allowing you to brake efficiently. They are an essential part of your safety system, not just there to make your ride smooth.

A lot of the big tire chains will do tire rotations for free, even if you aren’t a customer. I know Discount Tire does them, and I think NTB does them free as well. ( I think can show you store locations )

See if there’s one in your area. They do rotations and flat fixes free.

Also, if there’s a community college in your area they will likely have a car-mechanics curriculum and they’re often looking for additional vehicles to train their students. This can be a great way to get free labor on paint jobs or small repairs like yours. You’ll probably have to provide the parts though.

Best of luck.