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Another Car Expense


After fixing my car’s MyTouch system and replacing the side-view mirror, I thought I was “good” on car issues for a bit. Guess not…

Early this month, I noticed my car started being slow to turn on. The engine would eventually turn on, but it was slow or sluggish to do so. Then one particularly chilly morning it wouldn’t. I got the dreaded click-click-click that signified a dead battery. THANK GOODNESS this happened on a morning when the girls were with their Dad so I wasn’t rushing to try to get them to school.

I honestly didn’t know quite how to handle it. I’ve met both of my new neighbors but we hardly know each other. I don’t own any jumper cables (mental note: should probably buy a cheap pair!). I have a tough time asking people for help, in general. Soooooo I did the “mature” thing and did nothing. I went back inside and left it alone.

THANKFULLY when I went back out again a couple hours later, it turned on. I think the cold morning air was just a bit more than the battery could take.

So I drove straight to Walmart’s auto center to have them assess the situation. THANKFULLY (my third “thankful” in this post so far), the mechanic was an honest one! He took a reading on the battery and determined it needed to be replaced, but he told me the battery said it was under warranty. Based on the battery brand (Bosch), I determined it had come from a local Pep Boys. Without turning my car off (I was scared it wouldn’t start again!), I drove straight there. When I pulled up, one of the mechanics (a 19-year-old kid) tried to turn me away, saying their “machine” was broken so they couldn’t do battery work. I started to drive off frustrated, about to head to another Pep Boys location way across town.

THANKFULLY I had a little inner voice tell me to call the shop. I did and a manager happened to answer. I explained the situation (I needed a new battery, it was under warranty through their shop, could they not do that work???) and was basically told I’d been blatantly lied to. They have a machine that tests whether a battery needs to be recharged or replaced (and it was broken) but that has nothing to do with their ability to actually replace a battery. Since mine was covered under warranty, I’d be getting a replacement anyway (not a recharge), so it didn’t really matter what the machine said (plus, I’d already had it tested at Walmart and determined it needed to be replaced).

So before getting too far down the road, I turned around and headed back. I was frustrated at first – not only because I’d been lied to, but also because I was told it would be a 3-hour wait. I’d brought my laptop so I walked into the waiting room and plopped down, starting to work. THANKFULLY, less than 45 minutes later, the manager popped his head in and said my car was ready! I don’t know if they pushed it up given the situation or if they were hoping I’d leave and come back (no choice – I don’t have any alternative transportation!). But regardless, they got it done quickly.

There is one problem though….. in looking at my vehicle history, they determined this is the THIRD battery replacement they’ve done for me in just 3-years time. I’m averaging about one battery every 10-12 months. That’s not normal, so he started looking into it more and realized I have one (or two) actuators that are broken inside my car. Apparently it’s a super common part to break on Ford Explorers. It causes a clicking noise anytime the AC and/or heat is turned on/off and it’s been draining the batteries when I turn my car off. It’s not emergent, but they need to be replaced.

Here’s the shocker…..the actual part is only about 50 bucks. But it’s VERY difficult to get to. They said its about a 4-hour job that requires completely taking apart the dash. Due to the labor involved, the quote was for $600!!! Holy Hell! I’m all “single woman power” over here with my side-view mirror, but I don’t think I could do this type of labor. And I hate to pay so much money for something that literally only requires a $50 part. But I don’t know any other options. I can call around town and try to find cheaper quotes, but a quick google search confirmed that then actuator is a pain-in-the-butt to get to and it is, indeed, a very labor-intensive job.

Soooooo, this month’s budget includes a couple hundred bucks put into my “Car Savings” for this upcoming repair. I’ll save another couple hundred in December and another couple hundred in January and hopefully by that point I’ll have enough to get the actuator(s) replaced. It’s not killing my battery overnight (it’s been taking a year, on average), so I think waiting 3 months should be okay. But I was warned my front tires are also looking pretty bald, too. I swear, if it’s not one thing its another. So the whole “Car Savings” thing will likely be making a comeback into my monthly budget (I’d cut it out for a long time because I needed the money elsewhere). I just keep reminding myself that saving a couple hundred for repairs here and there is a heck of a lot cheaper than a $350+/month car payment would be for a new vehicle.

Any auto-mechanics among the readers? Any tips for getting the actuator replaced for cheaper?


  • Reply JP |

    Used to sell car batteries to Walmart etc here. For one thing, the tester to see if the batteries are actually “bad” is a really wonky test, and not very accurate. To do it right they need to keep it for a long period, charging it fully then running the test. (You cant really tell if its bad if its just dead).

    That said, the actuators shouldnt be ruining these batteries I wouldnt think. They may not be charging the battery fully but I havent known of any car issues that will actually damage the battery. Most likely its just not fully charging it completely. Still thats a problem that you’ll have to get fixed or else keep charging the battery. Its like having a bad alternator. Get some cables for $15 and keep them in your car in the meantime.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I definitely need to get some $15 cables to have just-in-case. I do think the actuator is broken, though. I can hear the clicking noise all the time (never knew what it was). And they haven’t been just recharging the battery. They’ve actually been replacing it. So it’s a full new battery about every 10-12/months. SOMETHING is definitely happening that’s causing them to go dead.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I mean….it took me 3 hours just to replace the side-view mirror. Sooooooo this type of repair would probably take me….2 weeks? ha!
      I appreciate the link, but it actually made me even more nervous. The big warning that you have to actually cut the dash. It just makes me nervous. If I were more mechanically inclined I may attempt it. But I honestly think this is just outside my scope of ability.
      It really sucks that the cost is $70 (DIY) versus $700 (repair shop). It’s such a huge discrepancy! But I’m nervous that if I attempted it, I’d make things worse and end up with a car with the dash hanging down and I wouldn’t be able to get it put back together.

  • Reply Cynthia |

    In my experience pep boys is always on the high side. Do you have a Greulichs near you?. I’ve been using them ever since moving to AZ. Great service, fair prices and they usually will negotiate a bit on big jobs.

  • Reply Cheryl |

    No nothing about cars but I would car Pep Boys corporate and complain about the first employee.

  • Reply Reece |

    Well, it sure does stink that you need to have that repair and tires as well, but you’re being very pragmatic about it. This is not a repair you can realistically do yourself! And look on the bright side; you have the opportunity to save and not take on more debt to get the repair done. You can do this! It’s better to save up and do the fixes than take on more debt with a car loan right now. Your budget just has very little wiggle room. Keep doing what you’re doing, save as much as you can, and you can get a few more years out of the vehicle before you absolutely have to replace it.

  • Reply OneFamily |

    I would definitely add some jumper cables and also, get some roadside assistance through your insurance or AAA. I used to have it for me (when I had a long commute) and my DD (when she had her car at college) through my insurance and it was just a few dollars a month

    • Reply Kristina |

      I have something like that too and was going to recommend it to Ashley.

      Are they sure the alternator isn’t going bad?

  • Reply Denise |

    This will not be a popular opinion on this site (and I am a little shocked I am even thinking it) but at this point is it possible that you are actually better off having a car payment and having a reliable car rather than putting $200-$300 away every month only to have it constantly drained with high end repairs? It’s my experience that car repairs get more and more pricey the older a car gets and if you end up with a few thousand in repair costs each year would a new car with a warranty and free maintenance for a period of time be a better deal? just something to think about.

  • Reply Megan |

    This is a little out of the box, but could you disconnect your battery when you know you won’t drive your car for a couple of days to save the battery a little bit?

  • Reply Jim |

    A few thoughts:

    Don’t go too cheap on jumper cables. The higher priced ones have heavier gage wire and better clamps that make it possible for greater current to go between your battery and the good battery that you are connecting to for the jump start.

    Make sure the lug clamps on your car’s battery cables are kept clean and so are the terminals on your battery. Most automotive parts stores (Walmart included) sell a wire brush tool that works pretty well to do this – probably $5 or so. You just loosen your battery cables, lift them off, wire brush the inside of the cable lug clamps and the terminal posts on the battery, and place the cables clamps back on the battery posts as they were originally. (black cable to the – post and red cable to the + post). Good preventative medicine.

    Most reputable automotive parts places will do a free check the output of your alternator to make sure it is capable of charging your battery.

    From the description of your problem, it sounds as if it is due to a slow drain on your battery. If you have access to an outdoor electrical outlet at your residence you may want to consider buying a 12-volt battery charger (price $30 to $60) and if necessary an outdoor extension cord so you can run the charger close to your car and recharge your battery during weekends to keep it “topped off.” This could potentially delay that expensive repair for years.

    The suggestion to buy a self contained battery starter (price in the $70 dollar range) per Lisa Seattle and charge it and carry it with you is a good one, providing you remember to check it regularly and keep it charged. However, allowing the battery in the car to continually deep discharge until you require a jump is tough on the lifetime of the battery. The charging on a regular basis is likely to have better long term results.

    As you are becoming aware, the more you dig into these things, the more you learn, the more self-assurance you gain, and the more self-reliant you become. Mechanics get paid a lot to do jobs that people could often do themselves but are too timid or unwilling to try. Time to start your tool collection (LOL).

  • Reply JayP |

    Also just a little note here for anyone that might find helpful. Almost all the car batteries are made by the same company(I worked there). They really arent much different at all. Go with the cheapest alternative with the best warranty, most likely Walmart.

So, what do you think ?