Car Crisis – or Not?

I have found myself facing an unexpected ethical dilemma! Read my little scenario and tell me what you would do:

My car’s engine light came on and I ignored it for three weeks because my car’s servicing was up to date, and nothing seemed dangerous. I finally took it to the dealership, and received bad news: the car needs a new catalytic converter, and will need a new oxygen sensor to go with it.

The catalytic converter is a pollution-control mechanism. It breaks down the by-products of fuel combustion before they are released through the exhaust, and converts them to less toxic stuff. It is responsible for your car meeting emissions standards.

This repair job was entirely unexpected. The work will set me back two weeks’ pay and affect my savings and spending for the rest of the year. I did expect to spend two weeks’ pay on car maintenance over the course of the year, but not in one lump sum in February.

Now here’s the catch: the dealership told me I could get away with ignoring this for up to 5 years – about the remaining life left in my vehicle. My Motor Vehicle Inspection is good for another 18 months. The MVI checks the exhaust system generally, but not the emissions. In effect, I could choose not to get the work done.

So I could save big bucks and merrily pollute for the next five years, or get the work done, and make some substantial financial sacrifices.

What would you do?

Here are some variables to consider:

  • Our household of 2 people has 2 cars, although we ride-share most days.
  • Using public transportation is possible, but would double our commute times, and cost more than gas for the car. I have free parking at work.
  • I bought the car new and it is now 7.5 years old. I planned to keep it for 11 years – that is 3.5 more years. It is paid for.
  • I am willing to pay about half the cost of a monthly car payment in monthly maintenance costs for a car of this age. Once the repair costs approach the cost of a car payment, I will trade it in.
  • I don’t have collision insurance on the car any more, so if I were in an at-fault accident, I would probably have to write off the car and buy a new one at my own expense.
  • I have a small, quite fuel-efficient car, but recent models have even better fuel efficiency.
  • My spouse’s car is much newer and is also a very small gas-sipper.

Given all of the above information, what would you do?

  • Do nothing and keep driving the car
  • Pay for the repairs and keep driving the car
  • Get a new car
  • Become a one-car family: suck it up and cooperate 24/7!
  • Become a no-car family: suck it up and take the bus!

Any suggestions?

Never mind that the bus service has been on strike since February 2!


  1. Definitely get a second opinion since it’s such an expensive repair. Ask whether it is dangerous to keep driving as is, and if not I’d probably keep driving until I could save up to cover the cost of repair.

    If you live in a large city with access to public transportation, consider ditching the car altogether. It would save you a ton!

    • Ah, we think alike! Getting a second opinion is definitely my next step. I’ll update my post with the results! I could reduce car use by taking the bus when I don’t have meetings at multiple work sites on the same day. My employer will pay for a taxi between work sites, which reduces my costs but is no better for the environment.

  2. Jocelyne

    I really don’t know what I’d do…but I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t ride the bus and I wouldn’t become a one car family. We became a one car family last year, thinking it would save us money on insurance and such. I think it’s actually costing us more in gas because we do a lot of driving back and forth that we wouldn’t normally do if we had two cars. Love reading your blog!

    • Hi Jocelyne, I know what you mean! As it is, we take one car from Dartmouth to Halifax on weekdays, and I am always making extra trips back and forth across the bridge, just for the sake of leaving the other car at home. I really should do the math and see if it is saving us either time or money. Thanks for the encouragement!

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