Archives For Money

The TransMission

April 10, 2016 — 7 Comments

A few weeks ago my wife and I headed to Tulsa for a family Easter weekend. We left after we got off work in the evening and estimated an 11:30pm arrival at my parent’s house after the four hour drive from Dallas.

All was going well until around 11pm when we got hungry and decided to pull over at McDonald’s for a late night breakfast (that’s how a lot of bad stories start). As we were leaving, we heard a grumbling sound coming from underneath. I’m used to these kind of sounds after McDonald’s but typically they come after I eat it (my parents referred to this as the golly woggles, which was a new, and pretty awesome term to me).

The noise sounded like metal grinding but returned to normal after getting over 20 mph. We made it home and hoped the car would repair itself overnight. We woke the next morning and took a quick drive before filling little plastic eggs with money and sweets and unfortunately, the 4Runner had not self-repaired yet. The noise still stopped after 20 mph, so we decided it was safe enough for the long drive back to Dallas the next day – and indeed, we made it safely.

Now it was time to start investigating the issue. I took it to our local mechanic and he gave me a pretty dire prognosis – there was a 90% chance it was the transmission. Oh no, that doesn’t sound good. He said he didn’t do transmissions but figured it could easily cost $4,000+ to get it replaced. My gosh, our 4Runner with 192k miles is hardly even worth that much!

I quickly went through the cycles of despair and anger and blame (or whatever that cycle is) and decided I’d better take it to the Toyota dealership and hope they’d give me some better news, as they’re the experts. They called later that afternoon and confirmed my worst fears – it’s going to need a new transmission. They could get me a used one for $4,700 or a new one for $5,700. I told them no thanks and picked the car up.

At this point, it becomes a question of value. Should we spend $5,000 to fix a car that’s only worth $5,000 in working condition? Of course not.

I didn’t give up yet and decided to take it to Eagle transmissions to get a third opinion. I dropped off the car and debated with Jocelyn if we should try and get it fixed or just buy a new(er) car. We decided our spending limit to get it fixed would be around $2,000.

In what became my weekly routine, I dropped the car off in the morning, waited for the call from them and then listened with disappoint as he confirmed what the other two had suspected. However, he threw in a new variable – the transfer case. He said  the transmission and transfer case are right next to each other and are both metal so it’s hard to tell where the noise was coming from. His only next step would be to drop the transmission, open it up and also check the transfer case. He’d charge $500 to drop it and check. I asked him if I decided not to do the work after their investigation if the $500 included reassembling. He said no.

What the heck, at that point I’m all in if I decided to “investigate”. That sounded like a pretty crappy way to investigate. I told him I’d think about it overnight and asked what he thought the minimum would be to fix it. He said it’s too hard to tell because they only replace what’s broken, but after enough pestering I finally got him to give me some numbers – very minimum $1,500, but more than likely between $2,500 – $3,500. Risky… just sounded too risky.

I did some more research that night and found three interesting things:

  1. Toyotas are known for having great transmissions that can easily last to 300k miles (Eagle transmission said the same)
  2. You can buy a “salvaged” transmission for $500 on eBay
  3. You can find a smaller shop to install them, and somebody in Dallas recommended Gonzalez Auto Services

I called Eagle transmission shop the next morning and asked him if he’d install a used transmission. He said he didn’t and warned me that it’s pretty risky because you never know what you’re going to get or how long it’d last. However, I still thought his proposal was even more risky so I called Gonzalez.

Gonzalez (the owner of the shop, Juan Gonzalez but goes by Gonzalez) said he could install the used transmission for $350. Okay, that number sounded a lot better – maybe $1,000 all in to install the used transmission. I was ready to order the new transmission, because I’m impatient and eBay seems to fully exploit it, like when I almost bought a city bus, but I waited.

The next day I started the routine again – picked up the 4Runner from Eagle transmission, took it to Gonzalez and waited for the call. Well, it was a bit different because Gonzalez wanted to take me for a drive so we could listen to it. He listed intently and said the transmission shifted good still. He said he’d check it out when we got back to the shop and drop the pan to see if there were any metal shavings in it.

After I left, I started researching transfer cases and wondering why the Toyota dealership didn’t catch it. eBay had one available but it was about $500 more than the transmission cost. Estimate went back up to $1,500 to fix, but still a lot better than $5,000. Gonzalez called later that evening with some interesting news. He said the transfer case was bone dry. How in the world did three other places miss that? All they had to do was check the fluid level in it.

That meant it was pretty much the transfer case. I asked him to fill it with fluid and maybe we’d have a little miracle and everything would turn out okay. He said he’d do it in the morning and give me a call. I continued my research on transfer cases and found another really interesting tidbit – apparently this model of 4Runner is notorious for having leaky seals around the transfer cases! Once again, what the hell, Toyota dealership??

The next morning I woke up with a little bit of optimism and hoped it’d be okay. Gonzalez hadn’t called by noon, so I decided to give him a ring. The rest must be narrated to fully appreciate. Ring, ring, answer:

Gonzalez: Gonzalez

Me: hey Gonzalez, it’s Dan with the 4Runner

Gonzalez: …

Intentionally blank

Me: So, did you get a chance to put fluid in the transfer case?

Gonzalez: Yes

Gonzalez is more of a man of action than words. I waited for a good 5 seconds to see if he’d continue

Me: Ok, how did it sound?

Gonzalez: No noise, it sounds fine now.

Me: No shit?! That’s incredible!!! I can’t believe the Toyota dealership didn’t check that!

Gonzalez: Ya

I was clearly more excited than him

Me: Okay, I guess I’ll come pick it up and drive it around for a while to see if it continues to sound alright

I picked it up later that afternoon and paid Gonzalez $100 for his investigation and re-fluiding. We went from a minimum $5k for a new transmission or buying a newer car for $20k, to a $100 charge to fill up some fluid. It still leaks, but I’ll just have to occasionally fill it up.

The quest for 200k miles on the 4Runner is back alive!!!!

I was impressed with Gonzalez’s knowledge and honesty, and he’s definitely made me a long term customer. Now the Toyota dealership on the other hand (Toyota of Richardson), I was very disappointed they not only misdiagnosed with what could’ve been a $6,000 repair bill, but they also somehow missed checking a very known issue with 4Runners… so much for being the experts. I don’t want to assume they did it on purpose… but dammit, it sure seems like it!

If you made it this far, I commend you, I just had a full verbal vomit. I wrote it out in detail to remind me of the valuable lessons I learned:

  1. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion
  2. If that doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a third opinion… or a fourth opinion!!
  3. Remember, just because someone is an “authority” like a mechanic, doesn’t mean they’re always right
  4. Patience grasshopper. Don’t buy a bus on eBay and don’t buy a transmission until you absolutely know that’s the issue

It was a real test of patience for me. Usually, I’ll make a decision with the knowledge I have on hand and go with it. However, this one just didn’t seem right… and of course I didn’t want to throw away $5,000!! The 4Runner is back in business and while it does drop gear oil on our driveway, I’m okay with refilling every couple of months to keep her going strong.

Wow, $1.5 billion dollars, can you imagine winning? We all already know our chances of winning are beyond minuscule – like we have a 2x greater chance of getting stuck in an elephant’s butt – but that won’t stop many of us from playing. I tend to be a bitter old man about this stuff because I know it’s a complete waste of money, but even I went in with some friends for a ticket on Saturday night!

After we didn’t win I refrained from being that guy who no one likes who says “I told you so” to something already so obvious. However, my old man bitterness reached a whole new high when I read this article on how the rules were changed back in August to make sure this exact thing happened!!!

According to think progress:

Under the new rules you select five of 69 numbers, up from five out of 59 numbers. The choices for the Powerball was actually reduced from 35 to 26. Still, this decreased the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million

Sure, it went from “no chance of winning the big one” to “really, no chance of winning the big one” but it’s the plan behind it that makes me want to write a mean letter to the lotto commission (kidding, I’m too lazy).

They wanted exactly what’s happening right now to happen. They wanted to hit the billion dollar mark:

At the time the rule changes were first floated in July, FiveThirtyEight estimated that the chances of a $1 billion prize pool increased from 8.5% to 63.4% over a given five year period.

And why would they want to hit the billion dollar mark? Because people lose their ever-loving minds!! It’s the talk around the water cooler, is mentioned on every news outlet and has people throwing away their hard earned money. It’s a self-filling pot of hopelessness fueled ever higher by all of the free press. They wanted this exact thing to happen and now have all of our attention.

This shit should be illegal.

But hey, it’s a great way to buy a $2 thrill – where else can you get that kind of adrenaline rush for that cheap besides maybe Thailand?

Or you could view it how it really is – a regressive tax on the poor:

“People in households earning under $40,000 accounted for 28 percent of South Carolina’s population but made up 54 percent of frequent players. Uneducated people also made up a disproportionate share.”

“But people should spend money however they want! If they want to be idiots than so be it”. Ok, but idiots shouldn’t promote it:

By the way, if anyone wins, can I have a cut????????

We went to Las Vegas three years ago and decided to go through the “Timeshare experience”. Well, it didn’t disappoint and you can find the entire story here, but I had to share this comment with you!! I’m pretty sure it’s real, but it’s almost too good to be true. Here it is:

Jason the TimeShare Rep

Woww, what a response! I even have his email address if you want to get in contact with him to buy a timeshare. He seems like a great guy, and I’m sure his response would be even better than my “mean manager” if you don’t buy one!

I didn’t previously realize I didn’t have the right to tell people not to buy a timeshare, so sorry about that. Also, if anyone talks to Jason, please teach him grammar.

Yes, I’m one of those guys. I’m fully bought in on Apple products and too plugged into the “ecosystem” to escape anytime soon. I’m also one of those people who love to save money and shudder at the thought of throwing down $850 on a new phone, or worse yet, signing up for their new phone leasing program with unlimited monthly payments.

But I have to admit, I almost did the lease plan just because I wanted to pretend I wasn’t actually spending that much on a phone… but then…

I found a deal for a $650 credit when buying a new iPhone!!

As always, there’s a catch… and this one comes with a new credit card in your name. I’m largely over my absolute distaste of credit cards which was largely taught by Dave Ramsey, but I still only use them for the benefits and pay them off each month. That said, let’s get to the deal!

Here’s the plan:

  • Sign up for the citi AT&T “access more” credit card
  • Charge $2,000 within three months
  • Buy a new iPhone from AT&T with no contract
  • Maintain service for 15 days
  • Receive your $650 credit!

Here’s the catch:

  • Pay the annual fee of $95
  • Sign up for (or keep) AT&T service for at least 15 days

As long as you satisfy the requirements and play by smart credit card rules, you can get a $650 credit for the $95 fee! After I have the card for 10 months or so, I’ll probably cancel it just so it’s no longer alive. If you don’t have AT&T, you will have to open an account ($45 activation fee) and probably pay two months for phone service (~$90) before you could cancel and keep the phone. You can also get AT&T to unlock the phone… but basically this is the easiest if you already have AT&T.

I got the card today and will start the process shortly to replace my wife’s shattered-faced iPhone 5. I’ll update you after I get through the full process of ordering the new phone, activating, and getting my rebate. If you’re interested, check out this post which gets much more into the details.

You can apply for the card here. If I was smart and ambitious, I’d figure out how to get a commission for clicks, but I’m not, so rest assured I’m only recommending this because I like you.

A large majority of the traffic Google sends my way goes to the post, “How much car can you afford? The 20% rule”. If you’ve been around here for a while, you’re probably sick of me talking about this simple rule, which is to spend no more than 20% of your annual income to buy a car. I get quite a few comments, some supportive and others from people who think I’m deranged for thinking this way.

Lately, I’ve had a few commenters disagreeing with the rule because throwing away money on cars is their passion… oh wait, I guess that’s not quite how they put it. It’s actually a pretty convincing argument because they’re so passionate about the driving experience. This guy in particular is quite in love:

But its my passion_2


I think I have a problem with the undertone in his comment… mostly that it makes me uncomfortable with how connected he is to the “driving experience”. I’ve never seen someone so locked in while driving to the store to get milk!

That being said, I totally get where Joe is coming from. I like the driving experience as well, and I can imagine that the more you get into it, the more you’re tuned in to the subtleties of the drive.

But having a “passion for it” isn’t an excuse for throwing away all of your money on it!

Take my friend (who I’ve made up) named Jones. He’s incredibly passionate with keeping up with… well, his neighbors. He loves appearing to be the richest person on the block and there’s no way he’ll let anyone appear to get ahead of him.  Because of his passion for keeping up, he’s driven himself into loads of debt that will soon sink the nice boat he just bought.

But since it’s his passion, it’s all good right?

Let’s take a look at the next commenter “E”. He’s against everything in the article (wow, it actually makes me sound like a writer when someone calls my post an article!!).

But its my passion

Glad to hear that “E” can still afford food even though he’s spending 60% of his salary on a car. Holy crap, even when I was making bad decision on car buying, I still wasn’t spending that much!

In the end, E and Joe can spend as much as they want on cars, but they’re obviously somewhat concerned because they’re looking for answers on how much car they can afford (and subsequently disagreeing when they find answers). I wrote the original post to give people an idea of what’s not too crazy when buying a car. Mostly it’s intended for rational people who are looking to get ahead financially, but if that’s not your thing, then don’t Google it!