I related in March the adventure of Grey buying a new used car. About how he spent $1,700 to purchase a 2009 Mazda 3, which proudly joined my Scion xD and Nora’s PT Cruiser on our street:
Related: Read about how I destroyed the rear window in my Scion
I promised a follow up post that details all the post-purchase expenses Grey encountered in getting the Mazda on the road, including inspection, repairs, registration, and insurance. So here goes.
In Maryland, you have to get a used car safety inspected at an authorized station when it changes hands only. You can pilot an old beater with paper thin brake pads and a dripping gas tank, but as long as you don’t sell it, you are good to go. This is in contrast to places like Virginia, where you have to safety inspect your car once a year, at $20 a pop.
Used car purchasing best practice is to have an expert mechanic do a full diagnostic and test drive before making any buy commitments, but I’ve never had the chutzpah to make that ask, and it’s questionable whether it’s even worth spending $100 (or whatever) to buy a $1,700 car. I generally don’t even spend the $40 for a CARFAX vehicle history report.
When you buy an old used car, you go into it knowing that you are probably going to spend a couple hundred bucks to get it to pass Maryland safety inspection. And you hope and pray that there is nothing major hiding anywhere. We knew from the test drive that the clutch was on its last legs and the battery was kaput, but what else?
It wasn’t long before we heard from the Brentwood (now AutoStream Car Care) inspection station in Hampden, where Grey dropped $85 for the inspection. The Mazda 3 failed three things:
- Tag lighting (wouldn’t illuminate)
- Dash lighting (wouldn’t stop illuminating)
- Battery (dead)
No mention of the declining clutch, because I guess it’s not a safety issue.
Grey was intensely interested in the results of the inspection, because he was/is on the hook for all expenses related to its purchase and upkeep. I was/am the informal advisor. A fun role, despite being unremunerated. 🙂
We determined that the tag light was just a burned bulb, so together we picked up a 2-pack and bulb grease from AutoZone ($25). Fixed!
The dash lighting was a head scratcher. I wasn’t sure how to find the problem, so I recommended he take it to a shop to diagnose. We did a night drop at Apple Auto in Hamilton.
I forgot about the battery, so I sent this email from work the following day:
As the father of a 17-year-old, I try to be real with him without being cynical: This is the way someone should act, but they don’t always. In my experience, nothing is less valuable than a stranger’s promise to provide something after the completion of a one-time cash transaction like a Craigslist purchase.
But, our Nigerian friend came through! Maybe I should reconsider those Nigerian prince emails…
He Zelled me the $30 and directed us to Interstate Battery in Glen Burnie. It’s on my way to work, so I stopped in one day, expecting to pay something north of $30 for a used replacement battery. The battery guy took one look at the Mazda’s dead battery and said “It’s still under warranty, this one’s on us.” This was turning out way better than I imagined.
I called Apple Auto about the dash light issue. They found a faulty driver side front door latch electrical connector – $534 to fix it right or $136 to drop some glue in there and hope for the best. Well, $534 is a fortune to Grey, so he opted for the sloppy patch. Ultimately, it proved enduring enough to keep the dash lights off when the driver’s side door was closed, scoring a passing grade on the follow up safety inspection.
Total cost of Safety Inspection and Repairs required to pass it: $246
Tags & Title
Passed inspection cert in hand, we went back to Fred’s Tag & Title Service in Parkville. We had already been there once to pay for temporary tags ($20), 6% state sales tax ($102), title fee ($100), electronic registration fee ($20) and service charge ($62). The return trip included charges for permanent tags ($135), electronic registration ($14), and service charge ($36).
If we did it over again, I’m not sure if I’d recommend a tag & title service to Grey. The $98 in combined service charges would have been avoided if we dealt directly with Maryland MVA. The MVA is a pain, but the convenience of working with Fred’s is probably not worth it if you are a teen monitoring every penny.
Total cost of Tax, Tags and Title: $489
Insurance is the big hurt, for a few reasons:
- Grey is a young and unproven male driver
- We have a city address
- Insurance costs are recurring
I’ve talked about recurring costs before and why they are to be avoided, if at all possible. Insurance has used this business model forever and for good reason – their liability is ongoing. But there is a reason why most companies have migrated to the monthly/yearly subscription model – it’s an ongoing cash cow. For you, it’s the opposite: an ongoing cash drain.
If you do have to pay recurring fees (as with insurance premiums), then the aim is to keep the amount low. For a teenager needing auto insurance, that’s impossible. Unless you go the unethical route and claim the vehicle is actually the parents’.
We added Grey’s car to our GEICO combined home and auto policy, then held our heads in our hands when we got the first bill. For Mazda liability coverage only (no collision), they charged $1,567 for six months, plus $51 for the $1M liability umbrella. (Read about when I learned how important this umbrella is.)
This is compared to $443 plus $51 for my Scion. In other words, Grey was being charged 327% more than I was for my car.
This doesn’t include the 6-month $101 “youthful operator” umbrella adder for originally putting Grey on our policy. We’d pay this regardless, whether he owned a car or not. We pay $101 for our daughter Pippa also.
I did a little research on why his rate is so high. A few reasons:
- On average, male teen drivers are inexperienced and think they are immortal and they make dumb mistakes, so they get into accidents more often. Everyone knows there is a cost to that.
- Less known is that living in a city zip code is a nasty premium multiplier. According to this site, Baltimore has the highest car insurance costs in Maryland by far – 53% more expensive than the state average. Probably the result of some discrimination (redlining), but more due to a higher claim rate caused by terrible driving and crime. One 15-year-old in a stolen car pin-balling down the street can cause big $$ damage.
- We don’t shop around enough. We’ve been GEICO customers forever, and they know that. You’d think we’d enjoy some type of loyalty dividend from this enduring relationship, but I think the opposite is true.
Consumer Reports caught another huge provider – Allstate – trying to convince Maryland regulators to hit its highest premium customers with the heftiest price hikes – up to 20%. Why? Because they thought they would be less likely to complain and jump ship. Maryland ultimately rejected the plan as price discriminatory.
Total 6-month cost of Liability Insurance: $1,618 (This will be discounted 15% when the policy renews in September, due to their COVID rebate plan)
As with practically all of the expenses covered here, emissions inspection is a regulatory requirement in Maryland. Every car needs to be tested every two years.
Soon after registering the Mazda, Grey received his emissions test notice, with a deadline a couple months out. I told him to put it on his calendar and I forgot about it. I figured this would be a good test of whether this car thing would cause him to start taking more responsibility for his life. Or not.
Fast forward a couple months to after 10 PM on a Wednesday. I’ve brushed my teeth and am padding to bed, when Grey bursts out of his bedroom.
Grey: Emissions testing is due today!
Me: Ooops – looks like you have to pay a $15 penalty now [Yawn].
Grey: We gotta go now! There is a self-service test station we can go to.
Me: Tonight? Are you kidding me? You go ahead.
I hate that drawn-out pleading. It’s pathetic, yet also a bit heart tugging. I eventually caved.
One benefit of waiting til the last second: there’s no wait to use the Halethorpe self-service station at 11 PM.
Later, I asked Grey how he remembered the emissions deadline. He stubbornly refuses to use calendars or reminders.
“Every once in a while I do a mental inventory of things I have to do…and that popped up,” he said.
“With less than two hours to midnight on the cutoff day?” I asked, exasperated.
“Amazing system, isn’t it?” he replied.
I shook my head, not sure whether to be impressed or worried.
Total cost of Emissions Test: $10
Next time, I’ll cover how Grey economically resolved the Mazda’s worn out clutch and other repair issues, including an entertaining trip to Crazy Ray’s junkyard. After that, with his approval, I’ll also cover how he is paying for all of this. Stay tuned.