It was about 7:30 in the morning when I smacked into that wall. By the end of the day, I'd gotten the bad news: as far as the insurance company is concerned, it's a total loss. This isn't overly surprising, really; this car is just short of 18 years old and has 168,000 miles on it. But it still runs well — and, more important, it still tracks straight down the road — so I decided to keep it.
The official estimate was $2,160. My seat-of-the-pants guess for the actual value of this car — a 2000 Infiniti I30 in Luxury trim, which is in fact the lower trim line — was around $2500, so I figured anything over two thousand could expect the Totaled trigger. And, in fact, the company figured the actual salvage value, what they'd get for it as scrap metal, was a mere $250. So they cut me a check for the actual value, less my deductible and that scrap-value sum, and I drove it home.
It was a pretty easy decision, actually: I wasn't about to go looking for a new car — the sticker on this one when it was new was on the far side of $30,000 — and while a gently-used off-lease buggy in this class would be more like $15,000, one of the great luxuries of life, as far as I'm concerned, is not having a car payment. Besides, apart from bearing the scars of a long life and being slightly overdue for an oil change (it's been 5,050 miles), there's nothing much wrong with it. Nissan's VQ30 engine is very nearly bulletproof. (The VQ35 "update" came with a plastic tensioner for the timing chain, which was a Bad Idea.) Ten years ago, it got 21 mpg around town; today, it gets 21 mpg around town.
Bad news, of course, comes in waves. The body shop that tore it down and compiled the estimate does not, as a matter of policy, repair lowly salvage vehicles. (If they did, they'd have it now, and I'd be tootling around town in a rented Infiniti Q50.) So I'll have to look for another shop. Fortunately, this town is awash in "collision centers," so this shouldn't be too arduous a task.
Perhaps interestingly, the most expensive component to be replaced is not the quarter-panel, not the bumper, but the headlight assembly, which runs close to $500. Given the general nuisance of replacing a bulb — first time I encountered this issue, I decided I didn't ever want to do it myself — I'm not surprised that this apparatus is pricey. And it could be worse: the Touring trim has those fancy high-intensity bulbs which draw the attention of thieves, and which cost four figures to replace. (About the only part that's truly cheap on this car is the oil filter, which costs around $8.) Still, few things fail, even at this age, and most of the ones that do have already been replaced.
To be sure, this car has its quirks, mostly because Nissan put them there. It doesn't matter much in July, but when it gets cold out, no warm air can be had from the floor vents until the car has warmed up enough to move the temperature gauge back above C level, nor will the transmission shift into overdrive. At 10° F, this will take around half a mile. More disconcerting, perhaps, are the electronically-controlled engine mounts, which stiffen up at high RPMs and back off when you slow down; they work quite well, but they cost about twice as much as ordinary engine mounts. (Three guess how I found this out. You won't need two of them.)
How much does it cost to maintain this car? About a thousand a year, give or take a couple hundred. This is rather more than, say, a mid-1990s Camry, somewhat less than an out-of-warranty luxoboat from der Vaterland. More important, it fits the budget reasonably well. (At current usage levels, I go through less than $60 worth of gas — I generally stick to Shell V-Power — in any given month.) Insurance has been a bit higher than this, and it may well go up after this wreck — though presumably I don't have to carry collision or comprehensive anymore, which may offset that. And I don't generally suffer from new-car fever: I've owned only six cars in my lifetime, which I am assured is way below average. Given these particulars, it's no wonder I've chosen to keep it around.
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