Farewell, dear friend

Shortly after I changed the brake pads and rear rotors (I’m planning on soon writing a walkthrough of that process) of my beloved Volvo 740 station wagon, she has kicked the bucket. It happened as I was accelerating to speed on a freeway on-ramp. The engine suddenly went “limp” – there was no power when I pushed on the gas. Later I was to find that this was due to a loss of compression. I managed to get safely off the freeway (fortunately,  it was the middle of the night and there was no traffic) and into a gas station at 51st and Telegraph (unfortunately, it was the middle of the night).

May car has the non-turbo 16-valve engine (B234F version). The engine is built in such a way that the pistons and the valves operate in the same space. This is called an “interference” engine because the pistons and the valves can interfere with, that is hit, one another. They don’t hit each other,normally, because of the control of the timing (when the pistons are firing,when valves are opening to let things in or out). My timing belt was due to be replaced, and it was something I was thinking about doing because this is a notorious problem with these 740s. I didn’t and the timing went out of whack. What I felt on the freeway was a loss of compression because some of the valves are open when things should be closed for the combustion explosion and pretty quickly the valves were getting bent from hitting the pistons. I could swear I could actually hear this when I later stood outside the car as the mechanic turned the engine over a few times.

I had it towed to XYZ Motors. The very friendly and helpful mechanic there was a big fan of Volvos. He had even owned my particular model at one point. What he told me after he looked at it was that it would take $400 to replace the timing belt so that he could test for where the compression was being compromised- at which point we’d almost surely find that some of the valves were bent. It’s about  $1000 job to fix the bent valves. I bought the car for $1500. So, it was now not worth the money to fix it.

Someone mechanically inclined might have wanted it for parts, or they could even try to do the valve job themselves and sell it. I had to try to figure out a way to get rid of it. A somewhat sad task, but it presented some interesting options to choose from – sell it myself, donate it to charity or sell it to a salvage yard. After doing some research, here’s what I found my options were:

  1. Selling it myself. I put it up on craigslist for $450 OBO. There was, obviously no guarantee as to when I would sell it or what the final price would be. I was advised by mechanic that the type of guy who would buy it in that condition and for that price, would haggle, waffle, and generally be a PITA. I had only one non-committal response before I actually got rid of it. Afterward, a couple of people asked some questions before I had a chance to take the posting down.
  2. Offered $217 to let Pick-n-pull come tow it away. Paid by check.
  3. Offered $250, again by check, if I delivered it to Pick-n-pull. I have AAA which gives me free towing within 5 mi. radius, but the local yard for PnP is 7.5 miles away. I’m unsure how they charge for the additional miles, but let’s assume it’s a per additional mile surcharge. Another unknown; will it be more or less than $33?
  4. Offered $100 cash. I found the cash offers bemusing. It is either an admission of the salvage yard’s shady nature (you shouldn’t trust our checks) or an insult to the seller (you don’t have a bank account).
  5. Offered $500 tax-deductible donation voucher and two stays of three nights at a four-star hotel of my choosing across the country. (added value: the car goes to some charity, which they didn’t name)
  6. $75 cash money and one stay at four-star hotel. (from a towing company, not a charity)

I don’t really know about the hotel business, that was really surprising and what made me think the whole situation was interesting. I searched on the FatWallet forums and found that another place KarsforKids, offers a hotel stay with some pretty ridiculous conditions. Viz,

1. Activation form must be returned along with a $50
refundable deposit. The postmark date must be
within 30 days of issue date.

2. Upon receipt of your deposit and activation form, you will be mailed an activation welcome letter
providing information about booking procedures & contact telephone number
to call when you are ready to make your reservations.

8. Please be aware that if you choose to take advantage
of the Bonus Travel Offers, a $10 processing fee will be deducted from your refundable deposit.

It sounds not quite like a scam, but a process so convoluted that most people won’t follow through. It’s broken by design.

So, what was the best choice?

I pondered the options, but since I don’t expect a big tax burden this year, I went with the $217 check. I could have risked paying a bit more for the towing, but this was the least hassle. Best of all, I didn’t even have to produce the title (which is in L.A.).  When you’re selling a car, you can just fill out the transfer of title paperwork instead of getting a replacement title. The salvage yard looked up some information to verify that I did indeed own the vehicle.

Karin on the Tow Truck

Days later I watched as the car I’ve lovingly maintained and improved since early 2008 was loaded on a flat bed tow truck. I had a few emotional moments, mostly as I was cleaning it out, but I was surprised to find that I just didn’t get overwhelmed by sentimental feelings. I mean, in the end, it’s just a car – a car that took me places I’d never been, sheltered me in the cold and wet, brought me in contact with some wonderful people, made me some money and cost me a bunch more. But still, a car.

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