A False Economy of Cars

My car has been at the shop, awaiting appraisal by insurance, for more than a week.  Today the appraiser finally had a look at it, and deemed the vehicle a ‘total loss’.  In insurance parlance, it means they consider the vehicle more expensive to repair than to replace with an ‘equivalent.’

What horrible tragedy left my car in such a state?  Was I in a head on collision?  Did I smash into a concrete pillar at high speed?  Was my compact sedan the meat in a semi-sandwich?

None of the above.  I hit a pothole.  Not an exceptionally big pothole, considering I couldn’t find it when I drove the same stretch of road a day later in a rental.  Granted, I did hit the pothole at around 65MPH, as I was driving east on I-80, but I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only one to do so, nor did I do so at higher speed than anyone else.

That unfortunate pothole had the effect of activating two driver’s side airbags in the car. At first I thought the only damage was my eardrum the facade on the door and windshield column that housed the airbags, but as I soon discovered, the airbag’s deployment had also helpfully disconnected the battery cable, preventing the car from starting or running more than a few minutes.

Aside from this little episode, the car is in excellent condition. It has been in no major accidents. It doesn’t burn oil.  It hit 190,000 miles only the week before, yet it is still on its original clutch, transmission, fuel pump and so on.  It’s not especially old – 13 years or so.  I regularly get 34 mpg on it – nearly 6 mpg better than the official EPA numbers.  Meanwhile, the airbag issue has been reported by numerous people.  The side airbag isn’t even government mandated and I would have been perfectly happy if the car had none to begin with.

What I find truly aggravating is that somebody with the knowhow and a little equipment (sadly not I) could undoubtedly fix the whole thing for well under $1000.  This is not a case of some complex part needing to be obtained from the manufacturer, yet the actuarial gods still consider it more economical to junk than repair.  It seems a pointless waste.

At any rate, I’m going to make darn sure of two things when I buy my next car: it can be inexpensively repaired by a shop near where I live, and it doesn’t have any useless side airbags.

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