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Renewing Our AAA Membership

This is not a sponsored or requested post.  I just like the American Automobile Association (aka AAA).

Mr. BFS and I have been members of AAA for 4 years so far.  I am not a fan paying for something that you may or may not use, like warranties and insurances, but it’s cheaper to be insured in some cases than risk the worst happening with no backup.  Specifically for us, I don’t drive much at all, BUT Mr. BFS drives all over town (and sometimes the state) for sports officiating.  At about $10 a month, AAA membership is cheap peace-of-mind for me while he is on the road.

Car Problem

AAA Benefits that Matter to Us

If you’ve ever looked into AAA, you may have noticed a super long list of benefits for members.  I am sure that there is someone that appreciates and uses all of them, but here are the benefits that I care about the most (we are on the Member Plus Plan – not basic but not Premier either):

  • Free towing four times per year up to 100 miles
  • Free fuel if we run out of gas.  They provide more than enough to get to the next available gas station.
  • Battery service with unlimited jump starts.  You can use the towing benefit if your car still won’t start.
  • Flat tire service.  If you have a spare, they will change the tire for you.  I actually would suggest learning to change a tire yourself and saving yourself about an hour of waiting.  But we have had to use this as you will see below…
  • Minor mechanical first aid.  If they can help, they will.  This is not insured but it may help you get to your mechanic.
  • Free identity theft monitoring
  • Vehicle lockout services
  • One Carfax vehicle history report per member
  • AAA discounts

AAA Benefits that We’ve Used

  • Free towing – In the last 4 years, my car has needed one tow due to a broken belt.  Our Prius has need to be towed 3 times…all because of electrical issues of some sort.  I think low-tech wins the towing wars…but the Prius makes 50% better mpg.
  • Free fuel – We ended up using this a few weeks after getting AAA!  We ran out of gas in Kansas on the way to a curling tournament…50 miles between gas stations…
  • Battery service – I’ve needed two jump starts…yeah, I wait too long to buy new batteries.
  • Flat tire service – We change our own flats, EXCEPT that one time when two of our tires popped at once thanks to debris in the road.  AAA put on our spare and even quick-patched the less blown tire so we could drive the 3 miles slowly to a Discount Tire.
  • Minor mechanical first aid – One of my batteries was not accepting a jump because of crud build up.  The guy they sent used a Diet Coke to clean the stuff off, tested my battery, jumped it, and sent me directly to O’ Reilley’s Auto Parts for a new one.
  • Free identity theft monitoring – I signed up and like the fact that it is being monitored all the time.
  • Vehicle lockout services – We have used this for one car so far…a friend’s while we were hanging out.  I love the fact that AAA covers me, not my cars.  That means that I’m covered even as a passenger with other people.  :-)
  • AAA discounts – This has saved me about 10-15% per fix at my mechanic’s every time.  I’ve also used it at two hotels.  I think it’s close to covering about one year’s membership by itself and could work more for me if I remembered it all of the time…

Are you a member of AAA?  Why or why not?  Does something else you have cover most of this?

Traffic Ticket Crisis Averted

Know when a traffic ticket can end life as you know it?  When you are a sports official and things don’t go as planned…

The Ticket

Mr. BFS received a minor traffic violation ticket in Galveston in March 2013.  I can’t remember the exact wording but it was like “changing lanes without signaling”.  It was 2am, no one was on the road (literally…it was just us and apparently this one cop for miles), and we simply moved out of a turn-only lane since it was the wrong turn.  
Cops
In April 2014, he applied to take defensive driving and was approved.  He took the course in late May 2013 and mailed in everything requested on June 7, 2013 via USPS Certified Mail (a month before it was due).  That package contained his driving record and the defensive driving certificate from the online class that he took.

Well, he received a court summons on January 18, 2014 saying that he had to come to the Galveston Municipal Court on February 10, 2014 to explain why he didn’t send in his paperwork.  He’s worried and I was pissed and worried for him.  

The Main Issue

Here was the main problem.  He’s a Texas Association Sports Official.  This means that he can’t have ANYTHING on his record other than basic traffic tickets or he can’t ref anymore.  Period.  Reffing is his life.

Given that info, Mr. BFS was worried that they were going to charge him with something paperwork related that would get him kicked out of sports officiating.  We no longer had the certified mail receipt, just the credit card charge, so we had no way of proving that we sent in the papers.

Correcting the Issue

I called the court during the following week to ask about what we needed in order to wrap this up.  The court official on the other end said that they received our paperwork but that he hadn’t taken a “Texas Certified Defensive Driving Course”, so the certificate he sent in wasn’t what they needed.

Court House

I’m going to pause here to say that I was a good girl when I heard this.  I didn’t ask why in the hell they hadn’t told us last year.  I didn’t ask if it was standard procedure to wait until a year later to pursue issues like this.  I didn’t snap at her in any way.  I was good.

Anyway, I did ask what exactly did we need to do to make this better.  She said that my husband had until his hearing on February 10 to come up with a valid defensive driving certificate.

Getting Another Certificate

Mr. BFS called the place that he used before and asked if they were a Texas Certified course or not.  They explained that they have that course but he signed up for the insurance-discount-only course.  They also admitted that this happens pretty often accidentally, and then sent him a link to the certified course to let him take it for free.  He spent the next 10 hours of that same day carrying around a laptop.  He took the course and did other stuff while it made him wait to continue.  It was easy although time consuming since it was almost identical to the course he took before.  Grrrr…

I paid $20 to get the new certificate in 2 days instead of waiting for regular mail.  Thanks to ice, it arrived within 3 business days later.  My husband immediately certified mailed it in again as requested.  I am keeping that USPS Certified Mail receipt forever.

I then called daily all of last week to make sure that the judge would see the new certificate and clear the case before today, February 10. Otherwise, my husband would have to drive the hour and a half to Galveston to spend hours waiting to see the judge, who would then take 2 minutes to clear the case since he had the certificate in hand.

Luckily, they finally officially acknowledged it last Thursday, February 6, 2014 and cancelled our court date.  Supposedly, this is all wrapped up now.

Point to Remember

Overall, this stupid scare was hanging over my husband’s head for nearly 3 weeks.  We’re glad it’s over but I still wish they would have pointed out the mistake last year instead of giving us 3 weeks to make it better or suffer the consequences.  

Also, everyone should make a note to themselves right now that THERE IS A DIFFERENCE between defensive driving courses.  They are nearly the same course but are very different in the eyes of the law.

Have you ever had to deal with something similar?  Ever had a basic traffic ticket go awry?

Car Crisis Averted – It Could Have Been Worse

Maintenance issues are currently wearing me down.  Everything around me is breaking.  When I make progress on one, another gets worse.  And when my husband honked from the garage on his way out Monday afternoon, I ran downstairs to see what happened.

The Prius wouldn’t start.  Crap.

Car Crisis

Okay, so technically the Prius started.  It just wouldn’t allow us to shift it into gear or move it in any way.  It would sit there, lit up, and literally writing to us on the display that it was broken and needed professional help.  How freaking sad is that?!  It was a little sadder when I replied that I knew how it felt.

Anyway, my heart dropped.  We are just now starting to make real progress again to our long-term retirement goals.  It also doesn’t help that we spent the $10,000 saved for a new car on our new home instead in late 2012, so that account only has $3000 in it right now.  Definitely not enough to buy a solid, new family car with low miles with cash.

Handling the Immediate Issue

But we had a $13,000 paper weight in our garage, so whining wouldn’t help.  I called AAA, explained that we had a dead Prius in our garage, and dropped my husband off at the meeting he was late for.  As soon as I got back, the tow truck driver arrived and asked how to put a Prius in neutral…

Ummmm, I already told the AAA lady that a Prius doesn’t have a neutral.  It has “go” and “not go”, and that’s it.  So the very nice tow truck driver, who was not previously informed, used a jack to get the front wheels off of the ground and we slowly pushed the hybrid out of our garage and down the driveway about a foot at a time.  He then promptly hooked it up and towed it away to our favorite mechanic.  I stuck a large note to the driver’s seat asking my mechanic to call me when they got into the car.

Car Crisis Averted

So at 8:30am Tuesday morning, I get a call from my man, Mike.  He explains that the 12v battery was done.  He also let me know that there is one in the area for about $300 or he could maybe get one online for $200 in about a week.  Yeah, we took the same day option.  My car leaks brake fluid and is a standard…it’s not a car to share.

Tuesday afternoon, we paid up $350 in exchange for a Prius that runs (that also had the oil change it needed this week anyway).  :-)  Overall, we’ll consider it a win.  We’re just holding our breaths that it is indeed good to go for a while.

What’s Next

Now I may up our contribution to the new car account.  Right now, it’s at $500 a month (my last car payment was about $200 a month and his last one was about $300…hence paying ourselves $500 a month now).  I think it’s going to be $1000 now…we really rather pay for a car in cash when we need it.  No more car loans please.

Okay, so now our cars are both working.  Our icemaker works now too.  But, I still haven’t gotten my stupid phone fixed.  Waiting to get it back from Samsung since I declined to pay them $179 to fix a phone that I can buy new online for $150.  Oh, and our cable is still being inconsistent.  We’ll most likely be getting rid of it early next year (the next month is too crazy to handle yet something else new to deal with).  It’s working well enough for now.

Have you had any car problems lately?  Anything else on your plate?

The Summer Sucks for Cars

Why do all car problems happen on Sunday?  We never seem to have any issues when our mechanic is open.  Oh well.

The Issue

Last Sunday afternoon, while we were driving a friend home, our Prius beeped at us and gave us a ton of warning lights.  We pulled over but couldn’t see, smell, or sense any problems, so we decided to drop our friend off and just go to our mechanic Monday morning.

The only thing that seemed wrong was that the A/C wasn’t cooling the air it was blowing.  I checked under the hood and under the car twice just to make sure the thermostat housing hadn’t busted and dropped all of the coolant on the ground, which happened to me before in my stupid Aveo a few years ago.  But nothing was leaking out of anything.  Still, the drive home was sweltering without air conditioning and we were anxious the whole time.

Monday

So we dropped off the Prius Monday morning as planned.  My normal dude was off for the day, but a new guy (who I found out more about later) got us squared away and said he’d call with an update.  I ended up calling him in the early afternoon before he had the chance to work my call in.  Apparently the solar sensor is broken, which means that even though the A/C could possibly work, this stupid sensor is telling it not to.

So they had to order the part and have it overnighted.

The good news was that a solar sensor is a $37 part.  So even with labor, we could have been looking at around $200.  The bad news is that even when the solar sensor is fixed, 70% of the time that means the amplifier is broken too and that’s a $475 part and would need even more labor.  So we’d be looking at a  $700-$1000 bill.

Tuesday

The solar sensor arrived around 2pm and our car was ready to be picked up at around 4pm.  :-)  It drove fine on the way home and the A/C worked again, yay!  If you have to have a problem, it’s good to have the less expensive one!!!

The grand total came to $216 for the sensor, the labor, and an oil change (it was time).  BUT, the shop was just purchased by new owners a few days ago.  It didn’t affect our service since they kept the same employees, but they didn’t have a credit card machine yet.  I hadn’t brought cash or checks since they didn’t tell me in advance.  But the new owner, Oscar, was actually the guy I had been working with the whole time!  He said that my favorite mechanic (Mike) vouched for me and I could call the next day with my card info and he’d run it on the new machine.  Awww, thanks Mike!

Well, I was writing this post Tuesday afternoon and realized that I hadn’t asked about a AAA discount or a cash discount.  So I called Oscar again.  Sadly, they aren’t working with AAA yet (next few weeks), but he offered to work something out with me since he knows that missing a discount by a couple of weeks just sucks.  I offered cash instead of a credit card and he jumped on the offer and told me to come in Wednesday to work out a deal.

Working Out a Cash Deal on Wednesday

This was pretty easy.  I even made the best of driving 20 minutes away by scheduling to meet up with a friend to swim after handling the car stuff since she was only 10 minutes away at that point.  :-)

I took $220 in cash, drove to the mechanic again, and he cut the total to $200.  Woot!  It’s only a savings of $16, but that was more than I had saved by not asking.  I also make 30 miles to the gallon and drove less than that roundtrip, so I definitely netted an overall profit.  Plus, I got to swim with a friend and earned some more Weight Watcher points.  :-D

So here is my official thanks to Oscar and Mike over at the newly named, Affordable Complete Car Care Group!  I’ll link to their website as soon as it is up and running.  :-)  If you live in the Houston area, I highly recommend them!

What This Means Financially

Thankfully, we have a car maintenance fund at CapitalOne 360 (formerly ING Direct).  It could have covered the worst case scenario if necessary, but that doesn’t make car problems much more fun to deal with.  Although…I do get a kick out of haggling.  It makes my posts more interesting too, lol.

Any car stories from any of you lately?  :-)

Go Ahead and Laugh…This Really is My Dream Car

Okay, so you might have read before that I hate my car.  I bought a brand new Chevy Aveo in 2005, spent about $13,500 over 2 years to pay it off completely, and figured out in the first 3 years that it was just a crap car.  They even made the thermostat housing out of plastic.  You know – the thing that keeps the radiator fluid inside of your car that sits right next to the super hot engine.  Yay for using crappy plastic (*sarcasm*).

Lucky for my car, I don’t drive much.  My mechanic actually said those words last year when installing my new brake pads – he thinks my car sucks too.

It’s now 8 years old and still has less than 60,000 miles on it, so I will probably have it forever.  BUT, if I ever am completely set and have a little extra money to burn, I now know exactly what car I would get and how I would get it pimped out.

Side note – you should be laughing your butt off just picturing me saying “pimped”…if not, look at my picture to the right and imagine me saying that sentence again…it is honestly hilarious, trust me.

My Dream Car

Back on point, here is my idea of my dream car.

I would buy a 1-2 year old certified pre-owned, fully optioned, RED, Volkswagen Beetle.  I’d then pay to have it painted professionally with large black spots to make it a Lady Bug.  But I wouldn’t stop there…I’d then have the doors installed DeLorean-style so they’d open like wings.  Finally, I’d have hydraulics installed so I could “settle” after I parked.

Yep, I would want my car to remind people so much of a lady bug that they couldn’t stop giggling.  My dream car would make me smile every single time I saw it and hopefully would do the same for anybody else around too.  I think that is the perfect car – something to make me comfortable and happy while moving from Point A to Point B, and it can give a ton of smiles along the way.

Lady Bug

I’d want the spots bigger and have the DeLorean doors, but this is the general idea…

 

Cost Breakdown

I came up with this idea about a year ago, but I still can’t shake it.  I really do think I will own this car sometime before I am too old to drive.  It wouldn’t even cost all that much in the big scheme of things.  A certified pre-owned 1-2 year old Beetle with all of the options is around $19,000 right now.  A great professional paint job would cost less than $1000 for big black spots and the hydraulics would run about $3000 or less.  The gull-wing doors could run about $5000 I think.  So overall, my dream car costs less than $30,000.  That’s doable in the next 20-30 years.  It’s low priority right now of course, but it’s definitely something I am aiming for.

What do you think?  Great idea or stupid as hell?  :-)  What’s your dream car?

A Car for Isabelle

I woke up to a text message on Tuesday morning from Isabelle:

Going to the credit union and then test driving today…u wanna go with me?

Isabelle’s Pontiac had been dying a slow death for a couple of years at least, so neither one of us was too surprised when it started having more problems at the end of last week.  Also, I worked for a car dealership software company from 2005 through 2011, seeing the deals from the inside, so I know what can be negotiated (hint – everything).  Now, I absolutely love car shopping.  I just couldn’t pass it up.  :-)

Our Car Shopping Day

Mr. BFS, Isabelle, and I met for lunch and Isabelle and I headed off from there.  She already knew that she was looking for an affordable, used car with low mileage that would make great miles to the gallon since she drives 60-80 miles roundtrip for work every day.  She narrowed those choices down to wanting a Honda Civic or a VW Jetta.  She already test drove a Civic, so we were heading out to find a Jetta to try out.  But first we had to go downtown to her credit union so she could get pre-approved for a loan.

That took a little longer than anticipated since we both suck when it comes to navigating downtown Houston, but she ended up being pre-approved at 1.99% for 60 months for a car that would be 5 years old or younger and less than $20,o00 total!  Cool beans.  That more than covered what we were looking at.

The Jetta

We used her smart phone to find a VW dealership close to the credit union and once again used our poor navigating skills to find it.  There were a lot of wrong turns and some good-natured cussing, but we did find the dealership and test drove a 2012 Jetta with 8,000 miles on it.

Isabelle just didn’t enjoy it as much as the Civic she tried before, and it was right around the same price.  So we headed off to a Honda dealership closer to my house.

The Bad Experience

They let me down.  Our car shopping could have been done and they let me down…

So, we pulled into the dealership, were greeted by a sales guy as usual, and perused the 2011-2012 Certified Pre-Owned Civics that they had on their lot.  And we found a gem.  A 2012 Honda Civic with only 4000 miles on it for $17,450.  It was almost exactly what Isabelle wanted except for the color, but we of course kept all of this to ourselves.

We went inside, they laid out the numbers, and everything looked good EXCEPT for the trade-in amount that they offered for her Pontiac.  The first Honda dealership of the day offered her $4000 for her trade, but this one only offered $2000.  The end result would make this deal about $18,400 overall.  That wasn’t a problem, except we knew her car was worth more.  So we asked for a higher trade-in value.

The sales manager actually came over to our table, didn’t sit down, and told us in a very condescending tone while standing over us that our trade-in wasn’t worth more than $2000 and that the other dealership only made that offer to get their car sold.  Hmmm.  So I brought up the Kelley Blue Book Value of $4700-$5200, and he told me that KBB wasn’t worth anything.  It was a “Californian pricing system that had nothing to do with this deal”.  He also pointed out what a great deal he had placed on his car.  He wasn’t budging.

So I let him know that he was being a condescending douche the best I could without using the word “douche” (I was actually very polite and told him that he may not want to treat his female customers like they were stupid), asked for his business card, and we left.  The actual sales guy looked so sad…

Happy Ending

We left pissed.  And I was a little hurt because I didn’t help Isabelle get the car that she wanted.  So we drove back to the dealership that she had visited that morning.  She liked the car she test drove that morning, but it had 40,000 miles on it which was higher than what she needed or wanted.

So when the same polite sales guy was available to talk to us, and we quickly figured out that he just didn’t have the selection we needed, Isabelle had a great idea.  She asked if they could get a car delivered from somewhere else like the dealership we just left.  They couldn’t use that exact dealership since it wasn’t in their organization, but Mr. H did start pulling up all 2011-2012 Certified Pre-Owned Honda Civics that they would have access to…

And there was Isabelle’s baby…a 2012 Civic with 6000 miles that was also in the gray color that she had wanted all along.  We talked quickly on the side and came to the conclusion that she wanted that car, and she would be really happy to get the same deal that she was able to get from the douche dude.  The numbers on this one were a tiny bit higher than the last Civic, and there would be a $500 delivery fee to get the car brought down from Oklahoma, but the trade in was still being offered at $4000.  They agreed at a soft quote of $18,400 to walk out the door, and would talk Wednesday morning once they knew if the car was still available or not.

Civic

Papers Signed

Isabelle was able to sign the Retail Installment Contract today.  With taxes and fees and everything, it came to $18,500.  Her Pontiac is now someone else’s problem, her new-to-her car should be arriving later today or tomorrow morning, and the best part is that Kelley Blue Book says the exact car that she is buying would be valued at $19,400 (seriously – that was for a car with the same options and mileage).  If you don’t take her trade payoff into account, she only paid $15,500.  Overall, Isabelle is a happy woman.  Plus, she successfully stuck to her guns with the Finance and Insurance manager when that paperwork was completed, so she wasn’t swindled for a super expensive tinted window package or anything like that.

How to Make a Good Deal

We only were able to make a good deal by knowing our numbers in advance.  We already looked up the value of her trade-in.  We already looked up the general used prices of Civics and Jettas.  She already was pre-approved at an excellent rate.  And Isabelle downloaded a KBB app on her smart phone so we could look up the values of the vehicles we were test driving.  Overall, we knew what she could afford, we knew what she wanted, and we knew what it should cost.  Knowledge is power in car sales just as with all negotiations.  Know your numbers before you start haggling and you’ll end up way happier.

Do you have any happy or bitter car buying experiences that you’d like to share?

Ask for Discounts or Get Screwed…

I don’t know how else to say this, so…I took 15 minutes and saved 15% or more on my car insurance.  :-D  Seriously.

Quick Car Insurance Breakdown

Okay, to give a little back story, my husband and I have two cars, both paid off.  Here is the coverage we have on each.

2007 Toyota Prius – Full Coverage

  • $300,000 Bodily Injury
  • $100,000 Property Damage Liability
  • $2500 Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
  • $50,000 / $100,000 / $25,000 Uninsured Motorist Coverages
  • $1000 Comp and Collision Deductible
  • $25 per day Rental Vehicle Coverage

2005 Chevy Aveo – Liability Only (No coverage for comprehensive or collision damage)

  • $300,000 Bodily Injury
  • $100,000 Property Damage Liability
  • $2500 Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
  • $50,000 / $100,000 / $25,000 Uninsured Motorist Coverages

For the past few years, we’ve been insured by Geico and the coverages above have come to about $110 per month ($70 for the Prius and $40 for my car).

Car Insurance

Our Car Insurance was Raised…Again

This happened in early February.  I received the notice from Geico that our policy was up in April and they included the new rates.  They went up by $6 a month…again.  Every 6 months, they try to raise our premiums despite the fact that we don’t get into accidents or receive tickets.  So every 6 months, I call in, threaten to leave, and we get the rate lowered back to normal and move on with life.

Well, I was in a bad mood already and just hit the roof this time.  So I wasn’t just playing the game when I called.  I wanted either no fight at all or the biggest fight ever…one way or another, this crap was going to be resolved quick.

So I wasn’t surprised at all that the rep I first reached offered to increase our deductible or decrease our coverage.  I declined.  Then they asked me to take defensive driving again since our last class certificate from 2009 expired early last year.  I said I would get to it, but I wanted the rates lowered to the same amount we were paying before without the certificate so that if I took defensive driving, it would be an actual discount.  Well, that rep couldn’t do anything like that for me, so I was transferred to a “specialist”.

Someone Not Full of Crap

I was honestly surprised by the next rep.  She was polite, knowledgeable, and didn’t act like I was too stupid to live.  She also performed a miracle…she actually reads company memos.

So after hearing me out, she asked me to hold for a few minutes while she looked into a new program in Texas that she heard of – Geico Advantage.  So I held for maybe 4 minutes before she popped back on the line and started laying out the new program.  It was actually pretty easy.  Geico Advantage is identical to what I had except it has a new name and uses new criteria to set rates.  Since credit history (Excellent) and accident records (none in about 10 years) were two of the biggest criteria, we got the lowest rates they offered.

The Miracle

We literally qualified to pay half of what we were paying FOR THE EXACT SAME COVERAGE!  No joke!  The exact same everything EXCEPT $30 allowed per day for a rental instead of $25 (so BETTER) for HALF.  Not only that, but she started me on the new plan immediately, so what I had already paid covered the next two months.  Overall, I will start paying for car insurance again in May 2013 and it will be $55 a month.

I actually waited to write this post because it sounded like a scam.  But my March payment was skipped as stated, and I received all of my coverage info in the mail along with our new insurance cards.  It truly is identical coverage and will cost us about $330 every 6 months instead of $660.  I love it when stuff works!!!

Ask for All of Your Options!

If I hadn’t called in that day to ask how to keep our rates lowered long-term, I wouldn’t have been transferred to the specialist that reads company memos.  So I would not know about Geico Advantage and I’d still be forking out $110 a month for car insurance when I could have been paying $55 a month instead.  So, remember to ASK for all of your available options or you could be getting screwed and not even know it!  I got lucky in that Geico Advantage was only apparently released recently, so I only overpaid for a month or two…what if I had waited until next year to get pissed and call?  Just ask.  It’s worth it.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by asking for discounts?