• Philip Stratton

The Ship of Theseus

This has not been a good month for our 17 year old son’s vehicle. We purchased a 2002 Chevy Trailblazer a couple years ago and it has been a good first car for him. He’s experienced a couple of minor mishaps in it, but it has proven to be safe and reli…., well not so reliable of late. Since we’ve owned it, we have replaced the tires, battery, power steering lines, lower ball joints, and front wheel bearings. Last week he brought it home from school and said it seemed to have difficulty starting. After pulling it into the garage and checking the battery and adding some oil, I asked him to start it. No dice. It chose to die at home surrounded by loved ones.

We had it towed to a shop the next day and discovered the starter had gone bad. Tow, parts, and labor neared $500 (also had an oil change and other fluids refill performed). After school Thursday of this week, he started it in the school lot and pulled the shifter to (R)everse. The shifter moved but the gear indicator didn’t. We’ve now decided to put the tow truck number on speed dial.

The culprit is a broken plastic shift cable bushing. This shouldn’t be too costly to have fixed, but the service station also noticed the power steering belt wasn’t sitting properly in the pulley and upon further inspection found the shaft that connects the pulley to the power steering unit could be pulled in and out about an inch, resulting in the belt not riding properly in the pulley’s channel. Looks like that unit will need replaced as well.

This all begs the question. When is it time to replace rather than continuing to drive a vehicle that has experience several recent issues? Ideally we’d like him to drive this vehicle for 2 more years. Short any major overhauls like engine or transmission failure that would result in repair costs in the $2k or more range, we’ll make these minor repairs as needed. He starts college this fall at a local university, so this vehicle will still meet his needs while attending this school. After the first 2 years, he can choose to transfer to another school further away from home (he will receive 2 years of college tuition and a stipend for food/housing as a benefit of my military service). At this point, we would like to ensure he has a very dependable vehicle to get him to and from school, and through the early part of his new career.

I used this opportunity to discuss the financial aspects that factor into such a decision with our son. He said “I get it dad. I’ve heard enough from Dave Ramsey and your Mr. Money Mustache blogger to understand the vehicle is just a tool to get me to and from school and work. This vehicle does that. Plus, like the old story of “The Ship of Theseus” goes, as you replace all the old rotting planks with new planks along the journey, have you pulled into harbor with the same ship you left port with? Or do you have a new ship?”

Some may fear giving your child unfettered access to the internet. Ours comes up with obscure references to the Ship of Theseus in casual conversation as a result of the information he consumes. He's going to do fine.

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