Sometimes, The Best Lessons Learned in Life Are Learned The Hard Way

If there were one phrase in life that sums up lessons learned the hard way, it would be the infamous “I told you so.”  At one point or another, you were informed by a friend, family member, or a professional, exactly what you should do, disregarded it, and paid the price.  So for your entertainment, I would like to share with you a terrible decision that I made not once but three times, simply because I’m a glutton for punishment.

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Four years ago, I purchased a 2003 Ford Mustang, which was somewhat “tricked out” with a five year extended bumper-to-bumper warranty from eBay for $14,500 cash.  It was the first car I’ve ever called my own and at the time I bought it, it had 23,000 miles on it.  The car was in excellent shape, inspected, and only had one previous owner, who kept it garaged in the state of Florida, where I live now.  Since owning the car, I make sure to take good care of it and have it fully inspected and tuned up at least twice a year.  Since I work from home and don’t travel often, I have only added 20,000 miles to this car since purchasing it, so to me it’s still like new.

In June of 2009, I was driving to work when all of a sudden my left front tire blew out completely.  Instantly I smelled the sulfur from burning rubber and luckily for me was right in front of Biscayne Tire and Auto, of which I had never been a patron of before.  A young man named Raul came out to inspect my car and explained two things to me, of which one I listened to and one did not.  The first thing he said was that I should probably have all four tires replaced because the other three showed significant wear and I would be a ticking time-bomb if I chose to ignore the problem.  The second thing he told me was that because I have special rims, I would need to order special tires that kept the “muscle car” look and each front tire would cost $235, each back tire, $285.  I don’t know about you, but spending over $1,000 for four pieces of rubber was definitely not in my budget and while I probably (maybe) could have scrounged around to make it work, I decided to get the immediate problem fixed and when the time came, take care of the other tires.  After all, Raul was probably trying to sell me something I didn’t want and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the first time a mechanic was less than honest.

So I went on my merry way, upset that my tires were so gosh-darn expensive.  As a few weeks progressed, I forgot completely about the issue as my Mustang was back to running smoothly.  In August of 2009, wouldn’t you know it, I experienced a second tire blowout. This time it was the front left tire and too far away from Biscayne Tire and Auto, forcing me to call a tow.  I was able to drive the car back to my apartment, as I was only a few minutes out.  Now you might be thinking, “Michael, why don’t you simply put the spare tire on, ride it out to the auto shop and save yourself the expense of calling a tow truck?”  Indeed this thought crossed my mind, however I am amateurish at best in auto repair, even with something as simple as a flat tire, so I called the number on the back of my Citibank credit card, because MasterCard offers AAA assistance at a very discounted rate.  I waited, and waited, and waited for SIX hours and finally some 18 year old kid showed up and could not change my tire either, because once again, my special rims and wheels required a special bolt removal device, of which he did not bring with him.  How awesome!

So that night, I called a tow truck to come and pick up the Mustang, and the next morning he showed up promptly and dropped me and my ride off at the infamous Biscayne Tire and Auto.  Raul must have ran out from whatever he was doing because his face was the first to greet me and while the last thing I wanted to see was his smile from cheek to cheek, it was somewhat amusing.  He kindly reminded me that I should have the back two tires replaced as well but once again, I did not have the funds to cough it up, barely being able to have this second tire replaced.  Raul pompously and deservedly told me we would once again cross paths very soon and set me on my way.  The tow truck cost me $75 and a good day’s worth of time, so at this point my lesson learned was only minimal.  I knew I could do better.

In September of 2009, just one month after having replaced the front left tire, the Mrs. and I were returning home from an Argentinean steak house when my back left tire felt a little “off”.  Before you go thinking that if I have enough money to go out to steakhouses, I have enough money to pay for four new tires, think again, as I shamelessly whipped out my Restaurant.com $25 gift card, which cut the bill in half.  Anyway, I pulled the car over just to find that I had a nail the size of Rhode Island logged pretty well into the tire.  Luckily, I was able to drive the car home and woke up bright and early the next morning to meet my new best friend Raul at the auto shop.  Once again, his grin reminded me of just how stupid I am.  Even though this probably would have happened even if I had purchased a new tire, I would have been able to plug the nail hole instead of replacing the tire completely.  After shelling out $285 bucks for one back left tire, Raul begged me to get the last tire replaced.  To be honest, I could have had the last tire replaced but pride, principle, and stupidity ran through my mind, which caused me to laugh off his suggestion and inform him that I would never see him again.

Up until yesterday, my idiotic decisions had only cost me $75 and a couple days worth of inconvenience and travel.  Avoiding accidents and other potential disasters, I’d say I got off easy.  Then, driving home from a dentist appointment, I stopped at a red light where, as is routine in Miami, a homeless man walked up to my car asking for a donation.  His words seemed to take an unusual turn when he told me he loved Mustangs and Fords in general and that my back left tire seemed to be a little flat.  I informed him that this tire was somewhat new and that there is no way anything is wrong with it.  He smiled and went on his way but I had the thought in the back of my mind that he could be right.  After about 15 minutes of interstate driving, I began to lose control of the car and once again had the awful smell of sulfur permeate through the car.  Daytime traffic on I-95 was light, so I was able to get the car over to the right shoulder, pissed off that (1) I was forewarned of this event and (2) lost a tire that I just replaced a few months ago!  I got out of the car and was SHOCKED to see that the tire in question was just fine.  Two seconds later my relief turned into pain when I found my back right tire ripped into shreds.  The most expensive of my indiscretions, I lost $95 for the tow truck and a days worth of work as it took hours to get the right kind of tow to help us out.  Back tire blowouts require a bed truck because the car can’t roll on its back tires.  The first FOUR tows that we’re sent out to us were of no use, but like the cliché goes “Fifth times a charm.”

So what did I learn from this?  Well the first and most obvious lesson is that when a professional suggests I need something done, I should either listen, or get a second opinion to confirm the first.  Idiots like me cause accidents that can be avoided and bad decisions are usually a result of earlier bad decisions.  The second and less obvious lesson is that even though the consequences of my actions were on the lighter side, they could have been FAR worse.  Before making another decision like this, I need to think about the possible consequences and realize that I’m not always going to be this lucky.  That is if you can call this little experience “lucky”.

This guest post comes from Michael, a contributing editor of the Dough Roller, a personal finance and investing blog, and Credit Card Offers IQ, a credit card review site.

Photo credit: itmpa

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5 Responses to “Sometimes, The Best Lessons Learned in Life Are Learned The Hard Way”

  1. David |  Feb 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Perhaps another lesson here is that one should always have an emergency fund. At any given moment one should be able to fork out $1000 if they have a car or house problem. Building an emergency fund should be one of the highest priorities, and yes it should come before going out to eat at steak houses, even if you have a restaurant.com gift certificate.

  2. The Rat |  Feb 20, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    @David – In my view, emergency funds are good to have but if you’re debt free and you are utilizing your hard earned dollars for investment purposes (which can be a strategy to increase one’s income), then a simple line of credit that rarely gets used can come into play rather nicely. Instead of a credit card (which can range from 10-18% interest), a lot of line of credits can range around the prime +1 range and that can get you out of a jam until your next pay or income arrives.

    I guess it all comes down to personal preference. I would be more inclined to have a 1oz gold bar at home in the advent of a global crisis then have an emergency stash.

  3. Bvk |  Feb 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    man you are the slowest learner out there….

    I hope you changed that part of your personality….

    the universe was trying to get your attention for a while on this….

  4. MP |  Feb 28, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for the morning entertainment. Being from the north, driving on bald and wearing tires in the winter is an accident just waiting to happen so I contribute every pay into my emergency fund that takes into account precisely these kinds of major expenditures.
    The Rat – I’d rather have an emergency stash for these things than rely on a line of credit – sometimes the emergency is a lot more than the average person can handle on their next pay…like the dental work I probably am going to have to get done that will run $1,600. No way I can put that on a line of credit without running it over a few months and paying interest.
    And I refuse to pay a cent towards my bank’s annual profit.

  5. Kate |  Mar 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Perhaps you should think about “investing” in a car maintenance book or something… and please do yourself a favor and when you need a new left front tire and get the right too (even if there is some tread still on the right one). You should always get at least a matching set even if you don’t get all four.