Broken Air Conditioner? Improved Heat Tolerance (Our Badass Response)

DH = Dear Husband

MMM’s side-benefits of badassity

Almost two years ago, I read a post over at Mr. Money Mustache’s site that ended up being very significant for me.* “Necessity Is The Mother of Badassity” focused on the side-benefits of uber-frugal living. During his recent project of putting a new roof on his mother’s house, MMM encountered some challenges, but he didn’t take the easy way out. When he realized her roof deck had disintegrated, the job more than doubled. He learned how to replace the roof deck as well as the roof, and he spent many, many more hours of hard physical work under the hot sun than he had planned to. The benefits?

  • confidence gained from getting in over his head, figuring it out, and making it through
  • physical fitness from hard labour
  • doing something for his mom and saving her a whole lot of money
  •  improved heat tolerance

I got a kick out of that last benefit: “Improved heat tolerance.” Really? Was MMM scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one?

Our car’s air conditioner

In the winter, our city gets REALLY cold. And in the summer, it gets REALLY hot & humid. Last Sunday, we hit 91 degrees F (33 C), and it’s only June. I tell you this so that you will recognize the significance of the following fact: This spring, we realized that our car’s air conditioner was broken. It’s the car that I have referred to as our “new” car. Our 1999 Dodge Caravan is our old car, and it hasn’t had functioning air conditioning for years. Well, the 2011 Ford Focus isn’t so new any more as it turns out. So no AC in either vehicle.

DH and I discussed whether or not we would get it fixed. He is a DIY type, but his understanding was that fixing a car’s air conditioning was something that pretty well had to be done at an auto repair shop. He could try to tinker around with it himself, but DH is self-employed, and time really is money for him, so he avoids DIY projects that can’t be done in a fairly predictable amount of time.

We keep a reserve fund for car repairs, but the risk with getting the air conditioning looked at would be that the expense could end up being far greater than the amount we have put aside. “It would be $200 just to get it looked at,” explained DH, “and if the compressor is shot, it would cost about $2,000 to replace it. Or if there’s a leak, they’d charge $100 per hour until they found it. And we’d still have to pay that rate if they didn’t find it . . .”

The risk of too much time if we went the DIY route. The risk of too great an expense if we brought it in to be fixed at a shop. The risk of a dead end in either case. What to do?

Improved heat tolerance & new window management skills

As we discussed the possibilities, we took into account the fact that I’m not going to teach summer school this year and that DH had really low business revenue in May. With lower than usual income, we’d have to be more frugal than usual this summer. The auto repair shop option just wasn’t wise. Air conditioning is not a “need” – it’s a “want”. And when you’re trying to become debt-free and turn your finances around, you have to give up some of your wants.

I remembered MMM’s post, and I told DH about it. “I think we have to be badasses,” I said, “and get ready for some improved heat tolerance.”

And that’s the option we settled upon. I don’t like open car windows in the summer because it messes up my hair. But I’m figuring out that there is a fine art to opening car windows so that it minimizes impact on hair. All windows fully open when you’re driving slowly. Driver’s window open just a crack and all other windows fully open when you’re driving at medium speed. All windows shut on the highway, and let the air vent work its magic. See? I’ve learned something. Yet another side-benefit to frugal living.

Benefits of killing money-talk taboo 

Although personal finance is still a taboo topic in our society, DH and I – after 4 years of focused debt-reduction – have no problem talking about it with just about anyone. So DH was open to a recent conversation with a friend about how he had fixed his car’s air conditioning. It had taken him a day and a half to figure it out, but he’d done it. A day and a half under the hood of the car was just what DH wanted to avoid, but since his friend had done all of the initial grunt work of discovery, it would only take DH a matter of a couple of hours to try the same thing. He’s going to give it a go. Fingers crossed.

Laurie’s American Ninja Warrior challenge

Laurie issued a challenge earlier this week: What goal can you take on American Ninja Warrior style next month to do more with your money?  Our goal is not to spend a cent on our “want” for air conditioning in our car. If DH can fix it, great! But if he can’t, we’ll tough out the summer months with window opening strategies, messy hair, and improved heat tolerance. Because we’re badass like that.


Do you go without air conditioning to save money? Have you ever fixed your car’s air conditioner? How do you keep your hair neat with the windows open? Your comments are welcome.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

*Fun fact: The MMM article was significant for me because when I wrote a post about it shortly after reading it two years ago, Laurie left a comment that ended up bringing about this site – Fruclassity. Want to understand how a comment led to the creation of a site? Check it out : ) 

30 comments on “Broken Air Conditioner? Improved Heat Tolerance (Our Badass Response)

  1. I feel for ya Ruth! Florida was hot, but we had central air. Mom’s house doesn’t have it, and we decided not to put it in. Yes, sometimes it gets to be 88 degrees in here. But I remember a post Green Girl wrote once about heat tolerance with all of the benefits that MMM talked about, so we decided to go “Green”, which I guess is my way of going “Badass”. We didn’t have air conditioning for many years, and I always lost the weight I’d put on over the winter during the summer months. As soon as we got central air, that stopped happening. Yeah, we’re sweating, A LOT, but we are feeling much better overall. Humans need to sweat. It’s good for us! Loved this post, Ruth! Best wishes on that a/c. Hubby always fixes our car/van a/c. He gave me lots of things to tell you to tell DH, but I think I’ll save that for an email. 🙂

    1. Interesting connection between toughing out the heat and losing weight! I would like to say that my motivation is all about going green, but it’s all about saving money. Your hubby’s DIY advice to mine would be most welcome!

  2. Love your willingness to become badass with improved heat tolerance! We had one vehicle without A/C for a couple of weeks this summer and we were hitting record highs in the upper 90s. We did the window thing, but in the end, found a friend that could “charge” the a/c (don’t have a clue how you do it, but it worked) for $20. That’s the route we took, but would have lived without it if it meant taking it to a repair shop.

    Ponytails and buns are the only way to go with the windows down.

    1. I will start wearing an elastic around my wrist at all times so that I can easily put my hair up in a ponytail when I get into the car. A simple solution. Thanks, Amanda! Maybe we’ll have the same luck you had, and DH will actually be able to fix our AC. Until then, elastic around wrist.

  3. AWESOME!! Good for you, Ruth. I was just telling the kids that I had NO AC in our homes growing up. My attic bedroom was unbearably hot in the summer months, but the money was not there (nor was the option to use a credit card – they didn’t give credit cards to divorced moms back in the day) so we had no choice but to improve our heat tolerance. These days we’re using our AC some, but trying really hard to keep it to a minimum. I hope for the sake of the challenge that July is a not-too-hot month. 🙂

    1. Yeah. How is it that we all survived our childhoods without AC in either the house or the car? And if July is a really hot month, I’ll just be that much more motivated to use my bike rather than my car.
      (I see a post in what you’ve written about your mom and her inability to access a credit card. Was that a blessing in disguise?)

  4. I drove without AC for about four years while we were paying off debt. It was certainly a want, and not a need. There were some really hot and humid days that I really wanted AC, but as you have I learned to master the air flow with window management. 🙂

    1. Brian, there are so many parallels between your experience of debt reduction and ours! Even broken car AC and developed window management : )

  5. Haha, I was just reading this post and then clicked over to the Ninja Warrior post and commented about good luck with the air conditioner there, lol. Whoops!

    Growing up in KY was hot and humid and we didn’t have AC until highschool, and then couldn’t afford to run it – brilliant! We had an attic fan that worked once the night came and everything started to cool off, but summers were brutal. We got used to it though because, well, we had to.
    At our current house, our home AC is usuallt set to 77-78 for the most part. It still feels cool because outside is usually 90’s, but our friends feel like we’re weird because we keep the house so “hot” We’re used to it, so maybe that will work for your AC issue. 🙂
    Good luck!

    1. I didn’t have AC at all as I grew up, but I think that having it and not being able to use it would have been very frustrating. Keeping the AC at 77-78 is pretty radical in itself, but why not? I think everyone is generally comfortable without AC until it gets to be about 85, so 77-78 really would be just fine. Maybe we’ll go weird like that too. Thanks Mr. SSC.

  6. It could be like my college roommate. His car had to have the heat running full blast at all times to keep it from overheating. It’s fine in the winter time, but you can imagine in the dog days of summer how fun it was to be driving it.

  7. Here’s hoping the DIY route works! There are many “wants” I’m willing to do without, but since the wife and I are not in the best health to begin with, not having A/C on a hot day makes it feel lot like a “need”. However I do enjoy going windows open in the car if it’s not too hot. I’ll have to relay your instructions about open windows and neat hair to my wife, who’s always quick to insist that’s why we can’t have the windows open. And if her hair does get a bit messy, I’ll just tell her she looks badass. 🙂

    1. Ha! I’m sure your wife has always wanted to look badass, so that should go over just fine : ) It’s true that a “want” with one person is indeed a “need” with another. Fortunately, you’re in a position where you’ll be able to just bring the car into the repair shop if the AC breaks – and not think twice about it. I too hope the DIY route works. Thanks Gary.

  8. Good luck on the DIY route. In the meantime, there are a couple of tricks to making lifee with less AC more bearable. Make sure everyone is taking the time to grab a water bottle before driving around, because being well-hydrated will keep you cooler. If you can, timing your errands for the morning (or right after a thunderstorm) works too.

    1. Wise words, Emily! I’d already considered timing, but not water. Elastic for hair (that was Amanda’s advice) and water bottle for hydration. Got it. Thanks : )

  9. Back before AC in cars was widely available and expected, my dad drove around Miami as a late teenager with the windows up to make all the girls think he drove a new model with AC. Amazing how trying to impress women lead to his improved heat tolerance lol.

    1. Oh that’s funny! What happened when one of those impressed young women got into his car though? They wouldn’t be impressed for too long : ) Thanks for sharing that story. I’m sure your dad wouldn’t mind.

  10. You go girl! I know when we were in debt repayment mode, the harder the challenge, the more up to it we felt – it was very satisfying to see how we could overcome the obstacle. We felt like Ninja warriors lol. Just remember, this too will pass. At least you don’t have to work this summer, so won’t be in your car as much :).

    1. That is the truth, Nancy. As a summer school co-op teacher, I’d be in my car for hours and hours on some hot days. I’m going to try to avoid the car as much as possible this summer, and the lack of AC will encourage that avoidance. It’s great hearing from you. Thanks for commenting : )

  11. I would have to say no on this one. I don’t have air conditioning in my apt and although most of the time I luckily get to enjoy summer weather in the 70s-80s, it does occasionally have its heat waves were it’s in the 90s for a couple weeks straight. Last summer was like this, and I was also doing a stint in Long Beach, which was a 45 minute drive away. It was bad enough trying to get ready in the morning, let alone if I would have had to sit on the 405 freeway in over 90 degree weather barely moving. It was safer for the city of Los Angeles that I made sure my car air conditioning is working. The moral of the story is, do what works best for YOU! I actually have a post tomorrow coming out about this. I think in a way if someone hard core does something with money, then suddenly we feel guilty about spending money at all. Hey, it may be YOUR choice to go frugal badass, but don’t do it just because MMM does.

    1. Oh, I’m nowhere close to being as frugal as MMM – or many others for that matter. I’m not motivated to be a full-time badass. I just feel a kind of “I can do this!” pride when I ramp up my frugality in some way. I’m absolutely against the idea that someone should feel guilty for spending money on something that someone else has chosen to do without. We do have AC in our house, and we would replace it in a heartbeat if it broke down. I’m glad for both you and L.A. that you have an air-conditioned car : )

  12. Congrats on your supremely frugal solution here! One of our vehicles is older and never had air conditioning. I love watching passengers perform the lost art of cracking manual windows! It certainly depends on your climate, too, though. When we traveled to AZ one summer my parents graciously lent us a vehicle with AC.

    1. You are right, Kalie. It depends on climate – not to mention the amount of time you spend in your car, your physical health, and your financial health. If I were going to teach summer school co-op this year, I’d get the AC. As it is, I won’t be spending nearly as much time in the car – and I’ll be earning less money. So cracking windows it is!

  13. We don’t have a/c here in the Bay Area home so we make do with fans, ice packs, and fighting with the dog for the cool floor space. I thank a lot of lucky stars that we don’t get as many, or as serious, heat waves as we do back in the LA-area.

    It upsets me more that we don’t have functioning a/c there when he could because despite my best efforts, my dad fails to take good care of the house, but there’s only so much I can do barring moving back there to do it myself. And that’s not happening.

    1. We have a/c in our house, just not in our cars. My husband works from home, and the heat generated from all of his equipment would make it REALLY tough for us not to use a/c at home. Sounds like you have some pretty innovative ways of managing no a/c! I particularly like the one about fighting with the dog for cool floor space : ) I’ll have to find out more about your story with regards to your dad. Sounds like you’re carrying a bit of a burden there. Thanks for your comment, Revanche : )

  14. When I lived in the south I had an hour and a half commute each way everyday. But gas was insanely expensive at the time. I learned the loose ponytail method and then doing my hair and makeup in the car once I arrived so I wouldn’t have to run the AC the whole time. I had to leave twenty minutes earlier, but it was worth the savings!

    1. With an hour and a half commute each way every day, I’m pretty sure I would have capitulated. Good strategies, Femme! Very admirable.

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