Saturday, June 15, 2013

The car buying blues

My first car that was really mine was a Saturn SL2. It was red, of course, and I named her Scarlett. She wasn't necessarily the car I wanted. I had also test-driven a Pontiac Sunfire that appealed to me for its sportiness and pick-up. But it was only a 2-door and I tended to be the driver among our circle of friends. I knew my friends Carl and Dan wouldn't fit in that back seat and Nick and Andres wouldn't be much happier, so I bought the Saturn. It was pretty and shiny and red, so I did love it. But it always had air conditioning issues, which made me hate it in July and August.

Somehow I finished paying that thing off while I was in law school. I kept it for a few years after graduation, too. But after two and a half years of full-time employment, I was ready to buy a new car. A brand new car. My first ever no-one-but-me-has-ever-driven-it car. I looked at websites and researched and compared the red paint colors. I settled on a 2003 Honda Civic Coupe. I could get a 2-door car this time as I had long since moved away from both Dan and Carl. It was cute and sporty and very, very me. I got a sunroof. And my favorite feature of all: the in-dash 6 cd changer (yes, only 10 years ago was pre-smart phone mp3 ubiquity). Most importantly, the air conditioning worked every time. While her name was never as well-known and used as Scarlett's, she did have a name. Frankie.

I expected to drive that car to death. I thought I would put 250,000 miles on it. But it didn't have a great spring. After some warning lights, some rough drives, and one very bad day, I took it in for a diagnosis. And it was bad. Blown head gasket. Oil seal leak. Belts. Brakes. Struts. Everything on that car decided to crap out all at once. But I was only at 164,000 miles! And it's a freakin' Honda, for crying out loud! I don't like to deal with things. The uglier, more difficult the situation, the more likely I am to shut down and not deal with it. This car situation, so totally unexpected, was exactly the sort of thing I want to pretend isn't happening.

My parents happened to be out of the country for a while, so I was able to borrow my mom's car for a few weeks while pondering what on earth to do, and crying if anyone asked me what I'd decided. Spend $2,000 to fix this car up and drive it for another several years? Or buy a new one? Or just drive my mom's car and bury my head in the sand for a few more weeks?

Well, Mom reclaimed her car yesterday, so I couldn't bury my head too much longer. I gingerly drove my car to the gym this morning, and then drove to a dealership just to check out my options. Which is how I found myself 3 1/2 hours later driving home without my pretty red coupe and having spent $20,000 of someone else's money. Man, they'll loan money to just about anyone, won't they? This morning, I owned a car free and clear and hadn't made a car payment in 5 years. This evening, I owe an astounding amount of money and will be expected to hand over $300 each month for the next 5 years.

And now while I should be working, all I can do is sit on my couch, stare out the window at the shiny new not-red car on my driveway, and think, "What the hell have I done?" On the one hand, I can now drive to work every day without worrying that my car will die (as long as I make the payments and it doesn't get repo-d). On the other hand, I will be eating ramen in the dark for the next decade.

(Funny side note: in the midst of all of this, I learned that according to CarFax, my 10 year-old Honda that I drove off the lot with 30 miles on it had 2 owners, the first of whom had the car before it existed and for the first 5 years I owned it... Based on this first interaction with CarFax, I don't have a whole lot of faith in the accuracy of their reports. Happily Autocheck, the title, and common sense verified that, no, I had always owned the car.)


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Byron Walters said...

It must’ve been difficult for you! But I think you made the right decision to replace your car. It wouldn't have been practical nor convenient to pay for constant repairs. Just make sure you have your new car checked regularly, so that you can prevent the same predicament from happening again. All the best!

Baron Walters @ BobDunn Subaru

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