A Tale of Two Cars

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

In 1997, we bought a brand new Honda Civic.  It was a lesson in how not to purchase a car.  We had intended to get a car at some point to replace my husband’s 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.  Instead, suddenly, my 10 year old Ford Escort started leaking oil in a big way.  We (meaning mostly me) were so tired of one thing after another needing to be fixed on these old cars that we (meaning mostly me) were determined to get a new car with zero problems, thinking this would save us money in the long run.  Unfortunately, we had no money saved to buy a new car, or even a used car.  And we couldn’t even afford the payments on a modest car like a Honda Civic.  So we got a lease.

This decision ranks among the stupidest and most expensive of our financial mistakes.

And, instead of saving money on repairs, we spent boatloads on required maintenance: oil changes, 7500 mile service checks, etc…at the dealer all required by the lease.  Suddenly a random water pump breaking on our used car, though inconvenient, seemed a preferable expense.

When that lease ran out (I think it was a 4 year lease), we had too many miles on it to be able to turn it in.  So, we bought it according to the terms of the lease.  We had even less money then.  I was pregnant with Katie; we had bought a house.  When I say “bought” the Honda (and the house), I mean we got a loan.  

{Sidebar: When we first got that Honda, I was not even pregnant with Fritz.  Bill and I (and later, Fritz, too) would commute together leaving the gas guzzling Trans Am at home.  I stopped working when Billy was born, and Bill continued to drive the Honda while I used that Trans Am to go grocery shopping with 2 car seats in the back.  The same year we got a loan for the Honda, we used our $2400 tax refund to buy a $2400 used minivan to finally replace that 22 year old muscle car.}  

I finally paid that Honda off, early, in 2003.  Oh, the freedom of no car payment.  

Bill has been driving that car for 16 years.  That ends this week, maybe even today.  We’ve been talking about replacing it for at least 5 years.  We’ve been seriously talking about replacing it for about 2 years.  We’ve been desperately talking about replacing it for the last 6 months.  With over 250,000 miles, back doors that only open from the inside, peeling hood paint, and a death-rattle, it is past time.  If he hadn’t had to be out of town so much in May, June and July, he would have gotten something else by now.  Fortunately, because he was out of town, he didn’t need to drive the car much.

He had been online shopping, had a good idea of what he could get for what we could afford.  No monkey on our back – this “new” car will be a cash purchase.  And it won’t be “new.”  Several times, he saw cars at dealerships and called about them.  Sometimes, he would be too late; the last time, they wanted too much and he didn’t have the time to go down there and negotiate.  They continued to pester him via email the entire time he was in Germany, finally stopping when he asked if that particular vehicle was even still available.

Yesterday morning, lucky man that he is, he found a listing at eBay for a 2005 Honda Civic within 10 miles from our house.  We went to see it after Mass.  It’s exactly what he needs at exactly the right price.  He is to stop at a bank on his way home from an appointment this morning to get the cash, and meet the owners at their bank to pay off their lien.  I hope that he can get through the DMV this afternoon and be able to drive it to work tomorrow.

I had told him, months ago, that he was not to get another Civic.  It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great car.  It really is.  We drove that thing for ten years without a car payment.  We got our money’s worth.  They will go for over 200,000 miles and maintenance isn’t too expensive (those “required” services every 7500 miles were expensive, but we stopped doing that after we owned the car and the thing kept chugging along).  However, after much thought, I realized that we should have another driver in another year and I could really use a break in ferrying children to various activities.  Having a 3rd car in a year or so might be very useful.  So I suggested, and he agreed, that buying a very practical car right now and saving up for a less practical but more fun car (such as a Miata or a Jeep) next year is good planning.  

And that is my tale.  How not to buy a car…and how to buy a car.  The freedom from car payments beats the pleasure of driving a new car any day.

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2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cars

  1. Say that, Sis, after you buy a new car.

  2. Tim got it into his head that he needed a new truck to pull the boat that had 4 doors (our truck is an antique with a bench seat) so more than 2 kids could go along. Plus he needed 4 wheel drive for his long commute in Maine winters. So he went for a test drive and came home with a Tacoma. I got his car, we kept the 12 passenger van “just in case” so now we have 2 drivers and 5 vehicles. Will can get his learners anytime now, but we still don’t have a car we would let him drive!

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