November 02, 2003

our old cars

Thereís a reason we havenít gotten a new car in fourteen years. Itís hard to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an object that will depreciate by a thousand or so as soon as you drive it off the lot, will lose value like a leaky valve in the months and years after that, and is made to fall apart within a decade or two. Itís the apex of free market economics, the car racket. The earliest cars were made to last forever. It only makes sense. They are, after all, made of metal. Durable, right? And yet somehow not. Now cars (except perhaps the Volvo) are built for obsolescence and consumers are programmed to want the latest, greatest, sleekest (or boxiest) new lines within a couple of years, thus thickening Detroit's Ė and Tokyo's Ė executive's Golden Parachute lining by the minute.

So we drive our two-door 1987 Corolla and our (also two-door) 1988 Accord year after year after year while the car shapes have changed around us, from the low-slung lines of our cars to the bubble cars you saw everywhere in the Ď90s to the current big-boned SUVs and the latest trend, boxes-on-wheels like the Honda Element and the new Mercedes G500 SUV. Ours are good little cars, not so sexy perhaps, but pretty damned reliable. Yes, maybe I feel a little embarrassed pulling up outside someoneís house for a party in my car with its chipped paint and its accumulated dents and dings, as if Iím announcing to the world, ďempty pockets here,Ē even when weíre not as poor as all that, but it just hasnít been a priority. Weíd rather have decent computers and weekly dinners out and a mortgage and even, yes, a small nest egg for lean times and potential show cancellations. But you canít exactly set your PowerBook on the dashboard of your now-ancient vehicle, the new(ish) with the old. And thereís this other part of me thatís proud in a perverse, reverse sort of way. Look at us, weíre not into conspicuous consumption, weíd rather get full value, run our cars throughout their full useful life and not litter the environment with more hunks of metal junked before their time. Arenít we cool in our non-cool sort of way?

But the cycle of life demands change sooner or later. And the fact is, our creaky two-door low-slung cars donít serve our needs too well anymore. As Dan said to me yesterday, he and I donít just get into a car and drive off these days. We move in. Sometimes when I drive Damian to school, Iím carrying his lunch bag, my lunch bag, my bag of healthy snacks, my huge water bottle and his bag of sippy cups and milk boxes for the rides to and from school. Also my computer bag, my daypack (inevitably stuffed to the gills), my camera, a change of clothes for each of us or at least an extra sweatshirt or two, and maybe a bag of books to return to the library on the way home after school. And most of this has to go on the passenger seat. Because I may need access, you see. Sometimes I add Damianís friend Cís lunch bag and jacket to the now-huge pile because weíre carpooling these days. Then after I drop Damian (and C) off, I pull into a parking spot near the library (where I'll go after lunch) and eat my turkey-tomato-balsamic onion tortilla wrap in the car while reading a book. Relaxing? Sure, if you have room. In a two door hatchback, not so much. More than a car, we need a house on wheels. A comfortable house.

I think itís time to go for it. We got the word last week: the show Dan edits has been picked up for the rest of the season and itís doing well enough we expect a second season. In this kind of freelance career, you donít get much more security than that. Weíre not rich or even well off, but I think we can afford monthly payments on a reasonably priced new car.

We went car shopping yesterday, test drove two models (a Sienna and a CRV, if you must know, both with nicely low emissions). We almost bought a car but stopped ourselves. It feels like too much somehow. I know itís perfectly logical and even okay and people do it all the time, sometimes yearly. Then why am I feeling panicked? But I am, as if itís wrong to spend that money, wrong to have something new and comparatively luxurious when our old cars still run. But weíll only be giving away one car (we plan to donate it Ė anyone have a good place to donate old cars?) and keeping the other, so this isnít all that drastic. And weíre three now instead of two and we have carpool needs and bicycle transport needs and damnit all, we want something with a smoother ride and more breathing room. But the part of me thatís held out all these years wants to hold out a bit longer still.

Like till next weekend.

(to be continued)

Posted by Tamar at November 2, 2003 09:42 PM

Both Goodwill and the national Kidney Foundation take donations of cars and will receipt you the blue book value -- regardless of physical condition -- for a tax write-off. My brother donated his car to the Kidney Foundation, and they nicely sent out a tow truck to pick it up and took care of all of the paperwork for the transfer of title and other such minutiae. It was a very painless process, just required a couple of phone calls and a couple of signatures.

Posted by: Dreama at November 3, 2003 04:29 AM

On Saturday, my partner & I became the owners of a new '04 Honda Civic Hybrid (5-speed). Exciting? Yes. Scary? Most definitely.

We traded in my beloved '94 Saturn SL1 (5-speed) for $200 - a favour to us, really, because it needed at least $3,300 worth of work within the next few months to keep running (tires, clutch, bracket) and its Kelley Blue Book value was nonexistent.

The Saturn was my first new car, the first car I ever bought and owned. It traveled with me all over the country as I relocated - Portland to Vegas to Boston to Madison. It carried me on various other cross-country trips, including the Summer 2000 baseball extravaganza to all the American League parks (plus some NL parks thrown in for good measure).

My Saturn and my cat have been my babies, my prized companions for 10 years. And letting it go was not easy. Lots of emotions tied up in that hunk of dark grey metal with the bent wheel rim. I knew I'd have to trade it in eventually, but I didn't think that time would come so soon. It gave me a good ten years, 132,000+ miles, and lots of memories. What more could I ask?

And for several years, I've claimed that my next car would be a hybrid - better gas mileage, cleaner emissions, more in line with my political and ideological desire to move away from reliance on cars and gas for transportation. So even though the Civic Hybrid was a bit expensive (relatively speaking - $22K with extended warranty), it felt like the right choice, especially now that my partner and I are a 1-car couple and share the expenses.

But it's not an easy decision, no matter how ya rationalize it. So good luck to you & Dan on making that purchase sometime soon (like next weekend...)

Posted by: jms at November 3, 2003 11:53 AM

I'm all about the used car thing. Right now I'm driving an '86 Volvo wagon and eyeing up my options for replacing it. But there's no way I could spring for a new car; I just can't stomach the instant drop in value when I drive it off the lot.

Posted by: Cait at November 3, 2003 04:13 PM

Some battered women's shelters accept car donations as well -- and they'll give you a receipt for its value (at least they do that here). I've heard from one friend who donated there that they were especially grateful to have one which at least ran so the women could have something to run errands in or go on job applications without tying up the center's other vehicles. Just a thought.

Also, on the used car thingie, a lot of people don't know that eventually, those used cars are recycled. Every bit of them. One of the nation's largest car recyclers is one of our clients and they use ever part of it -- shredding the car for metal, separating the valuable metals out from the iron (because while they're both recycled, they're processed differently). Even the tires and the dashboards are used. There are junk shops around which may keep an old car until they've sold all its useful parts off, but then it'll be sold to the recycler, who'll shred it to a tiny pile of useful metals and then all of that is shipped back off to manufacturers.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Posted by: toni at November 3, 2003 09:44 PM

Dreama, Toni, thanks for the donation ideas. I like both the Kidney Foundation and the battered woman's shelter idea. Especially the women's shelter -- if we can find one, that's a great idea, because the Corolla we'll be giving away still runs well. (Actually, both cars do. They just don't work for our life anymore.)

JMS, congratulations! And good for you, going for a hybrid! We looked at the Prius hybrid but it's not big enough for a primary car for us. But it's on my wish list for a second car when we're ready. In fact it pretty much IS the wish list. (And I'll get back to you on the "goodbye, old car with lots of memories" part.)

Cait, I know the feeling. Been there too. If we lean toward anything but the Sienna, I'll be thinking used. But the Sienna is majorly redesigned this year, and in crucial ways. So we may bite the bullet. Besides, part of me wants to be the first one, to imprint the brand new baby car. At least once in my life. It's a ridiculous and impractical desire but there it is.

Posted by: Tamar at November 3, 2003 10:34 PM