Monday, September 28, 2015

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's inspection time for my car, and it's come to the point where I'm having to weigh my choices. The cost of getting it officially road-worthy is half the actual value of the vehicle, and I feel like a woman with an elderly pet faced with a health crisis - do I opt for the expensive surgery? Or let nature take its course?

We don't talk cars much here, maybe because most of us aren't interested in, I don't know, cams and overheads and litres and all the stuff The Boy can explain knowledgeably. Some women who are total gearheads, but most of the gals I know are interested in boring stuff: is it practical? How's the mileage? We tend to make our first stop car-shopping at Consumer Reports, not Car and Driver Magazine.

I didn't have a driver's license until right before Ross and I got married. I took driver's ed, and did well enough, but when my parents told me I would be responsible for paying the increase when their auto insurance was bumped up to include a 17-year-old, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Naaaah." My best friend had a car, my boyfriend had a car (a Chevy Nova that required the flexibility of an athlete to neck in) and when I went to college, there were buses and more friends with cars. Then I lived in London, then Washington, and I really didn't need an auto in those environments. Portland, Maine is a little shy of public transportation, however, so I got a license and happily began driving my brand-new husband's brand-new Mazda RX-7 around.

The fact my first vehicle was a high-powered sports car shaped my driving habits for the rest of my life. Be forewarned if I'm giving you a ride.

The Mazda RX 7 was great, right until the babies began to arrive. I switched to a Volvo 240 station wagon, a car that I loved as much as the zippy little Mazda. It held EVERYTHING: two car seats, dog, luggage, groceries, and it powered through Maine winters like the train grande vitesse through the south of France. I cannot tell you how many diapers I changed on that wagon's tailgate, and when we started potty training, I kept a little potty seat in the back for those times I'd hear, "Mommy, I feel the feeling!" while driving to the Hanneford.

Alas, the Volvo finally went to the Big Auto Yard in the sky, just shy of getting its 300,000 miles plaque (Volvo used to send you these magnets to affix to high-mileage cars, I don't know if that still happens.) Our last really nice car - before Ross left the law for special ed teaching and we began 19-year-and-counting of parochial school, Catholic high school, college and boarding school tuition payments - was a sweet top-of-the line Ford Explorer: leather seats, sun roof, all the bells and whistles available in 1999. We drove SO many miles in Aretha (named after the inimitable Ms. Franklin); back and forth to upstate New York, DC, Canada and of course the daily 48-mile-commute, mostly over country roads rough with frost-heaves and potholes. It was the terrible roads that finally did her in. One day she just sort of collapsed, and after the tow to the garage, we discovered both axles had cracked. Good-bye Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Since then, we've had a string of older used cars, some lasting longer, others not so much (the terrible state of our country roads continue to be an issue.) My latest is an '02 Lincoln Continental, which we got when The Boy was in high school with the express purpose of having him learn to drive in it. I swore I was getting rid of it as soon as he passed his license exam, because there was NO WAY I was driving around in a little old grandma car whose paint job matched my hair (silver.) But the car seduced me. The leather seats were sooo comfy, and it had power everything and a sun roof, and it accelerated like a dream. It also had built-in lumbar support and the instrument display is large enough to see without putting my reading glasses on. Clearly, the Lincoln people know their demographic.

It's the Lincoln on the chopping block right now. Do we go all in with $$$ repairs and keep her, knowing she's 13 years old and has 170,000 miles? Or do we donate her to NPR and start shopping for another ride? What do you think, Reds? And what have been your favorite cars as you ride down the freeway of life?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My first car was--a Chevette. It probably saved my life, because I was trying to decide between that one and a Pinto.

Two things. One, it was black. Which was a real surprise because in the showroom it looked navy blue. Oh, well.

Two. My step-father made me go buy the car myself. ALL by myself. I was, I think, 19. He said: Under no circumstances should you pay for taxes and title. You make the car dealer pay for that. They will try to convince you to pay it, he warned, but don't you do it.
Time came, they try to make me pay for taxes and title.
I refuse. They say--you have to.

This goes on for a while. Armed with the knowledge that my father will yell at me if I cave and pay, I say- listen, forget it then. i'm not paying that. There are plenty of cars out there, and I will go somewhere else.

They finally agree.

I'm happy,  I go home. I trumpet my triumph.
My father looks at me as if I have lost my mind.
I said TAGS and title, he says. TAGS. Of COURSE you have to pay the TAXES!
(Who know what really happened with what I actually paid, right?)
I loved that Chevette. And gas was 39 cents a gallon. I used to buy a dollars worth at a time, all I could afford.

RHYS BOWEN: I remember my first car too.. all too vividly. It was an adorable little Fiat. Bright red. And the car from hell. It was used, of course. It refused to start at awkward moments. It cut out on me in the midst of the mountains and only the fact that I was going downhill and coasted for several miles to a repair shop saved me from being stranded in the middle of nowhere. AND I was living in London. When I found a parking space I was loathe to give it up so I left the car parked for weeks at a time, taking public transport and thus making it clear that the car was not necessary.

In the early days of our marriage I had used cars that died on me in the middle of freeways. But these days my car has to be totally reliable. I drive between SF and Arizona several times a year so I always have a new car in warranty and change it every five years. I now have the super-deluxe model with every safety feature on it, rear cameras, side cameras, crash avoidance etc etc. Love love love it.
So my advice would be to Julia bite the bullet and get something new and reliable.

LUCY BURDETTE: I think Rhys is right on this, Julia. I do not miss the days of driving cars that could quit on you at any moment, on any highway. More than once, I had mufflers and pipes drop out of the bottom of a car and drag along the road. I drove a few of my dad's hand-me-downs, but after I wrecked his Chevy Vega (too tired to see the stop sign, sigh), it was time to buy my own. The winner was a Ford Falcon faux-woody station wagon that I landed for $200. I did not realize that the entire bottom was rusting out, including the gas tank, which began to leak from multiple holes. Once that was all replaced, I drove it back and forth to grad school in Tennessee. You could see the road rushing by under the passenger's feet and it was very cold in winter--brrrr. My next car was my favorite--a step up at $500--a Dodge Dart slant six. The only downside was the black interior--broiling hot in Florida. It was a man magnet:), and I wish now that I'd kept it. Funnily enough, John had the same car in his youth!

HALLIE EPHRON: I agree. JUNK IT! Right this minute. You do too much driving to be driving anything that could leave you stranded.

We buy brand new cars, pay cash (boy does that throw them), maintain them, and drive them into the ground. Our 2001 Honda Civic is going on 200K miles and, knock wood. just keeps going. My first car was gorgeous. I still salivate remembering it. A dark chocolate Chevy Impala convertible with caramel leather seats. Used. And I only drove it for 2 years before moving to NY. Loved that car.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, buy a new car. I'm afraid the Lincoln (I learned to drive in one!) has reached the point of no return. And you do NOT want to be stranded somewhere in a Maine winter.

I love cars. My very first car was a used '65 silver T-bird. (Anybody hearing Marc Cohn here?) Leather seats, power everything. Fabulous. My third car was a Datsun 240Z. It was the love of my life until, many years and many boring sedans later, I had a wild firs- foreign-advancecheck moment and bought a 1997 Honda Prelude. Red. Heaven. I traded it in four years later because by that time we had an 80 lb German shepherd who couldn't fit in the back seat.

I would buy a high performance car again in a minute if I didn't now have the two young BIG shepherds. They can sit in the back sit of my eight-year-old Honda Accord, but not for longer than a run around town. So I've been looking at compact SUVs. I'm astounded at how much the technology has changed since 2008! So far my pick is the Ford Escape. Julia, you should drive one. But I haven't bought it because my Accord only has 56,000 miles on it, and other than some body damage where some creep swiped me in a parking lot, is in perfect condition. So I'm still thinking, and in the meantime will file a claim on the damage to my car!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I have a drivers license, but I/we don't have a car. I've never had a car. Always lived in either New York or Boston and took the subway or T. Now, once in a while, we'll rent a Zip Car (you can rent a car by the hour in cities and there's a garage that has them right across from our building) or get car service. I like the idea of treading lightly on planet earth. And saving money. (But, just for the record, I can drive both automatic and stick shift.)

JULIA: Looks like the consensus is in on my Lincoln! How about you, dear readers? Do you have a car you loved? Loathed? Come over to the comments and pimp your ride!


  1. Cars and I have had a reasonably good relationship: a used Ford and then a used Pontiac managed to get me where I needed to go . . . a Toyota came next, but I wasn't a fan and in some manner I simply can't recall it managed to desert our driveway sometime after it died on the side of a Los Angeles freeway on a Mother's Day when I was trying to get home from Church with three small children in the back seat. And so, Miss Phoebe came into my life. [Well, yes, my cars have always had names; doesn't everyone name their car?]

    I have relatively few requirements for a car, starting with the need for it to be small. [We had an Aerostar for years, but I never, ever drove it because it was too big.]
    At some point in our car-owning adventures, we went car-shopping and when the Saturn dealer discovered the car was going to be mine, he actually talked to me instead of John, even though I am mostly clueless about car things. And so the first Miss Phoebe came into my life. I adoered that car; traded her in for a newer model the year Saturn did a gazillion military discounts and offered a zero-interest purchase plan; then traded her in for the newest model Saturn I figured I was ever going to get and we are still happily rolling along the parkway.

    All it takes is one time of being stranded on the side of the road [long before the days of cell phones to summon someone to rescue me], I'm most definitely in the "Get a new car" camp . . . .

  2. Hated my first car, a 1973 AMC Gremlin X Sport Hatchback Coupe. Brand new. I wanted to like it. I was young and dumb about cars. As soon as the warranty ran out the driver's side window dropped - DROPPED - into the door. I didn't even know that was possible. And then there was the issue of it failing to start at times. Random times. That car taught me some things, though.

    1. Get rid of a car you don't like as soon as you can. Or sooner.

    2. Don't be afraid to ask random strangers to get inside your car and try to start it while you push a button under the hood with a screwdriver. Pretty good for an introvert.

    2. Never buy a car that has an emergency start button under the hood. Never. There's a reason they put it there, and it's not because you might lose your key.

  3. What a fun post, learning about everybody's past cars. The first one I owned was a used VW bug. Sigh. Loved that car. Also had a stint with a ten-year-old Volvo sedan that had an infinitely large trunk and a steering wheel the size of a bus's. I called it my luxury liner, and drove it coast to coast several times until the floorboards rotted out at the same time I was pregnant with son #1. Now I have a 2009 Prius and I LOVE it. I doubt two big dogs would fit in it very comfortably, Debs, and you probably don't want to be driving rutted snowy roads in it, Julia. But it's very light on the environment, and I get to compete with myself to top my last best tank (I got 57.6 mpg on the last one).

  4. Favorite car? My Scion Xb-yep, the little box car. Hauled 2 boys, their friends, 2 dogs, lots of stuff in the back, great mileage, never any major maintenance issues--got me anywhere in any weather (just really SLOWLY on ice and snowdrifts). Would still have it except some dweep went through a light and took out my front end. Even my mechanic was disappointed when the insurance company totaled the car--"I wanted to fix it," he said sadly.

    Julia, buy the new car. Even with a cell phone, sitting on the side of a lonely road is no fun.

  5. first car: Datsun B210 hatchback, which lasted until the body rusted off in big chunks in Cleveland.

    best car: Honda accord 5 speed, which made it to a respectable 270,000 miles. Bonus points: the teenagers couldn't drive a stick for a long time, so we always had a car in the garage.

    My husband commutes in the '97 Honda van, with only 240,000 miles on it. And I drive Tallulah, the RAV4 crossover solution to hauling standard poodles, mulch, and the occasional piece of furniture. Sturdy on the road, doesn't get blown all over the road in high winds (see Datsun above), handles well in the snow. Go for it!

  6. Joan, totally agree on getting stranded--the worst! Funny thing is, I've never named a car, even those I loved.

    Deb, I love your rules!

    Edith, our daughter and son-in-law have leased a Prius and they do the same thing--try to beat the best mileage!

    FChurch, aren't mechanics a funny breed?

    Margaret, I had a Honda 5 speed too--loved that car!

    And JULIA, also look at Subaru Outbacks or Foresters. Tons of room (we drive to FL in ours with all our stuff, a big dog, and a cat), and very, very good on slippery roads.

  7. In an hour or so I plan to drive my 18-year-old Dodge Dakota up to the repair shop to see if they can fix the fan on the air conditioner. I've kept the truck running all these years because trucks are useful, and because it was my late husband's pride and joy, so there's sentimental value. I figure, if it costs less per year to fix than new car payments would cost, it's worth keeping, but I'm about to hit the point where there are no longer parts available to fix it, and a truck without AC in Texas might as well be lawn sculpture. So, yes, I do feel a little like I'm taking a beloved old dog in to the vet for a checkup. Every visit could bring the bad news. And Debs has been taking me along as she test drives all those shiny new SUVs . . . In the meantime, I somehow manage to get back and forth to work in my Ruby Red Mustang GT. Not the least bit practical, and hard to haul stuff in but, man! That is one sweet ride!

  8. My first car was a four-door Chevy Cavalier. Blue. Got it in college when I had to drive to my student-teaching assignment since I was the only one assigned to that school (and there is NO public transportation in Olean/Ellicottville, NY). That car lasted until The Girl was born and we got a Dodge Grand Caravan. Thus started a string of cars that were either white or silver.

    My favorite was the PT Cruiser. You could hold a lot more than you thought in the hatch, fit two car seats (when The Boy came along), it had heated leather seats, a sunroof - all the toys available in 2001. Loved it.

    These days, I drive a white Prius. Love this car, too - especially the 45-50 mpg (depending on season). When it came time to give up the PT Cruiser, I wanted a hatchback that got at least 30mpg. Only the Prius fit the bill. It's only got 60k miles on it (low for a Toyota), so it's likely that when The Girl goes off to college in a couple years, she'll get that one and I'll get a new car. Probably on a low mileage lease since it took my 5.5 years to get to 60k. The hubby drives a 2014 Toyota RAV4 with all the trimmings, so we usually take that on long trips.

    I've been looking at the Ford Escape, the Buick Encore (the smaller SUV), and the Cooper MINI Countryman. I want comfort, but also decent gas mileage. One thing is for sure - my next car will NOT be white!

  9. Get a new car. You have used this one, upside and down, it has served you well, it has done its work as a car, and now it it not giving you joy. It has lived its life span, and maybe you could set it free. YOu will be so happy!

  10. Cars.

    Oh, how I loved cars back in the day.

    Growing up when I did in a small town and graduating from high school in 1966 meant the guys you knew were nuts about cars. Friday nights in Cambridge meant the guys were huddled around somebody's car at the Esso Station on Sunburst Highway doing something to snazz up said car. We gals drove up and down Sunburst Hwy., up and down, around the median, pretending not to notice the guys huddled around the car at the Esso Station. And we knew who everyone was that we passed on the streets without even seeing their faces, 'cause we knew what everyone drove. (Unlike today when all cars look alike).

    My first car was a red Buick Special (used). Red leather bucket seats. 4 in the floor. Loved it to the moon and back! I paid for it myself. $800 cash (well, I was short $50 and my dad made me a loan). Money from cashing in savings bonds I had bought with savings stamps (anyone remember those?) while in school. You bought the stamps, pasted them into a book, and when the book was full you traded it in for a US Savings Bond. I loved that car.

    The other car I adored was an MGB I drove while living in Atlanta. There's a long, sad story about that car, a former husband and . . . well, another story for another day.

  11. My first car, bought with the settlement when Mom divorced #3 my senior year in high school, was a '68 Camaro (used - I'm not quite that old!). LOVED that car. Traded it after barely 3 years because of a mechanical issue I didn't understand which I found out later was a relatively inexpensive fix (sob!). Ended up with a Gremlin...remember those?

    Our first car as a married couple was a Pinto (although no one died, Hank!). Hubby wrecked it twice, so it didn't stay around too long.

    Lots of cars over the years, my favorite being the 1993 Saturn which saved us all when a Jeep Cherokee turned in front of us at highway speeds.

    And this post reminds me I need to get our 2007 Ford Ranger pickup in for service. We plan to drive it into the ground, so care and feeding is priority!

    Buy the car, Julia.

  12. My first car was a 1950 Willys Jeepster. White convertible with snap in windows! There was a tiny heater, maybe a foot long on each side, in the foot well on the passage side. This was way before syncromesh (No idea how that is spelled and spellcheck is at a loss) so it required a special technique to downshift without dropping the transmission!

    I just traded in my 2004 Toyota Prius, black, 85,000 miles for a 2014 Prius, red, 12,000 miles. I like a newish, low mileage used car. It annoys me me drive off the lot and have the value of the car plummet.

  13. 3. Never buy a car that has an emergency start button under the hood. Never. There's a reason they put it there, and it's not because you might lose your key.

    Deb Griffey, I love this! Reminds me of an ancient Renault left in my charge by the man in my life in 1983. I swear you practically had to sacrifice a chicken to get it started; when driving it had precipitous needs for water and oil. It died on the I-91 while I was on my way to visit my best friend at Smith. We had it towed to Mount Holyoke and abandoned it there. Sorry, Mohos.

    This morning when I drove the Smithie into work, my Lincoln started making loud grinding noises. It may, in fact, be time. I'm thinking I could probably get a GREAT deal on a Volkswagon these days...:-)

  14. You posted a photo of my dream car, the '59 Chevy with the cat's eye tail lights, and it's GREEN, my favorite color! I used to draw those tail fins in idle moments in my high school classes. I wanted that car (but a rag top!).

    What I got (at the end of my senior year) was my grandmother's old cream colored '53 Mercury sedan, which she gave me as an incentive to take the driver's test again after I flunked it for distraction (I had been wearing a bracelet that got caught in the horn attachment to the steering wheel; I haven't worn a bracelet since.) I LOVED that Mercury. My five best friends and I spent the summer after HS graduation cruising around in it (after work and on weekends). I left it behind when I went away to college, and my mother was driving it that winter when the engine fell out of it, or so I was told (my mother wasn't the greatest driver).

    I once owned a Honda CVCC wagon that would rust before your very eyes. Couldn't wait to get rid of it. Or the Ford that broke a "trunion." What's a trunion? I still don't know, but the car went down on one knee-- a front wheel turned under, luckily while it was parked!

    I tend to drive my cars a loooooong time if they last. My beloved candy-apple red '67 Beetle lasted 11 years and then threw a rod. The current car is (I'm not kidding) a '94 Colt Vista wagon (which was also the Mitsubishi Excel wagon and the Jeep Eagle Summit wagon-- it had a lot of names). I would have bought it in '93, but I was waiting for ABS brakes and an airbag, which the '94 had. I love it dearly, and don't want to give it up. It is MECHANICAL, not computerized. It has automatic transmission (first car since the Mercury that wasn't a stick) and a/c but ROLL-DOWN WINDOW (I'm paranoid about not being able to get out of a car in the event of a crash shutting down the motor). It is held together with duct tape and a prayer, and luckily, a car this old is grandfathered out of emissions tests in my state.

  15. Julia, dear. I highly recommend to you the Honda CRV. We just bought our fourth one, which does not yet have a name. The prior three were Greenie, Goldie and Blue, but this one is dark gray, so we may need to come up with something more creative for her.

    The CRV will go everywhere you need to go, as sure-footed as a big cat in the ice and snow. Diane drives all over the State of Maine in all seasons with great confidence in its AWD and mechanical soundness.

    Having purchased a new one two weeks ago, I can tell you there are deals available on the 2015 models . . . Email me if you want deets.


  16. I have so many car stories! My first car, in college, was a blue VW Superbeetle - stick shift with no clutch - I had to just lift my foot off the gas to shift! That got me through my last year of college, marriage, and first baby, until we got rear-ended. The car was not totaled, but never ran the same after. My favorite car was the International Scout that my brother-in-law gave us, on which the gas guage didn't work - we had to write down how much gas we put in each time, and watch the milage! But it was great for hauling 4 kids, camping gear, and all the stuff that kids need with them.
    Then there was the 1992 Oldamobile 88 that my father-in-law sold my youngest daughter in 2001. She drove it for 4 years, sold it to our mechanic as a loaner, then he sold it to someone who taught his kid to drive in it. It finally died, with 285,000 miles on it when the mechanic went to put it on the lift and the lift went up but not the car!

  17. What great stories! Deb Griffey, still laughing! I never had a truly terrible car, but when my daughter was small I had a couple of successive used diesel Mercedes, courtesy of my sweet dad. Oh, my, but I HATED those cars. You had to get out and push to get enough acceleration to get on the freeway. But at least if someone plowed into you, you were likely to survive--they were tanks!

    Brenda, I've been driving Hondas for twenty years, so won't buy a compact SUV without driving the new CRV. Just haven't got around to it yet.

    And Julia, grinding noise is NOT good. Brenda's right, there are really good deals on 2015s out there. And Ford, at least here, is offering 0% interest on some 2016s.

    I think I fall in the new car camp. I drive them long enough that the depreciation evens out, and I like having a car that I know has been taken care of from day one--and if I'm going to drive a car from 5 to 10 years, I want to get exactly what I want.

    Gigi, I hate thought of you having to put the purple truck down! It's truly a classic.

  18. P.S. Lucy, if you get the ice cream maker, that will be one more thing to haul back and forth to Florida in your Subaru:-)

  19. Ah, cars. Julia, I have to say I come down on the side of ditch the Lincoln! I lived in Wallagrass for a number of years (and can't wait to end this Florida sojourn and go back), so I know what you mean about Maine roads. Try Route 11 in the winter, and worse in the early spring before all those frost heaves give it up for the summer. Drove a Subaru up there, all wheel drive, Boxter engine, yummy! The all wheel drive and the well distributed center of gravity means you can literally go anywhere. Well, almost, gotta be careful at the end of the driveway in the winter if you've been gone for a week and the snow plow has created Mount Dirty Drift between your drive and the road. I once pitched a fit so big the plowman came and cleared the drift!

    My first car was a used Corvair - yes, that's right, the Ralph Nader death machine. It was originally a three speed stick, the prior owner put in four on the floor and he painted the entire car with black rustoleum. A true fashion statement. But it also had a soft top and a roll bar. All that for $100! it was the 1970s so I bought cans of spray paint and we had a paint it psychedelic party. I wish the photos survived. Ken Kesey would have been jealous.

  20. Julia, you wouldn't remember, but the first car you rode in ( home from the hospital) was a 1958 red Ford convertible.
    I would like to explain why you were asked for part of our increase in insurance. Perhaps you have forgotten careening crossways thru' a parking lot with me as a passenger while you had your permit. Right into another car. And the following court appearance when you charmed the judge because you has SUCH a bad cold. Life with you was never dull...!

  21. My favorite car ever was the Saab convertible I got as a "midlife crisis" car when I was turning 40. That thing was so much fun to drive -- it was downright therapeutic. Sometimes at the end of a tough work day I'd just go driving to release stress. But alas, my son eventually got tall enough that the back seat was really uncomfortable, and I went back to more conventional cars after that.

    I very recently got rid of a boring but wonderfully reliable Honda Accord that gave me great service for 8 years and almost 209K miles. I considered some more exciting options, but ended up replacing it with a brand new Honda Civic. (Accords have grown so large over the intervening years replacing with the same was more care than I wanted.) Though not glamorous, my Civic is averaging about 35 miles to the gallon every tank, and I am currently at a phase in my life where that gives me great satisfaction.

  22. Lois: I love the backstory to your insistence Julia pay the increase in insurance --- classic!

    Julia: Agree with everyone else: buy the new car; you won't regret it.

    I had a 1985 Toyota van, while not sexy in the least, did just about everything except make dinner. It hauled, camped, erranded (that's not a word, I know), moved and got folks to the ER, all while turning on a dime. Sold it when my son turned 14 and purposely bought a two-seater Tercel so I wouldn't have to be the chauffeur for his friends throughout high school. Unfortunately, it was a lemon and I then switched to a Honda Civic. My current car: 2005 Prius, again, not sexy, but does the trick.


  23. My favorite car ever was the Saab convertible I got as a "midlife crisis" car when I was turning 40. That thing was so much fun to drive -- it was downright therapeutic. Sometimes at the end of a tough work day I'd just go driving to release stress. But alas, my son eventually got tall enough that the back seat was really uncomfortable, and I went back to more conventional cars after that.

    I very recently got rid of a boring but wonderfully reliable Honda Accord that gave me great service for 8 years and almost 209K miles. I considered some more exciting options, but ended up replacing it with a brand new Honda Civic. (Accords have grown so large over the intervening years replacing with the same was more car than I wanted.) Though not glamorous, my Civic is averaging about 35 miles to the gallon every tank, and I am currently at a phase in my life where that gives me great satisfaction.

  24. What Hallie said. I've bought my last two cars new for cash. When you look at interest earned on a CD vs. interest paid on a car loan, it's no contest, but even if you borrow, new is best. I've had my PT Cruiser for 14 years. Just drove central Maine to south central New York State and back with nary a problem. The trunk and back seats configure to make room for all sorts of loads. I took ten boxes of books this trip, plus suitcases, a cooler for drinks and a big bag of nibblies. Still had the passenger seat and space behind the front seats free for more. Heck, I could have taken one of the cats along for company and had room for a litter box and all the other feline necessities. (In case that sounds odd, part of the reason for the trip was research for a new proposal in which my character will be traveling with her cat).

  25. I love these car stories! My first official car was purchased for me used by my dad to commute to college in New Orleans. I had been living in Austin and going to U of Texas but at my parents' request I transferred. Family health crisis with a younger sister. Anyway we lived in Metairie and I was going to school in the Garden District. Dad got a deal on this godawful car that had been parked by a lumber yard when a hurricane blew through and was dented everywhere on one side by flying boards. I can't even remember what is was. Maybe a very pedestrian 4 door Chevy sedan; totally soulless. I bitched about the difficulty of parking that car for a month. The college had no student parking so you found your own spot on the neighborhood streets and walked to campus. Anyway he took the hint and we found a used 67 Ford Mustang. It did not have the big engine unfortunately, but my god what an improvement. I loved that car. When we married my husband and I shared that car.
    It was Diamond Ice (pale green) with a black vinyl top and black vinyl insides that would burn your skin off if you were dumb enough to wear shorts to drive it. The a/c was a bit iffy. Unfortunately I was talked into selling it by my inlaws. So what if you had to practically stand on the brakes to get the car to stop? Anyway we've been through a lot of cars since. My husband is a new car addict unfortunately. I am driving a 2003 Jeep Liberty I love. I plan to drive it into the ground. It is just the right size for maneuvering in traffic, easy to park, and with 4WD give me the illusion I can go anywhere. Actually 4WD was useful in Minnesota but I don't have too much need of it in Houston. But it would be useful at the beach. . .

  26. My first car was a used Ford LTD, bought for me in 1970 by my father. I can't remember what year the car was, but I do remember being thrilled at being able to drive to high school and having a car radio that I could control. My father's quickness to buy me a car after I got my license was generous, but it was also based in his not having to drive me to my many activities anymore. My mother didn't drive, and so it fell to my father to chauffeur me and my three older siblings around until we got our licenses. He couldn't get to the car dealer's fast enough. And, although I loved my LTD with its roominess and great radio, when I left for college, my father decided that I needed something else, so I got my first new car, a Dodge Swinger. It was a cute little car that served me well throughout college and into the early years of marriage. The first car that my husband and I bought together was a Cavalier. I had told him that I didn't want a red or a yellow car. Guess what we ended up buying? A red car with a yellow stripe. It really wasn't a matter of him not listening to me. It's just the car we both ended up liking.

    I currently am driving a 2008 Chevy Impala. We bought it used, but with low mileage. It's hard to find a used car with low mileage these day, as most people seem to be hanging onto cars longer. My Impala is my first car with leather, heated seats, and I'm afraid I'm hooked on them. I just love leather seats. My husband is wanting me to get a new (well, maybe new used) car, but I'm just not ready to deal with looking yet. Debs, I second the Honda CRV suggestion. It's one that I seem to keep coming back to in considering a purchase. One of my best friends bought a new CRV last year to replace her older one, and she swears by them. The Ford Escape has also caught my attention. Please let us know what you decide.

  27. Cost/benefit analysis definitely points to bidding farewell to that car and getting something reliable.
    I learned on a VW bug, and drove it on insurance appointments in a Minnesota winter . . . with the inadequate heater, I sometimes was scraping ice off the inside of the windshield as I drove. Next was an ill-advised Ford Pinto . . . of the stories!
    I finally left it with a mechanic in South Carolina, took a bus home to Missouri and bought the first of three Toyotas, loved the Corolla, tolerated the Tercel, and adore the Prius. I bought it for the eco-friendly hybrid engine, but then discovered so many amenities. I think you'll also be pleased with the comforts and assists, and I'm hoping the Prius lasts long enough so that my next will have the ability to drive itself . . . that would be perfect. Enjoy whatever you get. ;-)

  28. I agree with the general vote - get a new, reliable car. I must have intentionally buried the memories of all the fun cars we've had but this brought them back! Hubby and I have been married practically since childhood so we experienced it all together. And in the early years couldn't afford to do anything but keep putting band aids on them. First the one with the leaky radiator that some friend of my husband's (then boyfriend's father) said could be fixed with horse manure. Teenage boys can be so gullible. We had the Chevys with the big fins - one with no reverse, one with no defrost or heat. Once the muffler fell off on railroad tracks - can't believe I actually walked back and picked it up. There was the one with the battery that wouldn't hold a charge so I went out to start it every 1/2 hour, the sporty GTO where the linkage kept slipping off, one time I couldn't downshift from 3rd gear, interesting going throughout the toll booth and throwing coins in the basket, once I had to fix it outside the hospital where my husband had just had an appendectomy. Good thing I was young or I would have thought all that was too hard.

    So now that I am not so young, the first time it gets unreliable I say go get me a new one. My trusty Suburban is 16 years old w/250+K miles, had all the bells & whistles when we got it but is wearing out and not good for a long trip anymore. Long story about past history and why I don't feel safe in a little car. So since now it's not 5 grandkids but 5 great-grandkids and counting, and some of the new bells and whistles are really cool, like the step that slides out when you open the door, it's so comfy for the post-surgeries backs and hips, and monitors everything, I stuck with the SUV only now it's a Yukon Denali. I love it.

    Give your Lincoln a new home and enjoy a new, safe, reliable car.

  29. Coming late to the discussion ... A different vehicle, not necessarily new. Think about an all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna van. AWD will take you anywhere and a van will hold LOTS of stuff.

  30. My first car was a Chevy Corvair--the kind with push buttons. I bought it for $40, so you know it was old! It had a different kind of tire on each wheel, and the spare didn't fit when I got a flat at Fairfax and Beverly. One day on my way to class, it started to rain. All the windows fogged up, and the windshield wipers didn't work. I had to drive with my head out the window, but I wasn't scared. No, not me! I was 18! Then I met Prince Charming who came with an endless string of reliable Volvos. The most recent one is 15 years old. The prince holds it together with duct tape and chewing gum. It's not quite as reliable as the first few. But, of course, neither are we--Prince Charming and me.

  31. For Brenda Buchanan: I used to have a charcoal grey Dodge Omni which I called Vyard. It sounded all dashing and exotic, but put it together. Grey Vyard. Great car, though.

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  33. My first car was a 1969 Chevy Impala Custom coupe with a 350 engine and a 4-barrel carburetor. I didn't know what that meant until the first time my right foot touched the accelerator. It was a Total.Guy.Magnet. After a couple of years, I felt the urge to buy something brand new. So I went from a heavy steel behemoth to a decidedly lightweight Chevette. Big adjustment, but it was cute and well suited to commuting to work and college at night. And then I fell in love. It was a cream Fiat Spyder convertible with matching leather interior. It positively exhaled pheromones. Flat out sexy. I wanted to go topless, what can I say? Sadly, I learned very soon into the relationship that Fiat stands for Fix It Again, Tony. The driver's side window went down ... and wouldn't go back up. All of a sudden, the sex factor was out the window ... literally, since I had to duct tape a Glad garbage bag to the door to keep the rain out until I could get it into the shop. Next, the engine quit -- just quit, ladies! -- while I was driving 55 (okay, 70) on I-295 in NEW JERSEY. Not to worry, the heart attack from that little event had no lasting effect (if you don't count the nervous tic that appears when I hit the Garden State Parkway on my way south to visit family), and I was back on the road after a few days and the surrender of my savings account. We haven't even talked about the electrical system issues, but all this reminiscing has Mr. Cuervo calling my name so, alas, I must go. Fair warning: I'll be driving to Crime Bake. I'll be in the very-practical-for-Maine and highly recommended blue Subaru Outback, Julia. See you there!

  34. I'm with Hallie as well. Buy the best car you can with cash and drive it until you can't drive it anymore. Out in CA, it is possible to get nice used cars that are 2-3 years old that were on lease. I'm not sure I would do that in Maine, though. I lived in Montreal and winters can be, um, hard on cars. Take a look at the Subaru's. I love them in the snow.

  35. John! Look at this blog pal. You were talking about unfair car insurance policies yesterday. Guess, I found a solution to your problem. John