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Life after Car Payments: Why we have yet to buy a car from this millenium

I had a bad dream last night: I dreamed that we had actually bought a car from this millennium.

Normally on Thursdays, I delve into an obscure mental math trick. But, the effect of realizing how important the fact actually is to my subconscious has motivated me to explain how it is that Kristi and I haven't had a car payment since roughly 2004.

When Kristi and I were first married in 2003, I had a Blue 1999 CR-V. I really liked the car, and the payment was only $296/month. While it was always a little embarrassing to have people get into an apparent SUV and then find out that it was only a 2.2-L four-cylinder engine that could hardly make it up Cottonwood Canyon, there were few other problems.

And it was a stick. I love driving sticks, much to the chagrin of me when I'm trying to sell the car. Apparently, there are only a few people left that prefer a stick to the degree that they will buy a stick car knowing that there are only a few others that they could sell it to once they are done with it.

Kristi had a 1998 Blue Toyota Corrolla. Her payment was only $114. Being the hopeless romantic for shoestring living that I am, I wanted her to sell the car, and we would just have one car. I soon realized that I had married a two-car girl. :)

Anyway, you can do the math and see that our monthly car obligation was a little more than $400/month. This didn't seem unreasonable to us until we noticed our savings steadily dipping by $100/month for the first 4 months of our marriage. We reasoned it out, and I decided to put my CR-V up for sale. It took a while (the whole stick-shift thing), but we sold it for more than we owed.

Now, we were in the market for a second car. I told Kristi that we had $4000 to spend and that we needed to keep it to that. Kristi smiled and said, "okay." Later, I found out that she thought I was off my rocker to think that we could find a car for that cheap that wasn't a beater.

Enter our first mini-van.

It's kind of a rite of passage, at least here in Utah, to buy your first mini-van. Utahns buy mini-vans like they have children, early and often, and we were no different. With our plans to have a big family (Kristi was pregnant with Remi at the time), we knew that another mini-SUV wasn't going to cut the mustard for more than a few years.

To make a long story short, Kristi was out car shopping one day with her mom and aunt at Silka Auto when she called me at work. "Josh, we found a 1999 Dodge Caravan for $3700. Can I buy it?" "Is it in good condition?" "Yes, excellent." "Great, let's do it."

(There is a certain amount of exhilaration in having your counterpart make a big purchase without you around to inspect it yourself. I trusted Kristi, though, and it turned out to be a great buy.)

Kristi went into the Sales Office and started working on the paper work. Now, one hour earlier, another individual had come in to test drive the van. We'll call him Mac. After Mac had finished driving the car, he expressed his interest in buying it, but wasn't sure just yet. Vladimir (from Silka Auto) asked if he wanted to put down a deposit to hold the car, and Mac said, "no."

Not 30 seconds after Kristi told Vlad that she would be buying the car, Mac called back and said that he wanted the car. Vlad had to tell him, "Sorry, Mac, it's been sold." Woah.

We found out later on that the van had been mis-listed. It was supposed to be listed at $4700. Vlad was a very honorable guy, though, and kept to the price that was on the car: $3700. We had stayed within our $4000 budget. We paid in cash and have never looked back.

The Caravan is still an excellent car for us six-and-a-half years later.

Fast-forward to June 2010. We still have both cars. The Corolla was paid off in 2004 and so we have enjoyed the blessing of zero car payments for six years. In fact, the van, now with 180,000 miles, only cost us a sizeable chunk of money when we had the misfortune of running into a Firestone crook who squeezed us for $1500 before we realized his dishonesty back in 2009.

In June, the page began to turn and we would change out both cars--one of them twice--before it was finished. Kristi called me at work and told me that she had just be rear-ended on the freeway. After finding out if she was okay, I asked about the Corolla, which is what she was driving at the time. It would be totaled. We knew that it was 12 years old now, and we didn't expect a lot of money from the insurance company, but they gave us $2500.

We set our goal this time at $4500. We wanted to get a bi-fuel car. It sounded like a tough bill again.

Those of you more knowledgeable about cars already know that the one car that fit our description was a Chevy Cavalier. One day, while on KSL Classifieds, we saw a red 1999 Chevy Cavalier listed for $4500. The kicker was that it only had 35,000 miles. It was in *pristine* condition. We set up a test drive and told him "yes" almost on the spot.

It was a lovely car. It had almost everything that I could ask for. It was bi-fuel, it had manual locks and windows (love it), and no CD player. The only thing that could make it better was if it were a stick. And it was within our budget.

It's life was to be cut short, though, by the fascinating coincidence of it also being rear-ended. This time on 5300 South by the new IHC hospital. I was stopped at a light when a driver failed to brake for the light and clobbered the Cavalier at 45 mph. I swung forward and hit the steering wheel, then bounced back and broke the seat as it reclined until it hit the seat of the back bench. There was a motorcycle in front of me, and the impact from the rear-ending had sent me into the motorcycle. One of the two cyclists flew at my car, hit the hood and slid up my windshield. The motorcycle was sent into the car in front of it, causing only a small bit of damage to the passenger-side fender and trunk. A four-car pile up.

My doors would not open. I had to shove the driver's side door to get out. My neck hurt, which was exacerbated by an accident I was in ten years earlier on my mission (a story for another day). My poor nearly-perfect car was gone.

Miraculously, the two boys in the motorcycle were fine. The thought would not escape me what would have happened had my car not stood in between the van that hit us at 45 mph and the motorcycle. The weren't wearing helmets or any other protection. They would have been either seriously injured or dead. They were both going on missions shortly, and I invited them to increase their focus on it now that the Lord had given them an obvious second chance.

Anyway, after only 10 weeks, we were in the market again. (Sigh) The insurance company gave us $4100 (apparently being a bi-fuel doesn't increase the replacement value in the eyes of insurance companies), and we decided that we should focus on replacing the van instead of getting me another commuter car. It was fall, and I was riding my bike to work each day, so I didn't really need one.

We set a very unrealistic goal of $5000. Because of the (silly) booster seat law that requires us to have our kids in a booster seat until they are eight, we currently had all four of our kids in a car or booster seat with one child on the way. Five car and booster seats were not going to fit very easily in a van, so we started looking at Yukons, Suburbans, and the like.

We were initially disappointed. After three weeks of looking everywhere, anything under $5000 was in poor condition. I temporarily and begrudgingly started looking at SUVs in the $10000 range.

Then, one morning, we found a 1998 Ford Expedition listed for $4800. It looked to be in great condition, and we set up an appointment. After the phone call, I stopped following up on other ads because I knew that we were going to purchase that car.

The appointment day arrived, I drove the car, Kristi drove the car, and we loved it. We asked him if he would do $4500, and he said "yes". We had just bought a very nice Ford Expedition 8-seater for the same price of the Chevy Cavalier. I was floored.

The page still isn't fully turned, though. About a week before getting the Expedition, the van was hit (what???) and so we are down to one car again. Though the other driver was cited by the officer, we'll call her Macey, Macey's State Farm rep decided to file a claim against our insurance in order to make our insurance split the bill. Since we have liability, that strategy doesn't work, but State Farm decided to proceed, rather unethically, in my opinion. The case has now been sent to arbitration between the two insurance companies. Until we find out the final fate of the van, we won't be getting a second car.

(By the way, it is very unnerving that after having a clean driving record since 1997, we have had three accidents--two totals and one undecided--in the space of three months.)

In the meantime, a wonderful ward member loaned us a car that they haven't been using. It's a 1995 Ford Contour with 108000 miles on it. It has manual doors and windows, no CD player, and it's a stick!


SeƱor Jr. said…
Stick shift till I die! It's not just the slightly-better gas mileage. It's the less-trouble-prone tranny and, more importantly, the feeling of control.

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