Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Deciding on an Automobile

We just paid off my wife's car!  This is the first time since we've been married that we have not had at least one car payment.  The feeling is liberating.  This seems like an appropriate time to bang out a blog regarding how I decide on an automobile.  My friend Sally (not That Girl) offered this suggestion a month or so ago in terms of "How to decide when you're ready to go from a normal car to a Mom/Dad-mobile and how to accept it."  Thanks for the suggestion Sally!

I should offer my disclaimer again today....... this is what works best for me and my family.  You might think I'm crazy and something else might work best for you.  Nothing personal, just my .02.  At the end of the day it's your money!  Spend it like you want!  Several questions come to mind when I think of this great American pastime of purchasing an automobile:

1. What do I need? - My needs for a car now are much different now than they were 8 years ago.  My perspective on life is of course a lot different too!  Now I have a family and two car seats take up a considerable amount of space.  I want decent fuel mileage, but I still want to pull a trailer occasionally.  Mamma Bear has no need to do anything, but get good gas mileage and transport the kiddos part of the time.  It's easy to get caught up in trends and what's considered cool.  Been there, done that.  That costs too much money.  Can't let myself fall into that trap again.  Brand loyalty used to be important to me.  Not so much any more.  I'm a Chevrolet man.  I drive a Jeep Cherokee.  Wife drives a Toyota Camry.  Favorite NASCAR driver started in a Ford and now drives a Dodge.  I'm diverse if nothing else.

2. Can I afford it?  Ouch.  Sometimes this means financing, sometimes not.  I've financed 4 automobiles.  Hope to never do it again, but sometimes that is the only option for folks.  It certainly was for us when we were younger.  I think that I've purchased my last new car.  Never say never, but my plan is to buy used from here on out.  If we can be disciplined enough to save what we have been paying then that should not be an issue.  So what about leasing?  If someone drives few miles and will only keep a car two years it might be a good proposition.  For us....not so much.  We put a ton of miles on cars and I do pretty much all of the service and maintenance.  Bottom line....don't bury yourself financially for a mode of transportation.  The long term determent just isn't worth the short term gratification.

3. Will the cost of maintenance and care be reasonable?  One of the main reasons we bought the Camry is because the oil filter, drain plug and air filter were easily accessible.  I recently found that doing a brake job was pretty easy too.  I do pretty much all of the maintenance on the car and so far it's been manageable.  There are no obscure parts that aren't available.  Same thing on my Jeep.  If you need brakes, a pcv valve or an O2 sensor, you can get it this afternoon.  No waiting on some parts for that better-German-engineering to be shipped.  The life of a car is maintenance.  Gotta do it if you want it to last.  It's an expense, but it shouldn't be a money pit.

4. Can I accomplish the above with a car that I actually like?  In late 2004 We bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee.  When our first son came along it seemed like we had made the perfect decision!  You have to have an SUV if you have kids right?  STOP IT!  I remember well riding in such classics as a Ford Grenada, Dodge Omni and even a Chevrolet Celebrity as a family when I was a kid.  We even took a vacation with me and my sister under a camper top in the back of an S10 truck (that was fun by the way)  Why didn't all families have K-5 Blazers and Ford Broncos back then?  Because we didn't need them, that's why.  Sure, there was the station wagon, but were there as many of those on the road as there are SUV's now?  At about 6 months old my wife decided that my son was too heavy to lift into the back of that Cherokee.  We went shopping and bought a Toyota Camry.  So far in our young lives, it has been the best car we've ever purchased as far as the balance of utility, price and practicality.  Mamma, Daddy, two kids and luggage fit tight, but they fit.

So I put the ball back in Sally's court (tennis reference for you there darling)...... what is a Mom/Dad-mobile?  Is it a minivan?  Is is a Ford Excursion or Chevrolet Suburban?  I don't think it has to be either.  A sporty 4-door sedan with a spacious trunk can serve you well.  (A two-door served 4 of us when I was a kid!)  The smart money is on taking what you have and making it work.  My advice....don't spend a lot because the leather is just going to end up with juice, Cheezit crumbs and vomit all over it anyway.  Save your money and buy something cool when the little one leaves the house.  Think of it as a reward ;)

Y'all take it easy,


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