Back in June, I was getting the car's air filter and oil changed (ninety bucks or thereabouts), and asked for a quote on replacing one of the two bulbs behind the analog clock on top of the center stack. The estimate was just over $100, and it would be over $400 if they were going to replace the storage bin on top of it, which had a couple of cracks in its only-looks-cheap plastic surround. If I'd quit reading there, I'd have been happier, but their complete bill of particulars how much I'd have to fork out for them to fix everything they found out-of-spec with the car ran well to the wrong side of $2000.

Now for some people, the possibility of $2000 in repairs is enough to start them thinking about unloading that goddamn money pit and getting some fresh wheels. I will tell you up front that I simply cannot comprehend this thought process, even though probably half of us couldn't come up with two grand at one time for any dire emergency. I mean, what are you going to find that's cheaper? The average $2000 motor vehicle today is a lightly-used scooter, or somebody else's money pit being offered for 24 biweekly payments of $199 under a sign that says "We Tote The Note," which translates to "No one else is going to write you a loan, so you're stuck with us." (Those attracted to this deal will not notice that 24 x $199 = $4,776.) Judging by the ones I see stranded by the side of the road, these latter cars probably need, oh, about $2000 worth of repairs: as the phrase goes, nobody ever traded in a car because it was running too well.

Besides, I am persuaded that car payments are something to be avoided whenever possible. In 2000, I signed a contract with a five-year repayment plan: I cleared out those 60 payments in 53 months. Similarly, my 2006 loan for 48 months, I paid off in 41. This saved me a few dollars in interest, but the bigger advantage was gaining that much more (read "some") budget flexibility. Moreover, had it not been for the Fatal Crash of Ought-Six, the one that killed both my car and the doe who mistakenly thought she could beat it across Highway 3, I'd probably still have that car I bought in '00; it would right about now be coming up for its 120k-mile service, and there'd be $30,000 or so I wouldn't have had to spend at all in the interim.

For similar reasons, I am unimpressed by the fatuous claims made on behalf of Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Let's just assume that they're not actually lying to my face, and that I will be able to obtain a vehicle meeting my particular needs that uses, oh, half the fuel I do now. And let's further assume that the price of gas is going to double, from the $3.899 a gallon I paid yesterday for Shell V-Power, to somewhere around $8. The combination of these two factors means my fuel bill will remain where it is today: approximately $110 a month. However, now I'm paying $500 a month for this new car. I fail to see how this improves my financial profile in any way, shape, size or form.

Now I'm perfectly willing to admit that there are factors in automotive buying other than cold calculation. Were there not, there would be no market for hybrids: for the $22,000 the meanest little Prius C will cost you, you can buy, even at $120 a tankful, a hell of a lot of gasoline. Sticking it to BP or Exxon or whichever is as legitimate a motivation as the desire to compete for pink slips out in the Mojave. (I have no compelling reason to want to do either, but nobody cares about my motivations.)

Still, there has to be some point at which I'd see the need to get rid of my current ride, and I suspect that it will be exactly the same point at which I got rid of my last one: the insurance guys declare it totaled, and write me a check for some sum approximating its current highly depreciated value. (Before you ask: last time out, after allowing for my $500 deductible, said sum was within $170 of Kelley Blue Book for cars in Gently Used condition. I do not expect to be lowballed.) Until then, I'll continue to beaver away at the fixable issues, which are now down to cosmetic matters. I think. At 140,000 miles, one should probably assume that anything is breakable.

The Vent

  9 September 2012

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 Copyright © 2012 by Charles G. Hill