Saturday, January 02, 2010

[Cars] Automachinations

Automachinations: It's getting close to my traditional car buying year. The first new car I ever bought was a bright red stripper 1984 Toyota Celica (no a/c, power nothing, manual trans) -- an awesome little scootmobile in comparison to the hand-me-down domestics I had been driving up until then. It locked me in as a Toyota loyalist for a quarter century. Historic note: I was not allowed to drive it to a UAW presentation given at Solidarity House for a business school class outing back around '88, as they believed drivers of foreign cars were moral criminals. They got the pusillanimous pleasure of causing me inconvenience and in return never even considered buying a union built car for over 25 years. I guess they showed me.

After nine Michigan winters and countless road trips to Florida and DC, I gave it up and bought a new '93 Camry. It was a car more fitting my 30-something lifestyle. It had a/c and power and even a CD player, but the amazing revelation I got from it was the quiet. It was absolutely dead silent. A gas-powered tomb. I would go on long Saturday afternoon drives to little out of the way Michigan towns just to enjoy the existential peace of the smooth, easy ride.

Next time, again nine years later, I was a home-owner and had a little discretionary income and so decided to upgrade to a new Camry, an '02, purchased over the web. It has been a good car, perhaps a few more squeaks and rattles than the previous, but reliability has been literally perfect. Yet unlike the previous two, it hasn't been a revelation. Other than the creature comforts I could afford, it does nothing better than the previous Camry as far as I can tell. No shame in that for Toyota -- I mean, how much more seamless can the act of driving be.

So with my unplanned, but now traditional, nine year cycle coming up, I am informally in the market, but not absolutely locked into buying Toyota again. One option is Hyundai, what with them being the new Toyota and all. Both my Mom and my little brother have Hyundais and like them a lot. The other option is Ford. I know all the domestic makers have gotten government aid in one way or another, but at least Ford didn't participate in that hideous bailout. The new Taurus is getting good reviews and will likely be cheaper that the comparative 'yota, and the scuttlebutt is that Ford quality is now comparable to Toyota and Honda.

If I was really keyed in on the best deal I would likely be looking at a Saturn or Pontiac right now since GM is offering huge incentives to clear the lots of these now obsolete brands. But since I have a policy of paying outright for the car then keeping it for nearly a decade, saving a few bucks up front is not my primary concern. For now the Camry is still running fine, and I am putting miles on it at a much slower pace than previously. I guess I don't feel any hurry to keep to my nine-year plan, but I will likely be getting more familiar with the market and that means you'll be hearing about it.

By the way, if I had a single piece of advice to give to a young person starting out in life it would be: Do Not Have a Car Payment. I have seen people graduate from college and the first thing they do when they finally get a job is lock themselves into a five-year car loan for 20% of their take home pay. Avoid this any way you can. Buy used. If you must get a loan, buy a car you can drive for ten years but have it paid off after two. Remember, you might be dropping $1500 a year on insurance anyway (and maybe parking, too). Not having a car payment is a huge source of peace of mind and lifestyle flexibility when you are just starting out.

Oh, and one other thing: Get Off My Lawn! Damn Kids.