Car Crisis

We are not car people. If I have a choice of spending $30,000 on a car or on five cool vacations, I’m going to pick the vacations every time. That’s why our cars suck.

We have a 2008 Subaru Outback with 135K miles that we bought used about ten years ago. The was the first and only car that we ever purchased. Our other car that Steve drives a mile to the train station every morning is a 20-year old Toyota Camry with $155K miles. It’s a hand-me-down from my parents. There are rust holes in the trunk and deep gouges in the hood of the car from when the basketball hoop feel on the car about ten years ago.

Both cars have been towed to the car mechanic in the past two months. The Camry was towed away yesterday, after the brakes started failing when he and Ian were on the highway.  Jen the neighbor carried her one-year old son outside to watch the car getting hoisted up by the tow truck.

Jimmy the Mechanic said that it will cost $500 to fix the breaks. Is it worth putting more money into that hunk of junk? After some thought, we decided to pay the $500 bucks to repair the car with a plan to replace it within the next six months. We bought ourselves some time to think about what to do.

Should we buy or lease?

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55 thoughts on “Car Crisis

  1. We feel the same way. We bought the RAV4 new because it was a bad decision in a weak moment. Don’t be me. The car is fine. It’s just not what I wanted. So buying time is a good idea.

    My husband drives a 2004 Outback wagon with 150K. For years he would pour $$ into it because he said it was cheaper than getting a new one. Plus he was biking to work most days. But now he works an hour and a half away and still drives it. That thing is going to explode into a puff of dust any time now. Fortunately, we have AAA.

    I wish I had bought a Honda CRV if I had to buy an SUV-type car. I miss my Saturn like whoa. I would get a smaller car if I was deciding now.

    My view right now: https://imgur.com/NsVjYRN Waiting for the girl to finish her last final, then we’ll head home.

  2. I had a Corolla that I bought new in 2001 until this summer. It’s now being driven around town by a friend’s 16-year old, who is delighted to have it. I replaced it with a new Corolla Eco (looked at the Prius but was annoyed by the rear window setup). I bought it locally because I like supporting local businesses and hate car shopping. The 2001 replaced my first Corolla that I bought in the late 1980s. I figure I’ll replace this one in another 15 years or so. Maybe by then they’ll have perfected self-driving cars and I’ll get the Corolla Self-Driver.

    My boyfriend, on the other hand, shopped like crazy to buy a slightly-used Jetta wagon. We drove a long, long way to pick it up. He drives a ton since he is a musician and absolutely loves the car.

    1. I went to California to help my mother couple weeks ago and rented a Jetta. Drove well, well made – and my butt hurt after eighty miles. I made a couple of hundred and fifty mile drives with my mother, and was really eager to stop and walk around half way through. Others’ butts may differ! But I think it’s generally a good thing to rent a car and take a longish trip to see if you are comfortable.

      1. this. rent a car for a day, many different cars and test it out without any pressure from the dealer. I drove a VW for a week (temporary replacement when my real car was taken in for fixing), and I hated the VW. the seats are stiff, there was this strange extra thick side at the bottom of the car and each time I got out of the car would hit my calf on. It was annoying. Another time I was in some Ford Escort and the blind spot out the back window was insane. Finally settled on a Subaru Impreza. love it.

  3. Used car prices seem high to me, compared to new car prices. And with people keeping their cars longer, I worry more about what kind of cars do get on the used market. I’d consider giving the Subaru to Steve and buying a new car to replace the Toyota.

    1. The higher end used cars are coming off three or four year new car leases, and they are in very good shape. The only car we have owned in the past 25 years was a “certified pre-owned” BMW, which we loved, but it’s absurd to own a car in Manhattan unless you have absolutely run out of other ideas for spending money. I’m not sure of the provenance of lower-ranking used cars. I agree with dave s., you should rent whatever you are thinking of buying and take a long trip to see if you really like it. Based on our rental experience, if I were moving down the ladder from a BMW, I would buy an Altima.

  4. I wouldn’t bother buying a new car, considering your low-mileage trips (granted, I’m a midwesterner who constantly travels for a living, but by *anyone’s* standards, your trips are low-mileage). You can get a good deal on a used vehicle. I just bought a 2015 Jeep Cherokee, fully loaded (OMG I have never owned such opulence! It has *heated seats* woo hoo! That’s going to feel great after ten hours in the freezing cold!!) for a little less than half the cost of the same thing new. (again, YMMV—more people are broke here, and not spending money on vehicles. Dealers are more inclined to come down in price.). I don’t understand why an individual (rather than a business) would lease instead of own—there’s no cost savings. Five years of the same payments you would make to own, and you have nothing to show for it at the end.

    1. It’s been a couple of years since I looked, but I was thinking of the costs of things like a Corolla or a Civic or something. They don’t seem to drop in price that much until they are old. Something loaded is probably different.

    2. We have a fantasy of being Jeep Cherokee-type people who throw a duffel bag of bathing suits and bikinis (shut up, it’s a fantasy) and buzzes up to Cape Cod for a weekend. Steve wants one badly, but says they are terrible on gas milage.

      1. We have a Jeep Patriot because I’m not sure why. It’s basically a minivan with all-wheel drive. The only advantage I see in it is that it’s great on snow and that I can make a joke about calling the version without all-wheel drive the Fair-Weather Patriot.

      2. Haha! “Jeep Cherokee people”. Yeah, I gotta get all-weather mats for this thing. I’ve owned nothing but pickups for the past 25 years. Haven’t figured out how I’m going to haul my mountain bike in this thing yet (probably get a roof-mount bike rack, since I don’t have the tow package that would allow for rear-mount). I’m digging it though. Enough that when I’m ready to trade it in, I might just get a Trailhawk instead of a pickup. My miles are almost all highway miles, and this beats all the midsize pickups, while still having even room to take all the stuff my life requires on the road.

      3. I have a weird version of myself (in which no one else would believe) in which I drive a pickup. It’s a parallel to the alternate reality where I behave like Mari Kondo (though a completely different alternate reality, in which I haul lumber around to build things).

      4. “We have a fantasy of being Jeep Cherokee-type people…”

        That’s my parents since forever.

        No bikinis, though, that I’ve ever seen.

      5. bj said,

        “I have a weird version of myself (in which no one else would believe) in which I drive a pickup. It’s a parallel to the alternate reality where I behave like Mari Kondo (though a completely different alternate reality, in which I haul lumber around to build things).”

        The pickup truck bj would haul lumber (and other stuff) around in the pickup, naturally.

        I think you’re correct that the Marie Kondo bj would exclude the possibility of the pickup truck bj. I was discussing Marie Kondo elsewhere, and the consensus was that the MK lifestyle is impossible for people who actually make things. People who make things have huge amounts of stuff. (I know a lady who has an entire sun room devoted to her stained glass making.)

  5. If long-term cost savings on a new or used vehicle is your primary objective then you should buy a car and drive it for many years.

    Leasing advantages generally involve getting “more” car for lower monthly payments in the short term but higher long term costs.

    If you run the numbers, leasing rarely makes long term financial sense.

  6. We owned our first car (2004 Ford Taurus) from 2007 to 2017ish. It was great with two kids, but got pretty uncomfortable for the big kids by the end, when they were sitting squished in the back with our youngest’s huge toddler car seat in between them. I believe we paid around $11k.

    We bought our second car (but first minivan–a 2011 Kia Sedona) in 2014 for around $12k. With three kids, it’s extremely comfortable and civilized. I also love the visibility and the sliding doors for school drop off and pick up and dealing with getting in and out in parking lots. It’s really nice to have a minivan for longer trips.

    We kept the two cars for a while, but the Ford Taurus mostly just sat parked on the street, getting dusty and covered with pollen. (Like many Americans, we do not have room in our 2-car garage for a second car…) It also started having a lot of problems around 125,000 miles. There was a memorable experience where I coasted downhill through six lanes of traffic with no power while driving the two girls, and then left it parked and Ubered home.

    Thank goodness for Uber.

    I didn’t really trust the Taurus after that. We sold it for $1,000 cash to a guy off of Craigslist and have lived pretty happily as a one-car family for the last year or so. (My husband usually walks to work.)

    We had a bunch of issues with the Kia Sedona, including at one point having four doors having something wrong with them, but we’ve worked through that. My husband managed to fix all of the doors fairly inexpensively with ordered parts. We’re at around 110,000 miles now–I believe we put on about 9 or 10,000 miles a year. I’m not sure how, but we do.

    We want to keep the minivan going at least until our oldest starts college. After that, I’d like a Toyota or Honda minivan–but that’s not cheap. We also need to think about a good car for the kids to drive.

    I liked leather seats in our Taurus because of the ease of cleaning when we had two little kids back there, but cloth seats in our current minivan have been fine, and also less painfully hot on hot days. So, I think we ought to stick with cloth.

  7. I’m also someone who doesn’t care about car prestige that much—I just sold my 23-year-old Corolla station wagon. The last miles I drove it involved jump starting it two times and then getting it towed the last couple miles until it finally penetrated my brain that it was really stupid to be driving a car with a malfunctioning electrical system across the city. I don’t know why I did that—something about the challenge? Or maybe wanting to be self-sufficient?

    I brought a Prius because the gas milage is so good—55miles/gal! But I really hate not being able to see out the back window or the sides very well. It makes me nervous. Who knew that a ’95 Corolla was the pinnacle of car visibility. Did I mention the 55 miles/gal?

    But yeah, there are others things to spend money on rather than cars for me.

    I did consider leasing, because I don’t plan on driving a car for several decades like I did the Corolla, but leasing didn’t seem to be that good a deal. But I can’t articulate why I made that decision.

    If you do get a new car, I’d like to know what you think about not having a regular key to open the door and start the engine. I, for one, really hate the key-fob system and think it’s a step backwards in technology. I think that a key was a very elegant design solution and the keyless entry is extremely fussy and annoying. And large and clunky. However, I’m probably just too old and resisting change– I guess I should go back to worrying about whether electricity is leaking out of the outlets.

  8. cy said,

    “I brought a Prius because the gas milage is so good—55miles/gal! But I really hate not being able to see out the back window or the sides very well. It makes me nervous.”

    I feel like this is an issue technology ought to be able to take care of.

    There are a lot of things I feel that car technology ought to take care of for us…like parallel parking.

    1. A friend’s Mercedes takes care of parallel parking for her, and that’s in tight German/Austrian conditions.

      When I got my Texas license a while back, the examiner said she had never seen anyone parallel park with such precision. I did not mention years of practice in Germany.

      1. Doug said,

        “A friend’s Mercedes takes care of parallel parking for her, and that’s in tight German/Austrian conditions.”

        I’m SO excited about all this self-driving stuff.

        “When I got my Texas license a while back, the examiner said she had never seen anyone parallel park with such precision. I did not mention years of practice in Germany.”

        Nice. I did my exam in TX, too, and my examiner was a law enforcement officer wearing The Hat.

        It felt very official.

      2. “I’m SO excited about all this self-driving stuff.”

        If I’m not on public transport, I am probably on a bicycle, and I am so not excited about anything involving self-driving in the city. I am a living and breathing edge case for their computing, and I want to retain those two qualities.

      3. Doug said,

        “If I’m not on public transport, I am probably on a bicycle, and I am so not excited about anything involving self-driving in the city. I am a living and breathing edge case for their computing, and I want to retain those two qualities.”

        Yeah, the “not-killing pedestrians and cyclists” function needs some work.

  9. Thanks, guys, for the tips!

    We want to go electric, but don’t want a boring sedan. We love our Subaru, so maybe another Subaru. Maybe some small and fun.

    But y’all have talked us out of leasing for sure.

    1. Get a Tesla. It’s been like months since Musk has done anything horrible or there has been a story about them having manufacturing issues.

  10. We’ve been most happy with our VWs. If you’re car shopping, I’d check out Golfs and Jettas. I appreciate the blind spot warning system on the highways. I agree that VW seats used to be uncomfortable, but they seem to have changed that. In our area the dealers are listing new Jettas for around 20K, and new Golfs are around 25K, although “fully loaded” can go for more.

    Our cousins like leasing cars. I wouldn’t recommend it. They seem to frequently pay more than the contract amount, as they always rack up more miles on the car than the contracted miles.

    We once tried to buy a car outright from Ford. We had a deal, then upon showing up to pick up the car, the salesman tried to get us to lease it. No sale. They make a lot of money on leases and car loans.

  11. Hondas have served us well–we have two Hondas and an Acura–you’ll find they have a lower overall cost of ownership than most other cars. That’s because they use higher quality components than some other manufacturers. Consumer Reports does annual articles on overall cost of car ownership by make: https://www.consumerreports.org/car-maintenance/the-cost-of-car-ownership/
    and they also provide articles on reliability of various used cars–that’s one of the reasons we bought a used Acura TSX last year. You can usually get lower financing for a new car, but you pay for the first year’s depreciation; I am more a recently used car buyer because it avoids taking so much of a depreciation hit. As one of the other commenters mentioned, cars coming off a three-year lease can be very good value. Cars last longer these days because they are overall safer and more reliable.

  12. We are also not car people. Modern cars are better. The headache of worrying about all the issues has been a great relief. We have not had to deal with repairs in any significant way on our modern 2001 Lexus, 2015 Sienna, 2018 Volvo XC60. I’ve never understood leasing, which I thought only really make sense if you’re only planning on keeping the car for a few years (which I cannot imagine doing — my goal is for my cars to be driven into the dust. The people at drop off at our kids’ school actually noticed when I got my new car, because they’d seen the same car at drop off for the 13 years we’d been going).

    I am a reluctant and somewhat nervous driver, and driving the Volvo, which has a good navigation system, backup camera, and warning lights really helps with my driving.

    Our car history: Our older cars were a Plymouth Horizon, owned approximately 1984-1992 and a Ford Temp, owned 1993-2000. We had problems with both those cars, of the sort you described. Since then, we’ve owned a 1999 ford Explorer, 2001 Lexus rx300, 2004 Toyota Sienna, 2015 Toyota Sienna, and a Volvo XC60. Each of those cars (except the replaced 2004 Sienna, which was in a collision) is still running (my parents drive the Explorer, which now has issues).

    1. “driving the Volvo, which has a good navigation system, backup camera, and warning lights really helps with my driving.”

      I forgot to mention that I LOVE the backup camera on our minivan.

      Literally my #1 goal in life is not backing over small children, so it gives me a lot of peace of mind.

  13. Lots of Teslas in our world. It appears to be the fancy sports car you can buy in our liberal, tech bro world without people thinking you are getting uppity or joining the east coast establishment. No one has it as their only car though.

  14. And, although there might be those who consider the Lexus or the Volvo “prestige” cars, we bought them purely for value. They really have been well built cars. The Lexus has been driven for nearly 20 years, and I plan on driving the Volvo for that long.

    1. That’s what everyone who buys luxury goods says, unless the luxury in question is too obviously non-utilitarian for it to pass the laugh test.

      1. “That’s what everyone who buys luxury goods says, unless the luxury in question is too obviously non-utilitarian for it to pass the laugh test.”

        I’ve had a somewhat jealous eye on a cherry red Mercedes SUV that I see around town. I bet it’s a pain to own, but it’s the cutest thing!

        There’s also somebody locally who has a Fiat done up as a Pokemon Pokeball.

  15. One of the reasons why the American car industry is in big trouble is that people don’t want to buy sedans anymore. Booorrrrinnnggg. It’s SUVs, trucks, or fun cars like Jeeps or mini’s. People want to buy the lifestyle along with the car. Subarus have a lifestyle vibe — liberal, lesbian, Vermont — so I think that’s one of the reasons that they’re still doing so well. But who wants to buy their parent’s Corolla?

    1. That and driving just sucks. Too many people on the road and you can’t responsibly play Pokemon Go. It’s sometimes stupid crowded, but the bus is so much easier.

      1. Yah and rock & roll was better, and strawberries were sweeter. I had a really swell Ford Falcon, does that count? And the girls looked back at me, when I was walking down the street…

      2. dave s. said,

        “Yah and rock & roll was better, and strawberries were sweeter. I had a really swell Ford Falcon, does that count? And the girls looked back at me, when I was walking down the street…”

        This has the makings of a Bruce Springsteen classic, if you just stick with it.

      3. Philip Greenspun has gone of the deep end in the men’s rights movements (he drops in irrelevant references in many articles to women who have babies to earn a 100K a year — by getting child support). But, the comments on this article were funny. I particularly like the husband who decided to upgrade his phone because his wife was being a bit distant (a joke, I think).

      1. It’s probably not going to be the same. Even watching a British actor play a Swedish guy trying to catch murders wasn’t the same.

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