Nov 232008

I’m like a little Soviet Union. My life is dictated by various self-imposed five-year plans. One of those involves my car, a little red ’05 Dodge Neon.

OK, stop the snickering. Neons do NOT suck, OK? They are reliable and passably attractive and they get about the same miles per gallon as many sub-compact ‘foreign’ cars. But the Neon is a lot roomier and it doesn’t feel thin-shelled like so many little cars these days.

That last point was and is of particular interest to me now, as this previous post describes. That Neon quite literally saved my face (and the rest of me) from a crushing impact, letting me walk away with nothing more than disappointment.

The Car that Saved my Face

The Car that Saved my Face

That is just the start of the story. I’m not really writing to this to talk about my accident. I’m writing to talk about it’s repercussions.

See, I had a plan. A five-year plan. I had my Neon for nearly three years and I planned to keep it for three to five years more. Then I hoped to buy a new full-electric car which I expect to be on the market by then. This was to be my last internal combustion car.

Then, I had that stupid accident.

I spent the next two weeks in a completely stressed-out state trying to figure out what to do about a car. I had an econobox Chevy rental from the insurance company, and it really drove home how much I hate the current crop of small cars they are selling. So I looked at what I could buy used for just a couple thousand dollars (what I had left over after insurance paid off my car loan) and that was very depressing. It looked like I’d be driving an 8-10 year-old car, with who knows what impending major repair costs.

I looked at new cars, and there just isn’t anything at the low end of the new car spectrum (which now starts disturbingly high at around $18k) that appeals to me. On top of that, I just don’t want another 5-year car loan! Especially for a car I don’t even like! And it would reset my five-year plan to an eight-year plan. But I checked out the Saturn Astra, because it’s really an Opel and is made in Belgium. Sporty but uncomfortable and way too ‘German’ in it’s ergonomics (or should I say lack thereof – I think the A/C controls were in the glove box, for example). I sat in a Pontiac Vibe (which is also the Toyota Matrix, go figure) and immediately un-sat in it because the blocky-ass dashboard obstructed the forward view like being inside an army tank. The Nissan Versa was relatively inexpensive and cute, but oh so paper-thin. Having just escaped from injury in a pretty significant car crash, a perception of sturdiness matters a lot. The Versa does not have that. Lastly I checked out the Honda Fit, which was also a tad on the thin side but much roomier than I expected. But they’ve gone all Star Trek Movie Set on the dashboard, and every control felt and looked like a prop piece. I wasn’t convinced the car was even capable of motion after sitting in it.

So what did I want? Truth be told, I wanted my old car back. But they don’t make it any more, and as I mentioned already with only $2k to buy a used one I would have to get a car that is now eight years old. So back to new cars, I tried and tried to love the Neon-replacement Dodge Caliber. If I could just come to terms with driving around in that little toy-soldier square-boxy piece of whatever, I could probably get a really good deal on one at the same Dodge dealer that has sold me or my wife three cars previously. But I just hate the square-edged boxy look. I like my cars round, like my women. OK, my woman. Whom I cherish and adore.

My co-workers listened to me whine and bitch about my car problem every day, and one fellow (let’s call him Keith because that’s his name) kept telling me to look at late-model used cars. As you read this you may have been wondering why that option wasn’t being explored. Well, it’s because I’m stupid. I had it in my head that buying a late-model used car was dumb because the loans are harder to get and the interest rates are a lot higher. Keith kept trying to explain that even though that is true, you are getting a car with most of it’s depreciation erased and little of it’s value diminished. I kept denying that value, until a couple nights ago when I started to look at newer used cars online and realized what was available for the same price as a new economy car. Really nice rides from Acura, Honda, Toyota, even BMW. So, I could get a car I liked and pay about what I was paying, albeit for another five years.

And then, my long lost cousin Rod e-mailed me back with sage advice: “If you liked that one, buy another one”. Like the grinch’s heart growing five sizes, my brain clicked in to the idea that maybe I could actually have my car back as if the accident hadn’t happened! I searched for a 2005 Red Neon SXT. Two matches, both around $7k. One just southwest of me in Dublin, Ohio! It had a clean carfax report. I calculated a 3-year loan amount expecting the rate to be high, and lo and behold it was still less than what I was paying on the old one, even though the new loan would end at about the same time as my old loan would have. Turns out that paying a low monthly interest on a lot of money is more costly than paying a higher monthly interest on a little bit of money. Who would have thought? Apparently not me.

On Friday morning I went out to the dealership (which sells new Mercedes, Kias and Chryslers) and checked it out. It was in very nice shape. A lot cleaner than mine, a testament to my neglect. And it had half as many miles on it. Oh, and it didn’t need a brake job, like my old one did. I drove it, and it was great. It felt like it does when you put on your old shoes after trying on a dozen pairs of new ones. Ahhh, this was nice.

So to wrap this up, I bought it. And I’m delighted. Took the guys at work to lunch and they couldn’t stop laughing at me and my ‘new’ car. On Saturday I took it to the auto parts store and bought fresh new floor mats for it. Drove it around town grinning and waving at the bemused townsfolk like I was in a parade.

Neon: The Resurrecturing

Neon: The Resurrecturing

And now, I’m back on my five-year plan with bonuses. Maybe I should have wrecked my car sooner! Or maybe when I wear this one out I’ll have another wreck! Nah, only kidding. In three to five years I’ll be ready for a new car and I really really want it to be this:

Dodge EV: Mmmm, that\'s electric!

Dodge EV: Mmmm, that's electric!

C’mon Chrysler, pull yourself together (or take a government bailout, I’m not proud) and build that thing! Onward comrades, to Victory!

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