On December 24, a driver totaled our car while it was parked in front of our house. Thirty-six days later, we obtained its replacement, thanks to family and friends, research, and a bit of luck.
It’s pretty obvious that the auto industry would like our decisions about transportation to be guided by television commercials and print ads and fancy brochures.
I don’t watch enough television to be familiar with the commercials. I pretty much ignore the print ads because I am almost never in the market for a car (the one that was crunched had about 175,000 miles on it and the other vehicle that’s still fine has more than 178,000). During my quest I was given two gorgeously printed promotional booklets and picked up a third myself. These print materials made me wish I had design and printing budgets of similar proportions for the books I publish for Nomad Press, although I didn’t see any indications that the publications follow Green Press Initiative guidelines, as Nomad does.
My thought processes were guided more by a number of other items.
I relied heavily on a book from the library on the car-buying process, CarFax and AutoCheck reports (they don’t show exactly the same things, and I find both useful), Consumer Reports car-buying guide subscriptions, spec sheets and reviews and pricing guidelines from Cars.com and Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, and a clipboard for notes (both mine and my daughter’s) from test drives.
I have specific and unusual requirements for a vehicle—the ability to easily transport heavy boxes of books and a hand truck, as well as dogs and dog crates, and to handle snow, ice, unplowed streets, and sometimes uneven terrain or flooding. I also like good fuel efficiency and safety features. And I like to drive (something that I most likely inherited from my father), so whatever car I end up with has to handle well: I need to feel like the engine, transmission, steering, suspension, and so on work well together.
I intended to buy a three- to four-year-old car from a private party. I narrowed my search to three makes, with one model each, and two model years that seemed historically reliable and offered the features I wanted (2004 and 2005 for all three cars). I watched local ads, Cars.com listings, Craigslist, the dealers’ inventories, and other sources. I checked out cars and vendors, private and dealer, within forty miles.
There weren’t many privately offered options. I found three—and almost responded fast enough to test one of them. The other two got away so fast it almost made my head spin. Most of the cars in my target range from the readily available sources were either overpriced or had odd histories (according to CarFax and AutoCheck).
One car that looked good in other ways had been to auction three times in less than two years, bouncing around between two owners in California (it seemed okay until after it left the second owner) and dealers in California, Arizona, Nevada, and
California Colorado. It had been sold away from and back to the same dealership twice, with auctions and transport—but not many weeks—in between. There’s a story there, but I’m not sure I want to find out what it is by living with the car.
Another that had an odometer reading of 20,000 miles in three years—possible, but how likely for a small SUV with a manual transmission? not exactly an "old folks just went for groceries" car—also had tires with uneven wear. Three of the tires had tread levels just about at "replace me now" and the other two tires (one mounted and the spare) had half that much tread. In other words, not bald, but not far off. The windshield wipers were so bad they were useless. The car drove well enough and was clean inside and out (the engine compartment was so shiny it looked like it had been steamed). I wondered why it was on a used-car lot and in need of new rubber in some obvious places.
Yet another had been moved into this area after it started out in New England, where it had been in a crash.
On a whim, I looked on the web for—and found, only sixty miles away—a twin of the car that we have that didn’t get hurt: a 1994 Ford Explorer, green with tan interior, manual transmission, but with only 114,000 miles on it. For a short while, I was seriously tempted to check it out. The pricing on a 1994 car with more than 100,000 miles is certainly appealing. Then again, I’ve been extremely careful with the maintenance on my car, which I’ve owned since 100 miles before its original warranty expired. I got it because the previous owner traded up. I wouldn’t have a clue how this apparent duplicate was treated for its first 114,000 miles. It might have had one oil change.
I ended up buying a car from a regular dealership, which was not anywhere in my original plan. The people were great to work with, and I got a car that meets my needs for an amount that fell within my limited budget. It even has a warranty for more than 100 miles.
I haven’t thrown out all my research paperwork yet, but I plan to do so soon. There’s quite a stack of well-scribbled-on sheets, but they’ve done their job and have turned into clutter.
The car itself is not being featured here yet, because it needs to work for that privilege. It’s off to a good start. It took a shipment of books to FedEx on its first full day at our house.
Thanks to Judy for the photos of the car [added note: that’s the color, in her abstract-like photo just above], and to all the other family and friends who helped in so many ways (if you’re reading this, you know who you are). Although I’m glad the quest is over, it ended up being (mostly) kind of fun.
It’s good to get back to work. I actually missed a deadline on January 9, which is not at all typical for me. Fortunately, the recipient of the items I neglected to submit (I sent half on time, and forgot the other half) was able to adapt for me and I didn’t have to delay the fall Nomad Press release by two months.
And I’m probably good on transportation for another couple hundred thousand miles or more, with luck and care.
During this time, I also read two books that paired interestingly in examining states of mental balance (or lack thereof) and of intuition as a guide to behavior.
Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jeff Bell is an excellent first-person narrative about one of the many disabilities that can affect folks who appear to be normal. Bell would not have resolved the difficulties he was having (which were ruining most of his life) if he hadn’t trusted his intuition and become his own best advocate. I liked the book a lot. Bell knew he had problems and looked for answers until he found them.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer looks at intuition gone wrong within a religious context. A bigger book than it appears to be, it looks at a specific set of experiences to demonstrate some possible roles of religion, faith, and other similar dynamics within social groups and individual lives. The focus is on people who think they have answers and that it’s other people who have the problems, and who feel compelled to "fix" those problems violently. It was an excellent book, but (not surprisingly) unsettling.