Title and registration

My husband suggested that I blog about our recent experience with purchasing a used car. This is still kind of a sore spot with me, because I’m not totally at peace with how everything happened, but maybe this will be cathartic.

It started when we learned my 1999 Saturn SL2 was dying. It failed a compression test pretty badly, though it still starts fine thanks to a new-ish battery my father put in some months ago and some new platinum spark plugs (everything’s better in precious metal!). It even managed to start when we had a few days of -30 wind chills, and has been parked outside for the last month straight since we got our ‘new’ car. She’s a trooper.

We bought a 2005 Ford Focus in 2010 to replace my husband’s 1986 Buick Somerset Custom which had so many issues I won’t even begin to catalog them. The Focus quickly became my husband’s car, because I felt much safer with him driving it than the Buick, it sits a little higher and has more head room than the Saturn for my 6’1″ husband, and I felt he deserved to drive something nice and relatively new for the first time in his life. The only drawback we discovered with the Focus is that it does not have a key feature that my Saturn has: traction control.

Now, traction control is apparently controversial as an option. Some people say ‘Just let me DRIVE my own car!’ but both my husband and I really like traction control. It’s basically the reverse of anti-lock brakes and can help you get going in wet, heavy snow while you see a dude in a huge truck/SUV who spins out with his 4-wheel drive. It’s also saved my life on a few occasions in rain while speeding down the highway; it kicks in when you start to hydroplane. I don’t recommend hydroplaning, as a general rule.

So, we decided that at least one of our vehicles needed to have traction control, and with the Saturn on it’s exit stage left, the ‘new’ car needed to have it. I did some research and learned that vehicles in our price range (under $7k) that had traction control standard included 2000-2003 Lexuses and Acuras, older luxury vehicles with many safety options. I honed in on the Acura brand since it’s the ‘luxury’ version of Honda, and Hondas have a great reputation. I knew that an Acura with more than 100k miles on it could easily go another 100k, and we’d probably only own it for a few years before replacing it, anyway.

Long story short, I found a 2001 Acura TL in incredibly clean condition, and it checked out with a mechanic, had clean CarFax history, good rating from Consumer Reports, etc. The problem? The day we wrote the check and I drove it home, I realized that I don’t like the car. I don’t like the drive feel since there’s a tiny ‘flare’ between 2nd and 3rd gears (it’s a shiftable automatic, which I’ve never had before) even though mechanically it’s fine according to multiple experts. It feels very ‘fancy’ to me. It’s the antithesis to my Saturn, covered in bumper stickers of all the bands I saw when all my income was expendable and tickets were my main purchase. Also, having a car that takes premium fuel, even though it’s usually only 25 cents more per gallon than regular and therefore only $3 more per 12-gallon fill, feels wrong to me.

We can definitely afford this car (I even got an insurance quote on it before we bought it) and with the little amount of gas we buy since we live so close to where we work, the premium fuel really is a negligible issue. The savings account took a hit when we bought it, but it will be back to normal by my birthday in April and our debt snowball is only mildly delayed, and we still have a sizable emergency fund cushion (yet another reason we keep more than Dave Ramsey’s recommended $1k in the bank).

Part of me just wants to hold onto the Saturn for sentimental reasons, but I realize that this is not an option and that it’s time to move her on. For now, my husband is driving the Acura (and enjoying it immensely) and I’m driving the Focus, which is a fine compromise. My husband did agree that the car that replaced the Saturn was to be ‘my’ car, an upgrade after driving the Saturn for 9 years, but the Focus is a great little car and I like it a lot (for one, it has a premium sound system, so my Vampire Weekend and Death Cab For Cutie sounds awesome in it compared to the Saturn’s 4 blown-out speakers). We’re just going to wait until the weather is a bit warmer before we list the Saturn for sale, and the insurance on it is a minimal expense until then.

Have you ever bought something you later regretted? How did you come to terms with it? Any advice or commiseration over my middle class problems is welcome.

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One thought on “Title and registration

  1. Thanks for sharing your car story, Beth. I hope you get used to the new shifter, and I like your attitude about the premium gas too. Kind of a bummer, but at least you don’t fill it up that often and if you need to drive a long distance you’ve got the Focus. I think used car stories are nice to hear because it seems like most people wish they could have a do-over on at least one used car purchase. We bought our 1998 Corolla in the fall of 2005 when my 1994 Plymouth Sundance died on a trip to Lincoln, which meant we basically had two weeks to find a new car. Ignoring most of the warning signs (no CarFax history, somewhat shady dealership, not taking it to a mechanic first), we went and bought the vehicle and almost immediately regretted it. It took an extra $1000 of work and a strongly worded letter to the dealer (with the threat of legal action) to finally get the car in good enough shape. The plus side, though, is we learned a lot and are still driving the car today. It’s probably not going to last a whole lot longer and we hope we can drive it until we have enough money to replace it with a newer vehicle in cash.

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