Tuesday, January 15, 2008

buying a car with the Sober Husband

Within 48 hours of my old car passing away (and yes, it could have been put on expensive life support and saved with an organ transplant, but we had previously determined that we would put a Do Not Resuscitate order into effect in the event of a transmission or engine failure), we had a new one parked out in front. (It could have been 24 hours, but Saturday afternoon and evening were devoted to one of our more sprightly readers, Lemonjuicer, who may be remembered for the picture of her cleavage she entered into our First, Possibly Annual, Readers' Photo Contest. It turns out that as well as award-winning cleavage, she has an amazing family who are a joy to meet). This speediness nonplussed our friends, who consider the purchase of a car something which should be pondered and worked at, but that's how it is with the Sober Husband.

This was the third time we bought a car together. The first time came after an earlier Oldsmobile of his suffered a catastrophic engine failure while I was driving it at top speeds in the Sierras. To this day I can hardly believe I was able to get out of that situation without serious injury. The Sober Husband actually had that car repaired at great expense, only to total it a month later on the Bay Bridge (and unbelievably enough, he walked away from that with just some bruises. The car's massive front end crumpled up like a piece of Kleenex).

The Sober Husband decided then to try going without a car (we were childless then, not even engaged yet). After a month of commuting without a car, fed up with BART, he called me at work. "I'm going to buy a car after work, if you want to come." He met me at the BART station, and we walked to a nearby dealership. Within a few minutes he had located an acceptable car (the very same recently deceased Oldsmobile, at that point a mere toddler of two years old). "I wish to buy this car," he said to the used car salesman. "I have tickets for the ballet, so I need to get it in the next two hours." The salesman was completely at a loss, as every time he tried to get into his traditional script of selling, the Sober Husband-to-be cut him off. "Yes, yes, I want to buy the car. You don't have to tell me about the car. I just want you to get the paperwork done so we're not late to the ballet."

We got by fine with that car, which was used primarily by the Sober Husband for commuting down to Silicon Valley, until I was in the third trimester of my second pregnancy. I had always been a mass transit girl, having not even obtained a driver's license until the week before I turned 30. But one fateful afternoon, toddler Iris Uber Alles fell asleep on the Muni bus, and I, hideously, hugely pregnant, had to carry her, our stroller and our bags of groceries off the bus, and I felt that I had somehow strained everything in my body at once. "I can't do this anymore," I announced. "I have to have a car."

At that point in time, we were strained for cash. Buying a second car seemed impossible, but I didn't think I could get through the last trimester taking the bus with Iris (who was scheduled to start preschool soon and hence in dire need of regular transportation). Our solution? Buying an extraordinarily crappy car. "I don't care how a car looks," noted the Sober Husband. "I wish there was some way I could buy an old dented car." I discovered a category in the newspaper labelled "Mechanics Specials", which not only included cars which needed work but also cars which ran well but had sustained some flesh wounds. But it was on Craigslist that I found a car advertised under the slogan of "Drive The Ugliest Car On Your Block." We drove up to Sausalito to view an ancient, massive dented Monte Carlo with a trunk lid which wouldn't close. For a few hundred dollars, it was ours. The seller, an attorney who dabbled on the side with reselling cars, told the Sober Husband, "Everyone's going to assume you're a felon driving this car. They're gonna think you just got out of San Quentin."

Although those prior car buying experiences had turned out fine, this time around the Sober Husband felt stressed. The last thing he wanted was to have to take off time from his beloved Doggyo to pick up the children at school. "I don't have time to go shopping," he fussed. "I just don't want to deal with this." We talked on the phone Sunday morning while he escorted Lola to a birthday party on Haight Street. "I want to get a car this afternoon; can you research it?"

The "research" was me spending some quality time online with Consumer Reports. I have no idea who the Consumer Reports people really are, but they have me wrapped around their little finger. I took their list of "Used Cars To Avoid" as gospel, and I poured over their "Top Ten List of Used Cars To Consider." I took some time, some pathetic time, to read ratings of the car of my dreams, the Mini Cooper, but the husband was dismissive over the phone. "How are you going to get groceries in such a little car?"

"I'll do it when the kids are in school."

"Are you really going to be able to fit all your kittens in there?"

He had me there. I can go grocery shopping without Iris and Lola, but I can't go pick up fresh foster kittens alone. Iris and Lola are capable of holding a grudge for a long, long time when left out, and I severely doubted the ability of a Mini Cooper to hold me, several cat carriers, and two children who don't like to sit very close to each other and who can come to blows even while restrained by carseats.

So it came down to two theoretical cars, neither of which was a dream car for me: a Toyota Prius (so eco friendly! Think of the savings on gas! And so quiet and well-reviewed by the faceless minions of Consumer Reports) or a Volvo S60 from 2004 or 2005 (the Consumer Reports people recommended against 2003, evidently a questionable vintage). The Sober Husband bruited about the idea of a Toyota Camry on the basis that Click and Clack like it, but I refused to consider it as it regularly tops the lists of most frequently stolen cars and I live in a city replete with car thieves. I couldn't find a conveniently located used Prius online or in the paper (although the new Priuses were surprisingly affordable, we view buying a new car as a fool's game. You pay so much for the prestige of having that new car smell, and anyone with small children won't be able to keep the interior pristine enough to enjoy that smell for long). The suburbs, however, are full of used Volvos.

We drove to Palo Alto as soon as Anton and Lola returned from their dinosaur-themed birthday party, in search of a particular 2004 S60. On the way, I mourned the loss of my dream car. "A Mini Cooper would be so much fun to drive. The whole world would be my parallel parking space." We braced ourself for the buying experience. "Remember, there's probably going to be bait and switch," said the Sober Husband obscurely and darkly. "I just hope it's not silver," I said. "I won't drive a silver or beige car."

"Why not?"

"I read an article about how truck drivers can't see gray and silver cars at night because they're the color of asphalt. It's not safe. And all cars are those colors now. I'll never be able to find it in a parking lot."

"If you could buy a magical device that would always find your car in a parking lot, would you pay two thousand dollars for it? That's what you're doing." He chuckled at the idiocy of his putatively beloved wife. "You could get some spray paint and paint all over it; then you'll be able to find it."

"If I have to drive a silver or beige car, I'm going to nail a Godzilla to the hood for a hood ornament."

The children shouted. "Godzilla! I want Godzilla!"

As it turned out, the Volvo in question was white and surprisingly perfect-seeming. I sadly regarded a green Mini Cooper on the street nearby. I took a test drive, while the husband had a cup of coffee back at the dealership. The salesman politely said nothing when Lola spent much of the test drive shouting, "Butts! Butts! Butts!" The children determined quickly that the Volvo was their dream car. "I wish we could live in the car and never come out," Lola confided. The salesman, unasked, gave us a Carfax report on the car ("This is the kind of thing we were supposed to ask for," I said. "This makes me feel like less of a loser.") The Sober Husband looked under the hood. "If you want to get all meticulous, we're supposed to take it to an independent mechanic for an assessment," I said. "Oh, no, let's not go that far," he said quickly.

And so, once again, we ventured out and purchased the first car we test drove (and indeed the Sober Husband didn't even bother to drive it, relying upon my report), wrapping up the transaction in two hours (most of which was spent waiting for our turn with the financial manager to fill out the forms). Shouldn't a real grown-up put more time and effort into this? Decisive and firm action-takers or idiotic slackers: either way, we thanked each other at home later. "Thank you for making it not a shopping thing,"said the Sober Husband. "Thank you for buying a nice, reliable car suitable to my station in life as a middle-aged, middle class mommy," I said.


Anonymous said...

we bought a volvo wagon when we moved to AZ. I love it. It's a filthy pit of cheese-stick crumbles and TLC cheese crackers inside, but it drives fast and has built in booster seats and in the back back there are rear facing seats which are perfect for Colette.


Epiphany said...

It took me over a month to buy my car, but only because the car I wanted is pretty hard to find (Diesel Volkswagen New Beetle). Once we had it narrowed down to three specific cars, it only took four days or so.

My car is dark gray, definitely the color of asphalt. I really wanted the bright green or dark blue, but the gray one was the best one. And it's a stealth car for me - I'm much more colorful than my auto.

FWIW, when you buy a new car, it loses 1/3 of its value when you drive it off the lot. This 1/3 of the cost goes to delightful things like advertising and marketing.

I hope you enjoy your Volvo! Even if it feels matronly, it is a very safe car, and the protective mama in you should appreciate that!

Unknown said...

Last April, while sitting at my sister's funeral in Ohio, my wife called to tell me the used van we'd purchased at Christmastime had died. I surmised it was the timing belt when I got back to town and we pondered what for a replacement (we went low-end with a 166K mile '98 Caravan/Voyager and it lasted four months)...

Saturday after I got back the fuel pump died on my '86 Accord. So I
got a universal replacement pump on Friday and replaced it, thanks to a ride from my neighbor.

Now it was Saturday at 7 PM and we
had one car running with a kludged fuel pump. Carmax.com, indeed, from the RIP post comments, is where we searched, as they're only ten minutes from our house. Found a van, pile in the car, out of the dealership in 3 hours including 60 minutes for paperwork with a 45K mile Chrysler Town&Country van.

- Thi

p.s.: The next day, the kludged fuel pump died and stranded me. Mrs. Thi and kids came out with a gas can and followed me as I put 100cc of gas into the carb at a time, which got me about 200 yards down the road. I bit the bullet and spent the money on a REAL replacement pump (they go in the gas tank itself in the trunk floor) and it's been clear sailing since.

hughman said...

ooo... buying a car like this is so adult.

now you need mud-flap girls and fuzzy dice.

Silliyak said...

The only question that occurs to me is whether there is any sort of dealer warrantee. A new Prius would have meant many more decisions, like extended warrantee. I have never believed in buying them, but the finance lady said "Did you know the Prius has 17 computers in it?" SOLD. We like ours so far, but it sounds like you did well. If not, more blogging material!

Anonymous said...

my dinner at the drunken housewife household completely exceeded my expectation!

and my daughter just finished weaning, so my cleavage doesn't quite look like that anymore...

Anonymous said...

Hey, our cars are identical twins! The guy that drives me home when I leave my white 2004 Volvo S60 to be serviced says that is the most trouble free car in their line, and who should know better? AND, we bought ours the same way, "Here's the cash, hurry up, we are meeting friends at the theater in 2 hours."

Could we have been separated at birth?

Missy said...

Congrats! Nothing like that "new car" feeling even if it's not a brand-new-new car!

Anonymous said...

I lied, I continued to read your blog even after I claimed to be done. This post has revived my faith in you after the naming incident. The s60 is my dream car! I will trade my mini cooper for it!