Sunday, January 22, 2006

Problems and Solutions

Thanks so much for your suggestions and advice. I was so overwhelmed last night with the problem and the lack of information needed to make any kind of clear-headed solution. I had so little time to act without incurring more expense and in the morning, only one person had responded here. And I kept thinking about finding the problem-solver, but I just can't stomach asking for help- not again. Then I realized that I had to be the problem solver because I couldn't wait to find someone else to help me figure it out. So, I worked through the options.

The option of getting the car fixed was fraught with problems. First, there was the delay, which meant more motel days and more expense. Then, there was the fact that the engine damage would be a very costly repair. And according to online appraisals, the car would in no way be worth more than $2000. (It had a lot of other flaws -a lot .)

Renting another vehicle just to get home also had problems. The small town didn't have many national rental companies (no airport) and a one-way rental, if I could have found one, would have been very, very expensive. And it would have been a sunk cost because I'd still have to deal with the Camry. (More expense.) It had to have some value left in it, even if it wasn't much. And I don't have the luxury to leave anything of value behind like that.

The reality of the situation was that my beloved Camry was in bad, bad shape. Terminally ill with heart-failure, so to speak. I was worried about it making it home from the time I drove it up to Virginia. Fixing it seemed like a highly risky and questionable use of funds. But buying another car is not the kind of thing I do without tons of time and research. And time was in very short supply. And Radford, VA, was not exactly the auto-mecca of the mid-Atlantic. But as luck would have it, it did have one auto dealership. And luckier still, it was in walking distance from the motel.

So, Rachel and I walked over and started poking around the used car lot and about a millisecond later, a salesman homed in on us. I explained our situation but he was all salesman. And he said they'd give me something on the Camry as a trade-in and I could finance the rest and get a decent and safe car to get us home- but how much of a trade depended on the shape it was in. (Uh-oh!) And he'd also tell the owner what was going on and see if he could help us out a little.

Long story short, (a first for me, I know), they gave us a generous $2000 for it (yeah, I know- they probably took it back somewhere else), and Radford, Virginia is the Camry's final resting place. We are spending the night in the seediest motel of the week in Birmingham, Alabama, thanks to a very road-worthy, used Chevy Malibu.

I get this indescribably icky feeling when I type or say Chevy Malibu. Not that I ever really want to be defined by the car I drive, but a car does, in many ways, reflect the personality of its owner and this car is so*not*me. But necessity is a mother. And neccessity's little offspring got us 35 MPG on the highway today, and for that and the fact that it's not a bad little car, I will love it. But I will love it like a foreign exchange student who comes and stays for a while, then goes back home and is remembered fondly, and without the pain of separation. If I'm going to have to buy a car, I want to follow my nature and research obsessively, then bring home the car that's like the pound-puppy that you know is meant for you the moment you lay eyes on it - the one that you love deeply until the day it dies.

When my mom came to visit us in Virginia, she said that seeing the Camry was like seeing a member of the family. And indeed it felt like part of my little family, as I've had it for almost 12 years- 3 years longer than I've had Rachel. Leaving it at the dealership was like having a beloved pet euthanized. It was painful. I patted the car on the trunk and thanked it for almost 12 years of faithful service, for doing it's best and getting us where we had to go most of the time. Then I had to turn and go away quickly and not look back or think about it too much, other than to keep reminding myself of why it was good to let it go ... no more antenna that buzzes for two minutes whenever the radio is turned on or off... no more rear windows that don't open... no more speakers that don't work... no more CD player with a CD permanently lodged inside that someone gave me to check out but I didn't like... no more windshield cracked from one side to the other... no more leaky trunk with the gasket seal that doesn't stay in place... no need to keep a battery-powered fluorescent light in the car because the dome light has shorted... no more big hole in the passenger seat where a halogen light burned through more breaks that grind and occasionally lose pressure and go to the floor... no more broken door handles... no more water in the tail lights... no more having to keep several quarts of oil in the more looking at ugly memorial fender dings from the old days when Bird, the neighborhood drunk, would run into the parked car after rounding the corner on his bicycle...

It was time. When Rachel pulled the recently-applied "New Orleans- Proud to Call It Home" bumper-sticker off the Camry and stuck it on the CM, the curtain fell.

So, I'm no Malibu Barbie. But I'll be very kind to Little Replacement Car (can I just call it LRC instead of that other name from now on?) while I try to find a suitable and inexpensive vehicular expression of myself. (And a job to help pay for it.) Then I'll try to sell LRC for as close to what I paid for it as possible.

I met Ingrid (our beloved friend who used to babysit Alex and comments here from time to time) while leaving a note on her 1967 (?) Volvo P1800, asking her to call me if she ever wanted to sell it. After I stopped pining for it, (okay, Ingrid, I admit that I still pine for it now and then), I said that my next car would be a hybrid. (Oh, how I wish that hydrogen fuel cell cars were on the market right now!) But I'm not sure how I'll pull that off right now. Maybe I'll get an old diesel of some sort and run it on biodiesel. Who knows. At least I have transportation while I explore the options.

Here's a question for you guys: What do you drive and do you think it fits your personality or is a proper vehicular expression of yourself? And if it's not, what car would serve that purpose?

Well, we're only about 5 hours from home, and I'm going to try to get some sleep before morning comes ripping through this night..But I may have to go and shoot the group of loud party-boys and girls-going-wild who are whooping it up outside my window by the disgusting swimming pool filled with swampy, greenish-brown water. Unless the gang members in the room next door do it first.


Blogger addict said...

I hope the rest of the journey is problem free!

1:43 PM  
Blogger muse said...

So glad to hear that it worked out in the end! I was worried about you!

As far as what I drive, well, I don't. Montreal has a very good public transit system (metro, buses, train for the suburbs) so it's actually faster for me to use the metro rather than drive and try to find parking.

My soon-to-be ex husband has a Ford Focus station wagon, in theory for the upcoming-but-it's-not-going-to-happen-now family, and also because it was among the best of its class (fuel economy) for that year.

If I had a choice, I'd use a hybrid, though. But to me, a car is just something to get from point A to point B, I don't invest emotionally in its look. (though I'd really like a blue, hard top, 1969 Camaro! LOL)

11:18 AM  
Blogger Dominique said...

Hi Lisa.

I'm just catching up now on some of your posts. I have to say, I am no Malibu Barbie either, but your LRC is so sweet.

I have erred greatly in conceding to my husband for auto choices. Our first car was a Toyota RAV4. I actually loved that one because I was living in Brooklyn at the time and I felt so rightous being able to parallel park just about everywhere that the big SUV's could not. And there were a lot of those.

The next one was a Ford Explorer. I let the husband win on that one because at the time, we were only using our car for out-of-town trips and camping expeditions. We commuted on the subway or walked for all our day-to-day needs.

After moving to Chicago, the Ford mainly took up space in a lot. When the Gulf War was heating up, I felt very defensive towards those ranting about all SUV owners being terrorists. While I never loved mine, I felt we used it responsibly rather that all those folks living in outer suburbs that drove their cars ALL THE TIME and didn't even bother taking the train downtown for work.

Now that my daughter is in school (that's not in my neighborhood) I'm terribly unhappy with the amount of time I spend on the road each day. Last summer we shopped around a bit for cars. I was anxious to get a hybrid and was most interested in the Prius. While it isn't the most sophisticated looking car on the road, I thought it had a lot of functional interior space for being such a small car. Because of the demand, the sticker price for most dealers is non-negotiable. Then I realized that it's a good $10,000 more than a comparable car. It appeared to me that while the tax refund would be nice, the gas savings won't make up for the cost of the car.

I was still persistant, but went around and tested other vehicles. Honda makes an Accord hybrid that drove so smooth. I'd never driven a car like that - but I couldn't get over the sedan style. Boring to me. While it got good gas mileage, it wasn't really that great for a hybrid.

The Lexus hybrid was our dream car. It's much smaller than our Ford, but big enough to suit all of our needs. The sticker price, again, was a huge deterrant. It was also priced $10,000 more than its non-hybrid vehicle.

In the end, the husband decided without me and drove home one day in the Lexus RX330, in an ugly gray at that - yuck. He got a short-term lease with the belief that either hybrids will come down in the next three years, or some really fantastic breakthrough will take place in engine technology. I don't believe it. Ultimately, I think it was a vanity choice.

I feel spoiled by the comfort of the vehicle, but am dissatisfied by the look and the gas mileage (better than the Ford, though). The Ford is garaged for now. I plan to sell it, save the money, and make my own choice next time.

I'm still interested in the Prius, but I will probably share it with my mother who has Multiple-Chemical Sensitivity Disorder. Which will mean buying a car that is at least 2-years old. Maybe a Beetle? The diesel engines get about 35-40 miles per gallon. Or even a Mini-Cooper. This will be my summer project.

Sorry, I wrote a book. This is a subject that has been on my mind a lot.

Hope you and your family are well.

PS: I heard that Toyota will be making the RAV4 as a hybrid. I'd love to try that out.

10:23 AM  

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