Ten years ago this month (or maybe next month, I don’t really remember) I made one of my proudest and most responsible purchases: a 2001 Chevy Lumina.
In the previous December, the lease ran out on the S10 I drove in college, so I actually went without a car for few weeks. I remember that time vividly, waiting for the bus after work, staring longingly at people driving late-model Pontiacs, thinking to myself, “that person has car, why not me?”
Working for a bank, we had a program called “Hot Deals on Cool Wheels” where employees could buy lease turn-ins and repos at fairly reasonable prices. I scoured that page on the intranet every day looking for the something, anything to save from the misery that was relying solely on friends and public transportation in the city of Cincinnati.
Then I saw it. The ’01 Lumina in all its glory. A repo with 33,000 miles. Unattractive green exterior somehow outdone by its even more unattractive grey cloth interior. And they only wanted $7,000 for it.
I call this my most responsible purchase because unlike many recent college grads I was hanging around with at the time, I wasn’t interested in locking myself into a $400/month payment on a Passat for the next five years. My next five years would include getting married and buying our first house, so not being burdened by a large car payment came in handy.
I could only afford to put $1,000 down on it, so I ended up having a $175 or so per month payment for four years. As soon as I signed the loan docs, I told myself that this was the right thing to do. And to prove it, I promised myself I would drive the thing for ten years (thus, six years with no payment).
But the thing about driving a car like this, is that you have to put on a front that you don’t care about cars, and this gets you from A to B, and that’s all that matters. Which is sort of true, but you’re still kind of embarrassed to be driving the thing.
So it creates the effect similar to liking a cheesy pop song. You’ll scan the Top 40 stations on the radio whenever you’re in the car to look for it. You’ll play it on YouTube at home when no one else is around. But you won’t bring yourself to drop the $1.29 for it on iTunes because then you’d have to admit to yourself that you like it. With the Lumina, I was like that with taking care of it. I would never get it washed or keep the interior clean and organized, because then I’d have to admit to myself that it was something worth taking care of. So that leads to the negative feedback loop, causing you to drive an even crappier car that you should have to if you’d just take care of the damn thing.
But still, the simple fact that it’s a Lumina trumps whatever poor condition it’s in. I have to laugh with people now when I discuss my chances of getting a new car soon. They react like, “it’ll be nice getting rid of that old car”. My response is alongs the lines of the fact that it’s old is still really only 20% of the issue. 80% of the issue is that it’s a Lumina.
I mean, it’s really not attractive in the least. I could never get away with this thing if I was single. I was dating Mindy at the time I bought it, and she married me in spite of it. And over the years, I watched my friends get nicer and nicer and cars. But I stayed committed to my ten-year plan. Even through the air conditioner giving out.
But this really wasn’t a big deal. Eight years in, I had only put another 50,000 or so mile on it. I was living only a few miles from work, taking the bus almost exclusively. The Lumina was only unleashed on the occasional weekend when Mindy and I had to be in different places at the same time.
And this worked until it didn’t. And it didn’t when just after the 8-year mark, we moved to the suburbs. And suddenly my 3-mile round-trip by bus turned into a 45-mile round-trip. I tried the park-and-ride, but it just wasn’t convenient enough.
So 50,000 miles in the first eight years turned into 20,000 miles in a year-and-a-half. And commuting (wearing a suit!) with no A/C for two summers has really tested my resolve.
But, alas, I’m here. I’ve made it to ten years.
A couple Saturdays ago, I’m working through the family budget planning for the year, and I’m realizing all the things we want to spend our money on in 2013. I start to entertain thoughts like, “well, maybe I can ride this thing out another year”. I mean, it’s got barely over 100,000 miles on it, it still runs fine. We’re in the dead of winter, so the no A/C thing is more of an abstract concept then something tangible at the present. Yeah, it still looks like shit, but who am I trying to impress?
But then only three days after entertaining these thoughts, I blow out a tire at full speed on the interstate during the commute home. (Fortunately, I was able to pull to the side quickly and safely.) Standing next to the side of the highway waiting for roadside assistance for an hour in January in Ohio certainly puts a damper in your desire to keep commuting in a 13-year-old car.
But, hey, there was no other damage. All that was needed a new tire. The Lumina was back in commuting shape after only a day off. So my ride this thing out for a little while longer plan was back on…maybe.
Well, the next day the EVP from my division asks me for a ride home. I say sure, have a panic attack, run to the parking garage to give it a quick cleaning, then run back to the office to tell him I was ready to go.
I’m not superstitious, but I’m taking the events of that week as signs. I need to get a new car.