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April 03, 2007

Every Journey Begins With A Single Step: Help My Husband

Ap_dept_of_nance_ford_explorer Nance is a high school English teacher in an "urban school with a significant minority population" in Northeast Ohio. The following is part one in her blog series about her quest to buy a new car. Many of us have encountered similar situations as we attempt to research and buy a car; Nance shares a comic point of view that many women may find bitterly familiar.

Bless his heart, my husband is trying to buy me a car.

Most of you are probably reading the above sentence and thinking so what? Or, better yet, you might be thinking She's so lucky! I wish *my* husband would buy *me* a car! Or, if you are a careful reader, you might be homing in on the verb "trying." There you go: that's the key right there. For, dear Dept. readers, buying me a car is a journey fraught with considerable peril for so, so many reasons. Strap in--because I'm about to take you along with Rick on that virtual journey just for a moment. He feels so very alone right now, and he needs your help.

Mile Marker 1: The Start.

My car is 11 years old and I love it. I hate to drive; no, I detest driving. But this car, a 1996 Ford Explorer XLT, loaded, electric and automatic everything, is a pleasure to drive. (That's a picture of the model up there.) It has everything I require, including a little thermometer above the rearview mirror that tells me the temperature outdoors so that I can complain about how cold it is or marvel at how warm it is in comparison to the ambient temperature inside my wonderful car. The outer mirrors are fully and completely adjustable with a mere push of a button from inside my vehicle. My power seats inflate or deflate to cushion and conform to my derriere. They also move forward or backward, electronically. I have the cruise control resident on my steering wheel. Even though Captain Audiotronics (Sam) replaced my factory radio with an unnecessarily complex one, I can find the buttons I require and "work" the CD player if necessary. This car has cost us less than $1500 in repairs, lifetime. I get decent gas mileage and only drive 5 miles roundtrip to work, Monday through Friday. We take 1-2 trips to Canada a year, and 1 trip to Maryland, near D.C. a year. It has been paid off for 8 years. We have no car payment. Did I say I love this car?

Mile Marker 2: Pothole

Rick says, "This car is 11 years old. It's like shooting craps in Vegas. Pretty soon, our luck will run out. I am nervous driving long distances in this car. You are retiring in 4 years. Why not get a new car now, when there is 0% financing, and have it paid off when you retire and then have no car payment when your salary is reduced? You are making an emotional decision. We can get a more fuel-economical car. You are driving me crazy."

Mile Marker 3: U-Turn

I remind Rick that in order for me to be completely comfortable driving, I have to have an SUV. I am tiny and have to be able to sit up above other cars. I have to feel like I am in a freaking tank. In order to reconcile driving an SUV with my personal, moral, and political convictions, the SUV must therefore be a hybrid and must, of course, be American. Rick sighs and sends Jared to the basement for beer. Correction: beers.

Mile Marker 4: Detour

I have successfully, I thought, derailed the talk of buying a new car. Rick agrees to take me to the only Trader Joe's in the area--25 minutes away--so that I can get organic eggs and other quality foodstuffs. On the way, I notice we are not going to Trader Joe's. I have been ambushed. We spend the next 2 hours at car dealerships where there are no hybrids on the lot. Rick tries to get me to look at a reprehensible vehicle called an "Edge." It looks like a hearse and I tell him and the salesman this. They stare at me. I do not recapitulate. We find a dealership with a hybrid Ford Escape. It drives nicely and is very like my beloved Explorer. But we are misled by a previous dealer who had told us that the '08 models are at 0% financing; they are not. We say goodbye.

Mile Marker 5: Scenic View

We stop at a Lincoln Mercury dealer who has a Mercury Mariner (?) to look at. But it is not exactly what we are looking for. By then I am cranky and cold and fussy, but I am heroically and stoically quiet. (Really! I was so proud of myself.) We do not drive it, but leave our names and Rick's phone number for when an '08 comes in that is what "we" want to drive and consider. They say they offer 0% financing on the '08s. Rick feels proud that he can just walk away with the upper hand at all of these places. I feel overwhelmed and confused and more attached than ever to my underappreciated Explorer, who has done nothing but give me practically uninterrupted service and unstinting loyalty for more than a decade. And this is how we thank it.

But I digress.

Mile Marker 6: Rest Stop

We are now at a standstill. We have called friends whose opinions we value, we have talked and talked, we have slept on it, and we have sighed. And now, we don't really know what to do. The Lincoln Mercury dealership called yesterday. They have the car for us. We are going to go out and drive it Saturday. Then what? I have no idea. Today, my car, which makes a little honking noise sometimes when the heat or a/c is on, made it again, and all I had to do was rev the accelerator again a tiny bit to make it stop again. It's just a tiny little thing. Imagine having NO car payment. For SO LONG. And then having one. FOR SOOO LOONG.

My husband, I must say, has never made a bad financial decision for us. When we hash these things out and I cannot bear it anymore and announce exhaustedly, "I just can't make the call here. It's whatever you say. I trust you," it has always turned out excellently. So why, you are saying, can't you just let him go on this one? Because I am cheap, frugal, a spendthrift, and can't stand to go from NO car payment to A car payment. Period.

Update: Car salesmen are big, fat liars. Rick just told me he stopped at the Lincoln Mercury dealership today. The salesman casually mentioned that "oh yeah, the '08s aren't coming in at 0% after all, but we do have some attractive financing and the hybrids have some tax incentives---". Rick cut him off with a few words and left. We have found this with every dealership. Car salesmen have the credibility and integrity of the current Vice President and the rest of their ilk. Aaaargh.


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