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The End of an Era (Car Financing)


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For over ten years, I've enjoyed (for the most part--driving older vehicles is a love/hate relationship) a car payment-free existence.  For someone in their mid-'40s, I suppose I haven't financed many vehicles.  There was the 1999 Nissan Sentra I traded in for the 2006 GMC Sierra I still own.  Then there was the wife's 2004 Mustang GT.  Until a few years ago, I used my Sierra as a daily driver, even when it was well past 300k on the odometer.  My wife drove a 2006 Mercury Mountaineer we bought with cash, which is how I bought the eight or so other vehicles I've owned since the mid-90s.    


My truck might have blown a head gasket a couple of years ago.  It still made a two-hour drive to my sister's house, but I decided to leave it in Virginia and bring it down south later (I need to try to get it down here soon), with the intent of putting a crate engine in it.  My wife's Mountaineer suffered a far more horrendous fate.  I was relying on that for my commute the couple of days a week I had to drive into work during my last year or so in the Army.  One day it wouldn't crank and being a 4.0L with over 250k miles, I figured the engine had locked up.  I kept it parked on the street for a few days and borrowed my son's car.  The night before Thanksgiving 2021, I heard what sounded like a gunshot right as I was basting my turkeys for the last big family gathering before retirement.  I grabbed a pistol and peeked outside, seeing the Mercury parked at an odd angle in the ditch.  Sure enough, someone speeding down the street had hit it, and the timing couldn't have been better.  I still had full coverage, so despite the driver being uninsured, I was able to file a claim and get somewhere around $5 for the truck.  I used that to buy a 2009 Dodge Journey.  In hindsight, I should have stuck with one of the minivans we were looking at.  It's been transportation since moving down to Louisiana, but that's about it.  A few days ago, however, it stalled out and will crank but not turn over.  I'll look at it when I get the chance.  There's one honorable mention vehicle.  Last year, we paid $3k for a 2007 Ford Focus.  Having a second vehicle (and one with A/C) was nice while it lasted, but driving into work one morning, a coworker whipped into the parking lot and totaled that car.  We still came out about $300 over what we paid from insurance.  Regardless, it sucked, because we'd only had the car a couple of months.


Anyway, all that to get to this.  We drove to Mississippi yesterday to pick up what the wife and I consider the perfect compromise vehicle for our family.  I rented a 15-passenger Fort Transit high-top last year and loved it despite its size.  In the future, maybe, but that wouldn't make for a good daily driver as I just drive back-and-forth to work.  I'd prefer a full-size pickup, but I have one.  Given today's prices, I can pay to have my truck shipped here, replace the drivetrain and steering/suspension, and basically have a new truck on an old chassis at 1/5th the price of a new truck.  There's no major damage--a few scuffs and dings--but I won't have to obsess over every little bit of dust that gets on it like I would with a new $80k Sierra.  My wife likes SUVs.  The problem is, we need 3rd row seating but didn't want to go over $25k for this vehicle.  Eventually, she'll have the Escalade she wants, but frankly, I think it'll be good that the kids will all be grown by then.  I rented a car a couple of weeks ago, and within days, the 17-year-old had spilled sunflower seed shells all over the passenger side.  We considered minivans but our prime years for one are way behind us, and neither of us really like them.  Ten years ago, with kids ranging from three to 15, it would have made sense, but now the oldest two are grown and the youngest is 13. 


So, the compromise vehicle... a 2021 Ford Transit Connect.  This is by far the newest vehicle I've ever owned (well, will own once the bank's paid).  The seating configuration seems ideal, with a 2-2-2 layout giving plenty of space for the three kids still in the house and leaving enough room for the dogs if they ride along.  With the seats folded, I can haul some stuff; sheet goods would have to be broken down and long materials like conduit or dimensional lumber would require the rear doors to be left partially open, but overall, it's a better option than an SUV or minivan.  I've heard these things called wagons, and I've heard them called vans.  They're smaller, but definitely not the classic definition of minivan, though the sliding doors don't really make them a wagon in my opinion either.  I like the feeling of being in a miniaturized version of that large Transit.  This should meet our needs for the time being and will likely serve as our base of operations for any music festivals or other events we attend.  Outfitted properly, it will provide a decent platform to camp out of, maybe with a vehicle tent at the rear.       


Anyway, this is getting long.  I guess I'll be sucking up the payments on this new to us vehicle.  At least I can use the app to set remote start times to get some A/C going before I leave for work.  With the proximity sensors on the front and rear, I'm hoping the wife doesn't take out quarter panels like she has on the SUVs (my truck only went through two sets of nerf bars on her watch).  All told, I don't mind the payments.  We've lived fairly frugally over the past few years, and if I'm going to continue to work, I need something I can jump in and not start stressing over because of a new noise or due to the temperature gauge being slightly higher than normal.  It just sucks that the Dodge quit when it did... within two weeks I'm eliminating most of my debt and would have had enough to pay cash for the this.  As it stands, well, one's gotta do what one's gotta do.

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I hear you.  I had a 2012 Ford F150 with a bunch of problems and it only lasted 100K.  It had so many problems and rusted so badly, it wasn't worth putting money into it.  I liked not having a payment also.  I looked at used and new cars and wanted another truck.  The used car prices were crazy as by us, there were not many available, I guess there was a chip problem so not many produced.  When I looked over everything, it was about the same as getting new for me.  I ended up going new but I think in the future, I am going used.  Not enjoying a payment again.

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I'll get some pics uploaded soon.  I'm fortunate to not live in the Rust Belt, so my GMC should be good frame and body wise.  I remember having cars where rust was a big problem, including my 1978 K5 Blazer.  Sadly, when we sold what we could before letting go of the in-laws' house, the 1989 Mercedes 560SEC only netter a few hundred.  The buyer went underneath and immediately just cut off the catalytic converter, saying the frame was rusted through.  That car was nice when we got it in 2000 and had a sticker price of around $85k new.  Unfortunately, after I joined the Army, it sat neglected, and when the sunroof started leaking and a window motor went out, so much water got into it that the electrical system was screwed and the interior mildewed.  Obviously, the rust set in due to that.  

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