Friday, June 26, 2009

Car Trouble

In the past month, my 1995 minivan has broken down twice at really bad times. My radiator ruptured while I was performing my duties as designated driver at a friend's bachelor party. And this week my alternator belt snapped while I was in the middle of a funeral procession. I've put about $800 into the van recently, which is pretty crummy seeing as how I'd be lucky to get $2000 if I sold it.

It dawned on me today why my van is such a piece of crap. When I turned 16, my parents bought me my first car. This was mainly so I could drive my sister and myself to school, as my Dad's office was way across town. That car was a 1973 Buick Century, puke-green in color. It had a 350 cubic inch engine (this is before they started calling 'em 5.7 liters), a vinyl top, an AM radio, and got just under 10 miles per gallon... highway (luckily, gas was bout 80 cents then). It didn't even have shoulder seat belts. The trunk could have transported at least three dead bodies, in addition to the full-size spare tire. My Dad paid $1500 for it.

Fast forward to today, and do the math. In 1985, that car, which was indisputably a clunker fit only for a teenage boy who was destined to wreck it (and I did), was 12 years old. My minivan is currently 14 years old. Moreover, if you use the Rule of 72, you figure that if inflation has run 3% since 1985, the value of the dollar has been cut in half (72 divided by 3 yields 24 years time for prices to double). So when I was 16, driving a junker, I had a car 2 years newer and worth probably $1000 more in today's dollars than I do now. THAT explains it!

As much as I like to complain about my car, I wouldn't have it any other way. If somebody were to give me a brand new Ferrari outright, it still would have to drive 4.5 miles in traffic to and from school each day and sit all that time in an unpaved parking lot. My property taxes on the minivan are $43 a year. My insurance bill is tiny. Obviously, there's no payment. And because I don't make those regular "normal" car expenses, we are free to take summers off, to travel a little, to give, and to save, and to otherwise not be "normal" in other ways. It's like Dave Ramsey says: "If you'll live like no one else, later you can LIVE like no one else." That's a helpful thing to remember when I'm fuming over the repair bills. And when this one dies, it'll be right back to another clunker.

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