Monday, February 28, 2011


I'm not a car guy. I never was. I mean, yes, there are some cars that I'll drool over - Ferrari's and Lambourghanis, in particular, are just gorgeous. DeLoreans are pretty spiffy-looking, too, for that matter. Corvettes and Vipers are nice. But that's not the same as being a real car enthusiast, or even a knowledgeable owner.

I had a Camaro once - a gold, 1980 Chevy 350 Camaro with the rear spoiler (because they looked terrible without it). I made a few minor improvements to it - nice tires, racing plugs, I might have changed out the carb - I forget. It was an awesome car that I really did love and I enjoyed driving. But I was incapable of doing any significant work on it myself. I just don't have the aptitude.

So unlike computers - which I can usually make dance to my tune for the most part - cars run roughshod over me. I'm at their mercy. I have a peripheral understanding of how they work that's less and less relevant with each passing year farther away from carburetors and other pre-computerized technology.

I suppose I've been fortunate these last ten years or so. My wife and I bought two new vehicles back when we were just starting our family. We needed to replace a Chevy Cavalier and a Chevy S-10 Pickup with more kid-friendly vehicles. Neither was really suited to carseats. Within a couple of years, we had migrated to a Pontiac Grand-Am as our car (which was slightly bigger than the Cavalier or the S-10) and an almost fully-loaded Chevy Venture Minivan as our primary workhorse vehicle. We bought them both new, benefiting from my uncle's GM employee discount and saving a nice hunk of change as a result. Back in the 90s, I also had a GM Mastercard as my primary credit card, and it had a very generous 5% rewards program where that money could only be applied to a new General Motors vehicle. Holy cow did that add up across the four GM vehicles I bought between 1992 and 2001.

Those cars - the Venture and the Grand Am - were the last vehicles I'd bought. We've put around 90,000 miles on the minivan and about 115,000 on the car. The van took us to Rochester, Howe's Caverns, and Toronto. The car took me back and forth to my old company's Connecticut headquarters a couple dozen times. Roughly ten years and around a hundred thousand miles each isn't exactly a bad run.

But I was hoping for more, dammit! The Venture's starting to show some significant body rust in a couple spots, and it's been in and out of the repair shop almost a dozen times in the last couple of years. It's teetering on the razor edge of being no longer worth fixing. It needed a new head gasket recently that almost but didn't quite push it over the edge. The Grand Am, meanwhile, is absolutely spotless. Its body is in gorgeous shape, the interior is spotless, and the engine has been relatively problem-free.

So imagine my surprise last Wednesday when, after our stint on Bridge Street, my wife went to pull out of her parking space at the TV studio and discovered that the steering wheel would absolutely not turn to the left. It simply wouldn't. We had to have AAA tow it and the next day we got the news: this car, which has a blue-book value of around $3,500, needed $2,500 in repairs, because the cradle and other suspension parts have pretty well rotted away. Dammit!! That wasn't supposed to happen. That car looked to be in great shape - it was supposed to last another couple of years at least. I was hoping to get between 125,000 and 150,000 miles out of the darn thing. And now, all of a sudden, it's undriveable and practically worthless.

So on Saturday, we got to head on over to Burdick's Driver's Village to buy ourselves the first used vehicle since my Camaro. I like buying new. I like that new car smell (though I've read it's rife with chemicals that probably give you cancer or something. I don't care - I like the smell anyway). I like how tight and clean and new everything is. I like being the original owner - the first one to drive it since it left the factory. I like that it's only ever been mine and mine alone. But, my wife made it clear that our finances didn't support the $8,000-10,000+ premium to enjoy those particular benefits. With both of our cars on or over the edge of utter ruin, we had to be frugal. We had to buy used.

And do you know that General Motors currently doesn't manufacture any minivans at all? What the hell? So after poking around on sites like and, I came away pretty impressed with the Kia Sedona of all things. Prior to that I'd been leaning heavily toward the Chyrsler Town and Country, but the reviews of both vehicles really made the Sedona sound like the better buy. So that's what we ended up with - a 2010 Sedona that had previously been a Hertz rental vehicle in New Hampshire or someplace. It's a bare-bones minivan - it doesn't even have power sliding doors and I'm beginning to doubt that the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel actually do anything. But it was cheap, it only had $15,000 miles on it, and we got it for a decent price including a 10-year, 100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which ought to make it relatively easy to own for the long haul. By the time the warranty's up, two of my three kids will be out of high school.

It was a grueling process. We spent less than an hour meeting our salesman and test-driving the minivan we'd end up buying. Then we spent the next six hours screwing around with negotiations (which were the usual bullshit - "I've got to run that past my manager. Oh my manager can't do that, how about this?" and so on) and an endless stream of paperwork that seemed to take all day because it literally did. We got there at 10:30 in the morning and didn't finish until 6 PM. Egads, that was an awful experience.

So at the moment we have two minivans. That was my wife's clever idea - since we really, really need to have a minivan and since we know the Venture is limping along for some indeterminate amount of time, she suggested that we replace the car with a minivan, and then we would have the option to get a sedan or an SUV or something else when the Venture finally dies. I thought that was pretty smart.

I'm not unhappy with where we ended up - the price was okay and we've got what we need to move our family around. It was an annoying process to be sure, but mostly I'm just ticked that the Grand Am died so unexpectedly and so much sooner than I'd hoped. Now to see how much life we can squeeze out of the Venture. And then we get to start the process all over again. Ugh. Stupid cars.

No comments:

Post a Comment