Monday, March 31, 2008

Prelude to Car Shopping

I'm back home again after a very nice partial weekend away (I was actually home on Saturday). East Texas really was lovely. The dogwood trees were amazing. They're fairly small trees, and in the spring before they leaf out, they have these white blooms. You'll see a bunch of them on a wooded hillside, and because they're smaller than the other trees and are usually blooming before the other trees have many leaves, it almost gives the effect of snow. I don't have any pictures because most of the really good dogwood spots on my way home were along two-lane roads without shoulders, so I couldn't stop to take pictures.

This was probably my last road trip in my current car. It's still running pretty well at nearly 11 years and 103,000 miles, but when it fails, the failure is pretty catastrophic, so it's not good for when I have to do a lot of road trips. If it were a second car used mostly for running to and from the grocery store, that would be fine, but before convention season, I need a car I can trust. I think I'll be getting a new car in April because my registration runs out at the end of the month, and there's no point paying for a registration and then trading the car in. In fact, I may even have put gas in it for the last time.

So, it's time to start actively car shopping -- the icky part, where you have to actually deal with car salesmen (shudder). I've been sort of passively car shopping, which amounts to some Internet research and reading the auto section in the weekend newspaper. I've also been looking at cars as I go about my daily routine to see what catches my eye. That has brought me to a disturbing conclusion: For someone with a stated goal of finding the cheapest car that doesn't require quarters to operate, I have very expensive taste in cars.

I'll be driving around, or sitting at my desk and looking out the window at the major road that goes behind my house, and I'll spot a car that I think looks like a practical little car that's still kind of cute, and it almost always turns out to be either a BMW or a Volvo when I see it from an angle where the logo is visible. I really seem to be drawn to the BMW 325i and the Volvo S40. But it's not the logo that draws me. They look to me like cute, cheap, practical little cars, and I expect them to be maybe the lower-end Fords or Mazdas, so I'm surprised that they turn out to be luxury cars -- lower-end luxury cars, but still at least $10,000 more expensive than the cars I think they are. Sometimes the car I spot will turn out to be the Volkswagen Jetta. That's cheaper, but still out of my price range. I never thought of myself as a BMW or Volvo kind of person. I'm not much of a car person, really. My ego and sense of self aren't at all linked to what I drive. I just want something that will get me where I'm going and back home again reliably, with some comfort and without costing a lot of money or using a lot of fuel, so it's a little disturbing to find myself drooling over a BMW. The Volvo isn't so bad because those are generally more associated with safety than with luxury (and either there's one person who owns a silver S40 and drives around a lot, or a lot of my neighborhood owns them, because I seem to see one every five minutes). The real irony of me eying expensive cars is that I was pretty close to being eligible for the state money to help get older cars off the road. My car just qualified, and I'd have had to do my taxes to see if my income qualified because it was too close to just estimate. Not that I would have filed for it, since I can afford a new car and I think the money should go to people who really need it to replace a truly old car.

Fortunately, now that there seem to be more of them on the road, I've been seeing the cars I think are these fancy European cars, and they turn out to be the 2008 Ford Focus. That's more in my price range and it's more the kind of car I would associate with myself. Oddly, for a much cheaper car, it actually has some better reliability numbers. Why is it that the cars rated the absolute lowest in reliability are some of the most expensive out there? You pretty much have to have a full-time mechanic on staff if you drive a Bentley. But if the car is that cruddy, then what are you paying all that money for?

Anyway, it appears that my car personality is European, which makes sense, as I did spend some formative years there, and the Focus fits into that because it's a "world car" that was first sold in Europe. I think that may be my starting point. I've thought it might be fun to at least look at the Volvo, but I'm afraid I'd spoil myself. I'd hoped to have a new book deal before I needed to go car shopping, and then I'd know if I could afford to splurge, but that doesn't look like it will happen, as the book I've just finished hasn't even been submitted anywhere yet and that means I won't have a book deal before I need a car. I would have liked another Saturn because this has been a good car, but it's like that company has completely changed since I bought mine, and they aren't currently selling anything I want. Those "yes, this is a Saturn dealership" commercials really annoy me because to me, that's not a good thing.

Tomorrow may be my day to hit the car dealerships because today they've forecast off-and-on thunderstorms, and I don't want to be out and about when there's a chance of hail. I guess that means I have to start psyching myself up to face car salesmen (shudder). On the bright side, maybe I'll get some amusing anecdotes out of the process.

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