Don’t let your emotions drive your car-buying decisions

I was in the 6th grade when I first laid eyes on her. She was a 1989 BMW 635i Coupe that did donuts in the school’s parking lot after class thanks to an obnoxious, rich 11th-grader who got the car as a birthday present. I was immediately smitten and promised myself one day I’d be able to buy such a car too.

The new 6 series BMW came out in 2005 and all the memories came rushing back. What cost only $35,000 then now cost $75,000 thanks to inflation and an infinite amount of new features. I don’t know about you, but $75,000 is a big chunk of change and is way beyond my 1/10th rule for car-buying I say everyone must follow.

I figured instead of spending $75,000, why not go back in time and actually buy that 1989 635i Coupe! My brilliant idea led me to Craigslist where I found my true dream car listed in “fantastic condition with only 160,000 miles”! That’s only 8,000 miles a year I rationalized, and off I went to see the seller 45 minutes away.

The gold 635i BMW was in great condition and the seller was only asking $3,800. After a test drive and over one hour of negotiating, I got him down to just $2,500. What a bargain, I thought, knowing that even if the car blew up the next day, I’d only be down $2,500. I gleefully drove back home in my dream mobile that I had waited for almost 20 years. Of course, as soon as I got home all the trouble began.

No Room

Having bought and sold eight cars in the past 10 years, I fancy myself as a car aficionado or addict. Unfortunately, since I just had to have this new ride, I violated one of my basic rules: sell my existing vehicle before buying a new one. Parking is an absolute nightmare in San Francisco and, unfortunately, I’ve only got one-car parking. What a donkey.

So here I am, a guy who takes the bus to work with two cars and not enough space. What a pain in the rump as I had to move my car every several hours before 6 p.m. or risk getting a ticket. I ended up blocking my driveway most of the time instead, which immediately made my other car useless. At least I knew I wouldn’t be calling the parking police on myself!

After a couple months, I eventually sold my other car in order to park my baby, Sherman, in the driveway.

Unforeseen Problems

I know that a 20-plus-year-old car will undoubtedly have problems, but sheer lust drove this purchase and I chose not to get an inspection. Bad move as my steering gearbox had a crack, which resulted in a massive amount of steering fluid leakage every time I stopped the car. Cost to fix? $1,200-1,500, which I didn’t end up fixing. I just bought 20 gallons of steering fluid for $30 bucks! Yeah, baby, yeah!

What’s worse than a leaky steering box? A sticky accelerator. I discovered on a routine drive around the city that my accelerator would get stuck on “lead-foot mode” every so often and I had to ram on my brakes and shut the engine off to avoid crashing into the car ahead of me. It was one of the scariest feelings ever and something that really made me question whether I’d ever want to own a classic car again.

This was a problem I had to fix, so I spent $400 changing out the electronics that control the sensors to the accelerator. I didn’t want to end my life running a red light and getting T-boned because I couldn’t stop in time. OK, all was good again — until a third major problem arose.

Soon after I fixed the accelerator, all the electronics would intermittently shut down, causing me to lose all lights and power steering. Of course a cop was behind me during one episode and I got a fix-it ticket. The ticket was only $15 bucks if I fixed the problem within 16 days. It was just a big hassle. Sweet, another $400 out the window.

The final unforeseen defect was a low idle, which caused it to stall. My dream mobile would just die at a red light and I’d have to crank the ignition multiple times before he would start again. How stressful and embarrassing. Back to the auto mechanic I went, who proceeded to charge me another $300 for a “classic car tune-up and idle adjustment.”

If Only I Had Been Thinking Straight

I let my emotions get the best of me. I knew there would be problems with the car, but I didn’t care. I had successfully walked away with my dream car for only $2,500 and that’s all that mattered at the time. I ended up spending $1,200 more to make the car operable, and it still had a $1,200-plus steering gearbox problem which I refused to fix. Who needs steering anyway? All in all, I have probably seen the mechanic six times and spent more than 15 hours to maintain the car in my 1.5 years of ownership. In the end, it wasn’t worth the headache at all, no matter how sexy the car looked.

If I could do it over again, I would:

1) bring a friend as a voice of reason

2) spend $100 and a couple hours having the car checked out by an auto mechanic

3) wait a couple days before negotiating

4) check the online forums to understand all the major problems with the particular model and ask the seller about them, and

5) never buy a classic car again, unless it’s in pristine condition!

I ended up selling the car to another emotional enthusiast for $2,200. I told him about my problems and all the fixes I had made except for the steering box, which he saw on his own. I learned that I don’t have the time or the money to spend maintaining a car. A car should serve me, not the other way around. From now on, I will never let my car nostalgia get the best of me. Don’t let it get the best of you either!

Readers, have you ever let your emotions get the best of you when buying a car, a house, or anything that should have taken more thought before purchase? Is buying nostalgia not one of the most rewarding activities? How do you control your urges to splurge? Do you think Americans have a spending problem or an earning problem?



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