Last week via email, reader David Hatch asked:
If you were going to buy a new car, what would you get do you think?
I wrote a short email reply…then decide this topic is worth a deeper dive (of only for my own personal edification).
You see, Kim and I have been talking about cars lately. Mine is fifteen years old and hers is over twenty. Although both are running fine, we realize that we'll have to replace one (or both) of them in the near future. When we do, what will we buy? What kind of new car is right for Kim? What kind of car is right for me?
Let's start by looking at the cars I've owned in the past.
Every Car I've Ever Owned
I am not a car guy. Even though I can appreciate nice cars, I don't have any desire to own them. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because my parents never had nice cars when I was a kid. They had practical, serviceable vehicles that got the job done.
During my 33 years of driving, I've owned five cars.
In high school, I inherited my father's 1980 Datsun 310 GX. I drove that little red beast until it died during my senior year of college. I had a lot of fun with the Datsun, but I treated it poorly. The best part about this car was that I could perform a lot of the maintenance myself — even though I don't have much mechanical knowledge. (Driven from March 1985 to March 1991 — six years.)
After the Datsun died, Dad bought me a $1000 Ford Tempo as a college graduation present. It was a POS from the start. I drove it for less than six months before giving up on it. (Driven from March 1991 to September 1991 — six months.)
When I landed my first job (which turned out to be the worst job I ever had), I also bought my first new car: a 1992 Geo Storm. Naturally, I bought it on credit…before I'd even received a paycheck. I loved that $12,000 car the entire time I owned it. (Driven from September 1991 to December 2000 — 9.25 years.)
On 01 December 2000, a semi sideswiped my Geo Storm on the freeway during morning traffic. The car spun 360+ degrees before striking an overpass guardrail, deploying the airbag. The car was totalled; fortunately, I wasn't hurt.
After the accident, I purchased a brand-new 2001 Ford Focus from a friend who worked at a local dealership. I paid $15,000. I hated that car from Day One. It was awful. (I should have read the Consumer Reports reviews before buying; I would have steered clear!) I bought that vehicle with a loan too. (Driven from December 2000 to April 2009 — 8.25 years.)
In 2009, after years of dreaming about it, I realized I could afford to buy a used Mini Cooper. By this point, I'd been writing GRS for three years, so I put my own advice into practice. I shopped around. I bought used. I paid $15,000 cash. I've owned that 2004 Mini Cooper for more than nine years now. In fact, as of this month, it's the car I've owned longest in my lifetime.
As you can tell, when I buy a car, I tend to drive it for a long time. I rarely (if ever) get the new car itch. I wish I could say this was because I'm rational about my car-buying decisions, but that's not it. I'm just not a car guy. (Computers, though? Well, I want to upgrade my computer every year. I am a computer guy.)
But David didn't ask about the cars I've owned in the past. He asked what car I'd buy new. [Read more…]