This is a guest post from Katrina Ramser, a freelance writer who contributes new-car reviews for various websites, newspapers and magazines. She also writes about swimming at SquidKid.
I can get wrapped up and taken away with an SUV's strength and sleekness in the snowy mountains of Tahoe, or just bullying into a Whole Food's parking space. And I seem to develop a more practical and sustainable look on life after peaceful time spent on long drives with a Toyota Prius, or the overlooked (but so charismatic once you get to know it!) Hyundai Azera.
And the vehicles just keep changing and improving with each passing year, hoping to catch my eye and dazzle me once more with their ability to stay young forever. What's not to love about a new car?
Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride
I can write poetry about each and every model and maker I've had the pleasure to have known. I am an auto journalist.
It's my job to date and judge vehicles. I do have preferences, like a man might for a tall blonde, or how females fall under the spell cast by bedroom eyes. For example, if a car doesn't have power seats, we're off on the wrong foot. And when I meet a vehicle that has four-wheel drive capability, better than average gas mileage, and a clean and reliable past, I am swayed. I always remain objective, but I'm guilty of enjoying each and all of the vehicles I drive. I ask you again, what's not to love about a new car?
But it's just my job to date, never to marry. It's a personal decision I made a long time ago to always be the bridesmaid, but never the buyer. I've never taken the new car plunge. Ever.
I'm wary of the price you must pay for such glorifying newness. When I was younger, I could not afford a new car. Now that I'm older and wiser, it's more like I will not afford a new car. I've seen what they do to you, and I know some types of love are not worth the headache and entrapment, no matter the pressing desire.
Last year, I did my boyfriend's bookkeeping, which included tracking and calculating the costs of the 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 that he bought brand new. Almost three years into Shane's ownership contract, I discovered he spends an average of $1,000 a month on the vehicle.
The average monthly car payment is $475. Shane's is $440 plus some change. He was required to buy full coverage, so insurance runs about $189 a month. He has an extended warranty of around $120. Gas in a full-size truck with his engine size costs roughly $190 for 20-mile there-and-back commuting. Registration evens out to $31 a month; car repairs, dealer tune-ups and washes come in at $49; and car accessories averaged $115 a month last year, as he bought a spray-bed liner and lumber rack because it's a work truck. That's around $1,000 per month, or $12,000 a year to own his new car.
He signed a 72-month (6-year) contract with the Dodge financial house, sentencing him to an interest rate I don't much care for: 10.39% (the national average is 7.13% as of this writing). His credit was okay when he was financed for $23,416 — a nice down payment of $7,000 helped reduce that number. But he'll pay an additional $8,285 in finance charges. That's enough for a second car — maybe even two! But it's all so typical in our society.
Coping With Costs
With rumors of a recession in the wind, we've tightened the fan belt and made some adjustments. The car accessories budget should be much smaller this year since he doesn't need another bed liner or rack. Shane's now working in the same town where we live, so gas costs should also be smaller. And he washes the Dodge himself now, though he grumbles that it takes a good hour or so. We also realized (if not too late) an extended warranty is nothing but a pricy piece-of-mind gamble. As for reducing the interest rate by refinancing, we're going to instead make a radical move to double the car payment and get the thing (and ourselves) debt-free.
Despite changes, we're still looking at a lot of money to maintain the cost of living with the new car. We'll call the whole thing a life lesson. It's a lesson many never learn, never realizing a car payment is an option, not a rite of passage.
A new cars loses 25 percent of its value the instant you drive it off the lot. In four years, depreciation consumes most of its original value. The initial excitement dies, boredom sets in, and we're open to temptation again. Usually after about five to six years we start looking around for a replacement.
Young beauties are to be had everywhere! They pass by you on the street, catch your eye walking into the grocery store, and flirt with you at stop signals. I'm talking about new cars, of course. Vehicles today are more insanely capable with each passing year, from the safety to the technology front. In some cases, they even drive themselves!. Cars are only going to get better. They are only going to stay younger.
We have created a society that doesn't value old things. With each passing year, our love dies a little more for what we once claimed to esteem. Yet I remain faithful to what I drive. I can't admire it in the same light I have for new cars, but I can love it for different reasons.
I have a hand-me-down 1995 Chrysler Cirrus, an after-thought gift from my upgrading parents. It's a car the manufacturer never bothered to make again. There are serious issues with the engine that cannot be found to fix, despite whichever diagnostics machine I've hooked it up to (so much for some car technology). It still drives fine, but sometimes it stalls at stoplights. It costs me under $400 a year to insure. It is totally payment-free. It doesn't guzzle gas. Maintenance has been reduced to tossing broken car pieces like antennas and paneling into the trunk. And with the type of job I have, I don't even drive it too much.
In a sense, I have to keep writing about automobiles in order to be able to afford to drive at all. With the cost of gas reaching an all-time high, I must focus on landing more automotive-related jobs just for personal finance reasons. Sounds sort of sadistic to bank on what's depleting, but I need to drive like the rest of the world, and I kind of think I've found a clever way to do it.
I don't have to buy the merchandise to appreciate or even to recommend new cars. There is no denying what they are. But sampling fills me enough, thanks. After awhile, they just become another pretty face. Because what's not to love about a new car?
Photo by jessicafm.