In my past two posts (part 1, part 2), I wrote about four of the ten vehicles I have owned during my lifetime. My starter car was an old beater, but the three others I discussed were brand new. Two of these four cars were two-door coupes and two were minivans. Now it’s time to tell about my sedans.
When my wife and I first married, we were privileged to have the use of a small truck belonging to her parents for a number of months. When that vehicle was no longer available to us, we had to find something else to meet our transportation needs.
We were in the midst of building a new house and didn’t want another car payment. (We were still paying on our Astro van.) So we bought an old four-door Chevy Impala that was the same medium blue as our van. The junker only worked for a few weeks before the engine burned out. Repairing it was out of the question. Replacing it would have cost twice what we paid for the car. So we sold it for scrap.
After looking for used cars, I found myself in a familiar position looking at new cars that were cheaper than the used ones we had been looking at. We stood one night on a car lot in front of a four-door Hyundai Excel that we knew was essentially a disposable car. I figured it would last seven years at best. But it cost no more than used vehicles we had looked at. And it certainly had to be more reliable.
Given my experience buying the Astro van, I loathed the idea of dealing with a salesman at a car dealership. But this turned out to be a very low pressure experience. We took a few days to consider our options and ended up bringing home a brand new charcoal gray Hyundai Excel.
My wife, who likes driving stick shift vehicles, opted for the manual five-speed transmission. That saved $800 on the price of the vehicle. The stick shift was great until we started having kids. Then my wife discovered that it’s sometimes beneficial for a parent with young children in the car to have one hand free.
We were now saddled with a second car payment just as we were about to move into a new house and start making larger house payments. That caused some consternation over the next couple of years, but we eventually paid off the car loan early, just as we have every other car loan we’ve ever had.
The Hyundai got good gas mileage and managed fairly well in the snow. It had occasional maintenance issues, but the mechanics were so simple that even I could often do the repair myself. (I am not mechanically inclined.) It was a satisfactory vehicle.
When the Hyundai was about eight years old, I was driving up the dirt road to a local scout camp one day when the transmission made a nasty sound and then wouldn’t work anymore. After a lot of messing around, I was able to get it into a high gear and it limped back to town.
We took the car to a trusted mechanic. He informed us that it would cost $2,500 to fix the thing. It was worth only about $1,200 at the time. This guy said that given his experience with that model, he wouldn’t advise fixing it even if the repair would cost a lot less. Those cars, he said, tended to start having everything go bad at about that age.
We had had a pretty good buying experience with our Mercury Villager minivan several years earlier, so we went to a Ford dealer. They sent us across the street to their Hyundai dealership, where they had a one-year-old white Ford Taurus four-door that had been a fleet vehicle. It was reasonably priced and they gave us a more than satisfactory price on the trade in of the broken down Hyundai.
The Taurus had more room than the Hyundai. We welcomed the automatic transmission, A/C, and power windows. But we immediately noticed that the car suffered from shoddy craftsmanship. One window never did seal well when rolled up. Various features didn’t fit well. The quality was far below that of our Mercury Villager. It seemed like repairs came along more often than with the Hyundai, including a couple of major repairs as the thing aged.
Still, the Taurus lasted nearly 10 years. It went lots of places, including many scout camps. We could fit lots of stuff in the trunk. Its gas mileage was worse than the Hyundai’s had been, but it was OK.
One weekend, I followed our scoutmaster in his Jeep up the dirt road to Willard Basin. I hadn’t been on the road since I was a kid, when it was common for regular cars and even school buses to traverse the route. It had deteriorated to a four-wheeler road by the time I was driving on it. Despite the bumps and scrapes, the old Taurus made it to Willard Basin.
But on the way back down the following day, I smashed up the undercarriage so badly that the transmission fluid leaked out and the transmission stopped working. The engine, steering, and brakes worked just fine. Fortunately, most of the nine miles of rugged dirt road we had left to cover were almost all downhill. The scouts had to push briefly about three times. There were times we nearly came to a dead stop before gaining a little more momentum, then we’d continued on downhill. Other times we were going way too fast for the road.
Somehow we made it over all nine miles of rugged road. We cruised out onto the pavement and coasted half a mile through the town of Mantua before coming to rest in a church parking lot. A relative of another dad on the trip came and towed us to a repair shop near Pleasant View. The mechanic repaired the car enough to make it drivable, but advised us to get rid of the beast.
Times had changed since we had last shopped for cars some 10 years earlier. We did a lot of shopping online before we ever set foot on a car lot. After considering our financial situation, the state of our two aging vehicles, and our options, we ultimately decided to buy two new vehicles.
After much research, we went to the sales arm of a car rental agency and asked to look at the vehicles we had made a list of. We traded in our old Taurus on a medium brown Toyota Camry four-door model that had less than 7,000 miles on it. And we supplemented our fleet with a white Dodge Durango that had about 11,000 miles.
We have the Toyota to this day. It’s been a great car. I’ll write more about the Durango in my next post.
Next time: Doing the SUV Thing