Cars, is there any bigger “status” symbol for the masses than the automobile they are driving around in? I have to admit, a brand new shiny car has always been something I looked at with a sense of admiration. My journey with cars has been an adventure filled with learning experiences.
Car companies are fantastic at advertising. It is the time of year where you can’t watch tv for more than thirty minutes without seeing a snowy scene commercial involving a car with a big red bow on it. It is happening as I type this sentence!
I have spoken a bit about how much my life has changed since meeting Mrs. Widget but let me tell you a little about my single days as well. Here is a rundown of my experience with cars over the past 20 years.
Round 0: School Days
My first two cars were in HS and were provided to me by my parents. The first was a 1989 Mercury Sable, affectionately known as “The Bomb”. The paint was coming off, the electrical system inside went out, and the foot wells flooded whenever it rained hard. I drove this around for only a year and got it to 238k miles. It started shutting off at lights so I guess my parents thought it was time to look for something else.
My second car was a used 1995 Z28 Camaro. My dad took me to the dealership to get the experience in working through purchasing a car. It was a good experience at a young age. I loved this car and I kept it a long time (read on).
I am really appreciative of my parents for providing me with my first two vehicles (especially the second one). These two cars are in round zero since I did not control the money or purchasing decisions. The real fun began after I graduated from college.
Mr. Widget 0, Vehicles 0
Round 1: New Graduate with Money to Burn
A recent grad with a decent job and no debt is a car dealership’s dream. So was the case for me at the end of 2005. I was still living at home and felt the lure of buying something since I was finally making some real money.
Some of the young engineers around me were doing the same thing. It seemed as if the young engineers were all driving nicer cars than the older people. This should have been a clue to me, but I was way too naive to delve into the deeper meaning.
I started researching new cars and really liked the new redesign of the Lexus IS. So one day after work I made my way over to the local Lexus dealer and took a test drive in a new IS 350. Man was it a nice car. Comfortable leather seats, nav system, and plenty of horsepower.
I left the dealership after telling the salesman that I was going to think it over. Thinking about what was my highest priority at the time, I decided to buy a condo instead. I really wanted a place to call my own.
Narrowly avoiding a $30k+ car purchase was a win!
Mr. Widget 1, Vehicles 0
Round 1.5: Two Wheels Will Do
After moving out and renting for a while after the condo purchase didn’t go through (this was a good thing), I still felt the need to purchase a toy. I was still saving for a house so I decided to get something a little cheaper that I had always wanted, a motorcycle.
After taking a riding course that a local community college offered, I found a used Yamaha R6 on Craigslist. Not really a starter bike but I didn’t have time for that. There is acceleration in a car and then there is ACCELERATION on a motorcycle.
I enjoyed riding the motorcycle but never heard a good story from my friends who were also riders. People would always talk about someone they knew who got hurt on one. Then one day I laid my bike down at low-speed. I ran over pebbles while braking and the bike flipped out from under me. It was like I was riding on ice.
I got the bike fixed but did not ride that often so I sold it after about three years.
Mr. Widget 1, Vehicles 0.5
Round 2: American Muscle
I love Camaros. I have ever since I started driving my second car. In 2009 I was still driving the same one and it was 15 years old. It had some issues throughout the years but was still running well for the most part. Who needs AC when you have T-tops!
Chevy stopped making the Camaro for six years so there was not a lure to buy a new one. Then they announced a new redesigned Camaro would be available at the end of 2009. It was a great looking car and I was not able to overcome the temptation to purchase one.
The price of the car ended up being about 50% of my gross income! Needless to say, Sam would not approve. Despite this, I do not regret buying the car. I was single, and did not have the motivation of planning for a family’s future. I also thought I would be fine working until I was 65 (this has changed).
One thing I did learn was no one cares for your car as much as you do. Within a week someone opened their door into the side of my car and left a nice dent. I have always taken great care to avoid hitting another person’s car with my door (regardless of how old it is). It was frustrating to realize everyone does not do this.
Despite not having any regrets, I still have to give the vehicles the win on this one. Spending 50% of gross income on a car is not wise.
Mr. Widget 1, Vehicles 1.5
Round 3: Family Man, Family Sedan
Oh no, my financial future is ruined! I will be working forever! Not so fast. Six months after buying the new Camaro, I met Mrs. Widget. This was the life inflection point that changed everything.
When I met her, I had two Camaros and a motorcycle. That is twenty total cylinders! Cue the Tim Taylor grunt, Oah Oah Oah Oah! She was not impressed.
As I began planning for our future, it became apparent that these vehicles would need to go. First went the motorcycle in 2011. Then the old Camaro in 2012 (that one was tough). Then in 2015 I began searching for a car that made more sense as a one car couple.
I had been focusing on paying off the Camaro during our first couple of years of marriage and finally paid it off towards the end of 2014. I found Sam’s post above and thought spending 10% of our income on a car made a lot of sense.
After some research, we ended up buying a used Honda Accord that was coming off a two-year lease. It had low miles, was in great shape and was below my desired car to income ratio. I traded in the new Camaro for it and had to write a small check for the difference. Twenty cylinders turned into four!
The Accord has been a great car and cheap to maintain, a definite win for the Widgets.
Mr. Widget 2, Cars 1.5
Round 4: Baby Stuff Hauler
Shortly after finding out Mrs. Widget was pregnant, I began looking for a second car capable of carrying more baby cargo. I did research on SUVs and settled on the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Not wanting to buy a new one, I started keeping an eye out for a used one with low miles and the options I wanted.
About a month later I found one that met my requirements at a local dealer and purchased it. This was another car that we kept below 10% of income.
I also purchased the Mopar Maximum Care Protection Plan. This is a lifetime service plan that essentially extends the bumper to bumper warranty for the life of the car. I plan to keep this car until it dies so this plan will no doubt pay for itself. I do not normally purchase extended warranties but this was too good a deal to pass up.
I have had this car for a few months now and have no complaints. It is a safe vehicle that I can also take off-road when the zombie apocalypse hits.
Mr. Widget 3, Vehicles 1.5
I do not have any plans to buy another vehicle in the near future so the score is going to remain the same for a while. My feelings about vehicles has changed a lot over the past twenty years. My goal in the distant future is to go buy whatever car I want with cash, who knows maybe it will be an all-electric Camaro?
Readers, have you been able to resist the lure of a new car? Has your view of cars changed with time?