Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Unplanned, unprepared, unexpected

My former car, the 2002 PT Cruiser
So I needed a new car. The need wasn't urgent, mind you, certainly not on the level of 2005 when the car I was then driving threatened to curl up and die any time I put the key in the ignition. I bought my blue PT Cruiser then, the first vehicle I'd ever purchased because it was what I wanted to drive. I loved the retro styling (no surprise, since a 1937 Studebaker President is my dream car) and finally got to drive a standard again (driving automatic feels more like playing a video game to me). I actively loathed the red Dodge Neon I had been driving, a hand-me-down from The Wife. The week before, a cloud of acrid smoke literally puffed out of the dash, an ominous warning. The radio had stopped working, but would randomly turn on to harsh static and increase to ear-splitting volume, resisting all attempts to turn it off until the car itself was turned off (which raised the spectre of the car not actually starting again). Lest you think I exaggerate, Monkey Girl can back up everything I've said about that Neon. It was truly a wretched car.

The Cruiser, pretty much the opposite. It was fun to drive. The big windows gave great visibility. It was amazingly roomy inside, and with the seats out, I could haul crazy amounts of stuff (lots of stray hay in the back attests to that). Yes, it had flaws. It was too heavy for its size, and consequently got gas mileage that, while not awful, was far short of what you'd expect. One of the seat belts in the back was broken, so once Bug outgrew car seats, the entire family could no longer ride together in it. The internal computer died on me once, which cost quite a bit to replace. But you know what? The engine ran well, the clutch was good and I drove the hell out of that little car--to the tune of 175,000 miles. I didn't absolutely love it, but I really, really liked it.

But, sad to say, it's time had come. I have no doubt I could drive it to 275,000 miles and beyond, but it had reached the point where repair costs exceeded or approached its value. Case in point--the air conditioner went out. The condenser needed replacing, as well as some other parts. The cost to have cool air flowing once again? Roughly $700. Ouch. Fixing that back seat belt would run north of $300, and other little nagging issues were sure to come up in the future. In short, it had reached the point where it cost more to keep than replace. So I started looking around, and pretty much settled on getting a Chevrolet HHR. Now the HHR is a straight-up copy of the PT Cruiser, overseen by the same executive after he left Chrysler to join GM. I don't like the blocky styling nearly as much, but do like the better gas mileage. Both the PT Cruiser and HHR are discontinued, but they made HHRs through 2011 so more late model, low-mileage vehicles should theoretically be available.

The Master Plan (devised by The Wife and myself) called for me to suffer through summer without AC until September/October, when a number of wedding payments came due. Couple that income with money saved, and we should have enough to make a large down payment--if not pay for a new (used) HHR outright. Which was all fine and dandy, until yesterday afternoon. About once a week or so I do a car search online to see what's available and maintain a feel for the market and availability. And during this search I stumbled across a 2009 HHR with about 30,000 miles on it for a really, really good price. Yes, the car's older than I wanted, and yes, the mileage was a bit higher, but still, it was a high-end trim model going for less than 50 percent what it cost new. I showed the link to The Wife, complaining that knowing my luck, such a deal won't be around when we're ready to buy. And she replied--get this--"Why don't we go ahead and buy it then?"

Seriously, this is not the way we operate. We devise a plan and stick to it--one of the reasons why her photography business has done so well. So as we drove to San Antonio in my PT Cruiser with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing our hair, we felt very, very naughty. But you know what? It was probably the right call. Our down payment was much more modest than we'd planned for, but the dealer gave us 3 percent financing, which is fantastic any way you slice it. After September, we'll have paid most of it off and will probably be free and clear by next spring. And this here is the new car:

Jayme Blaschke's new HHR

It's a nifty car, with all sorts of whistles and bells I haven't yet deciphered. Having cruise control again is very nice, and keyless entry is amusing (although if you unlock the car door using only the key and not the clicker, alarms will go off. Trust me). It came with no owner's manual, one of the perils of buying used, but I'll manage. All the seat belts work, so the whole family can ride in it. And the AC works, so no more overheated commutes. I only have two complaints, one is that the columns are thick and windows small, so visibility really sucks in comparison to the Cruiser, and the interior is black. The paint job is a nice, reflective silver/goldish blend (let's call it "electrum" for all you old D&D players out there) but the insides are black. Hey, Detroit, not everyone lives in a northern, sun-deprived climate. How about coming up with an interior color scheme not guaranteed to scald someone's butt cheeks off on a Texas August afternoon, huh? Oh, and the car's automatic, not standard, but The Wife insisted on that point.

It's a nice car, and I fully intend to clock another 100,000 miles or more on it before all is said and done, but I'll admit I was surprisingly nostalgic when we left the lot, leaving the old Cruiser behind. I put lots of miles and memories into that car, and the HHR has a lot of catching up to do.

Now Playing: The New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves & Wit Delights
Chicken Ranch Central

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