Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That new car smell

If you're in the market for a new vehicle--and by new, I mean a more recent vintage than what you're currently driving--now's a good time to jump on a purchase, if you can swing it. I'm just saying.

Back in 2000, when we were expecting Fairy Girl, we sold my Chevy Blazer and bought a '98 Dodge Caravan with low mileage. That minivan, despite the uncool factor of being a minivan, served us well over the years. Had to rebuild the engine a couple of years back, true, and little things like the air conditioner and battery demanded attention, but overall we got our money's worth out of it. And we have been antsy for a replacement for a while now. You just want something newer after a while, something more dependable that isn't going to demand semi-constant attention.

So, when word came via the miracle of the internets a couple weeks back that our IRS tax refund was on the way, we decided it was time to pull the trigger. Place the old Caravan up on Craigslist and maybe it'd sell in a couple of weeks. Combine that with the tax refund and we had a not-insignificant down payment. So The Wife puts an ad on the local Craigslist, and we set the price several hundred dollars above what we actually want for it, to give us some flexibility in negotiations. A response comes within the hour. They want to look at the minivan that night. And will we accept cash?

Twelve hours later we wander across the Bluebonnet Chrysler-Dodge dealership in New Braunfels, cash in hand. All of it. The buyer of our old minivan took it as-is, no haggling. We're somewhat stunned by the development. Equally stunned by the uber-low mileage of the '08 Grand Caravan sitting in front of us with enough whistles and bells to stage a Rice MOB halftime show. A semi-loaded minivan that's roughly half the price of an identical new model sitting across the lot. It drives great--more truck-like than the old Caravan, but this Grand Caravan is a safer, more comfortable vehicle that gets better gas mileage than the old one. And it's bigger, too.

But we don't have the tax refund yet. Not a problem, the Bluebonnet folks insist. Let them run some numbers. The results: A five-year note at 5.5 percent interest. My jaw hits the floor. Add on a dirt-cheap extended warranty that will cover the car for pretty much as long as we'll own it (24 hour roadside assistance included) and wer'e still paying less than $200 a month. At this point, Wells Fargo calls my cell phone telling me we'd been approved for the same loan, minus the roadside assistance, at 9.1 percent interest. Obviously, I declined Wells Fargo's generous offer.

The long and short of it is that we've got a new vehicle that we've yet to figure out all the buttons on. Yes, minivans remain exceedingly uncool, but with three kids it's the only real practical option. And goodness, the deal we got on it. Car dealers are desperate to move stock, be it new or used. If you've got a job and even a token down payment, you can pretty much squeeze blood from the car dealer's stones.

Ten years from now, though, we're trading in this minivan for a candy-apple red '67 convertible Mustang for The Wife. After all those years of driving a minivan, karma's got to balance somehow, right?

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