There aren’t many things that are more satisfying than making the final payment on a car note. The last car I bought was a 2009 Ford Escape and I made sure to pay a little more than the scheduled payment each month so it would be paid off as quickly as possible. When I issued that final payment in 2013, I was ecstatic. No more car note! The car was still new enough that maintenance wasn’t an issue. No need to keep a tool box in the trunk just in case the car broke down. I have had cars where that was a requirement. I remember spending a scorching afternoon on the side of the road swapping out an alternator in a 1994 Chevy Corsica while my girlfriend sat on the curb and that toolbox got a workout. As I have gotten older, I appreciate not having to do my own mechanic work on my vehicles, so it was a relief to have a car I owned free and clear that didn’t need a toolbox. Well, I managed to make it three years with no car note, but circumstances dictated it was time to get a new car, no matter how badly I didn’t want to have to pay for one.
Of course, there is no way—in the strictest sense of the word legal—to obtain a new car without paying for it, so I had to consider if I wanted to go cheap and buy a used car or commit to a payment schedule demanded of a new car. New, or used: that was the question, and it was a question to which I didn’t like the answer. Sure I could buy some beater vehicle. I could pull some money out of savings and own the vehicle free and clear without getting under a payment schedule. But then, I would probably have to start toting a toolbox around again. I hated that option. It’s not that I can’t do the work; I just don’t want to. I looked through Craig’s List and a few other websites at the vehicles listed and the one’s that looked more mechanically trustworthy were almost as expensive as a new car. Unfortunately, the only ones I was willing to pay for looked like they would need a toolbox insurance policy.
I had a conversation last night with a friend of mine about do-it-yourself work after he had spent the afternoon repairing a water pipe feeding his house. He takes great pride in that he saved so much money by not having a plumber come out to fix it. I have done plenty of do-it-yourself jobs over the years. Most recently, I fixed my air conditioner. I can do most mechanical or electrical work if needs be, but, as I said, at my age, it is more satisfying to have someone else do it, particularly if that work is under warrantee. If someone else fixes it and it breaks, it doesn’t cost any more to fix it again. Warrantees are wonderful things like that. Know what comes with a warrantee? A new car!
So, I decided to go the route of a new car, even though it meant a car note. Now the question becomes one of “which car” as I looked through the dealer’s websites. Now, before I go into how I picked my car, let me say this: I was doing this car shopping right after my marriage broke up, so I was not in the best frame of mind to make a decision that comes with a huge financial commitment. Remember how, in high school, they told you never to go to the grocery store hungry? If you did, you’d buy all this food you didn’t need and pay a lot more than you should have. Right? Well, let me add this: Never buy a car when you’re emotionally compromised.
I am a practical person. I buy practical vehicles. I have had two SUVs, a sedan, and a station wagon. The sportiest vehicle I have ever bought was a 1994 Dodge Shadow and technically, that was my wife’s car as I was driving it’s more practical sister, the Plymouth Sundance. Even my motorcycle is a cruiser instead of a sport bike. I am not a “sporty” guy. But inside of each of us is that hidden, secret, sporty streak. We look at Camaros and Corvettes and Chargers and Challengers and wish we could have one. Since I am not a big fan of GM or Dodge, I like Ford. So my secret wish was the one sports car that has been in constant production since its inception in 1964—the year of my birth—the one car that is as old as I am: the Mustang.
In 1984, I was home on leave from the Army and I wondered into Frontier Ford in Humble. Now, as a private in the Army I had no money to buy any car, much less a sports car. But the salesman took a look at me in my uniform and walked me right up to the convertible Boss Mustang sitting front and center on the showroom floor and with a big sweep of his arm, opened the door and told me to sit in it and give it a try. Now, even though I knew there was no way I was going home with this dream machine, I sat in it. I didn’t even say no when he asked if I wanted to test drive it. He opened the big doors of the showroom, drove it out to the lot and offered me the driver’s seat. What would you do? Of course, I took it! I drove that baby up and down the freeway at speeds that I can’t confess to so I am not admitting to any crime. I had a ball, but I knew it was only going to be that one time. I would not be able to own such a fine machine.
It’s funny how at times when your emotions are all in flux, frustrations from years ago percolate up and get mixed up in your decision making process. There, as I was looking through the available cars on my computer screen, was a cherry 2016 convertible Mustang calling to me. It was as if my 1984 self was being given a second chance. I had already looked at the Fusion and the Escape and the Explorer, and the rational, reasoning part of my brain knew I was going to test drive those more practical options, but I wrote down the VIN number for the Mustang just to see it. Perhaps I would test drive it and relive the memory of my last drive.
The next day my friend came over and ferried me to the lot. That was how sure I was going to be driving home in a new car, I didn’t even ride my bike so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get it home. We started walking the lot, heading straight for the Fusions. As we walked along, I saw a pretty Explorer that I hadn’t seen on the website, So I made a mental note to look at it later. Before we found the Fusion, however, I saw her.
Ruby Red is what Ford calls it, but any Arkansas fan knows it as Razorback red. The sun was glimmering off its finish as she sat on the line, with her nose sticking out just enough to make her stand out. It was as though she was calling to me. She was the puppy in the window that dances against the glass while all the other puppies play in the back of the pen. I was just staring at her when the salesman came up. I think he saw the look on my face because we kept coming back around to the Mustang.
Now, I did test drive the Fusion and the Explorer, but I also tested the Mustang—with the top down, of course. The rational, reasonable part of my brain was arguing for the Fusion. It was making cogent, logical points. It won the argument on its merits, but lost it in the end. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the Boss 5.0 V-8 engine, but that was another ten grand. I just couldn’t do that. My rational and reasonable brain won that argument. Despite the fact that the Mustang was out of my budget, didn’t have a back seat to speak of, and was a bit difficult to get into and out of, several hours later I was signing the contract.
Now I am on the hook for 60 months of loan payments and insurance payments. I still am bummed about having to get under a car note again, but my Mustang is fun to drive, when I drive her. I still ride my bike to commute to work because the gas mileage is better and I get to ride in the managed lanes which saves time. But on the weekends and rainy days, I get to drive my Sally. Yes, Mustang Sally. Sue me. And on nice days, you know the top is down. My youngest son calls it my “mid-life crisis” car. I’ll own that. I am 52 and single, after all. What better excuse does one need to live out a dream and buy the car he’s always wanted?