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Keep Laughing… The Car is Paid Off!

in Money Basics, Pay Off Your Debt

Tonight’s topic is all about “Cars,” or rather most likely transportation in general.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve had a wide variety of experiences when it comes to transportation.  It all began in 1997, with a…

1976 Chevy Impala

b1 My very first car was an absolute tank.  A 16th birthday gift, I have a feeling my parents knew exactly what they were doing.  It has to be one of the best $1000 they ever spent.

For example, let me share a little story.

I was 16 years old, driving myself and two friends from my hometown to Indianapolis, about a 35 mile drive.  I wasn’t speeding, but it was raining very hard.  I suspect I was probably driving too fast for the conditions.  About halfway through our journey, I quickly found out what “hydroplaning” was.  We did two complete 360′s before the front ride side of the Impala slammed into a telephone pole at around 40 m.p.h.  The force of the impact split the telephone pole in half, with the top half falling directly on top of the car.

After thanking God that no one was hurt, we got out of the car to assess the damage.  The front right portion of the car was completely smashed, but somehow the headlight had remained intact.  The impact had completely blown out the front right tire, but again hadn’t bent the rim.  The only other damage was a huge dent in the roof where the top half of the telephone pole was laying.  After calling the police, it took all 3 of us to roll the telephone poll off the top of the car (we were 16, not exactly smart).  You want to know the most amazing part? After the police came, I changed the front right tire, and we actually drove the rest of the way to Indianapolis for our gaming tournament.

Like I said… This thing was a tank!

It’s important to note that although I helped pay for some related expenses, did chores, and kept decent grades, I didn’t actually pay for the car.  Because of this, I lost a certain amount of appreciation that comes when you have full financial responsibility.

I drove that car for nearly two years before upgrading to a…

2000 Jeep Wrangler

I Didn't Actually Ever Drive It On The Beach!After a couple years behind the Impala, my parents caved in and bought this beauty.  Once again, I learned very little about the responsibility of car ownership since the car was not actually mine.

There were some fun times in this vehicle, as well.  Among them were getting caught out in the rain several times with the top down, getting stuck in a cornfield trying to go Off-Roading, and driving to Florida for my senior spring break trip.

The fun was relatively short lived when my parents filed for divorce.  Among the many casualties?  You guess it, my spoiled little Jeep Wrangler.

1996 Chrysler Minivan

The Power Of The MinivanAfter my first year at college (no car), I decided I needed to find some cheap wheels.  At the time, I was constantly riding around the country attending various video gaming events.  I pictured owning a full-size van to haul my group of buddies around the country every weekend.

My father had a different perspective, however, as he quickly pointed out the initial price and the ongoing costs of driving a full-sized van.  When he first suggested a minivan, I would have nothing to do with it.  I mean, come on, I was a 19 years old college student.  A minivan?  …Right.

My tune quickly changed, though, when he offered to pay half of the cost if I found a cheap minivan as an alternative.  Looking back, I can only assume he thought it was worth it to prevent me from getting in way over my head with a car loan.  Within the next few months, I scrapped together $800 and he matched.  I was the proud owner of a $1600 green minivan.  Well, half owner I guess… whatever.

This little bugger took a load full of guys halfway across the country and back at least a handful of times in the next year and a half.  Once again, I was often ridiculed, but I appreciated this car far more than the previous two.

1998 Nissan 240SX…  My Current Baby…

Vroom Vroom!After my second year at college, I returned home.  I was on the super-special “two and out” program *cough*. Life starts moving a little faster and hits a little harder once you stop going to school.  I snatched up two full-time jobs and the minivan wasn’t nearly as dependable with all the miles I had put on it.  Plus, I didn’t want to drive it anymore.

Luckily, I had a relative who was selling a well-taken-care-of 1998 Nissan 240sx.  I was able to get it for about 75% of the private party value, which at the time was about $4200.  With a pulse and only a month at my two jobs, I was able to walk into Key Bank and leave with a nice, juicy loan.

For the next 3 years, I maintained the American Dream of $179 car payments. This was my first time having full responsibility for a car.  Interest payments, insurance, repairs, gas/oil, tires…  I quickly received the super-dose of responsibility I had been delaying for years. On top of all that, I knew that I was paying interest on something that was continually decreasing in value.  Luckily, around a year and a half ago, the remaining balance became one of the first victims in our new War on Debt.

Three years of paying a car payment (even if relatively small) was plenty for me.  After the last year and half, I can’t imagine ever having a car payment again.  In fact, I would do just about anything not to have one. It has rust on the bottom, the passenger side window doesn’t roll down, and the stereo volume can randomly go from a whisper to full volume when you hit a pothole or speed bump.  I’ll gladly accept those drawbacks in exchange for not paying a car payment.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be selling my baby in preparation for our overseas move.  It will be an extremely hard thing for me to do.  At 240,000 miles, let’s just say that I’m now a huge fan of Nissan. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in having very few repairs/issues over the last 5 years.  She’s been rode hard, so I’ll be happy to get $1000 for her before we leave.

Our Future…  Is a car even necessary?

Bicycle... BICYCLE!Upon moving to Australia, my wife and I are going to put this to the test.  We plan on familiarizing ourselves with the public transportation system in Cairns, AUS and on purchasing a couple decent bicycles, upon arriving.  From the research we’ve done, Cairns is a fairly flat, bike-friendly city.  In addition, we’ve been told they upgraded the public transportation system in the past couple of years to serve the growing tourism industry.

Time will only tell, but we are excited to give it a shot.  I’ll be sure to document our progress and frustrations throughout the process.  In the meantime, I’m interested in your personal experiences…

Has your automotive history been similar to mine?  What lessons have you learned over the years?  Do you currently drive a paid off car?  Even better, do you currently or have you ever lived without a car?  Let everyone know below!

Final picture by MoBikeFed

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Atlas@mymoneyshrugged April 20, 2009 at 8:33 AM

Man I had a tank for a first car as well. It was a 1988 Buick that was a big as a 18 wheeler! Then I got a Jeep wrangler for my second car…man I loved that thing but it wasn’t the most ideal car out there for road trips and such, had to move on from it, but it was fun!

Atlas@mymoneyshrugged’s last blog post..eWallet – One of my favorite iPhone apps

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kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 20, 2009 at 8:55 AM

I’m impressed with the 240,000 miles. My cars seem to start doing heavy duty nickel and dime stuff around 130K miles.

Our older car is a 98 Contour with 100k+. Our newer car is a 2006 Taurus that we bought as a program car at the end of the model year. It had 9500 miles on it, but we saved a bundle over what it would have cost new, and it still looked new.

kosmo @ The Casual Observer’s last blog post..Becoming more financially aware

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Vicki@collegeparentcentral April 20, 2009 at 9:37 AM

I’m currently driving a 1982 Toyota Tercel. Great little workhorse. We also have a 2000 minivan that we use for longer road trips or when we need the space to carry people or larger loads. Not having car payments is awesome!

We’re in the suburbs where living without a car isn’t practical, and until recently we logged a lot of miles carpooling kids, but we’re continually trying to reduce the amount that we use the car.

Being aware of car expenses is a great way to save money.

Vicki@collegeparentcentral’s last blog post..College Parent Orientation: A Key Beginning

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Baker April 20, 2009 at 10:04 AM

@ Atlas – Dang, it sounds like our early car experiences were almost identical!

@ Kosmo – Yeah, I definitely feel privileged to not have had more repairs after 240,000 miles. Like I said, going through this with any brand will make you a true believer. Go Nissan!

@ Vicki – Right now, we too live in a suburb of sorts and our public transportation here in Indiana is horrible. It would be nearly impossible for us to not have a car. However, I am excited about the prospect of doing it upon moving. I might end up regretting it fast, but we’ll see!

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My Journey April 20, 2009 at 3:37 PM

I really don’t like cursing on blogs, but I have to:

[radio edit], YEAH I LOVE the 240sx!

It was my first car, a 1993 (I got it at 17 years old in 1999) the odometer stopped working around 190K miles. I keep threatening the wife that I am going to buy another one.

My Journey’s last blog post..Happy Easter

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Trevor @ Financial Nut April 20, 2009 at 3:41 PM

Loved the post! :)

My first vehicle was a 1989 Toyota SR5, similar to a Tocoma. I now drive a 2003 Honda Civic EX and LOVE IT! Those are the only two vehicles I’ve ever had.

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My Journey April 20, 2009 at 3:43 PM

After re-reading the post I felt the need to explain this thing a little better:
- It was completely dangerous in any type of precipitation
- Sometimes the tranny just didn’t feel like shifting
- The thing got ran over (LITERALLY) by a construction truck and KEPT WORKING!

I only got rid of it, when the engine block cracked!

My Journey’s last blog post..Happy Easter

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Baker April 20, 2009 at 3:56 PM

@ Trevor – We looked at 2003-2005 Honda Civics one time when we had Car Fever, but managed to stay away (because our cars were fine). I’d could definitely see myself driving one, though.

@ My Journey – Haha, if you only knew how many times I’ve done 360′s on exit ramps in icy weather. I really think I could lift the back of the car up if I tried! It’s so light! We have to put bags of salt in the back in the winter.
I do like the fact that they can pull U-turns on two lane roads. Such an awesome turning radius!

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Courtney Baker April 20, 2009 at 7:02 PM

Sell it? I thought we were going to ship it overseas. Now THAT would be a good investment. :)

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Cathy April 20, 2009 at 11:03 PM

My dream is to one day not need a car at all. :) Maybe I will retire to Vancouver – they have an awesome public transportation system and lots of bike lanes!

My car is currently paid for, which is one reason why I’ve been hesitant to get a new one. I really don’t want a car payment. I’ve been saving money in a car savings account, so I hope that I will be able to trade cars with no payments at all.

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MB April 21, 2009 at 10:57 AM

I have never had a car payment and never will. I used to drive a total clunker truck to work, surrounded by all these young professionals in their hot cars. But, I was in HR, so I knew what they were all making and how much their car payments probably were and they were more than likely saving nothing. My clunker truck never bothered me once. It was paid for and it drove like a charm. It just wasn’t pretty. When the transmission finally died, we sold it to a mechanic, so no guilt there either. Win win.

We didn’t have a car for the first 18 months that we lived in Brisbane. Then, after that we only had one car that we drove on the weekends or to the grocery. We took public transport to work every day. I don’t know what the public transport is like in Cairns, but the buses are pretty good in QLD, I’m sure it won’t be too hard.

I really miss not having good public transport. When we first moved back to the US from Australia, I wondered why I seemed to have such little time for reading. Then, I realized that I used to read on the bus/train/water ferry all the time. I don’t have that luxury here with needing to drive everywhere.

MB’s last blog post..Shopping Consignment Sales

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MB April 21, 2009 at 10:59 AM

Oh yeah, and my last 3 cars have been Nissans. :) Of course, my Dad does work for them.

MB’s last blog post..Shopping Consignment Sales

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Heather April 21, 2009 at 8:31 PM

We’re currently living overseas in Japan, and just this past weekend bought ourselves a minivan for $500. Granted, we also had to buy insurance, pay road taxes and do some work on it (which we had done CHEAP – basically just parts and a case of Red Bull) and we’ll have to pay for its every-2-year inspection this week, but after that’s all said and done, we’ll have spent about $1300 CASH for a car that won’t need anything (hopefully) other than oil changes and gas for the next year. Our other car we also bought with cash for $3500, and we’re replacing the $1000 clunker we bought when we first got here.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years – bought cars that were too big in size and payment and even leased a minivan for our family of 4 – but never again will we purchase a vehicle with financing. If we can’t afford something nice in cash, we’ll settle with something cheaper until we can.

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jonatsgonats April 21, 2009 at 11:59 PM

Nice comparison! I really got inspired by your post. We get to learn about ourselves through the things that we do even with our cars. Funny stuff yet very useful.

jonatsgonats’s last blog post..Susan Boyle Inspirational Voice

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Canadian May 8, 2009 at 10:38 AM

I am 31 years old and have never owned a car. I have chosen to live in a city (not the town I grew up in) with great public transportation. I also picked an apartment in a walkable neighbourhood where I can accomplish my regular errands on foot. I also bike a lot during the warmer 6 months of the year. I am very pleased that I am able to do this because I have saved so much money and also had less of a negative impact upon the earth, but it isn’t just luck, it’s because of the choices I have made.

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Deborah McP November 5, 2009 at 9:10 AM

After my first experience of trying to hang onto a car (bought for work) while living the student life, I’ve always considered them temporary utilities and an avoidable expense. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a great-driving vehicle, though. When I last needed to buy a car (back in 2004), I kept in mind that I’d be doing alot of Canadian winter driving on major highways, and opted for a used, relatively cheap, fantastically heavy, powerful car … that I sold soon after the project period ended. Ah, the 1989 BMW 535i was an amazing drive. Stick. Heated seats. Responsive! In fact, if you don’t mind me going on a bit… when you’re rounding corners, it FEELS as though the car was BUILT around you and your backbone is the center of your little centrifugal universe. The 50:50 front to back weight distribution is apparently what produces this effect. Glorious. And potentially addictive. Not enough to sway me from my frugal path, but I do cherish that memory.

I think we should all enjoy some of the most wonderful aspects of vehicles and other modern technologies, but treat them less as necessities, and more as useful tools. Sometimes you need a car and sometimes you don’t.

By the way, I actually sold the car for more than I paid, one year after. Probably pure luck and the fine detailing job.

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Charles Galvin May 4, 2011 at 2:32 PM

My first car was a ’76 Impala as well!! Loved that car! (http://cmgalvin.com/chiquita1.jpg)

I am several cars past that now. Unfortunately, the most recent appears to be on it’s last leg. Orlando does not currently have a sustainable public transit system. According to the routes it would take 2 hours to get to my office.

I also do not trust biking many of those routes. The route is only 20 miles which wouldn’t be too bad. However, most of these are heavy traffic routes. I also do not have an accessible shower in my office.

I’m now debating whether it will be worth getting an auto loan for a reasonable vehicle. All that I am finding is that different sites recommend whether you get the better rate through the bank or from the dealer themselves. I have an estimate to what I could reasonably pay a month, roughly $150. I am also seeing some suggestions that new cars get better interest rates, but I don’t want to eat the depreciation. Any suggestions for proceeding?

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MB September 16, 2011 at 8:15 AM

My first car was a new 1970 Volkswagen Bug at $75 per month for 3 yrs. Drove the first day with 2 sisters and a brother to downtown Philly on the expressway with the emergency breaks on. Fist time driving a stick. Also, I was driving with a friend at night, in a light snow to work and I was driving too fast for the conditions and the car didn’t flip but did a 360. My friend was laughing after it happened but I was mortified. I learned early how to slow down in bad weather

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MB September 16, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Oops forgot to say… I now have a 2004 Ford Escape SUV and it’s finally paid off after five years. It’s a great feeling and I don’t know how I did it.

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