Sunday, July 12, 2009

Commitment Time

I have a commitment problem. No, I don't have a problem committing to a relationship - I think my marriage is good for at least another couple of years. And I don't have a problem committing to a job - I'm only on my second job since college and it's been quite a while now. The commitment that I just can't seem to make is to my car. After 17 years of driving I'm on my 21st car. Well all that is about to change...

2009 Civic Si Sedan Purchase Agreement

Ben will not buy another car until July of 2014. The only exception can be purely need based. Ben has written this agreement for himself and his family.

My wife and I both signed this contract today. I just bought a brand new car and I want to keep it for a long time. That doesn't sound so hard right? After all, keeping a new car for five years should not be a problem for a normal person...or perhaps I should say, a healthy person. You see, I'm sick - car sick - and I want to get better.

I love reading about cars, talking about cars, and driving cars. I love sizing up all the pros and cons of a car. Is it reliable? Efficient? Is it fast? What's the engine note like? How well does it turn? How is the interior and exterior styling? When I tap on the interior surfaces with my fingernail what sound does it make? When I push on interior panels do they creak? Will it fit my family, my dog, a rear-facing baby seat? How's the stereo? What is the driving position like? Are the steering wheel and pedals the right distance away? Can I comfortably rest both my elbows on the arm rests and still reach the steering wheel for relaxed driving? And the most important question of all... Should I buy it?

All too often my answer to the last question is, yes.

It all started with my first car. When I was about to turn 16 my parents bought me a used 1986 Volkswagen Jetta GLI with a manual transmission. It was a fun little car but it had around 150,000 miles on it and was very unreliable. It seemed like it had a new problem every week. The maintenance costs were really adding up so I suggested to my dad that we replace it with something more reliable.

Now I had a goal. Find a replacement car that would be reliable but still fun. There were so many options to consider. In the end my analysis suggested that I could only get the combination of fun and reliability that I needed with a Honda Civic. My dad agreed that my reasoning was sound so we bought an '89 Honda Civic LX.

The Civic was was the perfect car for me...for a year. Then I noticed something...something bad. It was starting to rust from the inside out. This car only had 65,000 miles but I knew if we didn't get rid of it soon, the rust would spread and it would depreciate quickly. Clearly we had no choice but to sell it. It was time to find the perfect car for me...again.

While they were perfectly reasonable choices, these early experiences made it clear to me just how much I enjoyed the search for the perfect car. Many of the car purchases I have made since then have been equally reasonable - others not so much.

So if buying cars makes me happy and in many cases improves my situation, why fight it? Why not just accept that it's something I like to do and go with it? As long as I get good prices when I buy and sell the cars it shouldn't be too expensive, right?

These are questions I've asked myself many times. Through careful shopping I've minimized the cost of this hobby as much as I can but ultimately the cost I can't get away from is the sales tax that I have to pay every time I register a car. If you think the sales tax is expensive on one car, imagine the sales tax on 21 cars. It adds up. I've decided that now is the time for me to stop the madness. It's time for me to commit a pair of cars for my wife and I and keep them.

People who know me have good reason to be skeptical of my ability to follow through with this commitment. After all, I attempted this once before. In 2004 I bought a brand new Mazda RX-8. It was meant to be the car to end all other cars. I'd been following its development for years. It was a light-weight sports car with amazing handling. It was winning comparison tests against sports cars with only two seats yet this one had four doors and four real seats. It was perfect!

Well, it was nearly perfect except for one minor problem and one major problem.

The minor problem was that the gas mileage sucked. Almost all my driving was done in the city and my commute to work at the time took me right through downtown Ann Arbor. I was getting about 12 MPG on premium fuel!

My major problem was that I decided I wanted to buy real estate. For years I'd been watching real estate go up and up and up. Meanwhile it seemed the main thing I was doing with my money was buying and selling cars. I decided it was time for me to invest in something that would increase in value rather than depreciate so I sold the car and bought a condo in Michigan (which to date has depreciated enough pay for the sales tax on 20 more cars).

This time is different though. This time there are going to have to be consequences for failure. If I find myself seriously considering the purchase of another car in the next five years I have to go
cold turkey and give up cars as a hobby altogether. The only way to avoid this fate is to prove that this is something I can do.

And why shouldn't I be able to? My wife and I have the most perfect pair of cars that I can imagine (right now). The Mazda 5 has room for our family, the dog, a pair of visitors (my wife is from Scotland so we get a lot of visitors), yet manages to be small, sporty, fuel efficient, and fun to drive. It is nicely equipped yet affordable. We paid less than $17,000 for it brand new about a year ago and I still think that was a great decision. In fact, it's still the top rated compact wagon/hatchback by Consumer Reports.

The Civic Si is fast, loads of fun to drive, and fuel efficient. It should be reliable and it's big enough and comfortable enough for us to use on most trips around town. It's pretty loaded and was under $20,000 new.

If I'm going to make a commitment, these are the cars to do it with. In writing this blog, I'm attempting to redirect some of my ideas about cars towards something positive rather than expensive. I don't know yet whether I will keep up the blog or whether it will be worth reading but at least for now it should be a fun outlet for this obsession hobby of mine.


  1. You'd better keep this up, I'm already making plans for how to spend all the money we'll save... oh the shoes I will buy... :-)

  2. 2014?! Leandro says he doesn't believe for a second it will happen.

    Good to see you blogging!

  3. Good luck!!!

    p.s. Great start for you blog! More promising than John's... ;^)

  4. The death of our latest Camry has made my own list of cars surprisingly longer than I imagined. It was the Audi 5000, Honda Civic, the red VW Rabbit, the Fiero, the Mazda 323, 2 Camrys, and the current Mazda. My 8 isn't close to your 21, but it's actually not as small a number as I imagined before I actually counted.

  5. Louise, not so fast. We still have to pay for the Civic. :-D

    Leandro, I have absolutely no credibility when it comes to keeping cars so your skepticism is justified. Erik kept trying to convince me to go for 3. Hopefully it will take 5 years to prove one of us right.

    Carol, John has a blog? Well I doubt anyone would read that. ;-)

    John, 8 cars surprises me too. I'm guessing the 6 will easily last you guys more than 5 years though. (By the way, your previous Mazda was a 626:-D )

  6. For a list of the 41 cars my parents have owned, see Fitly Framed Together, pages 341-342.
    It would be really interesting to see a list of the cars Grandpa Sohl owned, starting with his pre-Model T dealership in Trenton.

  7. Mom, 41 cars is impressive! It's cool that the list is documented too. I think I have them beat since 92 though! 21 versus 6. :-D

  8. Good luck to you. I'm a car enthusiast myself, but not to the extent that you are. I wish I had your car obsession. I sold my pride and joy, Tawny, an orange 350Z convertible, over a year ago to start a family. I miss her and think about her all the time. I did what was best for my family. I'll make it up to myself in a few years. I looking forward to this blog and will be an avid reader.

  9. Shock: Thanks for reading! I know how you feel. I've been through that myself a few times. I was without a fast car for the last couple years to help fund the start of my family. Oh well, family is worth it...I guess. ;-)