Monday, February 7, 2011

Buying used and wanting new

Apropos yesterday’s post, I was reading a bit more about Stephen Cannell’s life and some of his philosophies. He was a pretty conservative businessman and seemed to have been very much influenced by his father’s way of looking at money. I found it humorous to read what he said about buying new cars--“My father was the guy who taught me how to think straight, not to delude myself and think I was larger than I was. I never bought a new car until I was 45-years old...I bought used because my father always said: 'why do you want to buy a car, drive it around the block and lose thirty percent of its value'? ...Don't get me wrong, I had great used cars: XKEs, Jags... But they were all used. All my friends were out leasing new Mercedes and other high-end cars...and there I was buying used; and writing a check for it! "There! give me the car"! Again this viewpoint resonates with me because this is my husband’s philosophy when it comes to buying a family car—the one that will get driven around the city, the one we’ll use for errands, the one that will get driven on vacations, and so forth. Come to think of it, it’s also his philosophy about cars in general. He owns a veteran Porsche at this writing. I also grew up with a father who bought used cars. My husband and I have never bought a new car in the twenty some-odd years we have been together; we have always bought used family cars and for the most part that has worked out. He says the same thing as Cannell’s father—why am I going to buy a new car when it will depreciate overnight once you take it home and drive it? In the beginning of our marriage I was more prone to want to buy new--for lots of reasons. My arguments were that it made sense from a safety standpoint—with new cars, you knew you were getting the latest safety features and that appealed to me. I also liked the fact that you could have more control over knowing what had gone wrong with the car, the types of repairs it had had, and so on. Additionally, and perhaps most important to me, I wanted to know that when I was driving it alone, it would behave and not break down in some out-of-the way place, leaving me stranded (this was before the cell phone era). I should add that my husband knows how to repair (or has learned to repair) most of the used cars we have had, otherwise I might have insisted more on buying new (or newer used). Being able to fix your own car is an advantage that most people I know don’t have, myself included. Of course, my wishes were a moot point because we simply could not afford a new car in Norway. Prices for new cars in this country are outrageously high. They have come down some but prices are still way over the top. This is something that has never made much sense to me. This country prides itself on being so environmentally aware, yet for at least the first ten years I lived here, I never saw so many old exhaust-spewing wrecks on the road as I did at that time. If everyone could have afforded a new and more environmentally-friendly car, Oslo would have had much better air quality during the 1990s and afterwards. But when I brought up that idea in discussions, I was always told that the politicians were aiming to get people to use public transportation and that was one way they could achieve this—by keeping car prices high with unnecessary taxes and fees. The idea sounds good on paper. I’m all for public transportation. But if I decide to ride the cable car down into town one afternoon after work, I pay 34 kroner for a one-way ticket, which corresponds to over 5 USD with current exchange rates. If I buy what is called a Flexi-kort, I get eight rides for 190 kroner, which works out to about 24 kroner per ride, again about 4 USD. This is not cheap. This does not encourage people to use public transportation. This is also what you pay on the buses and on the subways as well. I have a problem trying to figure out the rationale behind all this. Someone needs to explain how this is an environmentally-friendly policy. But anyway, back to cars……

So the discussion in our house was and is ‘how old should the car be if we are aiming to buy used?’ At present we drive a BMW 740 sedan from 1993 that we bought in 2003. It was a find. We bought it from a man who worked out on the oil rigs in the North Sea for most of the year, so that he only drove the car on his sporadic trips home. It’s a car with an automatic gearshift, comfortable to sit in and to drive, that has taken us through a lot of Europe. It does guzzle some gas. We’ve driven to Prague, Rome, Naples, Paris, Montpelier, along the French Riviera, up into the Swiss Alps, to Copenhagen and to Stockholm with the car. We’ve hurtled along the Autobahn in Germany, and the joke is that once the car came ‘home’ to Germany that it loved the high speeds. I know I didn’t love them but at least we got a chance to test the car’s capacity for speed. And here we are eight years later and the car is still mostly doing fine. The engine will probably keep on going, although the automatic transmission will probably give out eventually. Then we’ll be looking for a new used car. That will bring us to anno 2003 or so, and it will be interesting to see the ‘new features’ in cars produced around that time. The only way I ever really get to see what is ‘new’ in new cars is when I travel to New York and rent a car for a week or so. And I usually only learn to use about a fourth of what is probably available. Most of the time I have a hard time finding the automatic buttons to do this and that—open the gas tank, open the trunk. I’ve learned that the seats can be automatically adjusted with buttons and that’s fine because you get a driver’s seat that really does fit the driver. But basically, I’m guessing that most of the newer safety features are variations on a theme at this point. All cars have airbags now. It’s great to have automatic wipers for the back windshield but you can survive without them. So it comes down to this—that I just enjoy driving a new rental car for the week I am in NY, and then I go back to driving used. I’m quite ok with this now. Ten years ago I still wanted new. Now if you told me we had to buy a new car, I would argue with you about the wisdom in that. But I would still discuss how old is ‘too old’ for a used car.  

No comments:

Post a Comment