I have always loved cars, even though for most of my adult life I've pretty much not been able to drive the cars I really wanted to drive, mostly due to affordability issues. But I read about cars. I follow the trends. I pay attention and can tell you the difference, for example, between the newest Mustang body style and its predecessor (mostly it's in the grille). And although I admit to being the girliest of girls, I can change a tire and spark plugs, thanks to dear old dad, and I know when a mechanic is trying to upsell me. I know what a solenoid is.
I'm now at middle age and at that time of life when I am suddenly not the only driver in the family. I have a 16-year-old driver and a 21-year-old driver in my household, with all the attendant insurance costs and "can I borrow the car" issues that that entails. A friend of the family has loaned us a 1992 Buick for the older child, and the younger child drives a 1988 Toyota Corolla handed down to him from his father. I drive a 2001 Hyundai Elantra hatchback, or at least I did up until two months ago when, on impulse, I told the 21-year-old she could take my car back to college with her and I would drive the Buick until winter break.
To understand the extent of that sacrifice, you have to know how much I like my car. It has leather upholstery, a sunroof, a great stereo, cruise control, and a rear fold-down seat that transforms it from a sporty sedan to a sporty station-wagon in minutes. I have always loved hatchbacks for this very reason. How do you get a Christmas tree home in a Buick Century sedan? In any event, it is very likely my favorite car ever. Or at least so far. I see an Audi TT convertible in my future.
The older child goes to school and lives in a small college-town in the east, where transportation to even the most common and necessary of places, such as Target or the grocery store, involves walking for miles or hitching a ride with someone, because there is very little mass transit, if any. She also periodically works on student films in a production capacity, so having a car has made her life easier in multiple ways. We didn't think the Buick would make it across the country, and I wasn't particularly looking forward to driving both to and from Connecticut this year. I guess I'm getting old, but cross-country road trips are less fun than they used to be, so a one-way driving trip with a three-hour flight home was exceptionally appealing. Plus, she plans to spend a semester in Europe beginning in early 2010, so I knew she'd only have my car for four months. Thus the switch.
The situation that now confronts us is one of both necessity and desire. I would love to have a new car, and both kids will continue to need reliable transportation (i.e., there is no going back). The younger child is in love with his first car, but having owned several old clunkers myself, I can see the writing on the wall. If this car holds up for even a year, I will be exuberant.
So by next summer, we could find ourselves in the position of needing to buy one, two, or three cars, depending on how things go. The Buick goes back to its owner. The Hyundai either goes back to school with older child in Fall 2010 and I get a new or newer car, or older child buys a used car and I keep the Hyundai chugging along. And younger child may need to buy a newer car. Complicating all this are a variety of issues. Will younger child choose a college that doesn't allow freshmen to drive cars (and, if so, what do we do with the third car)? If older child takes Hyundai back to school, and I buy a car for myself, should it be brand new or slightly used, and should it have cargo space (for taking younger child off to college the following year), or should I indulge my desire to own a convertible? And how much in debt do I or all of us want to be for all of these various transportation needs? How much do we need to save? Should we switch to bicycling?
Most likely, it will be May or June before any of these issues gets resolved, but for me it's the thrill of the hunt. I'm eying new car lots, talking to people who've bought cars recently, walking into showrooms to feel the soft leather upholstery and discuss options (GPS built into the dash? Really?). I'm keeping an eye on everything coming out of Consumer Reports these days, but I'm also thinking seriously of subscribing to Car and Driver. So much fun. So much trouble.