25 Years of Car Ownership

Fleetwood Terra LXDuring this whole car shopping craze, I realized I’ve had some fun cars. Since I’ve been asked more than once, here is my entire history:

In the ’80s, I learned to drive in my Mom’s tan Honda Civic Hatchback. Manual. Boring. What a great car to cut my teeth. At the time, I thought learning a stick on the hills Redlands CA was terrible! I was so frustrated and didn’t see the point. As I’m now older, I now see the value in learning on a manual transmission. I haven’t driven one in forever, but I could and that’s the point. Both my kids will learn to drive a stick so they can jump in and drive most anything. I hate the idea that they could be at a party and not be able to be the driver if they need to be.

What do you buy with your McDonald’s paychecks? I know what I did.. i bought a ’64 1/2 Mustang with a 289 block and the 302 mod. It was such a pile of crud when I got it. Flat brown house paint. Seriously. houspaint. Well, it was brown until I washed the paint off to reveal a lovely dark-green. It had a new interior: cheep upholstery covers made of lion, tiger, and bear flannel sheets. I’m fairly certain the sunroof wasn’t stock. Nor were the super-wide tires. Apparently, those are the upgrades you get for $300 in Tijuana, but I corrected all of that mess and sold it for next to nothing. Sad really. I miss that car. It had a smell… not a bad smell. Just a smell. I get a whiff of that today and I’m dropped into the 80’s again. To this day, it’s the only car that I’ve driven over 100mph. (shhh.. don’t tell my kids)

Back in Desert Storm, my step-brother Jeff headed off to war and I bought his baby blue 65 Mustang. Thanks Jeff for both serving and for selling me your car. Yup. Second car, second Mustang. Unlike my first one, this was in great shape. The only flaw I really remember was that the fuel gauge indicated 1/4 full when it was bone dry. Other than that, stunning. I drove that from CA back to Chicago on an epic roadtrip following I-10, 20, 30, 40 and 55. I wish now I had taken pictures along the way with my Pentax K-1000, but I was a bit too focused on the “getting there” part of it rather than enjoying the trip. Pre-internet. Pre-GPS. Pre-kids. Just me, the road, and the knowledge that I KNEW I would make it. So much has changed since then and I wonder if I would do the same trip again.

A couple of years later, the Chicago winters were taking a toll on the old steel and it was time to move on to something newer. That’s when my friend Scott Sokolowski sold me his Ford Granada for $1. Scott is one of those guys who fusses over his car. Now, some fuss to make them perfect. He fusses to make them last forever. So, I got a seriously durable car with industrial house paint (sound familiar?) and undercoating. The best part of that thing was the Dante Heat it put out. I swear you could cook food on the heater vents. All in all, it was a perfect car for college. Go ahead, scratch it. I don’t care! It will still get me home…. for a $1

Over the next few years, Katie and I bought a few cars including a Saturn. I don’t remember which it was but it had green, plastic doors. Very forgettable, but a good first “grownup” car. I think of it and just kind of shrug.

Next up was a used, red Ford Windstar that turned out to have a problem with it’s suspension. The dealer tried to work on it but it just never turned well. And then the air went out. So did some electrical. On top of that, I was way too tall for that thing and my head was always on the roof. Still, we needed a bit more room for our growing family and a mini-van was was a good bet.

While I had the mini-van, Katie picked up a Subaru Forrester. We loved that car. It was solid and a good performer. We were a bit disappointed by having to fix the transmission but Consumer Reports indicates this isn’t a common issue anymore. Other than that, the Forrester took a beating and just kept going.

Katie’s next car is her current Prius. It is a nice little car. I don’t fit but it is great for Katie to use around town. So far (knock on wood) the only issues we’ve had have been relatively minor. We got new tires last year and I think that is from a design flaw. I think their suggested tire pressures are too low and I know their tires or rims leak air way to fast in the winter. I’m also not fond if it’s inability to use electricity intelligently which has twice lead to a dead starter battery. When that is dead, you can’t start the car even if the main motor batteries are full. If it isn’t running, then you can’t put it in neutral. So, if it dies in your garage, you better have enough room for a car next to it so you can jump start it or face the possibility of improperly dragging it out by force. A much more intelligent answer would be for this thing to know when the dome light is on for more than, say, 10 minuets and automatically turn it off. Perhaps the current Prius does that but not the one we have. Still, it’s a decent car and I’m glad we got it.

Back in 2000, I went to work for Apple and I got a great benefit… a company car. On one hand, we sold our car and dropped a car payment. On the other hand, I was expected to drive the company car around the midwest which means lots of miles. In a little more than ten years, I’ve driven another Ford Windstar, yet another Windstar, a Dodge Magnum, a Chrysler Pacifica, and now a Ford Escape. Five cars and no car payment. A great benefit.

Not having a car payment for a few years let us take on an unexpected extra… we bought an RV. Well, two actually. Our first RV was a used, 2000 model, 34-foot Shasta Class C based on a Ford Econoline frame. Looking at an RV? Look at the used market for ones used for only a couple of years. It served us well for a few years, but our kids just kept getting older. So, we sold the Shasta and bought a 34 foot Fleetwood Terra LX Class A based on another Ford cassis. That Triton V10 and F-Series Super Duty chassis as a great combination, but the best parts are the bunk beds for the kids. Mileage? Well, um, lets just say “bad.” It’s still cheeper than flying the four of us around and paying for hotels. Tried flying to Yellowstone? We will be doing a two week trip there this summer. Expensive? Not as much as you might think. Lots of people buy luxury cars for more than we paid for the RV… and they can’t make pancakes in their new cars!

2011 marks my 25th year of car ownership and it’s been quite a ride. At some point, I’ll fill you in on my three-wheeled vehicles. Those are far more fun!

-Mike

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