By on January 9, 2013


Earl writes:

Hi Sajeev, here’s a question for you and the best and brightest here. ”How might your life have been different had you bought a particular car?”

As for me, it was a Toyota MR2 Supercharged that I let slide for a 91 Pontiac Sunbird (really!). I was driving a 78 Malibu at the time and it was getting worn out. I found the MR2 and was determined to buy. I was also getting married very soon and was also working in a GM dealers at the time. I think I let the MR2 go because some life circumstances had made me extremely risk-averse. Would buying the MR2 have made me more of a risk taker? Would I have gone back to college a lot sooner and thus been farther ahead in the career I now love?

Has the purchase or non-purchase of a car ever had bigger meaning for you?

I’ll bet there are some great stories out there.

Sajeev answers:

I am a firm believer in the butterfly effect, though I don’t know if one car changes most people’s lives. But for me…well, that happened. So here’s story Number One for you.

With a twist: if my parents didn’t buy that used ’83 Continental Valentino I previously mentioned, I wouldn’t be absolutely infatuated with cars as a child. Which I never outgrew: the Valentino became a daily obsession that certainly changed my destiny. Good or bad, I don’t know. I do know that people are taken aback by this madness, but a single dude can foolishly restore this Valentino and not hurt any one. Wasting tens of thousands of dollars in the process ain’t no thang, bit if I was married with a kid?

If the Valentino was instead scrapped 10+ years ago, would I wind up honing my writing skills on Lincoln message forums back in 1999, landing at TTAC (since 2006) and on your computer? Nope. This car was the springboard to my current life.

When we look introspectively at the wonderful, tragic or just plain idiotic moves from our past and how they define our future, shit gets real.

Back to the Butterfly: for me, cars are irrevocably intertwined with every action. It’s a blessing and a curse, and I suspect everyone battles with similar action-reactions at some point in their lives.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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74 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Butterfly Effect...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    With the exception of a pair of Focuseseses it has mostly been a parade of cars that I should have passed on, rather than missing out on something that I should have bought.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    If I handn’t purchased that ’87 Monte Carlo SS as my first car in high school, I would have missed out on some very serious life lessons. Good or bad, they made me who I am today.

  • avatar
    mikey

    After I started at GM in 72, I quickly learned,that with nothing more than my signature,I could buy any vehicle I wanted. So I did,just that. By the early 80s I had old Pontiac with frame rot. My wife drove an 81 Monte Carlo.It seemed like we had been making car payments forever.
    I wanted a long box S truck,4X4. So I quit smoking, in July of 86,and started stashing cash. Its hard to do with a young family. My stash was growing slowly. Sooo….I give up another “smoking” habit.{a stash of a different sort}…. Not only did my savings grow,so did my ambition. G.M was in full O.T. mode at the time. The savings grew,and grew.

    Late fall of 88 I bought an 89 S15,for cash. As it turned out, the truck was a major POS. However I learned to save, and wait for the things I wanted.To some extent buying that truck changed my life. In the years since then we have borrowed money to buy cars,and make big payments. But I always thought long and hard before signing my name.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I suspect that the car one DID purchase is much more significant than the car that one did NOT purchase. Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Here’s a head slapper: Over the summer I considered leasing a new Evo and letting a buddy take over the payments on my 2013 Hyundai Accent. I was nervous about committing to 2 car payments totalling about $600 – just incase he didn’t/couldn’t pay. Instead, I swapped out the Accent for an Elantra GT and he agreed to buy the gas and pay for some insurance and we would share the car. 2 months later, he gets fired from where we work and decides to go to school and needs a vehicle. We (I) buy a 2002 Chevy Silverado and he agrees to pay me back after he gets done with school. 2 months and $3500 in repairs later, we dump the rat and lease a new 2013 Charger – totally in my name – for him to drive. Same deal applies – he starts paying for it after school. We took the trade value and rebates back to pay off what we spent on the truck (on my credit cards). Now I drive an Elantra GT, He drives a Charger, and I am committed to nearly $800 in car payments, when if I went with the option over the summer I’d be driving an Evo and he’d be driving an Accent. FML

  • avatar
    madman2k

    If I went back in time to early 2010, when I bought my Crown Victoria, I would probably be inclined to tell myself to hold off on moving out of the barracks on the base to an $800/month apartment before I was eligible for housing allowance, and instead go to the Toyota dealership and get a low-trim Gen 3 Prius.

    Not a cool car whatsoever, but I ended up driving a lot of miles in the Crown Vic. So let’s run the numbers. I’ll use 24 months ago as a calculation to make it easy.

    55000 miles since then at approx. 20mpg and approx $3.50 a gallon is close to 10 grand.
    The CV was $3600, and needed tires shortly, and I have just now put another set on. Between that and another maybe $1000 in maintenance and parts, and insurance approx $80 per month, I have spent roughly $17k on the car, and the TCO from here on out will be approx. $7000 per year to drive the same miles, and with slightly cheaper insurance and assuming no major parts go out.

    55000 miles at 50mpg and the same price per gallon is about 4 grand. The Prius itself might have cost about $25k with taxes and fees and interest. With a new car and everything being adjusted at all the warranty maintenance trips, I think the stock tires would still be good, and I doubt there would have been any maintenance that I had to pay for.
    Insurance would have been steep being a new car and a young driver though, that was one of my apprehensions. Maybe $300 a month to start?
    So TCO from then to now –
    approx 13000 paid to car loan + 4000 gas + 7200 insurance.
    I would get a break on the insurance now – maybe $120 a month being married and older if I was lucky.
    TCO per year 6500 payments + 2000 gas + 1500 insurance = 10k.

    So the prius would definitely have cost me more money. But then I would have a fairly young and proven reliable car with under 60k miles, which would not have depreciated all that much. With the crown vic, I have a not-so-young (2005) but still proven reliable car, but it has over 200k miles now. It’s still in good shape and I trust it, but my wife is getting leery and hounding me about the fact that she has to do maintenace while I am deployed.

    With higher gas prices on the horizon, I am considering a Prius C because I think hypermiling is rewarding and I think I could achieve better than EPA mileage, which is already pretty high. I will keep the Crown Vic because it’s not costing me much to keep it (insurance is down to like $55 because I got married and she’s over 25), but put most of our miles on the C.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Sounds like a pretty good case for the Crown Vic. By switching, sounds like you’d be trading maintenance for a car payment.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Absolutely no way that a Prius would cost $300/month in insurance, especially if your CV is only $80/month. Worst case, you’re looking at $120/month in the Prius. When I was under 25 and unmarried, the insurance on my ’07 GTI was around $150/month. As soon as I got married, it dropped to around $80/month. My 2010 4Runner is only $50/month to insure.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Before you buy, spend some time in a Prius. It sure as heck doesn’t feel like a Crown Vic when you drive it. Consider what kind of driving your family will do. I would say that the Prius is the ideal commuter car. Stop and go traffic is where its hybrid drive train really makes a difference. But if your driving includes a lot of highway miles, I think you would find the Prius pretty punishing. On the highway at speed, the Prius rides hard, is noisy, has darty steering and is generally not a very comfortable car. Moreover, steady-state highway driving is not a hybrid’s best travel mode for fuel savings. By contrast, steady-state highway driving is the best travel mode for a conventional gas engine car.

      And the depreciation curve on your Crown Vic is pretty flat by now, unlike with any new car, including a Prius.

      • 0 avatar

        Except it has an Atkinson cycle engine and excellent aerodynamics. It still beats the shit out of conventional cars on the highway, in efficiency.

        Just because it’s less better at highway speeds doesn’t mean it’s NOT better.

    • 0 avatar
      sbunny8

      To really calculate TCO, you should factor in the resale value of the car at the end of the period being evaluated. You said you paid $3600 for the Crown Vic, let’s assume you could sell it now for $2500, which means it depreciated by $1100. If you financed the Crown Vic at 5%, you would have paid $305 interest by now. Gas comes to $9625. Add in $400 for tires, $1000 for other repairs & maintenance, $80/mo for insurance, and the Crown Vic cost you a total of $14,350, which is 26 cents per mile.

      Now consider the Prius you could have bought for 23K and now might have a resale value of 17K, so depreciation is $6000. If you financed it at 5% you would have paid $2000 in interest so far, plus $3850 for gas, plus $200 for oil changes, plus $300/mo for insurance, the Prius would have cost you a total of $19,250, which is 35 cents per mile.

      I’m not trying to talk you out of the Prius, I’m just pointing out that the fuel savings alone is not enough to make it pay for itself in only two years. You also need to consider the intangible benefits, like knowing you have a reliable car and feeling less guilty about contributing to our dependency on foreign oil. If those feelings are worth 9 cents per mile to you, then go for it.

      What kills you in this calculation is the insurance, plus the fact that brand new cars depreciate 10% as soon as you drive them off the lot.

      On the other hand, you buy a used Prius instead of new for maybe 10K and 2 years later it might be worth 7K, so depreciation is $3000, interest is $850, gas is $3850, add in $400 for tires, $1000 for repairs and maintenance, 120/mo for insurance, now your TCO is $11980 which is 22 cents per mile. That’s cheaper than the Crown Vic.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Your car will keep rolling until at least 200K, buy/lease the wife something and keep the Panther since you are probably driving between bases from time to time right? Panther lives for the highway.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        28 makes a good point. I can’t think of a major component on the Vic that can’t be replaced for $500 or less. May not need to be an either/or scenario.

        If you really only do need 1 vehicle, a more traditional 4 cylinder car with a lower cost of entry than a Prius may be a better split. Depending on how long you keep it, overall repair cost will be lower once you reach the time period where a battery pack or other hybrid component needs replacing on a Prius.

      • 0 avatar
        madman2k

        Thanks for the inputs Danio, Quentin, DC Bruce, Sbunny, 28.

        I’m glad to hear the insurance would probably not be as high as I anticipated.

        I definitely will have to test drive a Prius and Prius C before buying. If I do not like it, I will probably get an older 323 or Protege with manual transmission for commuting, rebuild everything that needs rebuilding and leave the Crown Vic with the wife as she likes it.

        I want the new Mazda 6 but I think I will end up with too many speeding tickets if I have that.

        As for depreciation, I am on the fence as to whether it should be calculated into TCO or not. Sure, it’s a loss at the time you sell or trade, but I come from a family that never really sells cars, just use them up and if one of us upgrades while the old car is still good, pass it down to a family member. I would not buy a new car I didn’t intend to use until at least 8 years old/200k miles, and expect it to be fully depreciated.

  • avatar
    Feds

    Back in ’99/’00 I was a starving university student driving a hand-me-down ’86 Cavalier Z-24 hatchback (4-speed stick) with a billion miles on it.

    I received a pretty hefty (upwards of $1000!) tax refund and decided that the best way to use it was to buy a cooler car. Scouring the local classified papers, I found a ’67 Spitfire. I checked it out, it looked reasonably solid. The owner managed to get it started after prolonged coaxing, and I left there convinced I would be back the next day to buy it.

    That very night, pulling into my driveway, the motor mount in the cavalier went out, breaking the exhaust. While inspecting the mount, I found 2 dead balljoints. While I could have managed a barely-running spitfire when I had a barely-running cavalier to back it up, the prospect of a 37 year old convertible as a daily driver north of the 49th parallel caused me to rethink my decision. I scrapped the cavi and “purchased” my parent’s ’89 323 for the cost of it’s 4th transmission replacement.

    The 323 served me well (I actually converted the car to 5-speed instead of replacing the autobox), but in the 13 years that have passed, I’ve never had an opportunity to own a convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I had a friend in high school around the same period with a ’79 Spitfire convertible… you made the right choice. As to never having the opportunity of owning one, there aren’t many choices post 2000 because I too would like to pick one up someday. Your most plentiful choice seems to be iterations of the Ford Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      If I’ve got one regret, that’s it. I’ve been so deeply involved with motorcycles over the last 35 years that I’ve never owned a convertible anything. Which will be taken care of in the next five years.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        Convertibles could be considered motorcycles with a seat belt requirements.

        Thing I have liked about motorcycles is that you can shoehorn eight of them in the space that one midsized car would take up which came in handy growing up in over-developed areas of NJ with property laws for tag and insurance requirements on non-op vehicles. We had two off-street driveway spaces and two spaces in front of the house but could get cycles around back of the to a big shed via the 44″ space between side of the house and both neighbors’ fences. (I remember that the space was 44″ because two passes of a 20″ blade diameter lawn mower did the path leaving a Mohican-haircut like 4″ wide center line of grass to finish.)

        And we could get them down into a basement via the outside stairway- two men to get in with a 2×10 and three to get out with the biggest guy pivoting the same 2×10 under the rear wheel…

  • avatar
    dsignr

    Sajeev, great question about the butterfly effect : “Has the purchase or non-purchase of a car ever had bigger meaning for you?”
    Can I widen that to include purchase of a book about a particular car?
    It was a history of the Corvette,the C2 Sting Ray being my favorite car as a schoolkid.Included were photos of the styling process, including sketches and clay models.
    At school I’d always said I wanted to be a car designer, and been told that there was no such job. I should stop doodling cars in lessons as it would get me nowhere. This book told me that there was a job where, if I was lucky, doing just that would even earn me money……
    The day in the early ’90s when I found myself working inside the GM Tech Center on Corvettes and looked out of the studio window to see my ’66 427/425 roadster parked outside with the famous water tower in the background I realized I really was living my childhood dream…..
    Since then I’ve been lucky enough to work all over the world and see the results of my efforts hit the street and appear in the motoring press.
    As I sit here writing this, when I should be sketching cars and attending to a clay model for a world renowned German sports car manufacturer, I wonder where I would be without that book……

    • 0 avatar

      Fantastic story, thank you for sharing. Quite honestly, the sales brochure for my 1988 Cougar (my avatar) has a similar story. The first two pages are a forward from Jack Telnack, and that’s what got me thinking about car design as a career myself.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Yes, there’s definitely a Butterfly Effect – only for me it was motorcycles, not cars. Back in the summer of 1980, newly married, I was in the market for my third motorcycle to replace my ’72 CB350 which was pushing the 25k mark.

    I deliberately limited myself to one dealer, a guy who was fast becoming one of my best friends, and who was the Triumph/Kawasaki dealer in Johnstown. At the time he offered me, same price, a brand new ’79 Triumph Bonneville or a likewise ’79 Kawasaki KZ650. $2500.00 each. I took the Bonnie. For some reason it spoke to me a lot more.

    Damn, if it didn’t make a difference. First up, the Bonnie was a hell of a lot more interesting, and got me (necessarily) a lot more involved with motorcycles. I’d have probably kept the Kwak for 4-5 years and gone back to vintage cars had I bought it. Such is the result of buying a two-wheeled appliance.

    Instead, the street cred of the Triumph got me invited to my first biker party in the Columbia, MD area three years later, (I was refueling at the time while on a trip, the Kwak would have probably been burned on the bonfire) and ten years later had evolved into the first of three sets of colors on my back and a 25+ year involvement in motorcycle clubs ranging from the local ABATE chapter to 1%ers (primarily Outlaws with some time spent riding the the Pagans).

    It eventually started me collecting vintage motorcycles, which, at its height counted three Meriden Triupmphs, one Small Heath Triumph, on Hinckley Triumph, a BSA, and a Springfield Indian, with a few 70′s Japanese and Italian bikes. A collection that only got whittled down due to my wife’s failing health and my responsibility for caring for her (one Hinckley and one Meriden Triumph still remain). Not to mention the family and friendships gained over those years.

    All because I passed on a Jap bike. May some other decisions I made had served me as well.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I was making a deal on a new 2000 Neon when I called my wife and she strongly recommended I not do it because we hadn’t discussed it. My 11-year-old daughter said I should call to check.

    If I had bought the car, it would have set me back financially, and it wouldn’t have satisfied me, anyway.

    Instead, I later got a used Stratus, which worked out better in all ways.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    My ex was hell bent on getting a luxury car back in 2006. I capitulated and we ended up with a Lexus for about 50 large. Nice car but not worth the money IMO, just wasn’t my style. It’s what she wanted, and kept her happy for a little while, but she did end up leaving a few years later.

    I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if I held my ground and didn’t buy that car. Doubt it would’ve changed my relationship history but it was a factor in the shakeout of the breakup. She kept the car and I kept the house. Pretty sure I got a better deal.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I learned that lesson myself in the past. Women like that can only be appeased for a short time before some other, more expensive thing comes along.

      I found with my current wife that a good measure of a woman is how well they tolerate the crappy cars you put them in. If only I could send a message to my former self…

    • 0 avatar
      Wabbit3

      You guys are right on there. I traded my dream car at the time, a 2004 Wrangler Unlimited (the stretch version of the TJ), for a brand-new Rav4 Limited for my ex, and I took over her used Focus. I wanted her to be safe on her 40-mile commute to her job…where she met someone else. And, of course, she got it in the settlement. Best intentions…

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    This is a deep question for the B&B! I am a firm believer in the butterfly effect, and cars are no exception. Anything you do somehow has an effect on your life. When I got out of the Air Force I wanted an SUV, we looked at the Cherokee, the Isuzu Rodeo, and the Land Rover Discovery. I had always wanted a Land Rover, and when I found out I could lease one for less than the other 2 trucks even though it was nearly double the price, we jumped on it. That got me involved in the local dealer activities for owners… Off roading, shows, events. One of those events is where I met my dream girl, I split up with my wife (wasnt a happy marriage, but still) and moved in with her. Within a year I discovered my dream girl was a total psycho who left me stuck with a second car and an apartment I could barely pay for on my own. Swearing off relationships forever, I embarked on a series of shallow meaningless flings with strippers and married women. Where I eventually met my real dream girl, who was in her own unhappy marriage. We have been together for 13 blissfully happy years, all because I wanted a Land Rover.

    • 0 avatar

      Dang. Now *I* want a Land Rover.

      • 0 avatar
        Stumpaster

        Don’t forget, he had to sleep with strippers and used women before he got “there”.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        The Land Rover was exceptionally good at impressing them too, they had no idea it only cost me $300 a month or so to drive it.

        @stump… you don’t actually “sleep” with them, or you are doing it wrong… and I stopped looking for virginal uptight girls in high school, the experienced ones are way more fun.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Don’t forget, he had to sleep with strippers and used women”

        Wow that’s just an awful detour on the way to true love. I’ll get lost on that road all day long.

        This scenario just reminded me of the Simpsons:

        Homer: You know Stan Taylor?
        Stan: Know me? Ned Flanders saved me. I used to party all night and sleep with lingerie models until Ned and his bible group showed me that I could have more.
        Homer: [being derisive] Professional athletes, always wantin’ more.

    • 0 avatar
      Wabbit3

      Ah, that first crazy girl post-divorce. I remember having a conversation on the phone with mine when I realized she was on some sort of chemical that made her talk like Jenna von Oÿ on “Blossom”. Rapid-fire, and thinking I just wouldn’t notice. She later stalked me and conned a Sprint employee into turning on GPS tracking on my phone – but that’s another story.

      But seriously, man, there’s probably a novel in your story somewhere. Wow.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        haha you have no idea, I tried to keep it brief for the comments section, but its almost Baruth-ian in long form. Not sure I would want to go on record with everything in a novel.

        Bonus points for even remembering who Jenna von Oy is, let alone spelling it correctly and all!!

  • avatar
    gessvt

    Fox chassis and magnificent design aside, the thing I remember most about our then new ’82 Continental was the trip computer. A long row of chunky buttons to display ETA, DTE, elapsed time, average fuel economy and more on a digital screen! I was 11, and I spent considerable time reading the owner’s manual in the garage after Dad got home from work, and learning what each button did. Then I showed it to all my friends. Sajeev, it was the sh*t, I tell you!

    • 0 avatar

      You were me in 4th grade, the Tripminder blew me away. And some of our family’s friends with BMW’s were impressed with it vs. the little box they had in their dashboards.

      And it’s still kinda awesome: unlike modern luxury cars, it was completely independent of everything else. If you didn’t want to deal with it, you could still enjoy a normal car stereo and HVAC setup!

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I think buying my GTI was the point where what I decided to purchase had a big impact on my life. I was driving a 2001 Impreza 2.5RS (4 door, 5MT, a few STI bits on it here and there). I opted to get a job after finishing engineering school instead of staying for my masters. My mother was against this plan and said that I needed to get my own car since I’d not met her expectation of going further in school. I never really gave much to the option of buying the car from her. Instead, I decided that I was going to buy something new. My shopping list included a Honda Fit, Subaru WRX wagon, Mazda Miata, Toyota Tacoma double cab, BMW 325i sportwagon, and VW GTI. Subaru had recently killed the 5MT Legacy 2.5GT wagon, else that would have been the winner. The GTI won out for being good at everything and having a magnificent interior for the price. The list can be split into vehicles I’m glad I passed on and those which I might have been happy with 5 years later. Glad I passed: Legacy 2.5GT wagon (poor reliability – my brother and best friend both have them with less than stellar results), Honda Fit (would have sold this summer), BMW 325i (reliability, cost), Mazda Miata (would have sold for family vehicle). I think I’d still be happy with a WRX wagon or a Tacoma Double Cab. I ended up selling the unreliable GTI for a 4Runner that I truly love. I think I’d be equally as happy with a Tacoma double cab which is surprisingly kid friendly. Just thinking of how cheap I could have driven the AWD 2.5RS up until this summer would mean another $45k in my savings.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    When I was 19, and buying my first car, I had to pull the trigger on either a pristine 64′ Chevelle or a Z31 300zx. I was going to tech school at the time to be a mechanic, so I needed something that could handle Chicago winters. I couldn’t imagine driving the classic Chevy handling snow and salt well and picked the Nissan (whether or not, a 300zx could handle this duty either is up for debate).

    In the end, I owe a lot of my know-how to that Z. I was constantly modifying it. I got into working with EFI, electrical systems, suspension tech, welding, etc because the car demanded I learn these things. The Z31 is like a bastard child and it was tough to build it how I wanted. Where as the Chevy had about 10 or more performance companies making parts for whatever you wanted to bolt right on in a matter of minutes.

    I finally got the chance to work on a 65 Malibu last summer. It is like a babies toy to work on in comparison. If I picked the Chevy, my car probably wouldn’t be in a magazine (my Z is in this month’s issue of Modified) because it’s hard to stand out in that crowd. I also don’t think I would have the skills today to put SHO engines in the back of Metros, or this….

  • avatar
    ctg

    After college I was about to start a (very low paying) entry level job. I hadn’t had a car throughout college and I needed to buy one on short notice. I had about $5k in savings. I narrowed it down to a ’99 Altima, a ~’97 Crown Vic or a ’94 Saab 900.

    The Altima was beige, boring and automatic, but well below my budget. The Crown Vic was awesome in an old school way, but guzzled gas and had some minor, but annoying, issues. The Saab was pretty, weird, and drove beautifully. I was smitten and managed to negotiate it down to just a bit under my savings. Needless to say, over the next two years it nearly bankrupted me with repair bills and stranded me multiple times.

    A few months before I was set to being grad school the electrical system decided to accelerate its death march. I had it towed to my mechanic (I was now on a first name basis with most of the tow truck drivers in Houston). In its current condition he agreed to trade it (plus $1300) for an ugly but running ’01 Chevy Prizm. It was a stripper, with a three speed automatic and a rebuilt engine. It was basically the opposite of my Saab, but it got me through school on a tight budget and ran just long enough that I was able to put away some savings once I started at a decent job. Then it began to really fall apart and was used as the down payment on something fun.

    No regrets :) Although, I probably missed my opportunity to become an apostle of panther love…

  • avatar
    BecauseBowTie

    This story begins with a car I shouldn’t have sold – a 2003 Mini Cooper – that was nearing the end of it’s warranty and I was attempting to go car-free. When my car-free experiment proved to be almost as expensive as a car payment because of using Zipcar a lot, I decided to buy a cheap car that I could tinker with and fix up a bit. My two choices were a 1997 Mazda Miata STO Edition and a 1999 Saab 9-3S. I decided to go with the Saab because it was cheap enough to buy without getting a loan and because it’d be useful in an upcoming move.

    Well, I’m guessing you know how that went…fun car but went through $2000 in repairs in the first couple months of ownership and it still didn’t have a working turbo or A/C. At that point, my investment into it was more than it was worth so on a whim I traded it in on a new leased Volkswagen CC with a warranty and maintenance included (Butterfly effect 2: Should have gone with the GTI). I regretted that almost immediately, I HATE the car and at this point I’m stuck with it for another year and a half. It’s also preventing me from saving for a condo because the insurance is so high, and because of the cash I spent fixing the Saab, my savings has dwindled. Had I bought the Miata, even with having a car payment I would have been much better off financially AND have a car I’d love.

  • avatar
    sbunny8

    When I was 10, my dad bought a 1976 AMC Pacer and we took it on a 3,000-mile road trip. I remember he bragged about how it averaged 21 mpg on that trip — with the air conditioner running, which was pretty good back then for a car which is about the same size as today’s minivans. When I was 15, he bought my sister a 1981 Toyota Starlet, which she swore once drove 100+ miles on only 2 gallons of gas, but honestly I think it was 2.5 gallons of gas. Anyway, that’s what set me up to dream about the car I would someday own, and miles per gallon has always been on my mind.

    Now I drive a Mitsubishi i, which goes about 60 miles on $1.50 worth of electricity.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    If it weren’t for my ’96 Bronco I question whether I would have ended up with my current girlfriend.

    A few years ago I decided to give online dating a try. I came to find that one of the most difficult aspects of online dating is coaxing out a woman’s true personality within the first few dates.

    On one particular first date I had loaned my nearly new Mazda 3 hatchback to my brother for the day and drove my beloved, dirty, dented, scratched, mud-terrain shod ’96 Bronco instead. After a reasonably pleasant first date with a reasonably attractive woman was I was looking forward to meeting again until I saw the look of shock and horror on her face when I climbed into the Bronco. I could almost hear here saying “Ewwww…I’m never riding in that thing!” in her head. From then on I knew that the Bronco was the perfect litmus test and drove it to every subsequent date.

    My current girlfriend and I have had many adventures in the Bronco: camping trips, exploring old ghost towns and mines, and driving to remote hiking trail-heads that are not accessible by car. I think that she loves the old truck more than I do sometimes.

    • 0 avatar

      “From then on I knew that the Bronco was the perfect litmus test and drove it to every subsequent date.”

      Brilliant idea. Sincerely, single guy with a Ford Ranger.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      I have a similar tale involving my wife and my xB. I didn’t want to waste any time dating somebody only to find out about their misplaced priorities later on.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Yep, it works. I was driving a ’76 Charger when I met my wife…in the early 2000s.

        Plus later on, when the car collection borders on the automotive equivalent of cat-lady, you have the excuse of “you knew I liked old cars when you met me”.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’ve been fortunate with my automotive purchases, the ones I’ve held onto have lasted, most of the others I dumped prior to any real problems.

    The only tragic purchase I made was ironically a Panther, in this case a ’90 Town Car with the venerable 5.0 and a newly rebuilt transmission, 97K on the clock. Drive-train was reasonably solid and it never left me stranded, but it had a litany of other issues mostly related to age and climate. Nearly every seal (inc rear main) leaked fluid (which I later replaced most of), one of the brake lines broke while I drove it down a big Pittsburgh hill, fortunately I was able to steer the yacht back into port before losing all brake pressure a short time later. The air ride never quite worked correctly after I hit the switch in the trunk to disable it while being towed to fix the brake line, and the e-brake broke the moment I engaged it at the shop after the car was lowered from the tow truck. Was just a headache with stuff like that, I ended up cursing it and sending it to the nether region of the road, by which I mean junkyard. Pity since most of the car was still there and the drive-train still kicked.

    Looking back I wished I had not purchased it, and instead waited a few years until I had cash for a 95 or newer. Live and learn.

  • avatar
    david42

    About 10 yrs ago, I wanted to buy a new car for my girlfriend (now my wife). She wanted a mid-sized sedan with a stick shift, and it came down to a Nissan Altima vs. a Subaru Legacy GT. The Legacy was about $1,200 more expensive, but it had better side-impact crash ratings. We said to ourselves, “Well, what are the chances of actually getting hit in the side?”

    But we’re not risk-takers, so we spent the extra $1,200 on the Legacy.

    10 months later, a Jeep blows through a red light and hits us right in the driver’s door–the driver didn’t even touch her brakes. My wife was driving. We both walked out of the accident with nothing more than a brief back-ache.

  • avatar
    Matt Fink

    This was actually for my dad. He was offered a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing from a rich relative who didn’t like how hard it was to get in and out. He was in college and at time and jumped at the idea and crazy cheap price. His parents however immediately sold the car when he wasn’t home because, “no college kids needs a ‘sports car’”. Seeing it go for a cool million dollars at auctions now makes me wonder kind of cars I would have been driving growing up. Would my CRX have been an Integra Type R? My Nissan Pulsar a 300Z? Who knows, but it makes for a good story.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I guess that if I didn’t buy that 1973 BMW 2002 from my dorm mate I wouldn’t have had the “heritage” baseline against which to judge today’s 3-series, which with each generation are moving more and more away from the “roots”; which today makes me completely disinterested in most of BMW products, save for the 5-series. So when we were buying a car last year, I had no problem going for an Acura wagon instead of 3-wagon and saving $8K or so.

    And I also think that buying a 1987 Volvo 240 four years with 60K miles to just tow my then-new boat, while I lived in Manhattan, and then really falling for the Volvo and making it our regular driver, really adjusted my attitude about the cars – going from a rabid BMW and Civic hatch fanboy to looking at cars as a commodity.

  • avatar
    meefer

    In late 2006, my Accord was giving up the ghost (and cylinder #6) so I had to buy a car. I was keen on a Mazda RX-8 (Huge fan of the RX7 and it couldn’t be THAT unreliable right). My father bribed me into a safer car by “loaning” me the down on a Lexus IS250.

    Almost 7 years and 125K trouble free miles later, my IS250 is still going and likely to see 200K while an RX8 would likely be on the second engine. Now I’m able to consider a second weekend car. Convertible time!

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I bought a used B5 A4. 2.5 years and $4k in repairs later, I elarned a lesson I’d like to call that low-priced german car is low-priced for a reason.

    Then I bought an RSX-S and put a good amount of money into mods for autocross and track. Life lesson here: If you’re goning to mod, do your research, and do it right, paying for high-quality parts the first time. Alternatively, decide what you want to do with a car, and spend the money to buy the car that does what you want it to do, rather than spending just as much modifying one to a 90% solution (yeah, I should have gotten a E36 M3 instead.

    Finally, I’m in my S2000 now. If you have an achievable dream car from your youth, own it at some point.

  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    I have two instances of this in my automotive experience. I should have gotten a 4- door Chevrolet Corsica instead of a 2- door Beretta when i left for college in 1994. Four years later my wife gets pregnant two months after I signed the papers on a ’96 Firebird Formula. We spent the first 18 months of my daughter’s life wrestling her into the back seat of one of our two- door coupes, which led to trading the Firebird for a leased GMC Sierra extended cab, which was a great truck, but I became convinced that the whole leasing thing was a lousy idea + I decided i wanted a 4X4, which led to trading it in (while very upside down) on a S-10 crew cab that served as the family car until we bought a Honda Odyssey.

    The second choice is that instead of buying the Firebird, I should have bought an extended cab pickup then instead. That would have saved me at least two trades down the road. Now that I have reached the point where I own both an extended cab Silverado that is the same year and equivalent trim level of the Sierra I leased all those years ago and a 2002 Camaro SS that’s much better than the Firebird, in addition to the wife’s Honda, I realize that I have enjoyed using my various pickup trucks from day to day over the years much more than I do the various muscle cars and other coupes I have owned.

    The Camaro is a lot of fun on a warm Spring day with the t- top off and an afternoon to kill bombing around the backroads of Central Kentucky with no particular place to go. However, living with it day to day as my only car would suck. If you put a gun to my head and ordered me to spare one of my vehicles and torch the other two, the Silverado would be safe while the Camaro and Odyssey burned to the ground. No hesitation or second thoughts about it. (Sorry, honey. I know you hate driving my truck.)

  • avatar
    fincar1

    In my case it was a car I didn’t buy. I was just out of college and had a decent job. I was ready to buy a new 1963 Falcon Sprint 4-speed 2-door hardtop – summer of 1963. The day before I was going to buy the car I got laid off. So instead of buying the car we moved back to Tacoma and I worked part-time for my father in the construction business until a job came up in my field of chemistry. I held onto this job a bit longer, and we got a new 1965 V8 4-speed Barracuda in November 1964. I realized that the job in Oregon wasn’t one that would ever have developed into a long-term job, but not being between jobs with a new car to pay for made a big difference to us.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    My first car was a butter yellow ’82 Mercedes w123 turbodiesel that one of my mother’s coworkers was selling. As a kid, I loved British luxury cars and domestic geriatric sleds, so an old Mercedes hadn’t exactly been on my radar. The car ended up being horribly unreliable, but I was won over by the solidity and character of old school Benzes. I ultimately replaced it with a w124 coupe, and I now drive a R129 500SL that looks like a million bucks for used Accent money.

    Today, if I were in the market for a new luxury car, a would not even consider a BMW or Audi. Would I feel so strongly had that smoke-belching W123 not been for sale when it was? Might I have a love affair with Lexus/ Honda/ Ford if I had started with them?

  • avatar

    Sajeev, maybe you had cars in your blood and the continental was just the catalyst, such that had that not come along some other catalyst would have.

    In my case, the love of cars came not from a particular car, but, I suspect, from the long road trips I’d had by age 4–Seattle to LA and back to Seattle when I was 3, Seattle to Menlo Park when I was almost 4, and Menlo Park to Cambridge MA at the end of that summer. I think I was really getting into cars by age 6. I got much more family time on these road trips than at any other time.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Its easy to think about how a car choice (or any choice) did change your experiences in life. Less tangible is “what could have been”. In 1993 I had just joined the Air Force, was on my way to my first duty station, and was visiting home. We had this crappy old Ford Escort that my wife had brought into the relationship, and it needed some part or something. At the dealership they had a brand new 1993 Mustang LX 5.0 hatch, black with charcoal interior and a stick. I had been itching for another muscle car after briefly owning a Trans Am (with the wheezy carbed 305) a few yrs back, and I wanted THAT Mustang. We test drove it, I loved the power, and the dealer was a sucker for military, IIRC he made me an offer of $12,500 plus my trade OTT. But my wife couldn’t drive a stick, thought the Mustang was as crappy inside as her Escort, and the gas mileage would kill us. Since this was to be our only car, she didn’t want it, she wanted a Honda Civic. Back then a lot of my friends were getting into imports and I fell for the much higher build quality. We couldn’t find a Civic like we wanted in Kentucky, so we ended up driving to Texas with the Escort. There we bought a loaded up Civic EX coupe auto for something like $15k (we got suckered in every way) but kept the Escort for me. I was supposed to eventually get my Mustang, but couldn’t get two car loans, then thought I would wait for the new ones, then for the 4.6, then ended up with a truck, etc, etc. Never got my Mustang. Of course looking back I could have gotten the 5.0 for less than the Civic even without trading the Escort and she could have driven her crappy Escort, but we do stupid things for love and hindsight is always 20/20.

    I often wonder what my life (and car choices) would have been had I insisted on getting that Mustang. Probably would have lost the first wife sooner. Made different friends. Gotten more speeding tickets maybe? Gotten into drag racing? Become one of those guys that only buys Mustangs? Then I might never have met my current wife (see story above), wouldn’t have the life I have now. Like I said before, this is a deep question for the B&B, goes way beyond wasted money on bad finance deals.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I’ve made enough mistakes with cars to hope you are wrong about the butterfly effect. Life is going to be full of increasingly compounded errors if you are right. One good choice was the 81 Datsun King Cab. A little 2wd thatI got before retiring from the Navy. Hooked me on trucks and really helped me get into the air conditioning trade which financed other career moves. The second good thing was meeting my wife while looking at cars at a local lot. She ran the place for her son and it was love at first sight.

    Really that was when things started going right so maybe you are right.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Two cars, if i had bought them, would have changed my life: a Morris Mini 850 and a Honda N600- oh well.


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