Paid In Full: Why I Finally Kept a Car Long Enough to Pay the Note

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
paid in full why i finally kept a car long enough to pay the note

Every now and then, life takes you by surprise. One minute you’re hanging out with your buddies, deploying the 225 horsepower of a tattered Mustang GT to do donuts in the parking lot of the Muddy Shag Lounge. The next, you’re weighing the benefits of a variable rate mortgage.

It’s an alarming reminder of age, not unlike the sudden predilection of my knees to sound like nails in a Cuisinart when I attempt to alight from my sofa after watching the Pittsburgh Penguins get shellacked by the Chicago Blackhawks.

One such life event snuck up on me a couple of weeks ago: I finally kept a car long enough to pay it off.

Our 2012 Dodge Charger found itself in our driveway after a particularly alarming crash involving our Ford Edge. Props to Ford for building a safe crossover: my wife walked away from the driver’s seat of the machine you see above with merely a seatbelt bruise and the annoyance that she had brimmed the tank with fuel five minutes prior to the wreck. Physics does funny things, including wedging a wayward soccer ball between the Edge’s headliner and a front seat headrest with such force that it took several strong and well-placed kicks to remove it. Newton’s First Law is proven once again.

Anyways, after the insurance company’s cheque cleared (a remarkably rapid experience, devoid of the usual horror-show stories), we decided our family did not want another crossover vehicle. The Edge was a front-drive machine, the product of the belief my wife and I share that a good set of winter tires trumps traction to all four corners if those corners are inhabited by rubber whose surface resembles that of cooked bologna. All-wheel drive, then, was also not a must-have for our next vehicle.

I’m tall. So is my wife. Our son will probably also be NBA-sized once he grows into his sullen teenage years. With this in mind – along with pleasant memories of large sedans – we sought out something that would provide stretch-out comfort but not put a V8-sized dent into our fuel budget. The 2012 Dodge Charger, whose interior was recently restyled from a PlaySkool plastics bin to a relative zenith of plushness, fit the bill. I had but two must-haves on my list for FCA’s rear-driver: the 8.4-inch uConnect system and the ZF 8-speed automatic.

After some polite haggling (we’re Canadian, eh?) and a good deal of jocularity at the dealership, we drove away happy. I remarked at the time – and continue to remark today – that the Charger represents a modern day Fifth Avenue: large, spacious, and gloriously rear-drive. Powered by the Pentastar V6, it even gets good fuel economy, regularly averaging 8.0L/100km on the highway (that’s nearly 30 mpg, for my American friends in the audience).

My past has been riddled with both beaters and financed vehicles, not all of which were sound financial decisions. Many machines were brought (or dragged) home for less than $300, including a janky Crown Victoria whose seller lacked answers to straightforward questions such as, “Do you actually own this car?” In another instance, an LTD Station Wagon dated from the year of wife’s birth found its way into my garage, so riddled with rust that when I went to change a tire, I extended my Motomaster floor jack to its limit… yet all four tires remained squarely on terra firma.

Even my financed vehicles didn’t stay around too long, for a variety of reasons. I signed the note on a three-year old, off-lease Honda Accord coupe in 2005, resplendent in its silver paint and black leather seats. That one only lasted a couple of years before giving way to a jet black five-speed Mazda 6 hatchback, which then vacated the driveway for the Edge I mentioned above.

So what caused me to keep the Charger long enough to pay off the note? Inattention? The relentless march of time? Perhaps. In reality, it simply boils down to finally finding a car with which I was completely satisfied. It is, praise the pharaohs, the first car I’ve ever owned whose positives far outweigh the negatives.

Is it perfect? Hardly. Five years in, several minor features have stopped working, including the sunroof and heated seats. I’m not spending the money to fix the sunroof, simply because we rarely used it beyond opening the shade, and the heated seats will probably only become a vexing issue later this winter when temperatures drop to levels seen only on the surface of Hoth. I’ll grumble then, I’m sure.

Which leads me to the whole point of this post: right now, the Charger is worth more as transportation than it is in monetary value. A new Charger isn’t all that different than my 2012 unit and, if past experience with optional feature vs. essential mechanicals is any indication, this car will run badly longer than most other cars will run at all. I fully expect our son to use it for driving practice when he goes for his license in another few years.

Our pickup truck, on the other hand, is a different story. It, too, is mechanically sound, requiring only the replacement of a starter and a regular maintenance items since buying it as an off-lease used machine four years ago. Still, Ram’s famous over-the-rear-wheel rust has reared its ugly head at a rapid and exponential rate, and new trucks have far more tech and power than my eight-year-old 1500 Sport. I’m not sure I feel the same way about keeping the truck as I do the car, leading me to firmly believe that it is foolish to make blanket statements about whether it’s a good idea to pay off a car or not. It is most definitely a case-by-case deal.

But in the case of the Charger? I had no qualms about ringing up our local sign shop, the fabulously named Sid Sells Signs, and requesting an oversized novelty cheque. The lads at Blaikies Dodge, where we bought the car five years ago, were more than willing to play along with my ridiculous picture request. I’m proud to have kept the Charger for the length of the note without complaint. We’ll see what happens with the truck.

Life, then, does present itself with surprises. One group of people that won’t be surprised any time soon? My neighbours, in reaction to a new set of wheels replacing the Charger in my driveway. This is one case in which I’ll be keeping the thing ‘til the wheels fall off.

Or, more likely with the air and road conditions around here, the whole thing returns to the earth in the form of fine iron oxide filings.

[Images: © 2017 Matthew Guy]

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3 of 50 comments
  • Turf3 Turf3 on Oct 09, 2017

    When I was a young married man, my wife and I kept her (modest) car for 13 years and my (modest) car for 17 years; I did every lick of work on both cars that entire time. The money we saved during that time by not having car payments essentially allowed us to buy a (small modest) house near the end of that time and pay the house off in 1 year. Until you have a paid for house and two paid for cars you don't realize just how much stress the inelastic demand of house and car payments causes. Just imagine that you could say to yourself any time you wanted to, "I don't owe a dime to anyone in the world and I have money in the bank".

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Oct 20, 2017

    For some reason "The Big Bank of Sergio" makes me laugh.

  • Wolfwagen I would rather have an annual inspection that may catch something early or at least the driver can be informed of an impending issue. Government vs private is another issue and unscrupulous mechanics is another.On a slightly different topic is the inspection of salvage or rebuilt cars. In NYS it is strictly to ensure that stolen parts were not used to rebuild the vehicle. I would rather see an inspection to ensure that the vehicle has been properly put back together.
  • PeterPuck For years, Ford has simply reworked existing designs originating from Europe and Japanese manufacturers, not being capable of designing a decent car in the USA.What’s the last clean sheet design from the USA? The 1986 Taurus?And they still can’t manage to get things right.why is this? Are they putting all of the competent engineers and designers on the F150? Is woke diversification affecting them, as some rumours suggest? Are they rewarding incompetence?
  • Brandon What is a "city crossover"?
  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).