Living in the country, in Michigan, has its advantages, but having a 10 mile distance between you and town is not one of them. So, we drive cars. And trucks, and motorcycles. If it's a nice day, I will ride my bike within a radius of five or six miles.
Our Automotive History
Until last spring, we were essentially a one-car family. That's not including the motorcycle, or the old sports car that Hubs has (we don't drive it very often... like, a few times per year). So mostly we drove around the big diesel truck that Hubs used for work. During the winter of 2014/15, we purchased a car for $6000.00 and drove that around for a few months. When springtime came, Hubs re-sold the car for $6000.00.
When Hubs hired someone to do deliveries for him, we discovered that our primary vehicle was gone quite often! There were a few times when Mr. Delivery would pull in with the truck and trailer, and Hubs would quick unhook the trailer so we could leave in the truck. That was not a good system.
Hubs, being the resourceful man that he is, literally pulled an old car out of the weeds in our backyard. It was a manual transmission, 1991 Saturn that he drove several years prior (and probably hadn't drove since). To his surprise, the thing actually started up! He drove up by the house, loud and proud. But I noticed that something was wrong with the car. The back two wheels weren't turning. Instead, they left deep ruts in the yard as Hubs dragged along. "I think there's something wrong with the back wheels," I said.
"Oh, they're just locked up. I'm sure they will loosen up after a little bit of driving!" He pulled out of the driveway, onto the black top, and headed down the road... leaving two dark black tire marks behind him. He came back not as confident as he left. "Well, I guess I will need to work on it a bit."
To his delight and my amazement, the car did loosen up after an afternoon of work and test-driving. I was still scared to ride with him, though. I mean, it was the car from the weeds. The speedometer didn't work, the headliner was falling down in my face, and as we drove along, pieces of plastic interior would start to rattle, making it hard to hear each other. I asked him how many miles the car had, and he said he didn't know. The odometer quit working before he got it. Every now and then, the putrid odor of feces would come through the heat/air vents. "What is that smell?" I asked him.
"Oh, I think there's a mouse nest under the hood. I'll have to look at that."
Eventually I "learned" to drive the car; everything from buckling my two-part seat belt, rolling down the window so it wouldn't get stuck, maneuvering with powerless power steering (which is worse than no power steering at all!) and guessing my speed by RPMs. I actually came to like the little car. It was a lot smaller than the truck with fewer blind spots, plus it got better gas mileage. I think.
Time For an Upgrade
Alas, the time came late this winter when I was ready for an upgrade. After several longish trips without heat (Hubs corrected me; the heat worked, but the fan that blew the heat did not work) in the dead of winter, I had made up my mind that we wouldn't drive it through another December. "The fan works," Hubs said. "You just have to plug in that wire under the dash. On your side. It should work if you make sure it's plugged in." After feeling around for several minutes hunched over and getting carsick, I found the plug and plugged it in. Still nothing.
Several weeks later, we were caught in a storm on the freeway. All of a sudden, Hubs' windshield wiper came completely OFF the windshield and started flapping against the driver side window. He thought it was funny. I didn't think it was very funny. Thankfully we reached our destination with limited visibility.
I think the flapping windshield wiper was really the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I could live with the broken speedometer, ratty interior (pun intended) and no power steering. But I had no desire to be a backseat mechanic, just wondering what would stop working next. I didn't like driving it at night because the "brights" were more like fog lights on a normal vehicle. One blinker still didn't work. It was time for an upgrade, for real.
A New (Used) Car
When we go car shopping, we try to stay away from the dealerships and just use Craigslist. Hubs has enough mechanical understanding to spot major problems, and most owners are pretty honest. Hubs loves looking for cars, so he made it his part-time job for a few weeks to find a new car for us.
"Do you realize," I asked Hubs, "that we made a 20-year leap in cars? Most people will upgrade by five or ten years, but we upgraded by 20 years!"
"Yeah. That's pretty cool," Hubs replied.
Frugality vs. Safety and Risk
I realize that not everyone is going to drive a free car that they pulled from the weeds. But honestly, I am kind of going to miss driving around our Saturn. It was so... frugal.
There comes a time when frugality competes with safety, and safety wins. Each person and family must decide for themselves what is "safe", because definitions for that word vary so much. Some people think eating soybean oil is dangerous. Some people think going to Mexico is dangerous. Some people think going to Detroit is dangerous. I am a firm, firm believer that safety is relative. It changes with every decade and physical location. Back in the day, toxic pesticides were used freely. Even today, many European countries have banned GMO crops while we Americans are partaking freely- even celebrating them*.
Obviously, when opinions differ on what is safe and what isn't, arguments can occur. Judging can occur. The self-appointed safety police come out of the woodwork and make the risk-takers feel bad. Meanwhile, the risk-takers start mocking the safety police for being such prudes. Oh dear, what a hornet's nest.
Any frugal person will probably face the safety vs. frugality issue at one point or another. That is YOUR decision to make for your family; not anyone else's. My encouragement is to carefully evaluate risk vs. benefit (whether that is financial or something else) and make an educated decision that you can be proud of.
Note: There was another reason we bought the car, too. I talked about that in my last email newsletter! You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter here.
**While I do partake, I wouldn't go so far as to celebrate GMOs.