Thursday, October 26, 2023

Hello Car! Again...

Very excited with my brand new (to me) car!

This post has been a long time coming. 

I literally started writing it over a month ago, which was more than a week after buying my car, but there were a lot of emotions involved in writing this and it took me quite a while. More on that in a little bit.

So for those who didn't see my post in September (writing about what happened in August), basically after 6 months (minus a couple of days) of buying my last car, the engine completely conked out (dangerously, along the highway in a dangerous area, but fortunately we all came out unscathed). It was really, really, really disappointing and frustrating, and I had a lot of guilt about it, which is why it took me a few weeks to write it up. 

I blamed myself for it (something I'm very good at), blamed myself for maybe not being responsible enough, for getting a bad car, for not doing enough research... but fortunately people I care about talked some sense into me, and reassured me that it was not my fault, that it just was a case of bad luck. This had been after months of recurrent leaking near the engine, which was suspected to have been caused by the engine, but there was no way of knowing. So having paid to fix up the car for that, and other various issues, in addition to the money I spent on it... was just a huge bummer. Especially since I'd paid to fix it up some more just a few weeks before it conked out.

My mechanic, who is a sweet guy, at least gave me a refund on the new battery that he'd just replaced. He also helped me find someone to purchase the trashed car for parts. While he could have replaced the engine, it wasn't worth doing in a car that was 15 years old, given that the engine would cost more than half of what I originally paid for the car.

Lastly, I felt a lot of regret that I didn't pay for insurance that would pay for repairs if damaged, or a new car if totaled or stolen. I paid for mandatory insurance which covers injuries to another party, and extra insurance for damages to another vehicle, but not comprehensive insurance. I hadn't gotten around to doing that, because it costs more money and is more complicated to get, and I felt I screwed myself over. However, I found out that it never would have covered an engine dying, only damages in an accident, so I was able to let go of that guilt.

So now, on to the new car.

I hate car shopping. I can't think of something that is more stressful (other than maybe looking for a new therapist, which I just did) because it is quite a large expense, and a decision now can have long-term repercussions, and you really want to make sure that the car you buy will a) last you a long time, b) will be a car that works well for your family's needs and, c) won't be something you'll regret buying.

Since I failed the last time around in getting a car that met criteria a and c, I wanted to do a much better job this time, so I decided that I would not rush into getting a car, no matter how tempting it was, since I realized how difficult life without a car had been making my life, because I wanted to make a good decision and not something out of desperation.

I asked my kids what they thought, about whether I should get a car sooner that was less good (specifically spaciousness) or if would they be ok with waiting longer for a car that was better, and they all were happy to wait.

The first time around I was looking for cars that were 5 seaters but large enough for my family of 5, with a tall mother and two really tall sons (both 6 feet and one still growing) who are all legs; I ended up by chance with a 7 seater minivan and it ended up being perfect for my family. 3 of my kids are autistic, and all of them have sensory issues, which cause problems when people are in their space. Small cars meant fighting kids (she's touching me, he's bothering me), which in addition to being unpleasant, is also quite dangerous (and why kids in the back seat make accidents more likely). I made the decision that I would only be looking for 7 seaters. Additionally, as I did last time, I only was going to get cars that were from good quality companies, most of them being American companies.

I got a list of 7 or 8 seater cars from these companies, and I started looking for those models. I aimed to get under 110,000 miles, but 95,000 was even better. I also set my price range for $8,500, and no older than 15 years old. I looked for those and it was really, really, really hard to find any options. Cars are really expensive locally and because of that, even the used car market is a seller's market and quite pricey. Many of the car models I was looking at were completely crossed off the list because I didn't find anything even remotely close to my budget. (I was checking to see what was up to $10,000 as well because I decided that I might want to be flexible there for the right car, but nada.)

Once I found potential options, I called up to ask questions about those cars. I made a decision not to buy from a dealership, because those are notorious for being untruthful, and they don't know the car's history. I found a car that seemed like something that would work for my family, but it had passed through a lot of owners, and the last owner had the car only for a year. She claimed that it was because it was her first time getting a large car and she didn't realize that it could be a headache for parking, etc.

I called up my mechanic who is a really decent guy and was happy to help me in my car search. He told me to stay far away from something like that car, that if someone was getting rid of a car after only one year, the car obviously had a serious problem that they were trying to pass on to someone else. He recommended only getting a car that the owner had had for a bunch of years and was getting rid of for a valid reason. He also asked me where different cars were from, because areas that were very mountainous put more strain on the car than drives in flatter areas.

After that, I found a few cars that seemed decent and within my price range, but upon calling them up, I found people saying that they were passing them on after a bunch of years, because their kids grew up, and they no longer fit comfortably in the back seat. The back seats were smaller than the average seat, and it wasn't really comfortable for someone over the age of 9 or 10. Since my kids are tall, this meant that that model was a nope for us, since while my youngest could potentially sit there for a few years, we wanted this car to last us a while, even after she grew up, but it also wouldn't be fair to have her permanently relegated to the back seat because she was the only one that fit. Other models got knocked off the list because the owners said that the trunk was quite small if the back seats were unfolded.

I was getting pretty frustrated since I really was suffering without a car of my own. I ended up renting a 5 seater car for a trip lasting a few hours, and I came back in extreme pain, despite making the chair as comfortable as possible. I realized that the seat position for a small car was terrible for my back and glutes since I have have permanent muscular damage in my glutes ever since I had a bad fall in 2019. With my minivan the seat was higher up and more like an armchair, and I was able to drive without being in nearly as much pain. I also suffer so much from the heat, and chronic exhaustion, and traveling by bus was incredibly debilitating for me and knocked me out after for a day or two, not to mention the fact that my pelvis ended up more injured because of it. I realized that I couldn't keep on waiting for the perfect car to fall in my lap, and decided to maybe expand my search.

I realized that despite the engine conking out too soon, I quite liked my previous car, a Chrysler Town and Country, and it worked well for my family. It was not gas efficient, but I knew that any car that would comfortably sit my family wouldn't be gas efficient, and that was a tradeoff I needed to make.

It turns out that the reason the engine conked out early was very likely because there had been a gas system installed in it, so that it ran off of natural gas instead of gasoline, which (in addition to making it dangerous, because natural gas tanks can explode) saved money in the short run but over time damages the engine costing you money in the long run. When I purchased the car the system had already been disconnected, and we had no idea how long it had been used with the system, since the previous 3 owners (all within the same family, friends of mine) had not had it connected either, so it was a gamble, since there was no way to know what damage there was to the engine. I made the decision to look for the same exact type of car since it was something that we were happy with, other than the engine conking out.

I ended up finding lots of this model on second hand car sites, but nixed anyone with high gas mileage or too old. Most of them ended up proudly writing that they had a natural gas system installed in the car (since gas is expensive, they probably saw it as a perk that buyers would want) and because of my being burned by that, I stayed far away from those.

My new car- ain't it purdy?

Eventually, I found a car that looked too good to be true. It was the same exact car as I had before, a Chrysler Town and Country, 2008... but the mileage made no sense that it was that low, since everything else that year had much higher mileage. My previous car had 110,000 miles on it when I bought it, and this car had only 88,000. For $7,000. When I asked the seller about the low mileage, he said that his wife took it to drive to and from work mostly, which was just a few miles from their house, which meant it wasn't driven much. He'd had it for over 10 years and was selling it since his kids were adults and mostly moved out of the house so he didn't need a 7 seater anymore. This sounded awesome, and my mechanic agreed.

I needed to get the car checked out by a reliable mechanic before purchasing, and fortunately, he lived about 5 miles from a city where I had a lot of friends, so I was able to ask them for recommendations of auto shops. I told them specifically that I was not looking for a cheap place that would try to "save me money", but someplace that was very thorough and would tell me every single problem they found in the car. I took the car there and the mechanics pointed out a few problems that needed fixing, but they were not expensive or very problematic fixes, so I decided to go ahead and buy the car before someone else snatched it up.

The seller and I, right after making the car legally mine.

I bought my car on September 12. I didn't share that with anyone other than my best friends that I bought a car. I had this idea at the back of my head that the reason my other car died was because I had written about it and shared a lot and got people envious or something and I got bad juju/vibes/evil eye whatever because of my sharing it. I spoke with a religious mentor of mine who convinced me that that wasn't why my car died, that no higher power would punish me for sharing that I purchased a car, and that I should keep sharing what I do because I make people smile and inspire them. So I decided to share... eventually.

The car, post accident.

And then 5 days after I bought my car I got into a car accident. I felt terrible. Like I didn't deserve to have a car. That I was a sucky driver and would ruin everything I had. That I didn't deserve nice things. A car from the lane next to mine hit me on my driver's side door and knocked off my mirror. It was bad enough that I couldn't open the driver's door, and driving without the mirror was scary as hell. At that point, I was so beyond stressed, totally panicking, and I posted on Facebook asking how to handle the accident, because I felt it was her fault and she felt it was mine, and that's how I told people I purchased a car, in that roundabout way. By the time my accident happened, my mechanic was nearly closed for the day and I couldn't get it repaired right away, so he suggested I duct tape my mirror back on until I could get it fixed. 

When I went to the mechanic the next day, his workers screwed my mirror back on and pulled out the dent in the door so I could open it. He gave the car a once over, checking out the fixes that the other place recommended, and told me that none of those things were urgent at all, nothing would be dangerous or cause degenerative problems, and I could wait to fix those until right before my yearly test for the car's license. When I asked him how much I owed he refused to take a cent. I told you he's amazing.

Anyhow, having an accident so soon after I bought the car made me really feel horrible, but I realized that that bad luck didn't get caused by sharing that I got the car, and since the fix was totally free, I was eventually ok sharing here about what happened. I also had a concern that people might be super critical of me for getting the same make, model, and year of my previous car, but my mechanic and I are happy with the decision. I've just been going through stuff since then, which is why it has taken until now to write it. (You see how long and detailed this post is, which is why I didn't have the headspace to write and finish it back then.)

So the car is terrific. There has just been one issue with it. Because it is a black car and the previous owners didn't have a garage, and we live in a hot area with strong sun, the car heated a lot and the paint on the roof and hood degraded. Additionally, the headliner of the car (that's the foam lined fabric on the ceiling, I had to learn the word) was in terrible condition, because the heat ruined the glue holding it on, as well as damaging the fabric. 

The previous owners had attempted to staple the fabric back on but it didn't work well. When I was driving and used the sunshade on the car to block the sun, little bits of fabric and foam dust from the roof fell into my eyes and it was dangerous because it affected my vision. I asked my mechanic how much it would cost to repair that, because I realized at that point that it was not just something cosmetic; he told me it would be over 1000 dollars, but he believed in me that I could do it myself. 

The degraded foam on the car roof, mid removing it.

So I did. Partially. I took down the fabric and it completely shredded because of how degraded it was. We then scrubbed the foam off. Most of the way. At the front I made sure it was all gone so it wouldn't fall into my eyes. I looked up how to put new fabric on it, and need to purchase it still, so right now my car looks a bit funky, but it still works great. I plan on making a whole post on how I fixed it all when I finish it the project.

The status of the roof above the driver's seat- all clean.
Yes, there's a break, more in another post.

We're very happy to have a car. I don't know who is happier, me or my kids. I especially am glad we got the car now, since there have been problems with busing locally lately, and I am now able to drive my kids around as needed.

And I pray that this car will last many, many, many years.

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