showing the signs of age

Flat busted.At a managerial bootcamp thing I went to once upon a time, we had a speaker there who’d written a book called The Go Point. The subject of this book was, if I remember correctly – the hangover that morning was a bit persistent – decisive decision making, and when to be decisive whilst making decisions (or some such manager-speak nonsense).

I mention this now because I, my friends, am at a crossroads – and am facing a “go point” of my own.

It’s the Ford; the Ford is dying.

Twelve years old and nine of those spent in the valued service of our family and she’s on her last legs. 160,000 miles and she’s tired; aching even. I can elaborate:

  • Both the rear passenger and driver’s door (on the driver’s side) no longer open. The electronic locks are broken, the inside and outside handles are broken, and the key won’t work (since all it does is try to engage the electronic mechanism anyway, I suspect). I’m currently climbing over the center console to enter and exit from the front passenger side. This Dukes of Hazzard use-model may sound cool, but it’s ultimately just annoying.
  • The drive’s captain chair electricals (move forward and back, tilt, and recline) are broken. You can move it forward and back, but cannot tilt the chair nor seat-back. In fact, the entire control part is hanging off the chair by the wires. In addition, the seat itself has been broken where the back meats the bottom, and a large metal contraption has been exposed – this metal thing digs into the fleshy bit of my bum right a the top of my buttcrack with a vengeance.
  • In addition to the chair, other elements of the interior have given up: The cupholder thing in the back is long gone, felled by a broken catch and lost spring. The center console lid is sun-rotted and exploded to reveal the foam padding beneath. The seatbelts don’t retract on their own anymore… but thankfully work in general.
  • Something larger is wrong with the electronics, I suspect. Just Sunday I witnessed the oil pressure gauge needle peg frantically back and forth between top and bottom, and I know there’s a short somewhere in the captain’s chair electricals.
  • The rear wiper motor, or the wiring that carries signals from the front panel back to the motor, is dead. Annoying when it rains, but I doubt we’ll get rain here for another seven months now – so not paramount in terms of importance.
  • There are cracks in both exhaust manifolds, a common problem with the ’97 Explorers and their cheaped-out aluminum manifolds. Years ago I purchased two spanking new after-market steel manifolds with plans to replace the cracked ones. Those are still in the boxes they shipped from Ebay in; could be rocks in there for all I know. While this defect may impact the “punch” I get while accelerating (doubtful), the only real issue here is the “tick-tick-tick” of a small exhaust leak.
  • The front suspension is creaky, I don’t know enough about cars to say if this is super-bad or just something that needs lubrication/calibration/etc.
  • The car itself is in a general state of disrepair, mostly because I’ve been slowly giving up on her. Tires need rotating and perhaps replacing, oil needs changing, the brakes are whining that they’re in need of new pads, the front wipers are worn down to uselessness, the iPod cable I ran to the stereo is broken inside, and I get intermittent sound from the left side of the audio when it’s not positioned right, etc. All easy fixes, but all things which wear on my brain when thinking about the rattletrap the Ford has become.

Yup.  That’s about it I think… showing the signs of age.  So, this brings my to my “go point,” to buy or not to buy.

Here’s the quandary:  Provided the Ford doesn’t explode, I think I can fix and maintain her for about $2500 this year. That estimate includes tires, regular maintenance like brakes and oil (done myself), and fixing a few of the things above so that the vehicle is usable (locks, iPod, etc.).  Or, I could trade this “wasted” cost for a monthly payment on a new or used car.  This is my decision, this is where I stand.

Years ago, I tooled our financial plan to provide for an “even trade” in loans: Payoff the college loans and get a new car loan for the Ford’s successor.  Let’s not talk about how frustrating it is to me that we’re still paying off college having graduated some ten years ago – but the plan thus far has been executed to a tee and those should be done and buried by Q4 this year (look at me with the finance-speak).  So, this whole new car thing is about six months too early for the plan.

The plan; and so it goes.

Anyway, over the past month I’ve been running numbers and doing research.  As to the ultimate decision though, I’m still leaning away from a near-term purchase.  I’m lucky in that I have smart friends with whom I can seek counsel.  Some counsel a new car, some counsel a less materialist approach (you know who you are, friends).  I take both inputs to heart and land somewhere in the middle: A deadlock.  Ultimately, however, I shy away from financing anything… financing is the devil to me… I want to buy everything with cash (as unrealistic as that may be, at times).

But, as of tonight I’ve decided that, for now, I’m giving myself a “cooling off” period before doing anything rash.  I’ll fix the door locks on the Ford, hope the duct-tape and string hold for another six months or so, and at the same time continue laying away funds for a downpayment and narrowing down the field of American vehicles I might like to someday drive.  This way I get to pay off the college loans this year, on schedule… and eventually I’ll get to drive something new (or at least new to me).

Watch, tomorrow I’ll be writing about the new car I bought.  Will me luck, OK?  Goodnight.

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One Reply to “showing the signs of age”

  1. So I’m a couple days behind, but as I am reading this I was thinking about a certain HDTV that you swore you’d never own. I, alone in my cube but not alone in the office, let out a loud laugh at the last line. Too funny. My thoughts exactly.

    We, thankfully, don’t have the student loans and are doing our best not to let our children have them either, but I now wish that we didn’t have a car loan. Going forward, all purchases like these will be in cash. Just two years left on our Ford. Two years too long, IMO.

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