Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cars, the Year from Hell, and My Delight

Crazy title, but bear with me, it's all related!

My dad died when I was 16, and as a result, my mom freaked out about the thought of her kids driving. Thus, I got my driver's license just before leaving for college, primarily to have a form of identification.

I lived the next 16 years car-free in the Boston area (easy to do, their public transportation system is very good) until I married a man in 2001 who owned a car. Even then, I continued to take public transportation to and from work and only used the car for road trips and shopping.

And then came the Year from Hell. In one year (actually, about 15 months), my husband had emergency open heart surgery, my father-in-law died, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy*, one of my sisters-in-law had a stroke, another had a kidney transplant, two relatives died of cancer, and a young niece, distraught about all that was happening in our family, was hospitalized for cutting.

Buying a car: On top of all this, my husband totaled our car that year, and given that he was still recovering from surgery and not working and I was working sporadically depending on the state of my pregnancy, we had no money to replace it. (The insurance payout was eaten by other bills). That year Boston had one of the worst winters on record, and I found myself frequently trudging though several feet of snow to get to work, while pregnant, incontinent, and suffering from hyperemesis (extreme morning sickness).**

When I gave birth to our daughter***, my husband was working again but I had been on bed rest for four months, so we were still broke. And now with a baby, we desperately needed a car. We bought two clunkers off Craig's List for about $700 each, both of which lasted about 3 months, while we tried to save for a newer car. We eventually purchased a 3-year-old used Subaru, which, because we had excellent credit at the time, we were able to finance over 5.5 years.

Preserving the car: That Subaru is now 9 years old and has 155,000 miles on it. Among other things, it moved us cross-country, was hubby's on-the-road vehicle when he was in traveling sales, and now carries me on my 45-minutes-each-way commute to and from work. (We now have a second used vehicle that hubby drives). We'll make our final payment on the Subaru this summer.

When my car was out of commission this past winter, it cost $1,800 to repair it. At that time I made a decision: I want this car to last at least another three to five years after we own it free and clear.

I recently read an article about a man who owns a 1992 car with 2.5 million miles on it. His secret? Good maintenance. He spends about $1,000 a year to maintain it. The article recommends reading your owner's manual and following its maintenance instructions to the letter.

So that's what I'm doing. I'm reading the manual as well as books such as AAA's Driving Survival guide, I bought a tire pressure gauge to help me keep the tires inflated, and I'm trying to learn all the maintenance tips I never before worried about because I left auto maintenance to hubby.

This is very much a "green" thing to do. Maintaining a vehicle is a greener choice (in many cases) than replacing it, and it improves gas mileage. So here's to becoming an expert on my car!


* I got pregnant the first time my husband's cardiologist gave us the go-ahead to try sex. We had only planned to fool around. Ah, well...

** Since my husband couldn't work at that time, I had no choice but to keep working, no matter how sick I was or how difficult it was to trudge through snow.

*** As you may have guessed, my daughter's birth was My Delight. My mom said she prayed during my pregnancy, "Let this be a good baby, since they've gone through so much!" Her prayers were answered. My daughter was born healthy, she latched on immediately and never had any problems breastfeeding, she was rarely sick, and she was one of the happiest babies I've ever known. We drove with her as a one-month old to New Jersey to see my sister-in-law right after her kidney transplant. The hospital allowed us to bring the baby in for one minute only. The miracle of being alive and seeing her newborn niece lifted my sister-in-law's spirit to the heavens!

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