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Where Do We Go From Here?

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On: Fri, Oct 1, 2010 at 11:11AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Where Do We Go From Here?

Ten years ago I bought my 2001 Pontiac TransAm WS6 with a very limited set of criteria.  It was a process my 19 year old mind went through almost without my conscious involvement:  I needed a car, I saw a car, I fell in love with the car, I bought the car.  That was it.  Of course there were other minor decisions along the way, but my brain rationalized its way around all of those potential hurdles with the deft agility of an Olympic athlete.  Sure the car was a lot of money, more than I'd ever spent on anything in my entire life, but with some fairly simple mathematics, I decided picking up another shift or two a week at the bar was well worth the opportunity to roll up in my dream car.  Gas in October of 2000 was not much of an issue.   Ethanol was something that only NHRA guys ran their cars on, and a gallon of regular gas was not much more than a liter of soda at the time.  I decided that the back seat was just big enough to squeeze two friends in that really wanted to come along for the ride, and the T-tops just made things a little sweeter during the summer months. 

But now my car is fast approaching old age, and just as life teaches us in so many other ways, I need to start coming to terms with the fact that one day my car will no longer be with me.  As small pains and aches start to creep up my near 30 year old body each morning, I realize things are changing.  My life is evolving slowly into ... Something.  And so it has been my belief that a man's (or woman's) car is an extension of themselves.  It seemed clear that the message my WS6 told the world was that I liked attention and speed on a no frills budget.  But now there seem to be so many more things to consider, so many options, and variables to try and figure out, and with that thought comes the question:  What do I get next ? 

As a new homeowner, the first replacement that came to mind was a small pickup truck: Something like a Toyota Tacoma or Honda Ridgeline. It seems that my new home is already requiring weekly trips to Home Depot to carry more and more back to my new place. A light truck would make battling New Jersey winters a slightly more successful fight than in recent years, and with an extended cab, could provide room for that family I'd like to have in the future. However, a light truck is just that: Not a car. I all but remove myself from the horsepowered grins, and torque-happy launches onto highway on-ramps. Fuel mileage on trucks, even the lighter versions are still pretty poor when compared to their automobile counterparts.

If not a truck, a sedan was the next thought that came to mind. Because my budget is stretched as it is with a mortgage payment and trying to eat more than Top Ramen every night, a used car would be most appropriate. A used BMW 335i, or Audi S4 would catapult me into the realm of sophisticated automotive snobbery, and give off the impression that I am far more successful than I am. Performance would not match my heads and cam TransAm, but it certainly would be enough to enjoy on a Saturday morning drive. Each would have enough room for me, my girlfriend, and whatever additions we choose to make in the future be they kids, dogs, or just friends. However, fuel mileage isn't exactly spectacular in these cars as they are canted towards performance. Replacement parts are pricey, and without snow tires, winters are going to be an annual chore.

The thought of an econobox has crossed my mind more than once. A Prius, Insight, or plain old Corolla has tugged on my economical, practical emotions. The truth of the matter is that gas prices are going to get worse. We have been lucky as of late, but it's only a matter of time before things get overwhelming. The idea of getting a combined 30, 40, or 50 miles per gallon is extremely attractive, especially coming from a car that gets at best around 19mpg combined. And there is a certain freedom in getting a lower priced economy-class car. It tells the world that its owner has taken him or herself out of the competitive luxury/speed contests that can put some people behind the financial eight ball. But other than price, these fuel sipping go karts are just plain boring. Most are slower than dial-up Internet, and just as exciting to drive as listening to that old 14.4k modem go to work. The thrill of what was once driving, now turns to saving money as a prime source of exhilaration by trying to keep the gas motor out of the equation for as long as possible.

Finally the only other type of car that my mind seems to wander toward is simply an evolved version of my own car. A used Corvette or GT500, maybe even a used 911. These cars are by definition, impractical. They are made for one thing: Performance. High horsepower excitement that brings smiles to anyone lucky enough to be behind the wheel on an open stretch of highway. Suspensions are top notch, gearboxes are wonderful, and driving is what driving should be. But, there are also significant drawbacks. Fuel is always premium, gas mileage is not much better, if not worse than what I get now, space is at a minimum and the cars themselves are designed for two people and not much more.

So how do I quantify all of these variables? What gets more weight? Fun? Budget? Space? Usability? It seems that life has added so many more twists and turns to decisions like these than there used to be. Or perhaps, I can learn something from my 19 year old self. Maybe it really is just as easy as need it, see it, love it, buy it. Maybe a gut instinct is all I need, and life will take care of itself. Maybe I shouldn't try and plan every detail out, and try to account for every eventuality that may or may not come to pass, and maybe I should just start channeling my inner 19 year old one more time. So maybe with some simple math and an open mind I might just find what I'm looking for. Besides, car dealers are far more likely to let a 29 year old with excellent credit try out a few cars on a Friday afternoon than some punk teenager anyway.

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