The average american spends around $500 PER MONTH on car payments, according to this link and this link. If you ask me, that’s too damn much. I am not saying that I don’t like and appreciate a nice car, nor would I say that I can’t understand how someone can become connected to a car. It can become a part of your identity and some cars (like a Range Rover for me) make you feel like you’re home, but the point of this post is to convince you that you can feel just as much at home in a junker as you can in a Rangie (don’t worry, I won’t call it that again).
The Range Rover
I’ve always liked Range Rovers. I have come to understand that many people connect them to wealth and power, which is appropriate considering that most of them only rove over the range of Beverly Hills, along with their Mercedes counterpart (read this in your best German accent) ze Geländewagen, or G-Wagon. But for me, it was never about wealth or power, it was about the capability that was promised coupled with the luxury that you found once you got in. I can remember watching classic Top Gear reviews for the Range Rover from back in the days when Jason Dawe was still presenting (2002). You’d see this luxury SUV driving through muddy fields and fording small rivers while the drivers sit back and enjoy their Earl Grey. The very idea of a Range Rover was one that had the lord of the manner surveying his lands, preparing his palette for the quarry of next mornings hunt. This is the dream that I was sold on and in many ways I still yearn for it.
So when I grew up and I got my first big boy job, the first thing that I wanted to buy was a Range Rover. Of course, I couldn’t afford the new ones. Back then they started out at about $85,000, which is a bargain compared to these days where you would never see a Range Rover new at the dealership for less than $115,000. That kind of money is astronomical in my world. I might as well be looking to purchase a space station. But the interesting thing about luxury vehicles, as with almost all vehicles (somehow ALL Lamborghini’s appreciate in value) is that they lose their value VERY quickly. So after searching on Craigslist for about 20 minutes one random afternoon, I decided that I needed to scoop up a 2004 Range Rover in good condition.
This vehicle did not disappoint. It was comfortable, smooth, and incredibly capable. In a typical Minnesota winter, not only does the weather get cold and the roads covered with snow, but early on in the season we are just as likely to have the roads covered in PURE ICE. Just yesterday there was an ice storm and the major highways (494 for my TC people) were coated in almost a solid inch of ice. But for a Range Rover, that’s really not an issue. I can distinctly remember trying to park on a hill (our rented house was on a hill with about a 35 degree incline) right after one of these lovely ice storms. To get to the spot I needed, I had to pull ahead of it and back straight up into the spot. I put the Range Rover into low gear, popped it in reverse, took my foot off the break pedal, and just as quickly had to put it back on. Not because it had slid forward, but because it backed up so quickly I could hardly turn my head around to look where I was going. From then on, I was hooked. It never let me down, save for one morning when the temp dropped below -40 degrees and the battery simply couldn’t crank that massive engine.
The thing about that Range Rover, though, was while it was my dream car, it also brought me a lot of stress. Any alarm I heard, from any direction in the neighborhood, I thought it belonged to me. Parking lots were never fun, oil changes were VERY expensive (I think 8 quarts of oil went into it), and it was not great on the gas mileage, netting me about 9 MPG in the city and 14 MAX on the highway. I miss that damn thing every day.
A New Ride
After thinking about it, I really didn’t need a Range Rover. Or any fancy car for that matter. I was working remote full time and was driving fewer than 30 miles a week, mostly to the gym and the grocery store. Occasionally I would take trips from the Twin Cities to La Crosse, WI to visit family, but even then we would opt to take the more fuel efficient vehicle. And on even fewer occasions, I was going to the hardware store to pick up sheets of plywood and 2×4’s to build my own arcade machine (I know, right?) and an SUV isn’t exactly ideal for that either. It’s around this time that I had decided I wanted to lower the costs of everything in my life, and luckily (and strangely) the lady who I had bought the car from bought it back from me at the same price. Basically, I got to rent a Range Rover for a full year for the cost of fuel and insurance. It was a good year. But the next year got even better.
Enter a 1999 Mazda B3000. For those unfamiliar, imagine a Ford Ranger, the lowest offering of pick-up from the company that sells more pick-up trucks than any other vehicle manufacturer ever, and simply remove all the stuff that says ‘Ford’ on it and replace it with stuff that says ‘Mazda’. And then knock some money off the sticker price.
This car, was at the time and still is, my favorite vehicle I have ever owned. The AC didn’t work at all. The truck came with 6 tires (2 in the bed) and not one single tire matched another, nor did any of them have an appropriate amount of tread on them. The radio was stock from 99, the seats likely hadn’t been properly cleaned since, and paint had seen better days. The heat, however, worked perfectly! Of course, that’s only if you selected the highest setting for it, otherwise nothing came out at all. But, man, I tell ya, when you get in that truck you feel great. I never thought a car that cost $1500 (mostly because the 4 wheel drive *technically* worked, even though it didn’t work as intended, it’s still worth about 1200 to have working 4 wheel drive in my slice of America) would make my truly happy to be behind the wheel, even if it felt like I was driving on ice anytime there was any water on the road at all.
Gone were the worries of it getting broken into. Gone were the high insurance payments. Gone were the worries of it getting dinged in the parking lot. I didn’t even care if I scratched the hell out of the paint, and on occasion, I would throw building materials in the bed with more disregard than I probably should have. And My truck was happy to receive it. Of course, there are always things about an older vehicle that you may not like, such as failing equipment, lack of creature comforts (on my current car the heat doesn’t work great), or your fuel filler neck having rusted off randomly (pictures below), but as long as you can laugh about these issues with friends that’s all that matters.
Pro Tip: Duct tape doesn’t do anything when you’re attaching it to a ton of rust. This fix didn’t last more than a day.
A Change of Perspective
Like a lot of things in this life, happiness can come from a change in perspective. It’s all about the point of view you can bring to discussions in social life, and it’s all about being happy with what you’ve got, compared to what someone else has, that makes someone truly happy and content in life.
The point of this post is to try to convince you that you can be happy with a lesser car. If you love cars, and I know there are millions out there who do, then by all means spend your money on a nice car. Life is all about living and being happy, and for some people that means getting a bad ass car (like a Trans-Am blasting some SKYYYNNNNARD) and taking care of it. But if you, like me, just need a car to get you to work in the morning and home at night, consider cutting costs as best you can while still getting a safe and reliable car. You don’t even need to get a junker if you don’t want. A new Honda or Toyota, the base model with working AC and heat can still be very affordable. Although, you could go here to view some good videos on fixing most problems yourself or here to join a community that believes in driving older vehicle as long as they still work, and really try your hand at living the junker lifestyle. I am currently and I’m still pretty happy with my current cars! (But I swear if ONE more major thing breaks on this 2000 Camry…)