It’s been over a year since The Beast went belly up (see obituary below). I have been hesitant to write this post because I know many of you were attached to her and, well, it was just too damn painful. But a lot of lessons came out of her passing that I thought the best way to honor her would be to share with you her replacement story. After all, this alone saved me from what would have been the second biggest financial mistake of my life (you can read the first HERE).
First, a few words of advice…
the love of your life a car that you have had for many many years that has seen you through thick and thin and everything in between, don’t just go with the size or type of car you had before without reexamining your needs. You’ll want to reevaluate your current vehicle requirements before taking the plunge.
- Have the kids have grown from their car seats? Maybe a third row is no longer necessary.
- Not off-roading any time soon? Ditch the Hummer you bought to look cool and get something more realistic and emission friendly.
- You’ve decided you no longer need 8 cup holders in your automobile when 5 will suffice? Downsize said cup holder requirement.
- Are you about to have a kid?? It might be time to upgrade from the 2 seater Smart coupe to a more comfortable 4 person Prius.
- One kid about to start driving? Maybe it’s best to revisit the new car idea in another couple of years.
The last one, I didn’t have that option. The Beast was dead before I actively started looking for her replacement.* But I did have an idea of what I wanted. My personal list of requirements for my new used car included:
- 4 Doors
- Air conditioning
- Cruise Control
- 4 windows that worked
- Gas mileage better than 18mpg (which is apparently what a lack of compression does to a 17-year-old car)
- Less than 90k miles
- Under $10k
Things I wanted but weren’t necessary:
- Option to build out another sleeping platform
- Silver in color – I’m fancy like that.
Knowing The Beast was on her final miles, I had already been preparing mentally for what her replacement would be. Buying a new car was a big deal for me!! I had been with The Beast for 15 years and she was EXACTLY what I wanted when I got her. I was hoping for the same clarity when purchasing this next car and eventually narrowed my choices to the Honda Fit.
I searched Craigslist and Honda dealers for weeks before finally focusing my sights on CarMax. I found exactly what I was looking for. A 2016 silver Honda Fit with everything on my list….except the price. I originally thought I would buy something 5 years oldish but, as sometimes happens when shopping, I lost my thrifty superpower when I found this car. It happens.
Buying at CarMax is a simple transaction. You see the car, you like the car and if it is in the store, you can buy it that day. If not, they will ship it to you for a nominal fee. There is no wheeling and dealing or negotiating. You just go, buy, and drive. I realize for most frugal folks this may seem like a loss – we love to haggle and get the best deal, but in this case, I didn’t have the mental capacity to sit in an office with a sales manager going back and forth on price so he/she could find a way to come out ahead. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, my friend John and I went in, bought the car (I financed it with the intention to pay it off in the next few months with no early payment penalty fee), and soon after I drove off with new plates, tags, insurance, and a smile plastered across my face.**
No less than an hour later, I had buyers remorse. Something felt amiss.
My issue had nothing to do with the actual purchasing portion. Again, CarMax and the lovely lad I worked with provided me with a quick, seamless transaction. My issues started when I pulled in to the driveway and saw The Beast all passed out in her parking spot. She may as well have had crosses across her headlights, you know, the way they portray dead things in cartoons. Heartbreaking.
The next day, I headed North to Lake Geneva to stay the night. It was my first time with the Fit on a highway and I quickly realized I wasn’t a fan of the shaking and rattling that went with a smaller closer-to-the-ground type vehicle. Also, I had Bubba with me and her black fur was flying about the black interior with vengeance. This would happen in any vehicle, I realize, but I started to fear dirtying the Fit. I was used to The Beast. Her grey seats had a tendency to camouflage fur and all sorts of other crap that made their home in every crevice of her seats. Even the raw egg that had spilled over from the strata I made for New Years Day brunch 8 years back had baked its way into her seats in the finest of ways. A crust of memories, if you will. Mess made sense for a car. A pristine interior did not. For me. All of those reasons capped off with the fact that I had finally come to my senses…a car for $15k was not what I had intended when I first began my search. I had a spending hangover and the only cure was to undo what I had done.
After the drive back home, and still not feeling 100% about my new ride, I began to ponder CarMax’s 7-day return policy (at the time, it was 5 days). I didn’t want to make any snap decisions and I had a trip to go on so I drove to the airport, went to work, and came back three days later resolute with my decision to bring the car back.
I got off the shuttle in the parking lot and immediately saw this:
A huge fucking scratch across the passenger side.
According to the pilot who happened to be in the parking lot with me, it looked like a surface scratch from someone wheeling their roller bag against my car. Ugh. Another reason not to have a new car!! The carelessness of others.
Now I was certain. I called CarMax and told them I wanted to return the car. He said that Sunday counted as a business day so if I wanted to return it I would have to bring it in that day. A few hours later I was in the store.
Now, I had a bit of a dilemma. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to commit to the Fit. I also knew that getting out of this car with a huge scratch across the side was probably going to cost me. How could it not?
The Returns Guy met me in the garage and asked why I had decided against the car. We chatted for a few minutes about all of my reasons…then I mentioned the scratch. He went to the other side of the passenger side to check it out and the only word that escaped his lips was “Whoa”.
After a minute he said he would take it to the body shop and see what the repair guys thought. The car was insured so I was informed that in this case, they would probably make a claim through the insurance company. I went to the waiting room to await my financial fate. I wasn’t waiting long before Returns Guy came back to let me know that they would handle the repair free of charge. What??! Amazing. He said that CarMax appreciated my business and would love for me to return when I was ready to purchase again. Two thumbs up for stupendous customer service.
The steps to return a car at CarMax are pretty simple. They inspect the car to make sure all is well then do the paperwork for the financial portion. I signed off on the cancellation of the financing. If you had a downpayment, as I did, you receive it by mail within 10-14 days. That’s it. Simple.
I walked out of there realizing that I had essentially “rented” a car for 5 days, drove it a whole bunch of miles across 2 states, used most of the gas, managed to get it scratched, and paid absolutely nothing. Fucking unreal!!
That night of the return, with a sense of complete relief, I took to Craigslist to resume my search. Within minutes I found “The One”…
A silvery light blue 2007 Honda CRV with 4 doors, AC, cruise control, 4 windows that worked, gas mileage above 18mpg (usually 24mpg or higher), 60k miles on the odometer, and under 10k (listed at $8500). Plus I could rebuild my sleeping platform. It had everything on my list. I was elated.
After convincing John to drive me to a back alley Russian car “dealership”, I plunked down $9000 (including all taxes, title transfer, and fees) in cash for the keys to Beast 2.0.
I drove home happy with zero sense of regret. More importantly, with no car loan.
For reference, Beast 2.0 vs The Beast…
It’s been over a little over a year now and I am still getting used to Beast 2.0 and all her pleasures. Using the wood from The Beast’s platform, Dad and I rebuilt the sleeping platform, this time a newly improved convertible version so I could keep the back seats installed:
I’ve added quite a few miles from my many trips back and forth across the country, as a friend put it, “forming a well-worn groove across I80”. Bubba is starting to settle into the new seats, as is her fur. We have had no mechanical issues to speak of, a common occurrence in the last few years of The Beast. Everything is rosy.
The overall buying and returning process at CarMax was a dream. Should I ever be in the market for a “nice” car again, I wouldn’t hesitate to shop with them. Though it turns out, I am a 10-year-old car kind of gal. I like not having to worry about every scrape or rock ding. I like not having to worry when my friends or their kids or my neighbors get in the car with food or drinks…though I am not a fan of neighbors hopping in with lit cigarettes, as happened last week. I don’t mind Bubba jumping in wet with lake water or transporting her dog friends from time to time. All of these things allow my car to be an extension of my life. It is messy and lived in. Not pristine and showy.
It is almost like The Beast reincarnated. And I am so damn happy to have found her.
Until next time…
*I do not suggest this tactic if you need a car to get through your day – thankfully, I did not. Start your car search a few months before the expected time you will be ready to replace the old one. This way you have time to do plenty of research, go on test drives and be ready to pounce on “the one” when you find it.
The Beast’s Obituary
The Beast’s check engine light came on for the first time on February 6, 2018, 3 weeks into my cross country road trip. The diagnosis was a weakened immune system due to lack of compression in two of her four cylinders. I have heard the phrase “not firing on all cylinders” before and it has never been equated to a good thing. In people terms, she was dying and the only thing that would fix her was $2500. Since her total overall worth (not including my emotional attachment) wasn’t near that value, I made the decision to keep going and dutifully she went along with it.
That next week The Beast managed to push through the most difficult terrain of the entire trip – the California coast. We went up, we went down, we went all around until February 14th when we reached the farthest point on my agenda – Ashland OR, 10 miles North of the California border. We also reached the highest altitude of the entire trip which, again, sent the already failing Beast into a full-on nosedive of further compression-related issues.
Upon reaching town, home of 20-year-old me’s residence, I drove to the nearest mechanic to have her rediagnosed. Their professional opinion was that I would need to purchase a new car if I planned to go any further. Exact words “This car won’t make it 2 miles out of town.” I decided my overwhelming trust in The Beast trumped my limited (and their expert) knowledge of mechanical matters. Ignoring their advice, we turned South and began our journey back home.
On February 23rd, we pulled into our driveway for the last time.
The Beast never started again.
She was there when I brought Bubba home for the first time. She saw me through my first move to the city, getting sideswiped the first night we lived there. She saw me through my move back to the suburbs when I got married and back to the city when I got divorced. In fact, she saw me through 8 moves in total…always doing her fair share in transporting my shit back and forth to my many residences. She was stolen and returned 3 months later missing her catalytic converter but otherwise no worse for wear. She’s accompanied me to friends and families weddings, funerals, and every possible occasion between.
At 17 years old with only 154k miles on her, The Beast was far younger than her Honda peers at their times of death. Regardless, she lived an adventurous life. She went out in ablaze of glory, doing exactly what she loved – fearlessly taking me from point A to point B until she could no longer. She will always be remembered for her throaty engine, lack of cruise control (torture on a 9k mile road trip), well-worn interior, and a body so mangled with dents, scrapes, and rusty divots that her lack of aerodynamics cost at least a few dollars of wasted gas per tank.
She was the best and will be sorely missed. RIP, Beast.