Car Trek II: The Search for Purpose
This is the second in a series of posts intended to demystify the car-buying process for the average parent. In the last post, we broke down the process into several distinct steps. 1: Why am I car shopping in the first place? What is my motivation for being at this point? “Why am I here?” 2: What are my requirements? What do I absolutely need? 3: What do I WANT to have? What will make me happy to write that check every month for the next several years? 4: What is my budget? What can I afford and how much of that am I comfortable spending?
Here is my process, in depth, for answering this first question, “Why am I here?” Why am I replacing my vehicle? Hopefully, you can find some insight here that makes your process easier or your life better. Before I get into that, we need one point of common ground from which to work. When I say "the new car," I don't mean brand spanking new, no miles and perfect. While that is also OK, what I mean is new to you. Whatever fills your transportation purpose for the sake of this article I will refer to as “new car.” Heck, it can even be a bicycle or a golf cart if that is what works for you, I am not against any form of transportation, but for the rest of this discussion, even your potential new Vesper will be called the “New Car.” Get over it and let us move on.
Why am I replacing it? On the surface, this seems like such an easy question. It probably seems obvious to you at this moment, or you wouldn't be considering replacing it at all. While it does seem like a no-brainer, actually identifying and articulating your purpose and needs may help greatly when you stand in front of the dealership and the hard-sell commences. The trick here is to look deeply at the "Why." Do you just want something better? Did you just have a cash windfall and want to spend some of it on new wheels? Is your current vehicle broken down? Was there an accident? Have you been pouring money into your old car and feel it will be a better financial choice to replace instead of repair? Have your transportation requirements changed thus requiring a new vehicle? Maybe you had a five passenger and just found out that the new baby bump is twins? Did your work change and now you need something to handle a much longer commute with better mileage? You get the point. Identifying the needs in plain language on paper so that you can refer to them later will keep you on task and help you from being sidetracked by all the shiny new things. When you get to the dealerships, the choices can be overwhelming and therefore very distracting. In most cases, the dealers themselves do not help this. They make the most when they keep you off-balance and spending without clear thought or planning.
For my case, the “Why” is answered as follows: There are three distinct reasons I decided to buy a new car,
First, I have driven a front-wheel drive for the last 6 Michigan winters, and frankly, I am sick of being scared to death every other time I have to leave the house for 4.5 months of the year. My van is not bad, I like it a lot, but in the winter on ice and snow, it is vastly less than optimal. I have jokingly said for years that it could get stuck on its own shadow, and that isn't far off. It is low to the ground, heavy and with less than optimal traction even on questionable roads let alone full-on winter snow and ice. Also, understand that here in northern Michigan, winter is a huge part of the year. This is no small inconvenience. When I purchased this van, the poor traction was something I was willing to overlook as it was an eight-passenger vehicle that averages mid 20’s for mileage, and I drive on average about 23000 miles a year, mostly for work. After six years of bad winters, I am sick of being scared and potentially putting my family in danger or having to cancel work calls just because of the weather.
Secondly, my daughter recently bought a used car for herself, and it has a newer, modern all-wheel drive system that is brilliant. I intentionally tried to put this car out of control on an empty parking lot while teaching her how to winter drive, and I was simply unable to make this car do anything unpredictable or dangerous. It was a perfectly mannered kitten, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Shortly after this experience, my van went into the shop for a few minor repairs, and I was allowed to drive her car every day for a week. It was so good and so surefooted on the bad roads that I got immediately spoiled and then when I had to go back to my van, its flaws were so distinct, I was unable to see past them. It was like a dead pixel on the monitor, you have no idea how long it has been there as you have never seen it before, but once someone points it out to you, you can never unsee it, and you can never see past it again. This is how it was with my van.
Third, I plainly wanted a new vehicle. I can't say it any other way to make it seem more justified or more holy. I want one. The hardest part to come to terms with was that this is a very valid reason. It is OK to want something. It is OK to change your mind or your life to get that thing you want. Just make those changes with your eyes wide open and with a plan. Don't charge blindly forward messing everything up just because you want something new or different.
So at this point, I have my WHYs. What do I do next? Well, I made a list. I use Microsoft OneNote to start a file for the new car and the first document in it was the list of why. I did each of these steps on a separate page so that the results of one wasn't available to skew my thoughts on the next. I made a page for listing all the cars I would consider, how they fit each of my criteria, what I liked about them, which of my goals they forwarded and a general list of their pros and cons. When making these lists, I tried to be as open and honest with myself as I could. One of my three main reasons for buying a new car was simply that I selfishly wanted one, and that was OK. It was easy for me to list that as one of the things I liked about any given car. I didn't find myself trying to justify my wants by making up pros for a particular vehicle, I could simply say “ damn this car is pretty!” or “I really like this one” and leave that as a pro. As I did this, I was able also to list things like “this car is boring” or “ I don't get excited to drive this car” as a con. At the time, this seemed superficial, but as time passed, I was able to look back and remember that yes, this car was very practical, but it wasn't very sexy or exciting. In the long run, I was able to choose a car that did fit all my needs, all my wants and was fun and sexy. I just had to take my time, not rush and move thru the process with thought, and purpose. Also, it took some small amount of this acceptance of my wants and preferences to accept the fact that part of the reason I was doing this was purely selfish and that is OK. It is OK to do things that are just for you. As a parent, as a dad specifically, I often find myself doing things selflessly for my family, sacrificing my wants and needs to further the group goals and make everyone else's life richer. That is kind of your job as a parent. However, you don't have to do that all the time. Sometimes, especially when no one else has to sacrifice anything for you to do it, it is OK to do that one thing just for you. You can hide in the pantry to eat a snack, so you don't have to share with your toddler. You can drop the kids off with a sitter and go to the spa for an afternoon instead of to the park or playground again. It is OK to choose the white car instead of the blue one, no matter what your kids think.
In the next post, we will continue our dive into my car buying process, looking at the next two things on the list, Needs and Wants. Thanks for coming along. Have a great two weeks, and remember, In everything you do, move with purpose. Be deliberate and thoughtful. Good Luck!