Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Car Troubles

I little over a year ago, I owned a Saturn SL2. I liked driving it but this tiny car just wasn't cutting it with three kids in car seats. The kids couldn't buckle themselves in without help and it hurt squeezing my arm between the seats to reach the buckle. Then I had to shove the seats, with the kids them, into the center of the car as hard as I could before slamming the car door closed. The kids were squished, with no wiggle room, and miserable. Something had to change!

So, we researched vans and decided on a newer model Chrysler Town and Country or Dodge Carvan. Both cars are made on the same frame, with the same engine, and come with stow and go seating. It was the stow and go seating that sold me. It is so easy to fold up the seats into their wells, making extra room for cargo as needed. It's almost as easy as the commercials showed. With the kids, I usually just fold down 60% side of the back bench; in fact, it's almost always down. Once, I folded down one of the middle seats and we used the space for an in-car picnic on a rainy day field trip. If we need to haul something larger, we can remove the car seats and fold both middle seats (captains chairs) and the back bench, giving us the entire van for cargo. What's really nice about this set up it that the seats fold down completely flat as if it was just a floorboard in there and nothing else. It's really a nice feature.

However, I was worried about the mechanical reliablity and durability when purchasing either of these cars, as they are both American-made cars. My dad fixed all of our cars when I was young and I grew up "knowing" American-made cars were not only broke down often, but were a nightmare to work on. Unfortunately, with the exception of Saturn, my experience has confirmed my childhood experiences. For a very short time I owned a Fix Or Repair Daily before we finally gave up on it, as repairing it was costing more than buying it had. My Dodge Caravan is trying to confirm this belief as well.

We bought my Dodge Caravan last May, just over 13 months ago. It was a 2006 rental car with 21,000 miles on it. The car appeared immaculate and it came with a built in DVD player (my children got lucky). Best of all, as a certified used car, it came with a 7 year, 70,000 mile warranty.

The warranty has been a bad move for the dealer. Almost immediately, the weather stripping around both front doors started falling off. They fixed it. Then the steering system failed and they had to repair it. It was an expensive repair--over $1200. Now the car has sprung an oil leak. Guess who's footing that bill when it get repaired on Saturday.

What's funny is that I was able to negotiate the sales price when I bought the car to below blue book. We were shopping at the end of the day, at the end of the month, with two dealers battling for our business. We had our own financing in place which provided a better rate than the dealer could offer. The dealer's tricks had no effect on us. And, because I didn't NEED the car, we were willing to walk out without it. The meant my price turned out to be $3,000 under blue book. So, not only did they lose at the sale but they are now losing on the warranty as they've put another $1500 or so into repairs.

Unless our family outgrows it before then, I think we'll probably keep the car until the warranty runs out but not after.

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Tyler said...

Just hope the next buyer doesn't read your post when it comes time to sell the van. : )

By the way, I'm the meany that wrote the "homeschooling should be illegal" post a few weeks back. Thanks for commenting. You made some great points and you obviously practice what you preach. It looks like you do a great job for your kids and the homeschooling community. That's how it should be. Keep it up and maybe someday you'll convert a few pessimists like me.