Our car philosophy

It's quite simple, really. Buy as little car as you can make do with under normal operating conditions, but buy the best you can afford without stretching.

For many years, we did not own a car. We did not have to carve out chunks of our flesh to make ridiculous insurance payments and we did not have to worry about owning an "asset" that was, in fact, a heavy, moving, depreciating liability.

Then John finished his articles and started searching for a job. The job he eventually landed was in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland. While working there was not a problem, we decided that we did not, in fact, want to live there.

Our reasons are many; lack of a development plan for the community, there being no coherency or centre to it, it effectively being a bedroom community for St. John's and it being west. The last reason may have some of you scratching your heads, but I've come to the conclusion that there are sunrise people and sunset people. We are of the sunrise variety (we like sunsets, but we're morning people at heart), so we need to be east. Sunset people are more westerly. Just a weird theory of mine. A short segué: we eventually moved to Torbay for this reason, as well as because we love being a five-minute walk from the East Coast Trail and living on some of the most spectacular coastline in the northern Avalon. Plus, property taxes are a lot lower than in town.

At the time at which John took the job, we lived in central St. John's, where I could do handily sans vehicle during the day. It's about a fifteen-minute run from St. John's to CBS over moderately decent highway, for the most part. Most of our family, friends and life are in St. John's. We decided that, rather than moving house out to CBS, we would stay in St. John's. Even if we did live in CBS, we knew that John's job would require his/us having a car, as court was in town and he'd have to get back and forth. So he took the job, we lived in St. John's and bought a 1999 Toyota Tercel. A nice, little, blue compact car. Cost us, even with gas prices skyrocketing and John driving 3000km a month, $35 a week in fuel and virtually nothing in maintenance (except oil changes, tuneups, tires, etc., but no major work).

Then it "got smooshed," as Katherine so aptly puts it and we found ourselves looking for a new car. Only by this time, we live in Torbay (about a half-hour's drive from John's work) and now have three dogs. So the car guy, being no mean fool, tried to sell us a Matrix. He almost succeeded, until I got home and crunched the numbers. Now we went in expecting to buy an Echo, or possibly a Yaris. Small is better in our world. But the Matrix really isn't much larger on the outside. it's a bit taller than a Corolla, but is basically what the old Corolla station wagons were in size and is actually a really nice car. very well-designed inside.

I calculated the difference in costs for us between operating an Echo, a Corolla and a Matrix, all of the same year and condition and here's the scoop:

gas – 35 weekly
insurance – same as before
payment – 25 less than before monthly
Bottom line – costs us roughly the same as before, has a higher suspension than the Tercel and is better-designed.

gas – 42 weekly
insurance – 20 more monthly
payments – same
Bottom line – would cost us an extra $30 a month for a car that was only slightly larger. Not worth it. If we need more than an Echo, we need a Matrix.

gas – 45 weekly
insurance – 20 more
monthly payments – 75 more monthly
Bottom line – 140 more a month for a car that carries one person most of the time, except on trips or vacations, which we couldn't afford if we bought this car anyway.

Maintenance is hard to judge, but a bigger car means bigger tires and more body parts taking more wear and tear, so the Corolla and Matrix would likely need more maintenance. Also, the Matrix has more bells and whistles which would probably require more replacement and fixing of clappers and reeds when things start to go.

So you see, when the dealer says, "Oh, we can arrange things for you so that that car only costs you on a per month basis very nearly what your old car cost you," it's smoke and mirrors. There are hidden costs. What they're selling you is an image of who you'd like to be. We'd love to be able to afford the Matrix, but we can't and buying it wouldn't make us more able to afford it. Perversely, that's the philosophy under which most salespeople work. Toyota is actually better on that score than more, but they're still working with the general premise of the consumer. This seems to be, "buy more than you can afford so that you'll look like you can afford it." Stupid, really.

A car is a hole into which you throw money. My feeling is that the smaller the hole, the less money it can absorb. The better quality the car, the shallower the hole. The smaller the vehicle, the smaller the aperture of the void.
So this is it. This is what we're getting. It's a 2003 Echo. 63000km. In good shape.
62075_ext.jpg 62075_int.jpg

We may be able to pick it up today. Phew.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. I wondered whether you were going to beat Frazz ( http://www.comics.com/comics/frazz/archive/frazz-20060411.html ) to it. Congrats, both on getting it done and your ever-present sensibleness.

  2. sarai says:

    Hooray! A judicious application of mathematics saves the day again. (Resisting all jokes about matrices.)

    Congrats from me as well.

  3. vickyth says:

    Yeah, following Frazz has been funny. It seems that comic strips often mirror life. For Better or For Worse saw Michael and Deanna having Meredith shortly before Katherine came along.
    Frazz has it right on the money, though. Cars are handy when you need them, but not worth paying through the nose for because most of the time, you don’t.
    Gotta be one of the more expensive birthday presents I’ve gotten….

  4. mary hood says:

    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday dear Vicky
    Happy Birthday to YOU!!

    Love and hugs Mom

  5. sarai says:

    What?! Well! Happy birthday! Or, HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY. All the best.

  6. Great quote sarai! HAPPY BIRTHDAY Vicky… should have said so in the first post, I did remember, really I did. Hope to play for you this weekend.

  7. rexton says:

    I think you made a good decision. Here are some impressions of mine, and a couple of safety considerations.

    I rent cars on average 1-2 times a month. I’ve driven a number from compact to midsize, and my favourite by far is the Echo. Also, both Enterprise, Avis, and a couple of other companies offer them, and they are the most popular choice by far.

    I’ve gotten the following impressions from driving them 30-40 times over the last 4 years, averaging 500-1000 km per car:
    -every single one operated reliably with no mechanical or electrical problems, while with other models I have used there have occasionally been problems. However, rental cars are usually less than one year old.
    -great gas economy
    -great in the city, especially with parking space and manoeuverability
    -surprisingly good and responsive on the highway
    -practical with large trunk space and with connectors for 3 child restraints on the rear seats
    -also it is roomy up front and not bad in the back
    -the offset dashboard is much better than having to move your head or hands out of the way to see the dials. Also, the only dials are the useful ones.
    -regarding performance on the highway, when you press the gas a certain distance, it feels like you’ve hit the bottom and the car only accelerates moderately. If for some reason you really need to accelerate strongly, push hard and it will go into some sort of overdrive and accelerate strongly. This I consider to be both a good economy feature and a good safety feature.

    From some other sources I have aquired the following facts:
    -it is the most popular car in the Maritime provinces, especially for used car sales
    -it has good resale value
    -reliability and operational life meet the usual high Toyota standards

    Finally, regarding image
    -I agree with you
    -Also, it is fun to be unconventional and perturb the neighbors, especially when that choice works out better in the long run than the staid and conventional wisdom

    Bottom line: safe, practical, versatile, reliable, cheap to fuel, performance is exceptional for this car size both in the city and on the highway.

  8. arlee says:

    Never has reading about buying a car been so concise and funny! But personal preference is our Bruce, a 1990 Honda Civic Hatchback with 329,000K on him and still raring to go! Bruce has driven ably through Alberta snow, Ontario dust, BC rain, Montreal humidity and carried everything from 10 days of camping gear to three cats and a bedroom setup!

  9. Craig Welsh says:

    We are currently torturing a Hyundai Accent in Iqaluit (it’s really not enjoying getting a mild day of -3 and then the next day getting -30) and it’s a perfectly fine little car.

    But you understand, I’m a guy. Furthermore, I’m a guy approaching (slowly) 40. Which means I get to buy my mid-life crisis car. Granted, if I’m still in Iqaluit the convertible is right out. But if we’re in down south, then I’m getting something sporty.

    Yes, it’s impractical, probably eats gas (can I get a hybrid sports car?) and has dubious safety.

    But since I’m going to be mocked for turning 40 regardless, I’d like to be driving a really nice car when it happens. Besides, it’s a family tradition. My dad bought a camero convertible when he hit 40. My uncle bought a corvette.

    I don’t know when John turns 40, but he should start saving up for the mid-life crisis car now. Kathleen doesn’t need to go to college that badly…;)

    Oh, and happy birthday…

  10. vickyth says:

    Thanks Mom!
    Yes, Heather, quite likely.
    Doug, that was a post in and of itself!
    Arlee, here’s hoping Bruce keeps chugging for many more miles. Katherine has named our car Caroline.
    Craig, John has 7.5 years to go and has assured me that his mid-life crisis will take the form of a backpacking trip through New Zealand. I’m all for that! Here’s hoping you can find a really cool car for your fortieth. In Iqualuit, you can’t find much other than “cool”….

  11. rexton says:


    I like the little buggers. They are wierd looking and work great. They also somehow annoy muscle car or cool car people, which is a plus in and of itself. Practical is good, unusual and very practical is better.

    So how many seconds for the Echo?

  12. sureby says:

    I love the Echos. Great choice. Now watch the potholes. They can swallow a whole Echo in one gulp.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s