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The painful reality of car shopping

If I could go back now and talk to my 12-year-old self, I’d tell him a few things. First, most of these grown-ups that you think are awful are, in fact, pretty awful, so try to relax a little. Second, you know those kids in your school that you can’t stand, the really mean ones? It doesn’t turn out so well for most of them. It turns out that karma’s a thing.

Most important of all, don’t be in such a rush to grow up. Yeah, there are some good things to look forward to, but there are also quite a few things you’ll hate about being an adult, things that just do not seem fair. For example, you know that thick blonde hair of yours that the beauticians rave about, the hair that is always getting tangled and driving you nuts? You’ll lose most of it before you hit 40.

You know that beautiful, smooth skin that you want so bad to sprout whiskers? One day, it will be hairy, dry, and flaky. You’ll discover the joy of skin tags, but you’ll still get blemishes like a teenager. Fun, right?

You’ll wake up with aches and pains that seem to have no antecedent. You know how you wake up sore from lifting weights in physical education class or from running sprints in basketball practice? When you grow up, there will be days when you pull a hamstring reaching for the body wash in the shower. You’ll injure yourself sweeping or unloading groceries from the car. You’ll have a chiropractor on speed dial. You’ll learn to gobble ibuprofen like a box of orange Tic Tacs.

By the time I get around to explaining the joys of paying taxes and home ownership, my 12-year-old self is going to yawn, lie about having diarrhea, and scamper out of there like a squirrel in a thunderstorm. I didn’t even get around to telling him about the worst thing of all: car payments.

I don’t know about you, but I really hate car payments. I have a long, ugly history of making car payments. It seems to me that I have been making car payments about every 10 days for nearly 30 years, and that every time I make one of these payments, it leaves me with about $28 to get me through the following two weeks until pay day. It takes more imagination than I have to survive on lentils and green split peas every day for two weeks.

There have been times in my life when my car payment has been more expensive than my rent or mortgage payment. I’m no life coach, but I suspect if your car payment is more expensive than your mortgage payment, you may need to re-evaluate a few things. Or get a life coach. Or develop an unquenchable hunger for lentils.

Is there any satisfaction in life that can compare to making the very last payment on a car? By the time you make it, if your car is still running at all — and it probably won’t be unless it is a Toyota or a Honda — it will have developed an array of unsettling “quirks,” have more dings and dents than a potato, and smell vaguely of rancid milk, probably from an Arby’s mocha shake your son spilled in the backseat four years ago and “forgot” to tell you about.

But you say this: “Who cares? This car is paid off. This car is all mine, right down to the lug nuts. I will never, ever make another car payment. Goodbye, lentils!”

My spouse and I paid off our cars at about the same time. For two glorious years, we’ve been car payment free, which means we’ve been able to blow all of that money on fun extravagances such as braces for our children’s teeth and college tuition for our oldest.

Each of our cars has about the same amount of miles it would take to drive to the moon. Each is what you might call “weathered,” or “lived in,” if you are kindly disposed. I don’t care, since my car meets my two major requirements: 1) it runs; 2) it is paid for.

Unfortunately, my spouse is now in a profession that demands that she drive a presentable car, and not just a presentable car (whether either of our cars qualify is strictly in the eye of the beholder), but a car that is actually impressive, a car that might impress a client. So, we’re car shopping again. We’ll soon be making car payments again. Of course we will.

“Cool, a new car!” my 12-year-old self would no doubt say.

I don’t know why I even bother with this kid.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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