Road Trip 2016, Day 2: Replacing My Car

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We’ve had an eventful first couple days of this year’s summer road trip… And unfortunately, we had to part with my car Charli after 7 years together. 

I bought my ’08 Mazda 3 Hatchback, in January of 2009. She was practically brand new with only 12k miles on her. She was my first grown-up car purchase and I named Charli, with an “i”, like me. I bought her when I lived in San Diego and we took lots of small weekend trips from there; Vegas, Joshua Tree, Santa Barbara, ski trips in Mammoth Lakes, ski trips in Utah. I drove her across the country when I moved back to Kentucky in 2010 and we did the same; weekend trips to Chicago, Cleveland, Virginia Beach, Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Nashville. Last summer alone we drove almost 10,000 miles going from Kentucky to California, all over the west, up through Canada and back down to San Diego. It was soooo fun.  I don’t know if I can even remember all the places we’ve been in the past 7 years.

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Last year when we were leaving Louisville for our big move and summer road trip I spent a little over $2000 replacing old parts, getting new tires, updating things. When I bought this car I promised myself I’d take the BEST care of her. Remembering oil changes, getting tires rotated, getting tune-ups regularly. I wanted this car to last me a decade or longer. I wanted to have that car that lasted through 300k miles.

Then, back in the fall, I had to replace even more things. And about a month ago even more things. And then last week before I left I had to replace the struts, coils, brake calipers and other small things. I didn’t want to drop $1700 before taking off for the summer, but I also didn’t want to be broken down in the middle of nowhere with a busted car. And I wanted to have Charli was with me on one more giant road trip. The a/c compressor was totally out and needed to be replaced but I was thinking I could suffer through a couple hot states and have my brother and mechanics at home fix things when I got to Kentucky in August.

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When we left San Diego on Monday morning, it was 7am and already blazing hot. The western side of the country was expected to beat heat records for the next couple of days. We drove the entire 4.5 hours to Vegas in 115 degrees. We had all the windows down, but it wasn’t helping at all. It was hard to breathe, our water canteens were too hot to touch and the ice was melting in Tango’s water bowl almost immediately. My phone got too hot to use and shut itself down. I decided to head to my friend Marc’s place and wait til dark to continue. It was still 110 at 10pm, so we waited until the next morning to head out. At 3am it was still 104, but we had to make our move then if we wanted to get north before the other cities reached the 90 degree mark.

The first 45 minutes was toasty, but as we got into higher elevations in Arizona and Utah, things cooled off to the 60s and 70s and we were ok. I noticed my center console was warm throughout the day and had called my mechanic and brother to ask what the cause could be. About that time, noon on Tuesday, I was pulling off the 189 to merge onto I-80 in Utah, and Charli just stopped accelerating. All her lights came on and I pulled over and lifted the hood to find the car smoking, transmission fluid all over the place and a car that wouldn’t even roll forward.

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A tow truck driver arrived about 40 minutes later to tow us to Park City. It was there we learned the only two transmission places in town couldn’t even look at my car until 4 days later. So we continued on to Salt Lake City to a Mazda dealership that had enough mechanics on staff to get us in that day. The service guys told me they’d assess things and call me in hour or so. About 6 minutes later, they came out to inform me the transmission would have to be replaced. The whole thing was toast, along with some other parts that had been damaged by the fluid leaks. The replacement cost with labor would be almost $3k, and I’d already spent close to $4k in the last year in repairs…

Decision time: Should I pay to replace the tranny or should I put that money towards a down payment on a new car? I’d actually been thinking about this the previous weekend, when I was told all the repairs were going to cost me $1700. I’d thought about getting a new car then, but had no time to actually research new cars and I was stressed as it was trying to tie up loose ends in San Diego and get on the road. I figured I’d spend the money to get me through this final road trip and in a year I’d start planning for a new vehicle. Now I had to make that decision, with no time to research anything new, and no way to get anywhere else in town with our things.

I pulled up the dealership’s website in the waiting room to start the search. First, I needed something that would fit my dog, all the luggage in the car, and all our gear on the roof. So basically I could only look at hatchbacks, SUVs, and wagons. Next, I needed something affordable. I wasn’t planning on dipping into my savings at all on this trip, but now it looked like I would have to. Most of the used cars they had in stock already had 70k+ miles on them so it didn’t make sense to buy another car was only going to last me a few years, and the SUVs were all too pricey, too old or had crappy gas mileage. There was a 2015 Mazda 3 with only 10k miles on it and so that’s what I chose.

Now, whenever I’ve been in a high stress situation, my mind just goes into problem solving mode. Assess the situation, figure out the most effective/efficient decision, and ENGAGE. No emotions, just get it done. I basically went through all the numbers in my head, told them if I could get the price I wanted, I’d buy it right then and there, and then started the paperwork. If you’ve ever bought a car, you know how long it can take: applications, financing, insurance phone calls, etc. So that’s basically what we did for the next few hours. I hadn’t even really looked at the car… I just knew I had to get one and so I chose the best option based on odometer miles, gas mileage, size, and price.

About 6:30 that night, everything was signed and I had a new car. But then I had to deal with getting my roof racks transferred to the new vehicle. The dealership told me they “wouldn’t fit the new car but they could offer me a brand new roof rack for only $600!” *Eyeroll Emoji* So I had to find a roof rack store on my phone (what did we do before smart phones?!)  and there happened to be one just two miles down the road that would transfer my racks. The place was closing as I called them so I had to make an appt for the next afternoon at 12:30. We put the luggage that we’d need for the night into the new car and left Charli inside the service area at the dealership.

My friend Dee, from college, had called me to welcome us to her place in Salt Lake and so we stayed there that night. It was great to catch up with her and take a shower. We hung with her kids at the park the next morning and then I headed over to switch out the roof racks.

Taking everything out of Charli and packing it into the new car took about 45 minutes. It’s amazing all the stuff that winds up in your glove box, console, door pockets… Then I had to take all my camping/climbing gear out of the rocket box, remove it and my bike, reload the rocket box so I could lock it up, and left it on the ground there behind the dealership. I was praying nobody would steal it while I got my racks installed. I had to remove the racks from my car (which I had to google how to do) shove them in the new car and head over.

It took the guys about an hour to install the new racks and we went back to the dealership to collect our things and put them back up. The bike rack was installed too close to the rocket box and we had to make one additional trip to the rack place to have them move it over (and teach me how to do it myself for the future). We pulled out of Salt Lake city at about 2:30pm, a little over 24 hours after the whole ordeal began.

It was awful leaving Charli there. I know most people (especially the fellas) are probably rolling their eyes at this point – if you’ve even made it this far in this blog post – but I’ve always felt a strong connection with my cars. Since I’m in my car ALL the time, each one has been a big deal for me.

When I was 16 it was Lola, an old Dodge Dynasty, but a symbol of freedom and independence. (It was also my closet since I practically lived out of it in high school.) When I was 18, it was Abe, an old Lincoln Continental that was given to me by my family friends when Lola died. Then we were in a car accident and I was without anything. When I was 19, it was Mona, an old Toyota Corolla that just got me from A to B, made me learn how to drive a 5 speed, and got me out to California when I graduated college. When I first bought Charli a Mazda 3 at age 24, it felt like I was passing some adulthood initiation test. I had made it! This wasn’t a hand-me-down car. It was nearly brand new and didn’t shake when I got to 70 mph.

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And after all those awesome years together, I now had to just leave her in some dealership, all broken down, probably going to a future owner that doesn’t care anything about her. That person won’t know her past. They won’t know every place she’s been. Mostly I’d felt bad about pushing her so far when she was not in great shape. I broke her.

I wasn’t mentally prepared to part with her. I wasn’t financially prepared to buy a new car (I have savings so it was fine, but I’d always wanted to pay cash for my next car so I wouldn’t have a car payment… and now I have a car payment). I wasn’t emotionally prepared to deal with researching cars and haggling with sales guys while being completely stressed out. But it had to be done, so I did it.

As far as comparisons go, last year’s road trip was kicking this year’s road trip’s ass. But in general, I try to play the Glad Game. I will say that I more wanted to punch a wall that whole day, which I didn’t do, but trying to remember the silver lining is important in preventing the crazy from seeping in.

So here it is – all the shit I’m glad for in this situation.

1} I’m glad I had AAA.

2} I’m glad this didn’t happen 24 hours before, in Vegas when it was 115 degrees out. Thanks, Marc for putting us up while we were there!

3} I’m glad this DID happen when I was 15 miles outside of Park City. The next 3 hours of that trip were in the middle of nowhere, with spotty reception and no close service shops… so it would have been way worse.

4} I’m glad the internet and iphones exist. Pulling up my AAA membership, calling my brother, mechanic, tow truck driver, and service shops in the area was fast and easy.

5} I’m glad we were not hit or in danger when my car died. We were able to pull over a safe 20 or 30 feet off the highway in a big gravel area.

6} I’m glad the tow truck drive allowed Tango in his truck even though he wasn’t supposed to. He also offered tons of suggestions for the area and tips on places to eat/get drunk if I needed to.

7} I’m glad I have enough sense not to buy a brand new car for way more money than it’s worth.

8} I’m glad I know how negotiate a little better and have the balls to ask for the price I want for the car. I was able to get the price down significantly. Woot.

9} I’m glad I had money in my savings account for a down payment and a credit score high enough to warrant a low interest rate.

10} I’m glad that there was a roof rack store just down the street that transferred everything quick and easily for a fraction of the cost of a new one. F*** you dealership, for trying to screw me.

11} I’m glad I didn’t cry until after I left the dealership that night so nobody saw it.

12} I’m glad I had so many people that cared to check on us that day and that have my back. Thank you everybody for your calls, messages, and offers. And thanks, Dee for housing us that night.

13} I’m glad that we now have an almost brand new car (a 2015 Mazda 3, yet to be named) that will safely get us around on this trip and hopefully a lot more to come.

14} I’m glad that with everything going on in the world right now, this is the biggest problem I’ve had. I realize that and am thankful.

15} I’m glad I have all the memories that I have with Charli, may she get another awesome owner that will treat her well.

Charli

2008 – 2016

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Tango and I are now safely in Wyoming, visiting my friends Jason and Jenn. We’ll keep you posted on the rest of the trip and will include photos of the new car later.  You can search the hashtag #AmiandTangoRoadTrip2016 on Instagram if you want to follow along. Last year’s (far less eventful) road trip can be found when you search #AmitandTangoRoadTrip2015. So original…

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