Monday, December 8, 2008

Snow, Roads, & 4WD

Snow, Roads, & 4WD

We had a bit of snow this morning--just a heavy dusting, really, but here you can see the advantages of asphalt instead of gravel. With two hours of sunlight (and still below freezing air temperatures), the asphalt driveway was completely clear, while everything else was still rich in snow.

Click to enlarge

I went down to Oasis Motors in Boise today because they had a 2006 Subaru for sale for $3995. I am really impressed how many cars with more than 100,000 miles on them are in surprisingly good shape. I can remember a time when most cars with 100,000 miles looked like they had been beaten to a pulp.

The Subaru? It had 168,000 miles on it. You could see that it was used, of course. The lever that controls the driver's seat recline was broken, and the seat itself was a bit broken down. The front passenger interior door panel was sagging a bit. But the car drove well, no rattles, and it had plenty of guts.

While there, I drove a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 137,000 miles that they also wanted $3995 for--and it looked really good! If you had told me that it had 37,000 miles on it, I would not have questioned you. The seats were firm. No tears or obvious wear in the leather upholstery. Performance was fine; no rattles. The only real concern that I had was that the suspension didn't seem as well damped as I am used to in a car. (Shock absorbers need replacing, perhaps?)

A couple years back, when my son was looking for his first car, I was commiserating with a good friend of my generation about how there were effectively no $300 used cars anymore. The cheapest car that my son looked at I called the Frankenstein Rabbit, because the seller acknowledged that he had pieced it together from several different Rabbits (not all the same year). It didn't bolts sticking out the sides, or a scar on the front grille, but it should have! And that car was $1000!

The reason that there aren't any really cheap but good used cars anymore seems to be because cars last a heck of a lot longer than they did when I was young. A car with 137,000 miles on it back when I was young would never have been mistaken for near new.

Still, I do find myself cringing at spending $3995 for a car that is only going to be used three months of the year--and maybe not even that, depending on how mild this winter turns out to be. I suspect that I could get the car for $3500, spend $300 a year for insurance, and perhaps $300 for replacement shocks. For $4100, I could rent a small 4WD from Enterprise for 15 weeks--and have no maintenance or repair bills to worry about at all (and almost no chance of getting stranded somewhere between here and Bend). Realistically, I could probably get by with a small front wheel drive car for most of that period, at about half the rental charge.

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