atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#7022: The car dilemma.

So, I was driving home in the Jeep, as usual, and thinking about things.

It has occurred to me, recently, that my father never relied on a 20-year-old car. In fact, the oldest car I ever saw him buy was the MGB, which--in 1986--was nine years old. He bought two used cars after my birth--a Plymouth Fury III and a Mercury Zephyr--and otherwise always bought them new.

Me driving that 2000 Jeep in 2020 is about like Dad driving a 1957 Chevy in 1977.

But then I started putting that in perspective. When Dad bought the 1975 Chevrolet Impala that ended up being my first car, new, in 1975, it cost about $5,000. Do you know what the median income was in 1975?


That's not adjusted for inflation; that's actual dollars. So you could buy a good, comfortable, safe family car for about half of an average person's annual salary.

Today the median household income for a two-earner household is about $63,000. So each earner makes about half that, more or less. And cars cost about $30,000, more or less, depending on features etc. About the average person's annual salary.

In 1979 a Ford F-150 pickup truck cost $5,500, or about $18,500 when adjusted for inflation. A 2016 Ford F-150 cost nearly $30,000.

Now part of that increase is just the fact that cars are built to last longer. You couldn't drive a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air for twenty years, not without major repair work. Engines and transmissions didn't last much longer than 80,000, 90,000 miles, and some crapped out before that. Bodies rusted a lot faster than they do today, because they weren't galvanized or treated or anything.

The '75 Impala threw its camshaft before it hit 90k.

I'm at the point now that I could afford to go buy a brand-new car...but I don't want to. At most, what I want to do is to get a vehicle which is somewhat newer than the Cherokee, and in better condition. The place I bought the Cherokee from, they've got a very nice-looking Wrangler there, white with a black hardtop, and it looks like it'd be a nice ride.

But then I think: for what it would cost me to buy that thing--down payment etc--I could put new floors in the Cherokee, fix the headliner, fix the exhaust; rebuild the front suspension, and maybe even buy a used engine to start rebuilding. Get one with a cylinder head that's not prone to cracking, and overhaul it; and then--in one strenuous weekend--pull the old one and swap in the new one. Maybe get a transmission with it. Go through the transfer case and either replace it or rebuild it if needed.

There's no reason this truck can't last another decade at least, though I've got to jump on its rust issues right now (well, this year) rather than wait. I've stopped noticing the crimp in the passenger side A-pillar but if I'm going to fix that, it's got to be sooner rather than later: I expect to take the A-pillar from a truck in a junkyard, with a hacksaw, and then stitch it in with my welder.

And then I think: the vehicle's value declines every year, regardless of condition. Though it may be cheaper to repair it, let's say I fix it up and then the worst happens and it gets wrecked. I'm out all the time, effort, and money spent on fixing it because the insurance company gives me current blue book value for it.

There are no easy answers.

...but I like not having a car payment to deal with, that's for sure.

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