Sep 22, 201110:16 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Car Talk

Photo courtesy of automotivev.com

There are many, many things I love about New Orleans: the food, the architecture, the casual way everyone calls you “baby,” even the weather. But one thing I hate about living here is owning a car.

I would love it if we had good public transit, but that’s not what I’m talking about – public transit was also lousy in Columbia, Mo., but there I didn’t really mind. I liked the convenience of having my car right out in my driveway and not having to walk to a subway or bus stop.

But in Columbia, I didn’t worry about potholes or uninsured drivers or my car flooding or being stolen. I had two accidents in the 10 years I lived there – one that was absolutely 100 percent my fault (my speedometer had stopped working, and I, 18 years old and a truly novice driver, was more concerned about that than about looking at the road; when I looked up from the dashboard, I was careening through a red light, and I slammed on the brakes just a little too late) and one that was absolutely 100 percent not my fault (I was rear-ended while stopped at a crosswalk to let a pregnant lady cross).  

When I moved back to New Orleans in January 2008, my  Honda Civic was already 11 years old and kind of weary. But within the first three months of living here, I was rear-ended twice (both drivers were uninsured and begged me not to do anything, and I didn’t care enough to pursue it); backed into in a parking lot (luckily, this happened in Old Metairie, and the guy who hit me had $100 in his wallet, which he happily handed over to me and which I happily accepted); and had a piece of plywood fly off of a truck on I-10, crack my windshield, dent my hood, mangle my bumper and almost kill me. My ex didn’t fare much better. He rolled into the back of a woman’s car on Vets, and she claimed that her vehicle was destroyed and that she suffered grievous bodily injury, and we were dealing with the legal aftermath of the whole mess up to two years later. And then not six months later, someone hit him on Canal Street bad enough to seriously dent his car – the other driver got out of the car, picked his bumper up off the street, threw it in the backseat, shrugged, said something in Spanish and beat a hasty retreat. So between us both in 10 years in Missouri: three accidents. Between us both in six months in New Orleans: six accidents. And that’s to say nothing of the damage these streets inflict on cars. There is a reason our insurance premiums more than quadrupled when we moved.

In the past, though, I really haven’t minded all that much. I own my car in full, and it’s worth approximately nothing, so I don’t pay high insurance premiums; I just have liability because it’s not worth paying that kind of money for a car that is, at most, going to be valued at what my deductible would be. And I have never been one of those people who gets hung up on cosmetic defects, so I was able to take all of the damage to my car mostly in stride. I didn’t care when people opened their doors into it or grocery carts rolled heedlessly toward it. I was cavalier about hail damage. I was even (sort of) OK after someone backed into the car in my work parking lot, dented the bumper, shattered the taillight and fled the scene.

But the truth is, my car is failing. It’s dying. It still starts for me in the mornings but only grudgingly. The steering is going. The tires are old. The AC doesn’t work. The seatbelts are getting persnickety. I can’t pop the hood without pliers. Even a full tank of gas seems like a gamble these days.

And here’s where I get into a tizzy. I know I need a new car, but I don’t want a car I have to worry about. I guess I could just buy another used car on the cheap, but I am solidly in my 30s now (my birthday was last Friday), and I would like something slightly nicer than the succession of junkers I’ve driven into the ground since I turned 16. I’m not saying I want a luxury car or anything – even if I had the money, I can think of dozens of ways I’d rather spend it than on a car – but I would like a car I didn’t have to worry about mechanically.

As it see it, these are my options:

• Buy a brand-new car. I can’t quite bring myself to do this. First of all, I don’t want the worry. Second of all, I can’t shake what my dad always told me: “The most expensive drive you ever make is off the car lot; you lose thousands of dollars just driving away.” Third of all, I don’t even know what to look for. I mean, I think the new Mazdas are kind of cute, and my Honda has served me well, but I just get a case of supreme inertia when I start to think about actually reading Consumer Reports or something.

• Buy an expensive (by which I mean more than $5,000) used car. This, to me, is the sensible solution but also the worst of both worlds: It would be too much money for me to not care if the car got dinged or flooded but would not carry the security of a warranty.

• Lease a car. This is something I swore I would never do, but the more I learn about it, the more sense it makes. I know I would have to pay a lot more for insurance than I do now, but I love the idea of just … being done with the car in about three years. And the idea of being able to drive a car with air-conditioning and seatbelts and other unimaginable luxuries (God, maybe even something other than just a radio with a broken antenna?) at a monthly price I can actually afford is pretty damned appealing.

So what would you do in my position? Buy new? Buy used? Buy cheap? Lease? Keep patching up the Honda (after all, winter’s coming, so at least I’ll stop sweating soon)? Are there any new cars I should look at in particular? Also: Is your insurance even close to affordable? If so, who do you use?
 

Reader Comments:
Sep 23, 2011 10:28 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

What about a certified, pre-owned car from a dealership? I've never done it myself, but I think they have warranties of some sort, and they've already taken the just-driving-it-off-the-lot depreciation.

Also, if you decide to finance a car, I highly recommend shopping around for the best interest rates. I financed mine though my credit union and pay like 5% on a used car, which (at the time I bought it, at least) was far and away the best deal I found.

My problem with car ownership in New Orleans was finding a decent mechanic. I never encountered anything but illiterates and criminals.

Sep 23, 2011 11:52 am
 Posted by  ilovefridays

Just made that decision. I bought a new car(stupid? oh well), I bought a car I can pack a fair amount of stuff if I need to evacuate, but not a huge gas guzzler or something that is hard to park on our crowded streets. The first week I had it, it flooded when it rained. I should own stock in Damp Rid, I buy so much.

My other car was old and I want to be able to travel out of town without worrying about it breaking down. I like the security. I hate the cost of insurance. What are you going to do?

Sep 23, 2011 12:04 pm
 Posted by  tmloving

Good luck finding a used car under $5000 that is reliable. Due to the cash for clunkers program, used cars have risen in value to where you can't get a cheap one. We sent our son to New Orleans for school and he drives a pick up truck. I know that's not a good solution for you with Ruby, but he doesn't have to worry about potholes or road problems. His truck is big enough that he's above road obstacles and most people steer clear of him! Good luck in your search.

Sep 23, 2011 04:48 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

My thoughts - if you are going to drive the car until the 'wheels fall off" which is what I do. I would suggest buying something new or a newer model certified pre-owned car. It will be fully warranted while in great shape and you don't inherit anyone else’s problems with the car.
The problem for me with leasing is that at the end of three years, what do you have? When you pay off a car, it is yours for as long as you can keep it rolling....

Sep 27, 2011 10:10 am
 Posted by  Proud Mommy

I would suggest a new car or a certified used car from a dealership. My husband and I bought our Nissan Altima, a 2005, used from a dealership. It is almost 7 years old and treating us just fine. One year ago, my husband ran into the back of someone. The other vehicle had very minimal damage, but the bumper on our Altima was damaged. My husband didn't want to deal with the insurance company to fix it and raise our premiums. We plan on patching it up until the wheels fall off.

Also, I'm sure Ruby would love a new window to stick her My Little Pony Stickers to!

Oct 8, 2011 07:31 am
 Posted by  nolagringa

#2, definitely. If you spend about $7,000 for a car (certified pre-owned?) that is reliable, the first few dings will hurt your feelings but you'll get over it, and you'll drive it into the ground for many years.

I fear that the lease terms will be unfavorable - you'll be liable for flooding, dings, broken axles, etc.

When I was moving to NOLA I thought I'd trade in my Tundra for a little fuel-efficient beauty. My friends in Slidell adamantly refused to allow that (and baby, Slidell and Shreveport still aren't the same place) and that was the best life advice I ever got. A pickup isn't the best option for you, but my Tundra survived four years of New Orleans just fine (even the time those guys shot up every car on my block for fun, they missed mine). Truth is the only time I ever could park in the Quarter was the time some really drunk guys from Brooklyn helped, but who parks in the Quarter anyway?

There might be warranties on certified pre-owned - I think I bought a 4-year warranty on my Tundra (it was a year old) that way, and it paid for itself when the $1,300 radio short circuited.

Something sturdy, reliable, safe. Consumer Reports beckons, my friend.

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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