A smelly weekend

1) I remember someone telling me once that “new car smell” is actually all the rubber, plastic, and chemicals in your car airing out for the first time. So while it’s a strangely intoxicating smell, it will probably give you cancer. Which is why I didn’t really mind that our car never really had that oh-so-special new car smell.

However, it’s basically been 50 degrees below freezing since we bought that car, and apparently that was keeping all that scent in. The second the temperature crept up above 35 or so, the new car smell kicked in. I guess all that rubber, plastic, and chemicals was just waiting for a little sun to warm it up.

That smell is so recognizable, and it’s really strange to suddenly be smelling it in our 3 month old car. I have to admit, it does seem like it’s new all over again. (And getting better fuel economy now that it is warmer too! Can’t wait to see what we get in the summer.)

2) Have you ever smelled tea tree oil? Because I sure have.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil, which I think basically translates as “smelly oil”. We had a bottle of this stuff sitting in the laundry room and, by a Rube Goldberg-esque series of luck and coincidences, I managed to topple something, which toppled something, which broke the bottle on the floor. Whooo boy. Wikipedia describes the scent as “camphorous“, which means it basically smells like a combination of powerful cleaning solvents and 1940’s era purging medicine.

What could be worse than breaking a bottle of concentrated stink in the laundry room? If it’s winter and your furnace is housed in said laundry room. About a minute or so after the bottle broke, the furnace kicked on and spread the smell throughout the house.

It really wasn’t so bad. Cleaning / medicinal is really very far from the worst smell you could have circulating through your air ducts. However, any sufficiently strong smell can be pretty overpowering when you’re unable to escape it.

Between the two, it was a pretty smelly weekend.

New Car Update

So, we’ve had the new car for just over a month now, and I have to say that I’m liking it more and more the longer we have it.

The main thing I was worried about was whether or not we could fit (get it, because it’s a Fit?). A month in, I feel I can say relatively confidently that we fit in quite easily. With that one concern out of the way, I’m free to really enjoy the car.

It feels a lot more “peppy” than the Malibu was, especially around the neighborhood. Conversely, you feel every bump in a way that you never did with the Malibu (which can be rough this time of year). I’ve never had a hatchback before, and I have to say, I’m a convert. Definitely loving that part. Also loving the 37.6 mpg we got coming home from Wisconsin!

There are two very minor things that annoy me about the car. The first is that you can’t lock the doors until they’re all closed. This kind of seems like a good idea, until you have kids. I never realized it, but it turns out that I usually open all the necessary doors, lock the doors so I can put my keys away, and use my hands to carry things. If, instead, you have to keep your keys in your hand until the kids get out, you have to wait for about five hours or so before you can free your hands.

Second, if you unlock the doors but don’t open a door in time, they re-lock themselves. So by the time you load up and round up the kids and herd everybody in the right direction, you get to the car just in time to hear the doors lock. Again, not a good feature if kids are involved.

Okay, but back to the good things. I admit, I was a little worried with how it would be in the snow. But after pushing several cars out of the snow (including 4wd cars) and not having any trouble whatsoever, I realized there’s more than power when it comes to snow. It’s so much smaller and more maneuverable, that I was able to navigate around all the bad stuff.

And finally, the super best part about the car is the little “instantaneous mpg” bar. I cannot take my eyes off of it. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, and very competitive between Sara and I. It makes me realize how NOT fuel efficiently I was driving the Malibu. I mean, on some level I knew how you could drive to get better fuel economy, but watching that meter has 100% changed the way I drive. “Quit your honking, I’m not going any faster. THE METER IS AT 40 MPG!”

I never really concluded the story of the Malibu. After the laughably low offer they gave me for the trade-in, I took it over to Carmax and sold it for >3 times what they offered me. It was so quick and painless for 3 times the money, that I feel a fool for not just going there originally. They were great with the kids too, they solemnly gave them papers to sign to sell the car. It was all very serious, and Oliver spent as long on his name as I’ve ever seen him. It was a beauty.

Anyway, long story short, very happy with the purchase (and very happy with Carmax). Here’s to 198,000 more miles!

The Old Car

My “new” car is not so new anymore.

My Malibu is the only car that I ever bought new from a dealership, so I still think of it as the “new car”. However, a few things here and there have started to break down recently, which caused me to reflect on the fact that it’s actually ten years old. I recently passed 166,666 miles (the mileage of the beast!), making it no spring chicken. (Side note, that puts me almost exactly dead on the average miles per year of 16,550 as calculated by the Federal Highway Administration, which is especially amazing considering how many different phases of life and locations of living the car has covered. They must be doing some good math over there at the Highway Administration!)

All of this has caused me to reflect on the fact that my Malibu might be nearing the end of it’s life. Sara and I thought back to all the old cars we had, and we realized that every single one was jettisoned when it was somewhere between 12 and 15 years old. Based on that, we came up with the following metric: barring anything unusual like an accident, you should expect to get 10 years out of a car. If you get to 10 years, you can’t be disappointed. However, anecdotally we usually got at least 12 years, so if you’re lucky you should get an additional 2 unexpected, “bonus years” out of your car. You shouldn’t necessarily plan on them, but I think it is reasonable to expect that you can get them. In a perfect world, you could get as much as 15 years. Plan on 10, expect 12, and hope for 15.

Now of course the 10/12/15 isn’t a hard and fast rule, but more of a guideline. This actually correlates well with another anecdotal metric of mine, which is that you should be able to get about 200,000 miles out of your car. Well, assuming I continue to do about the average miles per year of 16,550 on my 10 year old car, I’ll cross the 200,000 within 2 years.

I’ll hold on to it for as long as I can, but it does sort of feel like a death sentence for the old girl. She’s been given two years to live. All in all, the Malibu is a very good car, and I am very satisfied with it. However, I probably won’t buy a new car again.

My car had a price tag of around $22,000 when it was new 10 years ago. So that averages to $2,200 a year (not counting car ownership costs like insurance, plates, oil changes, etc.). However, according to edmunds.com, a 2012 Malibu costs $22,110 and a 2010 Malibu costs $13,603. So we could say a Malibu loses about 38% of its value in the first two years. I’m making a lot of assumptions here (although not crazy assumptions, since Edmunds predicts you will lose on average 31% of the value of a new car in 2 years), but if we apply that same formula, that would mean that if my Malibu new in ’02 cost $22,000, I could have gotten it used in ’04 for about $13,640 (which actually seems kind of high for a 2 year old used car). If I then owned that car for 8 years (because I expect 10 years out of a car, but it is already 2 years old, so I only get 8), it would only have cost me around $1,705 a year. I would have saved $495 per year by owning the exact same car, just purchased at a different time. In other words, I just gave myself $3,960 of free money.

My quick calculations assume you paid cash for everything, so none of this includes the 7% interest rate I had on my 5 year loan. So if I spent those two extra years saving up to pay cash for my car rather than taking a loan, I give myself an additional $4,137.58 in free cash, for a total of around $8,000 in free money.

Of course, these numbers are just my quick calculations, and I’m no expert. There are mitigating circumstances on both sides. Hypothetically, if you paid cash and got a phenomenal deal, you could be the one who beat the system, but even then you just come out even with the used car case, not ahead. Chances are you didn’t beat the system (and you don’t really even know if you got a good deal or not until you can compare used car sales in a few years), so if you are a betting man, the odds are on the used car.

Anyway, the numbers work fairly well as a rough guideline for me, and it gives me an opportunity cost number to consider. Even though buying a new car is never cost effective, it might be other things effective. For example, most of the time I had my new car it was hassle and stress free. That’s got to be worth something I suppose, but for me personally it was probably not worth $3,960 (Of course, I didn’t have any trouble with the car in the first two years, so if you think about it, buying it at two years old wouldn’t have given me any more hassle or stress than buying it new). On the other hand, I bought my Malibu when I got my first job out of college, both as a sign of independence and a splurge to celebrate my new financial security. So I guess those might be worth something. And if money is not an issue for you, then the “cost penalty” might be lower for you (i.e. if $3,960 isn’t a lot of money to you, then it might seem like a small price to pay compared to other things). For example, you might value “looking good” more than $3,960.

Anyway, we’ve had a good 10 years together so far, and if the Malibu dies tomorrow, I’d be satisfied that I got my money’s worth. However, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for at least another 2 and hope for the full 5.