Gorgeous has retired: the insane journey to acquiring a new vehicle after sixteen years, and a sweaty exercise in learning to trust – Part I

Heather SkompHow to Get What You Want in Life

It’s been over a month since I’ve written, but good Lord I haven’t been idle. I have been traveling, but more importantly… after weeks and weeks of stress and research, I finally got a new vehicle.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

If you’ve been following my Rving odyssey, then you know my lovely little 1999 Ford Explorer did a stellar job of hauling the Beast around the United States for seven months, much to her ultimate ill health. Two months in she needed a new engine, then the air conditioning died (again), then she needed a new ABS sensor, then the muffler went out, then… oh God, the list goes on. My poor baby was yelling for an end to the madness.

Which, to a degree, came back in June of last year, but not quite. I stopped pulling the RV all around creation, but I did take Gorgeous to the lake for some sun and getting stuck in the sand, and up north for some tent camping for a few weeks. But for the greater part of the last few months she had been resting.

Primarily because I’ve been too scared to take her out for fear of breaking down in the middle of nowhere, but we don’t have to talk about that.

Thankfully, in sixteen years she had never left me stranded, but there was always a first time. And, since right now I happen to be living somewhat at a distance from larger civilizations, the risk of this type of event occurring had become a bit more prevalent.

I don’t know about you, but I talk to my car. She has personality and character, and in her own way, she talks back to me. We had been together since she was born, she carried me from tip to toe all around the US over the years, and she had never, ever let me down. Not once! Even when she was screaming bloody murder last year when her engine was failing, she did.not.stop. She kept pulling the Beast until we reached our destination, and even then she kept going.

crying-gorgeous

That’s character, I tell ya.

So in these last few months that we’ve been keeping things quiet, I had been asking her: do you want to keep going? I’ve got plans to visit Denver, Colorado and a nice haul back to Columbus, Ohio this summer, and probably a stop in California again and maybe even another trip to Oregon (hey Chris, get ready!) if I feel so inclined. I was interested in a month in Cape Cod, until I visited there a few weeks ago and hated it (that’s another story for another day). After quite a lot of time being stationary, the desire for movement has crept up on me once again. So the question remains: how did Gorgeous feel about this? She was pretty integral to the process, so her opinion mattered.

Well, much to my great grief and sadness, she said she thought she was done. We’d have long conversations in the garage about our future together, but it seemed it was coming to an end. There was a bit of a perkiness about going back to Columbus together, but that had since abated. She finally admitted she was pooped. She was ready to retire.

Sigh. I wasn’t sure I was ready to let her go. We’d been together for so long! We’ve done so many things together! Gone to so many amazing places! Had so many incredible experiences! Sixteen years! She had taken care of me so well. It was like the end of an era. It felt like one of my best friends was dying. I just wasn’t sure I was ready not to have her in my life anymore, even if it was punishing to drive around in the Arizona heat without air conditioning. Christ… I don’t even like thinking about it. And June is blazing around the corner.

So this decision of hers left me in a quandary. Since the debate started several months ago, I had been – somewhat lethargically – researching other vehicles for quite some time. However, I didn’t really take it terribly seriously because a) I wasn’t really ready to let her go, and b) I don’t much like any of the vehicles on the market today. They just don’t make decent SUVs anymore since they started with these pussy crossovers, and I wasn’t so inclined to go with an actual truck. I mean… I am not a pickup truck person. I grew up in Louisiana for heaven’s sake – in my experience truck people were a breed unto their own. Gun racks, rear window graphics of Confederate flags, camo paint, big nobbly tires and roaring mufflers, spittoons in the center console, blood stains in the truck bed from recent hunting expeditions… yikes.

This was not an uncommon sighting in my town.

This was not an uncommon sighting in my town.

 

Nor this.

Nor this.

 

My mother would be aghast.

But since my towing requirements were non-negotiable, my options were somewhat limited. You can’t beat a truck for hauling with the masters!

The truth is, I really really really really didn’t want to buy a new car at all. I still loved my old one, I didn’t have enough cash saved up quite yet to buy a brand new car outright (my preference), I couldn’t find a car I even wanted to buy, and I am against loans on principle. I hate the fact that today we have allowed borrowing money to buy things we can’t afford to become so much a normal part of our culture that it has caused the prices of nearly everything ordinary we need to manage our lives to go through the roof. There was nothing about this situation that I liked, or wanted.

And so naturally, I procrastinated on the search as long as I could.

However, in spite of all this, the Universe was clearly pushing me to buying a new vehicle. It was starting to be unavoidable – not because Gorgeous was breaking down all the time, because she wasn’t, but because her general unreliability was affecting all aspects of my life, including my attitude towards life. I was frickin’ miserable. I was concerned about living in a town so far from everything, and yet I felt I couldn’t drive anywhere outside of town, in case something happened. It was so bad, I was even considering the giant hassle and expense of moving from a very comfortable situation here, just to live in a town where there was more of everything available nearby, but I couldn’t be sure I would even get there! I was in anguish.

But the Universe knows. We just have to trust it knows better than we do. 😉

So since Gorgeous’ decision wasn’t fully made until recently, the need to move forward on inviting a new vehicle into my life had not been terribly pressing. Now it seemed to be front and center and like…. NOW.

I figured I had two choices: 1) I could continue to fix Gorgeous as needed, and limit my RV travel capacity for the next however long until I could pay cash for a vehicle that would do the job, or 2) get a loan and hate myself for being a screaming hypocrite at least until there was equity in the new vehicle, or at most until it was paid off.

Neither choices thrilled me.

So suddenly all my days were filled with research on vehicles. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent in front of my computer looking them up, and then analyzing their towing capacities (since this is vital), which for those who don’t know, can be VERY complicated. There is a lot of math involved! I had to confirm weight ratings, axle ratios, hitch installments, wiring components and integrated trailer brake options. There was much work to do!

OMG buying a car these days is HARD.

When this all started out, naturally my mind was set on getting another SUV. I like SUVs. I’ve had them for the last 20+ years, with great success and joy. Problem is, I don’t like the SUVs of today. Quite frankly, they look like station wagons trying to be cool. Not to mention, very few of them had the towing capacity I was looking for, unless I was willing to drive the equivalent of a school bus for the next fifteen years. Thank you, but no. I didn’t need third row seating, I didn’t need DVD players in the back (although I could appreciate the bonus of this, especially when considering the potential for shorter excursions and sleeping in the back of the vehicle could be a possibility), and I definitely didn’t need fold up child seating, backseat air conditioning and cup holders, so I certainly didn’t want to pay for any of these decadent “standard” inclusions. And God help me, they are expensive. How are people affording these things? With mortgages? I’m thinking so.

Americans need to rethink their attachment to cars.

At any rate, after about two months of intense analyzation, I finally found an SUV that fit all my requirements. The Dodge Durango. Since Dodge changed the body style in 2011, it went from an ugly truck with an enclosed back to a sexy, hardcore SUV towing ma-chine. And, it has a 7700lb towing capacity, which I figured would meet my needs for the next years to come. And, it would fit into my garage (surprisingly, this became an issue when I started looking at the lengths of some of these bigger vehicles. I wasn’t enamored at the thought of buying a new Gorgeous and having it sit outside of an empty garage). I was starting to get excited!

Welllllllllll….. not so much. More research followed, as I decided I was going to get a used one, since I could afford to pay cash for it and therefore not have to whore myself out for a loan. Score! New (to me, anyway), strong, sexy vehicle and no car payments! Whoo hoo! I looked everywhere for this car. And lemme tell ya, there were not too many to be found. I guess people either weren’t buying so many of these (I noticed that I didn’t notice too many around), or they were keeping them hidden for some inexplicable reason. Hm. I wondered why…

Finally I found one, but it was 300 miles away. But bonus – it was four grand less than my budget! OMG I was beside myself. It had everything I wanted on it, and more. I called up the dealership selling it, and started making arrangements to come see it and most likely buy it, in two days’ time.

Yeah, a lot can happen in two days.

For some bizarre reason, in all the agonizing months I had been looking up vehicles and eventually focusing my research on the Durango, I hadn’t once looked up… bad reviews.

So that night, after I had made the commitment to the dealership to drive 300 miles to buy this car, I decide to do a little digging. And boy, what did I find.

staring-at-computer

Turns out, it would seem most Dodge Durangos are hidden in the service departments of dealerships and mechanics’ garages. No wonder I hadn’t seen many driving around – they were all stalled out in driveways, on the sides of roadways, or up on lifts being fixed for mysterious problems like unforewarned engine shut offs, power brakes and steering suddenly not working, horns blaring for no reason, sun visors bursting into flame, and windows going down without human intervention, among other things. Really? And I hadn’t seen a single thing on this prior to now?

Well, all good information comes to those who aren’t paying attention until the critical moment.

There were class action lawsuits filed and won… er… settled, thousands of outraged owners, and many others ineffectually trying to come to terms with the fact that they currently owed $30K on a vehicle that might very well be possessed by the devil. Chrysler Dodge was (is) in the toilet, avoiding everyone, having realized that they would most likely have to recall five million vehicles sold between 2007 and 2014 (and probably 2015) because of a faulty power module in nearly all their models (not just the Durango). Bankruptcy, thy name is Chrysler!

Needless to say, I did not buy the Durango. And all other vehicles made by Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, etc. were off the table. Sorry, anyone who owns one. The fun doesn’t start until after about 50,000 miles, so get ready.

So, back to the very scratched up drawing board. That drawing board was looking mighty small and worn out and full of dagger holes all of the sudden.

broken-drawing-board

After this devastating revelation, I had to rethink my strategy. At about the same time, it began to occur to me – shockingly late in the game, I might add – that if I bought a used vehicle that I was demanding to be properly equipped for towing heavy things, that the original owner might have, in fact, purchased that vehicle new for quite possibly the same reason. Hm. And if that were the case, wasn’t it also possible that the used vehicle I might end up with have a long history of having towed heavy things all around the known universe, just like I intended to do?

Oh dear. We now had another kink in the line. It became clear that I was going to have to buy a brand new vehicle, simply so I wouldn’t inherit someone else’s reason for trading in their perfectly engineered towing machine. I mean let’s face it… that’s why I was having to trade in Gorgeous, wasn’t it? I’d butchered her.

As far as the remaining SUVs went, there wasn’t much to choose from in the arena of new vehicles. They were alarmingly expensive, and disappointingly lame when it came to towing capacities, as I had already learned. I discovered, much to my surprise, that if I was a millionaire I could buy a Porsche Cayenne that would pull 7700lbs, but I’m not a millionaire and who is dumb enough to tow an RV behind a Porsche? Another startling finding was that the VW Touareg could pull 7700lbs too, but I couldn’t see myself driving a VW, especially when they start at $43K. And, I don’t really like them. So no.

This didn’t leave me with many options. It looked like I was going to have to – gasp – buy a truck.

Was I really going to become a…. truck person? What the hell is going on, Universe!??! What are you TELLING ME??

My mother put it rather nicely. She asked me, somewhat smugly: “Wow Heather, this RV is really starting to cost you, isn’t it?”

In more ways than one would imagine.

Next up… what did I buy?