Recently CavWife was driving my car when she was involved in an accident. Someone driving along the shoulder to avoid the stopped traffic hit her. My car was ruled totaled by the insurance company. This placed me in a personal odyssey that has caused no small amount of thought, lost sleep and lost hours looking at cars and talking on the phone.
We’ve been praying that the Father would grant us wisdom as we approach this whole process, and especially the choice of a car.
We had a car fund, once. A long time ago. During the great transition of 2007-10 we used it to pay bills. This was the year we were going to use our tax refund to replenish the car fund so we can prepare for the day when the minivan gives up the ghost. When you are under-employed for nearly 3 years it takes time to replace all that the “locusts” ate up. We are getting there, and thankful that the locusts didn’t leave us with debt.
Most pastors are in my shoes. Those who aren’t are few, and sometimes it is because of God’s kindness to them. Sometimes it is because … well, you know. So most pastors will go through a similar thought process to arrive at a wise choice. Here are the things I’ve been putting into my internal algorithm.
Financially Responsible. We face this question. Do we spend what we currently have available from the insurance payout and some spare cash hanging around? Do we borrow from the tax refund, therefore our future, to get a better, newer car in the present? This is no easy question. I don’t want to be like the Federal Government and live beyond my means. I could borrow money from my parents and repay it in a month or so when I get my refund. But is that the best course of action at this point in time? Some people have no problem borrowing money. I do. It was because we had only the mortgage on the house that we survived at all during my lengthy time of under-employment. It was only because of the same thing that I was able to take the pastoral call here since they were struggling at the time (things are much better and they have made good on their desire to increase my salary as the church has stablized and grown). But we want to model financial responsibility to our congregation, and our children. (“And when your children ask you why you drive and old car….” is biblical, right?)
Safety. I have 4 young children. I must keep CavWife alive at nearly all costs (although I guess we could just increase her life insurance and pray someone wants to marry a widower pastor with 4 kids before I lose my sanity- this is complicated by the fact that she hasn’t identified a “back up” wife). My car was big enough, with a big hood, that she was unhurt in the accident. Had it been a compact, there is no telling how the physics would have worked out. So as I’ve considered cars I realized I don’t really anything smaller than what I had. My oldest may inherit this vehicle, and I want her to be safe too. Additionally I thought about visibility, our ability to see in traffic. CavWife was having to look around a small SUV. That’s hard when you have a low profile car.
Image. Don’t get we wrong. I’m not taking about a status symbol. What I mean is not making my congregants look bad. What I drive does reflect on them. Years ago I had a Paseo. Many of those years were financially lean and I did not wax the car as I ought to have in Florida. The paint job suffered. I felt bad for my congregants even though it was really a good car- it just didn’t look like it. Eventually they had mercy and worked out a deal for Pastor Appreciation. I got a new paint job and no one was embarrassed to say I was their pastor. I want my car to reflect the fact that my congregants do love me and look after me. That does not require a fancy car, but a car that doesn’t look like it belongs in a junk heap or third world nation.
Works for Us. Every family has different needs. One friend owns a minivan and a scooter. They save money by only having one car that can fit the kids. We have a different lifestyle that means I often drive with a kid or two. I can’t get a scooter, or a Smart Car. While I’d love fuel economy, that doesn’t seem to be in my future for quite some time. I need a sedan or an SUV. We were talking about one option and how nice it is that the car has the option of opening the rear window and keeping the gate closed. We can’t do that with the van, but it would sure help on some Lowe’s runs. Having a gate instead of a trunk can also help my back when I have to haul things like bags of salt or heavier items. While a particular car might be a good car, it may not be good for us and our needs.
Expectations for the Future. We want this car to last for quite awhile. My totaled car had an engine that could have easily run for another 100,000+ miles. We want a similar vehicle. Some people just want a stop gap- something they could get 50,000 miles from before buying another car. As a result, we want a car that we can reasonably expect, based on reputation and past care, to keep running barring things like … accidents.
Seller. When I was a pastor in FL we bought 3 cars in a row from a dealer I know there. He was fair and gave a very good deal without haggling. As we look for a new car, we miss them. Whom you buy a vehicle from matters. Overall we were pleased with the seller of the now-deceased Grand Am. They have another Grand Am but it is a bit out of our price range. We liked doing business with them, but they don’t currently have anything in our price range. I’ve ruled out one potential vehicle because of the dealer. They guy might have thought he was being funny, but he didn’t treat me well on the phone, and they dealer has a bad reputation. You want some peace of mind when you buy a car. I’ve had people take advantage of me when I sold a car. They didn’t actually get the title put in their name and sold it. So, someone you can trust- or find a way to keep accountable- is important. If you buy from someone you know, you can see how they have treated their vehicles and have realistic expectations. You also get the shaft when it comes to the title. Can you trust the seller is a question to ask.