We were driving north. There was nothing out of the ordinary; it was just a summer motoring excursion. Then my son asked, "How long do you think we'll have this car?" That was all it took, one innocuous question and my brain started churning.
How long will we drive the 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan?
The thought hadn't occurred to me before. After all, we'd paid off the anti-Porsche, and I was raised on the adage, "If you don't need it, it's not a bargain." I'm not the sort of driver who trades up for a new version every three or four years. Why take on car payments when your current ride is in good shape? It's paid for – just keep running it. On some subconscious level, I suppose I've always pictured myself driving it into oblivion; that, when the time comes, my minivan and me would disappear into a fiery Hellmouth.
Why would I buy a new car? It's a laughable idea. It seems frivolous and goes against financial prudence.
"Why?" a little voice whispered. "Because if you buy a new car, then you'll have a new car and you won't have to drive the old one any more."
It's hard to fight that logic.
It's this kind of thinking that has kept the automotive industry running. Hanging on to my old paid-off minivan makes sense, but it's not new. When someone tells a guy tethered to a minivan that it's within the realm of possibility that he might not have to drive a minivan, it's like telling a prisoner who's been surviving on bread and water that he could switch to Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Chianti Classico. The salivary glands start working.
So, I casually started snooping around. Kicking the tires on the Internet. Most experts advise a series of steps when browsing for an automobile.
- Get yourself prequalified for a loan.
- Do your research.
- Shop for financing.
- Visit dealers.
- Take test drives.
- Get ready to negotiate.
That was not my approach. Once the "How-long-do-you-think-we'll-have-this-car?" concept stuck in my brain, I took a different set of steps.
I made a list of my dream cars. This is not a euphemism. Like a Dream Guy or a Dream Girl, a "Dream Car" is a vehicle that has appeared in my nocturnal visions. I figure it's a manifestation of what my subconscious desires in an automobile.
My Dream Cars include:
- An Eldorado convertible that I drove around Los Angeles accompanied by a woman wearing a powder-blue bikini (good dream).
- A cross between a Ferrari and an SUV that I lost control of and crashed into the ocean (bad dream).
- A car the size of a house that had a swimming pool in it (average dream).
- What I think was a Volvo circa 1985, which I drove though Brussels at night (good dream).
- A pick-up truck I kept losing the keys for (frustrating dream).
The list did not provide too much practical insight into a prospective car purchase. House-sized cars do not exist. A convertible has always appealed – I didn't need a dream I had in 1997 to illuminate that one. The pick-up dream was an obvious allegory representing my utter lack of any masculine skill at fixing or building things. I did, however, like the sound of a Volvo, Ferrari or an SUV such as the 2017 Buick Enclave.
For now, however, that's where I'm leaving it.
After making the list, I took the anti-Porsche for a spin and enjoyed an new-found appreciation for its well-worn interior, key fob that works only sporadically, archaic retro CD player, its various dents and dings but – most of all – for the never-ending boundless appeal of its zero-dollars-a-month in payments. Sometimes the car of your dreams is the one you're already driving.