Why I’m Not Embarrassed by My Car

One of my coworkers got a brand-new car this week. Some kind of SUV. I forget what kind, not being into cars, but it was very shiny and silver. He had the back end open and several other young men were standing around it drooling.

I walked right by it and got into my car, the Auto Paragon, if you will. It looks like this:


It is easily the junkiest-looking car in the library parking lot at any given time, staff or customer.

The Auto Paragon is a 1999 Honda Accord. I bought it certified used in 2004, and it was my first real grown-up car. We did not have the whole ten thousand dollars, so we put down the five we could spare and took out a three-year loan with payments of $193 per month.*

You may have noticed it has some, ah, cosmetic issues. Some of these are entirely my fault. Dent in the truck lid? That’s from when I backed up into a flat bed truck. (Had to shell out $175 to replace the tail light and reattach the bumper, but did not bother paying to have the dent removed.) Hey, it was flat. Very hard to see in the rearview.

Dent in the hood? Not sure where that come from. I think I hit an unusually tall curb blocker too hard.


The biggie, of course, is the detached bumper. I got rear-ended on my way to work a few months ago. But Mrs. FP, you say, didn’t the other driver’s insurance pay for the repair? Well, yes. But it turns out that to fix the bumper would have cost $700, and before I scheduled the repair, they just mailed me a check. Well, once I had seven hundred dollars in my bank account, I preferred to, well, keep it rather than pay it out on my car. (I did make sure that it was not dangerous. The bumper is not loose, just low, and it is apparently not an important safety feature.)

It also has mechanical issues. Evidently it needs a new axle, but I can’t tell. And the check engine light is on. I was told that it is giving a code for an exhaust leak (did not fix because not due for emissions inspection this year) and for the transmission. Also the transmission fluid was so filthy it looked like engine oil, and I am informed this is a bad thing. Transmission may be fine, may not be Dave the mechanic said I could drive it as is as long as I don’t go anywhere remote. Fortunately, my route to work is along well-lit, well-traveled city streets.

Despite its manifest problems, I still consider my car a luxury and extravagance. There’s a bus stop half a block from our house, and we can bike. Yet we have not one, but TWO cars! One for each of us! We never have to share of take turns or coordinate or anything. It’s paid for. It drives. I never have to wait at the bus stop in the rain. It even has a radio for my entertainment AND climate control!

So why do we even have two cars? Well, for one thing, the bus takes a lot longer than driving and our daycare charges by the hour. We have two little kids and preschool schedules to keep up with. Next year, both the boys may be in full-day school, and we can reevaluate whether we still find the car worthwhile (assuming I can keep the Auto Paragon limping along until then).

It would be easy to convince myself, first of all, that my car is a necessity, and second, that it must be replaced. Certainly that’s what standard American behavior would indicate. But I refuse to kid myself that my car is anything other than a luxury.

Are you a one-car family? Have you ever tooled around in a suspect vehicle?

*Note that we no longer take out car loans. Our recent car purchase for Mr. FP was (a) significantly less than the ten thousand I paid back then and (b) cash.



About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

16 responses to “Why I’m Not Embarrassed by My Car”

  1. David says :

    Cosmetically your car is WAY better than ours. Dents? Crooked bumper? Hah, try a window hole (rear quarter panel on a minivan) that’s just a solid piece of Gorilla tape!

    Mechanically I’d personally get the transmission fluid changed. Failing to change it WILL damage the transmission.

    What, specifically, is wrong with the axle?

    • frugalparagon says :

      Good to know I’m not alone :-). I’m just jealous of your sliding minivan doors.

      I actually DID get the transmission fluid changed to see if it might make the code go away. (Can’t tell, because the light is still on for other reasons–I’ll have to have the codes run again at some point.) That’s how I know how gross it was! Dave the mechanic saved me a sample.

      The axle–I think he said that the CV boot was ripped wide open and that the axle should be replaced as part of that repair.

      My tentative plan is to have the codes rerun in a few months when my brakes will start to go. At that time, I’ll decide whether it’s worth sinking a grand or two into the car (brakes, axle, maybe get the check engine light turned off so it’ll pass emissions and there’s something that needs to be done to the driver’s window, too–the “run channel”) or whether I should just walk away. I don’t think it’s worth replacing the transmission as well as the rest, so if the transmission seems like it’s really shot, I probably won’t do the rest, either.

      Haven’t really decided–opinions welcome :-). Only 140K miles on it.

      • David says :

        CV joint will get quite loud (knocking sound) when making turns before it fails, so it’s not something that sneaks up on you.

        How does the tranny shift? If it’s shifting fine, no hard or jerky shifts, don’t worry about it. No one preemptively replaces a tranny, not that I’ve heard. You wait until it outright fails (usually by stranding you, sometimes by losing ability to shift into a certain gear).

  2. frugalparagon says :

    It’s an automatic and I’m not the most observant person, but I haven’t noticed any problems. Just afraid I would sink a bunch of other money in it and then have the transmission go.

    Maybe I misunderstood about the axle/CV boot–thanks for the tip. Will investigate further before considering the repair.

  3. frugalmama26 says :

    Our 1999 Honda Accord was our best car ever! We had it 11 years before we let it go. I still miss it!

    • frugalparagon says :

      They really are excellent cars, plus comfy and surprisingly roomy. The trunk holds a double stroller easily and the back seat can hold two car seats and one petite adult. (Sorry, Grandma FP. You were a good sport :-).)

  4. Tawcan says :

    We’re running strong with our 9.5 years old Civic. Plan to continue driving it for a while. 🙂

  5. Autumn says :

    A few dents and scrapes just add character!

    I would love to be a one car family and we could definitely get away with it now, but Mr. BB has a company car and if he decides to ever change jobs or if I stop working from home (pretty likely after next year), then we’d just have to buy another one. Our extra car is paid off and in great shape, so it makes sense to keep it right now, but I can’t help but feeling so wasteful.

  6. Tarynkay says :

    We recently passed on our 1999 Ford Taurus, sold to us by my wonderful sister for $1. It was actually a very comfortable car, and we called it The Luxury Sedan. The only bad thing was that it broke down fairly frequently. I once drove it to a street festival where my husband was playing guitar with my son. We ran into my husband’s boss and his wife. They had arrived in their brand new very high end BMW. They were clearly shocked by our car situation* so much so that his boss paid our way into the festival, thus saving us $10.

    *the car wasn’t that bad, it just seemed that way to them given the contrast.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Yeah, breaking down can be inconvenient! I was pulled over in my car a couple of weeks ago and the police officer seemed surprised to find such a disreputable-looking vehicle occupied by a middle-class, mid-thirties mom with a clean toddler in the back.

  7. Karissa says :

    Please don’t ever take auto on the highway with a suspect axle. My first of many “beater” autos had an undiagnosed suspect axle, which broke off while I was driving on a major highway. The tow truck driver told me I was lucky to be alive. Similarly, if the mechanic says it’s time to replace the timing belt, do so before it breaks and costs $1500-3000 to repair. Good luck!

    • frugalparagon says :

      Thanks for the warning–I did ask the mechanic if it was SAFE to drive, and he said yes. His concern about me taking it on the highway was less about safety and more about getting stranded in the mountains or some such.

      I did the timing belt at 90,000 like a good little girl :-).

  8. seattlegirluw says :

    We’re a one-car family, but neither of us works outside the home. So I guess it doesn’t really count. We got a newer old car because we were worried about repairs. But it definitely has cosmetic issues. Random strips of paint chipping to be precise. But we got a 2012 Civic with less than 25k miles (in 2014) for $14k out the door. So… yeah. I’m thrilled with our car. And we’ll save for the nice car my husband wants over time.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Recent used can be a good way to go for a one-car family. My brother and sister got a lot of mileage out of the 2001 Civic that they passed back and forth between them. (I think it’s off the road now, but Brother used it to deliver pizza.) Until this spring, the Auto Paragon WAS our only car–it is a liiiiittle elderly perhaps to have that job.

      Weird about the paint on a car that new. I’ve heard having a car repainted is not necessarily as expensive as one might think, so it might be worth looking into.

  9. Seeking the Brass Ring says :

    Depending on where the exhaust leak is it may be a safety issue. Keep in mind that the exhaust system is designed to put all the deadly fumes behind and away from the passengers. Exhaust leaking into the passenger compartment means you may be slowly poisoning your children.

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