My Last Car

My faithful little Miata is getting long in the tooth; I purchased it new off the lot in the summer of 1999. Eighteen and a half years is pretty old for a car, but these days not exceptional.

Still, after spending the weekend replacing ignition components and discovering oil on my hands more than once, I have to admit that the car is not as mechanically tight as it used to be. It’s only a matter of time before it crosses the line from “reliable transportation” to “hobby”. I don’t need another hobby.

From time to time I peruse the Internet, fantasizing about the car that will replace the Miata. Convertible is an absolute requirement, two seats a preference. There are some pretty cool cars in this space, but the frontrunner remains the Mazda Miata. I could spend a lot more and get a somewhat more exciting car, but the Miata remains an excellent intersection between fun and economy, with no serious challengers.

But boy, that F-type purrs like a kitten. A tiger kitten.

As I consider the expected lifespan of my next car, the expected lifespan of me, and trends in technology, it occurred to me: It’s quite possible that this will be the last car I ever buy. Twenty years from now my driving skills will be degrading, and as long as I live in a town of any size, it’s entirely possible that self-driving on-demand cars will be significantly cheaper than car ownership, especially when you take into account how few miles I drive.

My last car. Wow. But…

I don’t really need to replace the Miata at all. There is almost never a time when both the family cars are out of the garage, and the few times it does happen could easily be handled with transport alternatives. I could rent a convertible for road trips. Perhaps I have already bought my last car. Wow.

Often, when I take the old girl out for a spin, I first have to remove the tool boxes and other items piled on top. Home repair and crafts projects lead me to pull items off the shelving next to the car and put them on the top or on the hood for access.

A typical look at the Miata

Perhaps the next four-wheeled item to occupy that slot in the garage will be something like this:

The next thing to live on the right side of the garage?


5 thoughts on “My Last Car

  1. Lotsa factors to consider here. It’s a bit like a marriage. First question: are you happy? Second question: how’s the budget? Does that sound a bit silly or … odd?
    Wife and I faced the auto issue years ago. Issues of frugality aside, we opted for a reasoned approach.
    First, we refused to buy a new car. It made no sense to leave so much money burning in the exhaust the moment we drove off the dealer’s lot.
    Second, we insisted that the replacement car would serve our lifestyle: I enjoy long trips behind the wheel and jaunts exploring back roads; wife enjoys daily excursions to shop and hit the yard sales, often coming back with found treasures of all sizes.
    Our answer was a one-year-old Subaru Outback… a 2000 model. Bought in 2001.
    We still have it. It’s been the best car we’ve ever owned. It’s the best ‘winter’ car I’ve ever driven. I have a lifetime’s experience on Idaho, Montana, and Washington high-country winter roads… and several years of driving big truck on I-80 and I-90… in winter. When a car impresses me with balance and handling and traction, it’s more than deserving.
    Okay… so. Another big decision. Car payments are no small thing. And maintenance and repair are inescapable. Once the car is paid for, then what? Well… that’s the other decision. If you really like the car, do you keep it long enough to pay it off? Or are you just ‘renting’ it, to turn it in at the end of the lease, and you’ll rent another? Or do you play the trade-in game and walk away from it with the keys to a new one in hand?
    When we paid off the car, we experienced the delight of ‘no more car payments!’ That was a deep satisfaction. Freedom! We own the damned thing! At that point we balanced the equation, and here’s the meat of the matter: which is lesser of the two, going forward? Car payments or repair bills? We opted to keep going with the car, and fix everything that went wrong, and keep up a rigorous maintenance schedule.
    For us, it’s worked. Adding up all the maintenance and repair bills, the total falls far short of replacement payments, year after year. That’s a simple fact. We have it all in the file folders.
    And… and this is really, really sad: we do NOT like the new Subaru models… none of them. Nor any of the other new cars. They are getting loaded up with electronics and computer-based ‘features’ that I cannot abide. To my taste, they are distractions and future repair concerns. So I’m a curmudgeon… goes without saying. But I cannot abide a computer nagging me while I’m focused on my defensive driving. And I’m more than a bit locked in to not making monthly car payments for something I’d hate. Just sayin…
    So, that’s us… wife & I, happy as pigs in a blanket with our 17-year-old car. It is most definitely the last one we’ll own.

    • Two summers ago, we looked for a “new” car as well on the used car lots. The new ones are simply too big for me. Looked at the Subaru Outback too, but settled on a 2004 Volvo XC70. Does the same things with a little more cultured feel. And then last summer, my 97 Z3 blew a radiator side panel and subsequently the head gasket. So Jerry, I definitely understand your feelings about replacing the old convertible. I contemplated several replacements, but Elyn is the one who finally declared that there weren’t any other cars she thought had lines as nice as the old Z3. So I had the head rebuilt and it took 7 weeks instead of two and I never got to drive it, and this Christmas I couldn’t drive it again because it only fired on three cylinders and I didn’t have time to work on it. So now I’m wishing I had just dumped the stupid thing…unless I can get it going again this coming summer when we’re home… Anyway, I’ll be curious to read your update and see what you end up with if you replace the old Miata!

      • Since we already have another, much more practical car, replacing the Miata would be all about the joy of the road. Going over Sonora pass last summer was the kind of experience I’d really miss.

    • The fact that I have the tools (and the patience) to do most routine work on the car tips the cost equation further. Owning an Italian car when I was younger trained me well in that regard. Currently the Miata is still a reliable car, though not a slam-dunk for smog certification.

      Hopefully the new ignition parts will clean up the exhaust for a few years, otherwise I’ll have to dive deeper and replace the O2 sensor. My nose tells me that the car is running leaner now, at least.

      Which is all to say that there is no reason to think that I even have to make a decision for a few more years — unless I really need the space for a workbench.

  2. If you do get a new car, let’s talk about what happens to that Miata. I have some fond memories, I could use a convertible up here, and I have a highly dependable backup.

    I plan on buying one more new car in my life, but between hybrid, plug-in, fuel-cell, etc.; and self-driving cars, “social economy” options (will anyone actually own a car to themselves in the future?), ever-cheaper and more universally-available taxi-like options (how many Lyfts can Uber give you for the price of a single DUI? are Uber drivers simply bad at math, making getting a ride no more expensive than driving a car, and I can capitalize on that?), improved transit software (can Uber/Waymo technology allow for transit that goes from rider-to-rider instead of stop-to-stop?), etc.; and who knows what breakthroughs (will we finally get flying cars once we have autonomous vehicles that don’t require skill? will one power source win and an incompatible vehicle will have trouble getting powered? will gasonline for cars even be a thing when we need whatever’s left for plastic and tires for cars and hydrogen for fuel cells?) … it seems insane to buy a car in the next decade or so. I’ma gonna wait to see what shakes out in the next few years before even considering which vehicle body and innards appeal to me.

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