Leftovers: Lessons in car-buying, Part 1: ‘Mom, we are not Lexus people’

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We all know them. We may even be them. 

No, I’m not playing games with gender identity references. I’m talking about the people who buy the same make and model car, again and again, give or take an optional sport or towing package.

There are the Subaru people, the Ford truck people, the Caddy people, and so on, all who become creatures of habit based upon a comfortable familiarity. 

Familiarity and where we are in our lifecycle guide us to buy specific cars for functionality, affordability, potential mid-life crisis, and a plethora of other reasons. The psychology of consumer buying as it relates to the automobile industry is fascinating – but I’m not talking about that, either. 

What I am talking about is the news that I have to buy a new, or new-to-me car. Or justify shelling out big bucks to fix my current car. Neither option is appealing or in the cards, but something must be done. This is a major decision that requires looking at my own previous car buying, and taking 2020 wackiness into consideration. 

When my two girls were babies, their dad and I had a practical, safe Volvo. We also had a Pontiac Sunbird convertible (my second one) that I drove with the top down, windows up, and heater blasting until the snow stuck. When he left, he took the Volvo with him.

Newly on our own, I’d strap my daughters into their car seats and we’d drive around singing Springsteen and Broadway show tunes. Judgemental looks from people who wondered why I wasn’t driving a soccer-mom minivan grew even nastier when they saw our license plate: WR3CHIX. 

Seeing nothing socially unacceptable about our transportation, or other aspects of the somewhat Bohemian lifestyle we led, my little one would throw her arms up in the air and shout, “We’re tree chicks in a ‘vertible.” 

My memories of stress and fear about being a good mother notwithstanding, those were golden times. Typically, the days ended with a stack of books, and the three of us fast asleep in my bed. 

When the roof was up, the then old Sunbird convertible wasn’t the warmest. It definitely wasn’t the safest, and I could only paint it as a grand adventure for so long. I could also no longer avoid my mother, The Betty, who insisted we accept her small, older Acura. 

As grateful as I was, that pristine Acura came with a lot of emotional, unsolicited, I-told-you-so “advice” about my life. It was also the catalyst for my mother believing the girls and I should move to Florida, which was a well-intentioned quest she carried with her until she died last year. It became a theme and her go-to remedy for all that ailed us: the weather, my love life, my daughter quitting piano lessons, the same daughter venturing into vegetarianism, and anything that didn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

The license plate, retired in 2013, that graced a Pontiac Sunbird convertible where loud singing was the norm.

Believing nature’s four seasons are a gift all children should experience if possible, moving to Florida was a hard no. 

It was then our love affair with Hondas began. 

The Betty’s little blue Acura didn’t take well to Maine winter. It was lighter than the convertible, with front-wheel drive. Even with two big, leaking bags of sand in the trunk, driving Interstate 295 became treacherous. Since I’m not the greatest of drivers anyway (we’ll get to this later, maybe), that car wasn’t the answer. 

So I reached out to a friend in the car business for advice. I told him I liked the Acura, and he mansplained for hours and hours (literally) about transmissions and such, finally saying I should get a Honda since they are made by the same company. 

Fast forward to a used Honda Civic, two daughters passing driver ed, retiring WR3CHIX, and two CR-Vs later the loaded 2006 CR-V is still being driven by my youngest, and the 2004 CRV was totaled in an accident that wasn’t my fault. I cried when the insurance company said it wasn’t worth fixing, and gave me $4,200 instead. 

CR-Vs had changed, becoming cult cars and were impossible to find used at a good price. Frustrated after searching hard, I found a loaded Lexus for short money. 

Before assuming I really am bougie, it was a 2004 model with average miles for the year. My trusted under-the-table mechanic gave it two thumbs up, saying it was a cream puff, and I pulled the trigger. 

My youngest was not impressed. “Mom,” she said. “We are not Lexus people.”

And in reality, she may be right. I found myself apologizing for driving a Lexus SUV. Who did I think I was? How very fancy. How showy. What does this say about me? Do I care? Saving those questions for therapy, I’m shopping now with the same trepidation as years ago. 

Come back next week for a look at how the car buying process has changed over the years, and what my decision will be. Spoiler alert: No mansplaining allowed. 

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].

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