Thursday, January 24, 2008

A reminder that "my" car isn't actually mine.

My Teach for America interview is February 5 so I've been busy planning my sample lesson and trying to figure out how to rank the thirty regions in order of preference. The Mississippi Delta, Eastern North Carolina, and Hawaii are tied for number one, and I have ideas for a few other places I would probably like to go and a few I'm quite certain I wouldn't. Ranking most of the regions, however, boggles my mind so I've been spending some time talking about it with people whose opinions I respect.

My parents seem to hope I'll end up getting sent to Hawaii so they'll have an excuse to visit. They've also both brought up the issue of transportation: TFA says access to a car is essential for living in most of the regions I'm considering, including Hawaii. My dad framed this as a question of whether it would be better to ship my car or sell it and buy something to use for two years. My mom said I would not be allowed to ship or sell "my" car.

She then told me that I won't be allowed to take it with me if I move "far away," not just to Hawaii. She said the 1999 Ford Taurus with 109,000 miles on it is "too good a car." My mom wants to keep it and informed me that she and my dad would help me buy something else. There is no way I would take their money under those circumstances; if I have substantial savings and a job lined up, it would feel like mooching.

My parents bought the Taurus during spring break of my senior year in high school. They concluded that I would need a car for college, which I disputed at the time, and decided they could afford to purchase one for my use since they weren't going to pay anything for college. (Not that they wouldn't have, but I got a full scholarship.) They settled on the Ford Taurus as the ideal car for a beginning driver and set a budget. I kept an eye on the classifieds and scoped out the Kelly Blue Book. After getting the car, I learned to drive, and I became fully licensed a couple of days before the fall semester of my freshman year began.

My father is very fond of the Mazda Protege he got almost a decade ago, and he recently told me he plans to keep it for another 100,000 miles. My mother got a shiny new Altima last year. They also have an older Suburban that only gets driven when they need to haul stuff but is in good mechanical condition. They bought a 2001 Taurus for my brother to drive, as well. They don't lack for automobiles, and I suspect my father's opinion on the matter of "my" car will prevail. I still have to prepare for the possibility that it won't.

My parents don't owe me a car. I was very fortunate that they provided one for me, but I'm an adult and should be able to take care of my expenses myself. I'd assumed that they wouldn't want or need my car since I'm the only one who drives it, but that seems to have been a mistake. The Taurus has been very reliable, and I hoped to get at least a couple more years of use out of it before having to decide between major repairs and a new (used) car. I planned to start making car payments to myself; based on my experience with this car, it seemed reasonable to set aside $5,000 to $6,000 for a good used car.

If I have to spend that much this summer, I can afford it, but it will be a sizable hit to my savings. In order to buy a car, fully fund a Roth as soon as I have a job, and keep an emergency fund that I'm comfortable with, I'll need to plan my spending this semester that much more carefully. I'd hit a point where it looked like I'd easily reach my savings goals and thus have a bit more money to play with for daily expenses and fun stuff, but it looks as though it is time to reassess. Rats!


Mrs. Micah said...

Yeah, we were just thinking that ours isn't ours...she belongs to the company until we pay her off, though, not to a parent.

I think your dad's question makes sense...but your mom's doesn't. I mean, if they were going to sell the Taurus, it'd make sense. But if they each have a car which is similar to the Taurus (so it's not a truck/SUV or something) plus a big one...

Still, as you say it's their car. And people have the right to be irrational with their possessions.

Blue said...

I was lucky - my mom bought a gas-saving new (used) car at the same time she bought one for me. Mine is newer, though, and automatic transmission, not manual like hers. (I've learned through research that manuals get better gas mileage - Mom was going to get me one of those, but I managed to beg off because I can't drive standard and I didn't want to (continue to) learn in Austin, where it's so hilly.) Also, she put the title in my name and said she was done with car-buying for both my brother and me.

You could also offer to buy the car from them at its current value, if you deem it necessary and your parents (it sounds like your dad would rule in this case) agree.