Thursday, January 7, 2010

Volume 3, Number 20: The Grand Prix Era

(Note: I originally posted this entry in on June 16, 2008, on my Yahoo! GeoCities blog.)

The era of the Taurus is over, and the era of the Grand Prix is about to begin.

What do I mean by that? Since October 2002, I had been driving a 1997 Ford Taurus, but last Friday, I bought a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix. It's got a powerful engine (200 horsepower V6, 225 ft-lb of torque), tons of options I'll have a ball with (leather upholstery, a power sunroof, heated seats, a rearview mirror with a compass and thermometer built in, and that "heads-up" display that lets you see your speed reflected on the inside of the windshield), and of course, it's five years newer.

I found it on Craigslist and bought it from its previous owner in Huntington Woods (just a few miles from me, and it's a very affluent suburb of Detroit) for $4,800. I ran an appraisal on that suggested that I should have paid over $5,500 for it (due mainly to all the options that were on it). If you want to check out what your car might be worth on, go here.

As for the Taurus, it never had any major problems, but recently, it developed a few bad ones that, if I fixed all of them, it might have cost more than the car was worth:

  • Six months ago, the wipers and the washer pump started to work intermittently (probably a wiring problem);
  • The battery was 5 years old and acid was starting to leak from the terminals;
  • The gas mileage had declined over the last 2 years (I was getting 17 mpg);
  • That same computer also gave me the infamous "SERVICE ENGINE SOON" light;
  • The driver door would not shut whenever the weather got really cold (like 10 degrees or lower);
  • The passenger door wouldn't shut if the handle on the outside stuck (probably due to a broken spring), which was a pain in the butt on the few occasions that someone rode with me as I had to explain to them about the handle;
  • The upholstery was made of cheap fabric that had already started to look bad when I bought the car in 2002, and it was looking worse now;
  • A drive boot may or may not have needed replacing (a mechanic told me one of my drive boots was cracked, but I never verified that with my regular mechanic);
  • One thing my regular mechanic did find was a broken bracket in the rear that caused this "clunk" noise to come from the trunk every time I hit a bump; until he told me what it was, I just thought maybe I didn't fasten the spare tire securely enough
  • One of the cruise control buttons broke off my steering wheel--no big deal as I don't use cruise control, but it sucks when anything breaks off.

And finally, there was the Rule of 11. I have a history of driving cars that break down by or before they are 11 years old:

  • 1991: I had a 1980 Toyota Tercel, and in the spring of '91, it started smoking due to a bad head gasket. The car already had over 100,000 miles on it, which, for a 1980 car, was an extremely high mileage, so its value was very low and did not warrant repairing.
  • 1999: I had been driving a 1988 Ford Festiva for seven years when it developed the following problem: In cold weather, water condensation would get into the fuel line, causing the car to be either hard to start, or impossible.
  • 2001: I had a 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva that blew a head gasket, and the resulting coolant leak caused a bunch of electrical problems. I decided to donate the car to Purple Heart and spend $1,400 on a dinged-up '93 Honda Civic instead. As it was, the Oldsmobile's Quad 4 engine design meant that replacing the head gasket alone would mean hours of labor, costing more than the car was worth. Fixing the electrical problems (such as the courtesy lights staying on all the time) would have cost more.
  • The Taurus was built in August 1997 and so was two months away from turning 11. I figured that all the problems I listed above were signs that it was about to fall victim to the Rule of 11. I'd just as soon put that money towards a newer one, and so I did.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Taurus and it got me through some tough times. It only broke down once in the five years and eight months that I owned it, and there was only one day when I missed work because it had to be in the shop. I took it to Chicago, I took it to Pentwater (for a friend's wedding in 2005), I drove it 25 miles or more to work more than 400 times (by my estimation, at least), and it almost never gave me problems.

One minor bit of trivia: I believe that buying the Pontiac makes me the first member of the family to drive a car that was built in the 21st century. My Grand Prix was built in June 2002. Sander (my older brother) still has a '98 Ford Escort sedan, my mother still drives a '98 Saturn SL2, and Josh is still driving a '95 Suzuki Sidekick.

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