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Jeff Wilkin's Type A To Z
by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture

A New Car!

Game shows — I always remember watching game shows when I teenager.

On “The Price is Right” or “Let’s Make a Deal,” Bob Barker, Monty Hall or their announcer lackeys would always describe the lavish packages of the day by exclaiming, “And ... a NEW CAR!”

Contestants would be shocked into submission. Members of the studio audience would cheer like maniacs, just dreaming of the chance to win a 1968 Ford Thunderbird or a 1975 Mercury Cougar XR-7.

I’ve never been lucky enough to win a car. I’ve always earned my wheels the hard way — putting down big down payments and entering financial servitude to Volkswagen or Honda for monthly car payments.

This fall, the time finally came to retire my reliable ... and a little rusty ... 1998 Honda Civic. My machine from the last century had racked up 233,000 miles, and I decided I didn’t want to keep putting money into the old buggy for more and more repairs in 2012 and beyond. This year it was new brakes and a new muffler; I didn’t want to hear the words, “This is going to need new shocks, new tires, a new transmission and a new flux capacitor,” from Nick at Schenectady Auto Service.

Actually, my Honda never had a flux capacitor — which was standard equipment with the DeLorean super car in the “Back to the Future” movies. But I’ll bet my new car has one, someplace. The new showboat is a 2012 Hyundai “Elantra,” and it’s got traction gizmos, satellite radio and a mod, mean look for a small car.

There are pictures of my old and new cars somewhere on this page. The Civic is pictured with its new owner.

The Elantra is my fifth transport, and takes its place in a short line that started with a 1973 AMC Gremlin, continued with a 1982 Volkwagen Rabbit, followed by a 1988 Volkwagen Fox and then the 1998 Civic. I started looking last fall, considering and eventually condemning the Nissan Rogue sports utility vehicle and the 2012 version of the Civic. Nothing against Honda, but I was looking for just a little bit more dash this time around. The new Civic just didn’t grab me, and I think Hyundai — with bunches of glowing reviews from Consumer Reports and other places — is offering more value for the dough these days.

The most annoying part of buying a car ... is buying a car. I think if Shakespeare was around today, he might write, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. The second thing we do, let’s tar and feather all the car salesmen.”

I began my search locally, and found some dealers were unable or unwilling to go my way. They would not be able to find the popular Elantra with a standard transmission — savvy shoppers know that’s a savings of about $1,000. And they could not promise me my color. After nearly 14 years of driving a silver Civic and 10 years driving a silver Fox, I was sold on the deep cobalt blue Hyundai slapped on the Elantra.

The local dealers and I also could not agree on the price that I thought was sort of right — working with figures secured from both the Consumer Reports and car-buying services. I didn’t walk into their offices with a giant, Cellophane-wrapped candy disc of lemon or orange for a head. I wasn’t going to be a sucker. I did my homework.

I finally had to go out of state to find a reasonable salesman, and we traded figures over the phone for a few days. The guy finally saw things my way — although I know cars guys always make a nice profit — and I was soon laying out big dough for the new machine. Had to battle the dealership financial director, who really tried to sell me an extended warranty. Hyundai comes with a nice free one, five years or 60,000 miles, bumper to bumper. The dealership said $1,600 EXTRA would cover me for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Finally figured it was a raw deal. As I drive about 16,000 miles a year, I’ll be out of the factory contract in less than four years. I’ll be at 100,000 miles in about six years — so I’d be spending all that extra dough on a lousy two more years of coverage. Took me a while ...but I vanquished the numbers guy and acquitted myself with financial honor.

Part of me kept wondering if buying a new car was the right move. Our country is in a damn recession that seems to be picking up more damn steam. So I wasn’t sure if making monthly car payments was the prudent course, especially when I am making weekly payments to the Coors brewing company. And old Nick kept telling me Hondas have long life spans; there were still bunches of miles left in my engine from the last century.

But then I started to think about obituaries. It is damn morbid, but at 56, I read funeral notices for people in their 40s, 50s and early 60s all the damn time. These people probably didn’t expect to go so quickly ... so I thought now it might be the time to invest some of my savings, take some of my cash off the table. You can’t take it with you, although I’m working out plans to get around that time-honored rule.

And I’ve been saving for the last five years. My last car payment to Honda was made in 2001, so I’ve been building my new car account for a while.

So far, it’s so good. I’ve had my Elantra on the road for almost three weeks, and it is fun to drive a new car. I won’t have to worry about a breakdown in Utica for at least four years. With satellite radio — the first three months are on Hyundai — I’ve finally got full-time jazz stations on my car radio. And I’ll be able to pull in Baltimore Oriole baseball games on road trips ... and every other pro baseball team, for that matter. I’ve even got a Frank Sinatra channel.

I’m getting used to push a button on my key chain to unlock the doors, another to unlock the trunk, another to light up the cars and beep the horn. There was nothing like that on my Gremlin, but at least my Gremlin had a spare tire. Hyundai doesn’t go that way. Not even a “doughnut” tire. I guess the engineers figure blow-outs on modern tires are rare, and why toss an extra 50 pounds in the trunk for a full-sized tire? Better mileage, I guess. There’s a sealant container and some kind of pump, and company-backed roadside assistance. I’m still going to buy a spare.

And of course, now I’m paranoid on the road. Seems like any driver, at any time, will blow a red light, swerve to avoid a squirrel or pass in the wrong lane — and cream me and my new blue car. I know little signs of wear and tear will come eventually, a scratch or tiny dent here or there. But I at least want to get through the first few months, even a year, with no blemishes.

My Honda Civic is still on the road. I pretty much gave it to my friend Beverly Matern, who lives with her family in Horseheads, near Elmira. I vacuumed the inside, washed, waxed, tossed $3 in the pocket change bin — the Civic looks better than it has in years. I tried to sell Beverly an extended warrant for a few extra bags of chocolate chip cookies, but she was too smart for me. I’m sure she and my Honda will enjoy happy motoring for years.

I’m even thinking about giving her another used car in 2021.

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