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Buying a Car in Duluth

I skipped my usual visit to listen to Darin Bergsven at the Blacklist brewery taproom downtown to visit Kia of Duluth in the West End.

I chose a Kia because the warranty is awesome and the Soul is styling. The Kia Soul has lots of interior cabin space (even if not much trunk space — but past lives have taught me that I will fill the trunk with stuff I shouldn’t fill it with, if the trunk is too large). It’s not the all-wheel drive all my Subaru friends love in Duluth, but it’s zippy and it’s vaguely cool looking, after all.

My salesman was Bill, and he was excellent. I made clear that I wanted a Kia Soul 2016 with a rear camera. He could have upsold me a “Soul Plus,” because online, that was the model for which the camera was standard. But, he said, they had some 2016 base models with the camera added because they knew the camera was a selling point. Those base models were in two colors (black and white, twice as many options as the Ford Model T offered, I told myself), and they were positioned in a row of vehicles behind the more recent, better equipped models. They were under a bridge-like structure. Many of them had bird droppings and dust from the bridge on them; one of them would not turn over because the battery was dead or disconnected. It was not the ideal set of circumstances for a car salesman to work in. But Bill was charming in his commitment to give me what I wanted at the best price he could, and his effort, made the … unusual circumstances of the stock seem quaint, rather than a reason to go to a place with a little more polish. (Thank you, Bill.)

The purchase took waaaaaay too long, as car buying always does. Bill kept popping back to show us wonderful things about the car or the warranty while we waited (again, great job, because waiting a half an hour to start the financing process is not ideal for anyone). When it started, Briana was quick and happy to help, repeatedly thanking me for making it easy by having a good credit score.

At the end of the night, Bill took my picture with him, shaking hands in front of my Kia.  The event was as easy as such a bittersweet moment could be.

Bittersweet because I have finally forced myself to admit that I live in a place where I need a car. In Milwaukee and Minneapolis, I did not even learn to drive until I was 30. Living without a car was an acceptable lifestyle choice in an urban center. Here, not owning a car is a debilitating weakness

— because the bus system is not as thorough as it could be in connecting the city (it takes more than an hour to get from my home to the airport) and

— because people presume there is something wrong with me for not having a car. (Is he broke? How badly does he manage his finances?  What else is wrong with him?)

So, I cannot make the choices, be the man I was when I was younger. I need to own a car.

3 Comments

Paul Lundgren

about 3 years ago

I often wonder how many car sales Kia loses out on because people hate those radio ads so much. You know the ones, with the cheesy Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation -- the ones that have been airing for at least a decade?  I'm not sure why a business would want to constantly reinforce that it is the brand committed to annoying the holy living bats out of people, but ... well ... Kia of Duluth does win big points with me for supplying the car used in the 2004 Geek Prom stunt, so it almost evens out.
 
But now to my point. For the past few years I've been tracking my personal cost of owning a car. You might think the reason is to weigh it again the cost of not owning one, but that is something that cannot really be gauged with numbers. Obviously the bus would be the best choice for a person who needs to get from Denfeld High School to Downtown and back or vice versa, for example, but there are many destinations in Duluth where a bus becomes a huge time commitment. Determining at what point paying for a car is worth it for those adventures can only be arrived at through factoring in a bunch of personal opinion balanced against one's financial position.
 
The numbers I'm interested in, therefore, are the cost of a fairly new car vs. the cost of an old car that might need more repairs.
 
As time goes on, David, perhaps you can provide the opposite perspective to my choice of buying rust buckets.
 
Below is my abbreviated experience:
 
In 2008 I bought a 1993 GMC Vandura 2500 high-top conversion van for $1,400. The cost of gas was high in 2008 -- filling the tank the first time cost me $99 -- but because the purchase price was so low and I don't drive much, I figured it would turn out to be a bargain. And I think I was right.
 
The stats below include fuel, insurance, repairs, tab renewals ... everything. The first year includes the cost of the vehicle, and it's a partial year because I bought the van in July.
 
2008
Total expenses - $2,446.22
Total miles driven - 2,051				
$1.19 per mile
 
2009
Total expenses - $1,400
Total miles driven - 4,145				
$0.34 per mile
 
2010
Total expenses - $2,140
Total miles driven - 4,930				
$0.43 per mile
 
2011
Total expenses - $2,447
Total miles driven - 3,372				
$0.73 per mile
 
2012
Total expenses - $1,821
Total miles driven - 2,594				
$0.70 per mile
 
2013
Total expenses - $1,561
Total miles driven - 4,397				
$0.36 per mile
 
2014
Total expenses - $1,365
Total miles driven - 3,778				
$0.36 per mile
 
2015
Total expenses - $2,022
Total miles driven - 3,527				
$0.57 per mile
 
The day after Thanksgiving in 2015 my transmission finally went out and that was almost the end of the Vandura. I continued to drive it on short errands, avoiding hills and freeways, for about six months before selling it for parts. Then I had no vehicle for about three months and bought a used car that has been a nightmare so far ... but it's still too early to draw much of a conclusion on it yet.
 
So there you have it: One man's experience driving a beater in Duluth. Obviously the cost of driving a 2016 Kia Soul will be greater in the beginning, because of the significantly higher purchase price, but for how long will it be more expensive? In the long run will it be cheaper? Or will it at least be close enough in cost that the "nice set of wheels factor" will even it out? Check back in a few years from now and let me know, David. My hunch is that my Vandura example will compare favorably to your experience, but my current lemon-of-a-car will end up being much more expensive than the Kia Soul. 

TimK

about 3 years ago

I used to buy "beaters" and drove most of them into the ground. I had the misfortune of knowing enough to keep them running. I could change out a clutch if I had to, and can do front brakes with my eyes closed. I have owned probably three dozen cars over the years and paid cash until my kids were born. That was the thing, you see. I was more than willing to risk my own life in a rusty pile of rolling death, but once I had kids it became more than a point A to point B proposition. I fondly recall watching the road through the lack of floorboard in my grandpa's '56 Bel Aire, but I just couldn't imagine that would be okay for my own kids. It's very expensive to own a new car -- especially if you have to pay for full comp/collision to satisfy your loan requirement. In my line of work I drive between 10 and 15,000 (business) miles per year allowing me a hefty 55cents/mile deduction against my taxes. I am also getting old and creaky and don't like lying on concrete getting all geasy to save a few bucks on repairs. Plus, Arnold told me to "Go now!" so I, too, bought a Kia Soul (2013) and so far have only replaced filters and tires. The kids grew up and moved away. In 2019 the credit union will take the lean off the title and I will be free to drive it into the ground if I so desire....

Special K

about 3 years ago

I went through a series of 2 Cavaliers and a Stratus that seemed like they were always in need of repairs: the timing belts, suspension, starters, alternators, brakes.  Something every few months.  The actual cost of those vs. a new car probably doesn't actually add up, but the psychological costs and lost time certainly add to that.
I bought a Subaru Outback new in 2012, and I don't think I'll ever go back.  
I could see the difficulty of transitioning from never needing a car while living in a large, well connected city, but doesn't that really limit a person to just that area, family, and friend group?  I think of the added expense of the car as the cost of freedom to go wherever, whenever, and maintain a solid group of far flung family and friends.
If this were the dense, cheap mass transit liberal utopia of continental Europe, my opinion would probably be reversed.

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