why the auto bailout is partly my fault

Unfortunately for Detroit, I have been driving the same car for 15 years—a 1990 Honda Civic CRX SI, which I bought used in 1993.  Before that I had a 1983 Ford Escort, which despite leaving me stranded on several occasions because it wouldn’t start, served me well until the passenger door fell off.  I tied it shut with rope that looped around my seat, but I realized that my dating days were over unless I bought something better.

So during Christmas break of ’93 I scraped together all of my student funds and bought a sporty CRX for $7,500 (that averages to $500 per year so far).  I probably should replace it, as a two-seat hatchback isn’t quite a family car—but that’s why we have a minivan. 

There is also the issue of safety.  I hadn’t heard of an SUV when I bought the car, but now there are times, as when I’m parked beside Gary Meador’s small village on wheels, that I am sitting below the bumper of the car next to me.  And now that these SUV drivers have discovered cell phones, I nervously watch my rearview mirror every time I’m stopped for a left hand turn.

The thing is, the car just doesn’t break down.  The body is starting to go—my Bondo jobs no longer look pretty and I squirted foam insulation into the doors to keep the winter salt from rusting out their bottoms—but the engine doesn’t use a drop of oil and it idles so quietly you’d think it was an electric car.  And I get 36-40 miles to the gallon on the highway, without having to plug it in.

I also like the fact that I’m not showing up at churches to preach in some fancy car, though I do fear that some churches might take one look at what I drive and give me something extra from their benevolent fund.   

Despite its rust, I’ve been pulled over twice recently by adolescent males asking me if I would sell them my car.  So it still must have some value. 

Here is my question:  should I keep the car for running to work and speaking engagements, because it is paid for and gets such great gas mileage, or should I upgrade to something that might convey a better image to those who see me driving into the church parking lot? 

19 Comments

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  1. Keep the car! Your kids are going to love it in 10 years when they get to drive it! Think of how cool they will be!

  2. I think the image you present of responsible financial stewardship is the “better image” you should portray. The money that you are not currently spending on a car payment, increased insurance premiums, and more gas – what are you using that for? College savings for the little Wittmers? Offerings and charitable donations? General savings for family vacations or emergencies? I think the Civic makes a powerful counter-cultural statement about being content with what works and meets your needs instead of needing newer, fancier, more expensive all the time. I think our economy would be a lot better off if people learned to live within their means and stop worrying about the image they portray. Oh, and there is still that thing about the biblical teachings on financial stewardship.

    If nothing else, you can put the savings in a “Designated Pagan” trust fund.

  3. Matthaeus Flexibilis January 7, 2009 — 5:24 pm

    Duh. Keep the car. Mr. PhD. needs us to tell him that?

    One of the best images of godliness (not of stylishness) I have is of John Piper mentioning how he still wears his 30 year old suits. (Or however old they are/were.) He lives frugality for the Kingdom. That is a virtue that can use much more consistent modeling in our image-centric, consumerist society.

    Is there anything wrong with a new car? Not in principle, but as Calvin says, it’s a matter of the heart:

    “[Christian liberty] is, therefore, perversely interpreted by those who use it as a cloak for their lusts, that they may licentiously abuse the good gifts of God, or who think there is no liberty unless it is used in the presence of men, and, accordingly, in using it pay no regard to their weak brethren. Under this head, the sins of the present age are more numerous. For there is scarcely any one whose means allow him to live sumptuously, who does not delight in feasting, and dress, and the luxurious grandeur of his house, who wishes not to surpass his neighbor in every kind of delicacy, and does not plume himself amazingly on his splendor. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices.” (Institutes, III.19.9)

  4. (Tongue in Cheek) What would Jesus do? (/Tongue in Cheek)

  5. Keep the car…A car is better with no payments. Your car has character. I’m hoping to drive my six year old car many more years until it dies (hopefully, it’s not on the side of the highway). Don’t worry about the image it conveys there’s no judgmentalism in today’s church;)

  6. Drive it until the wheels fall off, I say!

    My wife and I, about a year ago, were forced to give up her Cavalier. I was prepared to drive it yet, there was still some good life in it.

    But she didn’t want to be stranded somewhere with a dead car and a newborn, and I can understand that. I don’t particularly want my wife and son to be stranded somewhere.

    But if you’re paying less a month to keep it on the road than you would with a car payment, and it’s still reliable, keep going!

    Those that would choose to have you speak or not speak, or judge your message from your transportation probably aren’t listening close enough anyway, right?

    wingnut

  7. Matthaeus Flexibilis: My mother says that us Ph.D’s aren’t gifted with common sense. If I had a nickel for everytime my parents told me that “you can’t learn everything in a book.” Of course, that was before I started writing…

    Jonathan: enough with the designated pagan story. I am not going to share that here.

    Justin: I’ve thought of keeping it until it’s an antique (isn’t that only 25 years?) and then letting my oldest son drive it, but then I shudder to send him out into the scary world of cell phone drivers in a car without a backseat. It’s also not the best on Michigan snow.

    My wife asked me when I planned to get rid of it, and I reminded her that I’ve had the car longer than I’ve had her, so she might not want to make me choose between them.

  8. Way to go Mike! Here in Europe civics are almost considered a luxury car! 🙂
    At least my Honda doesn’t have to deal with salt, snow or quite as many SUVs.
    However there are crazy Italian drivers.
    But Hondas seem uniquely created to avoid them!
    Thanks for making me feel good about my stewardship choice!
    Jon

  9. @ Bill N. WWJD? Jesus would either walk or ride a donkey.

  10. I remember tagging along to buy the CRX with you and thinking how cool it was next to the Tatum’s old car. I also remember how you made the CRX the subject of your Sunday school lesson the next day.

    You should sell it to one of those young kids and buy a reliable used sedan with a solid safety rating. You had a good run, but it’s a different world than it was in 1993. The CRX won’t look like such a bargain after you’re t-boned by an overpowered SUV, driven by a teenager whose father wanted her to have it because it would be “safer.”

  11. I’ve ridden in the Honda, and didn’t think twice about it being embarrassing or anything. It’s just an average car. Keep it. I got rid of my baby because of some minor problems (they couldn’t fix the brakes because there was too much gas leaking everywhere) and I regret it at least once a week.

  12. Keep driving the Honda. More foreign rust buckets with loud exhausts on the road should actually help Detroit.

  13. Brian McLaughlin January 8, 2009 — 12:04 pm

    I agree…keep the Honda. Who cares what people think about the car you drive to an appointment…but I agree that if anything it communicates that you are budget conscious (but perhaps completely unAmerican!).

    Does it have FM radio and a tape deck?

  14. Brian: It’s got both, plus AM too! Though my son nearly busted my antenna several years ago because he thought it was cool to pull it back and forth. So now I only pick up stations that I’m driving past.

  15. I feel the need to be contrarian. Sell it and buy a great big truck – once you’ve owned one, you’ll never want to be without it again. But it doesn’t have to be new, since you can get great deals on older trucks.

  16. But aren’t truck owners always the first ones called when people move? Right now I don’t even have a back seat, which means that I’m not even called to carpool.

  17. Matthaeus Flexibilis January 8, 2009 — 5:58 pm

    Keven replied to Bill N.’s WWJD?: “Jesus would either walk or ride a donkey.”

    And he wouldn’t own the donkey! But cf. http://whatwouldjesusdrive.org and http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/bminiter/?id=110002680

    Re carpooling: you may have some extra incentive to do so soon — tolls on previously free roads. See these posts:

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/why-youll-love-paying-for-roads-that-used-to-be-free-a-guest-post/

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/why-youll-love-paying-for-roads-that-used-to-be-free-part-two/

  18. Hello Mike, remember me? RBC 1990-1994. (How could you forget me !!!! ) Found your blog a while ago and almost wet myself reading this blog entry. This is the humor I remember of Mike Wittmer during my college days. Funny blog entry and good job in others giving a defense against the emergent movement (albeit from the weak Western Reformed perspective – ahah ahah). Hope to hear from You !!! Richard

  19. OOps Mike – GRBS 97-99 – could not find how to edit my previous post. Somehow in my mind I remember you from RBC. I must be getting old.

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