Sometimes a Car Crash Is Just What You Need

That bad thing from yesterday may be a great thing today

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I like to think of myself as a good negotiator. Or, at least a decent one. But my track record with buying cars hasn’t supported this view. Essentially, I’ve managed to overpay for cars that have crapped out in expensive ways within months of the purchase, only to then find myself making even worse decisions in the wake of said crapping out. So, say hello to Master Car-Owner Sean.

I had a lease on a new car that came to an end in the summer of 2015. I had the option to finance that car for a decent price. Ultimately, I couldn’t afford the $300/month payment. So I decided to pick up a ten-year-old used car. Blue book value of this used car was around $4,500. I, in all my negotiation savvy, financed it for $8,000. Go me.

Five months later, a $2,000 piece of the drive-train started to fail and needed to be replaced. I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle, traded in this lemon, and financed a newer vehicle. The dealership offered me $3,500 trade-in value for my ten-year-old lemon leaving me at whopping $4,500 loss from my original $8,000 loan. Add to that the $16,000 in debt I racked up buying that newer vehicle (valued at $13,500) and that puts my total loss at $7,000. I became the proud owner of a $13,500 car, a $20,500 debt, and a looming sense of “holy crap, what have I gotten myself into.” As you can see, I was on a roll!

Jump forward eight months. Like some form of cosmic humor, this newer car had a similar piece of its drive-train begin to fail, which was also thousands of dollars to replace. Boy did I make great decisions.

And then… it happened. Making a left turn on a four lane semi-major road, I hopped into the center-left-turn lane. Likely pondering why the colloquial term for this type of lane is the “suicide-lane,” another driver, heading the opposite direction as me, got in the same lane at the same time. We crashed head on. With ringing in my ears, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and utter disbelief flooding my psyche, I scrambled out of the car to inspect the scene. The other driver was fine. His car was pretty busted up. As the adrenaline faded, the pain in my shoulder and knee crept into my consciousness. But, the best part… that newer car that I ultimately paid $7000 extra for was now completely and utterly totaled. And I mean, wrecked.

When I thought for sure God was having fun at my expense, things took an interesting turn. My auto insurance company covered the value of the car, paying off around $13,500 of my debt. The gap insurance, which I had been talked into purchasing at the dealership, paid off the rest of my auto loan (maybe those car pushing jerks aren’t so awful after all). All that being said, I was left with a clean slate. Like none of it ever happened. The financial burden of all my negotiating cock-ups was lifted. The pit in my stomach from knowing that I’d been taken advantage of during the purchases of two vehicles within a year was gone (or replaced with some shoulder soreness from my seatbelt doing its job). I walked away with a newfound respect for crunch-zones in modern vehicles, an appreciation for gap insurance (always get the gap insurance), and a first-hand anecdote as to why they call it a “suicide-lane.” Go me.


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