Monday, January 09, 2006


Catching up again -- this is from the week before Christmas...

It's the punchline to a crude, offensive joke, but for some odd reason that word has become a part of the family lexicon. And so years ago when Ford introduced a car called the Focus, my Fordophile family said I would have to get one someday. I even joked about making a "Bofus?" bumper sticker to put below the nameplate.

The last time I bought a car, it was a new 1993 Probe GT. I was fresh out of college and needed reliable transportation for the long commute to my first programming job (80 miles round-trip on the suburban tollways). The car was a blast to drive. It had foot-wide tires and cornered like it was on rails. Then I moved to the city and didn't need a car anymore. After a few months of making payments on a car I never drove (I left it at my parents' house), I dumped it through a broker who was a truly despicable human being. It was an inglorious end to my years as an auto enthusiast. Since then, my attitude toward cars has changed. I still enjoy driving, but I view cars in a more utilitarian role now.

I always saw my wife's 1996 Plymouth Neon (which predated our relationship) as just that -- basic transportation. It gets you from A to B at a reasonable cost, and that's all that matters. Even when I was making big bucks (the years leading to Y2K were lucrative for computer consultants), I never had the urge to buy an expensive car. So as the Neon's repair bills piled up, I set my sights on something practical, something well-rated but inexpensive. Good fuel mileage would be a plus, and ideally I could transport my bike inside without dismantling it. With special year-end, no-haggle pricing near dealer cost, the Ford Focus hatchback moved to the top of my list. Even Consumer Reports, notorious for favoring Japanese reliability, picked the Focus as the best in its class. When I went to Ford's web site, I was amazed that I could search Ford dealer inventory online and even view a mock price sticker so I could see every option and feature.

I thought we should pick out the car together since my wife will be the primary driver. That was a recipe for disaster. My wife knows as much about cars as I know about horses, maybe even less than I know about horses. I thought it was odd that my wife had bought the Neon at age 28 with her dad (it never occurred to me to ask my dad to come with when I bought my Probe GT at age 22), but now I understand why. It really amazes me -- how many women actually need a man to buy a car, be it a husband, father or friend? I thought it was a sexist stereotype to make jokes about women buying cars based on the paint color, but for some the truth is not far off.

To make a long story short, we bought a silver 5-door Focus SES. It has automatic transaxle, A/C, power everything, tilt wheel, 16" wheels, AM/FM CD player, remote keyless entry, etc. That's more than we really needed, but I guess it's okay. My wife wanted the 5-door instead of the 3-door, which cost us an extra $1000. The only option we didn't get was anti-lock brakes. For some reason my wife didn't seem to want them (of course, if either of us ever gets into an accident because the car couldn't stop quickly enough, it will be all her fault).

The purchase process was much faster and simpler than when I helped my grandmother-in-law buy a car a few years ago (that "can't buy a car without a man" thing runs in the family!). We filled out a loan application although we planned to finance through a credit union. We put a $500 down payment on a credit card and they told us we could take the car. That seemed weird to us to take the car without paying or financing, so we planned to pick it up a few days later instead. By then we had secured financing through my credit union (by the way, my wife's credit union never even returned our phone call). Although Ford Credit was offering 2.9%, it was cheaper to finance it separately and take the "cash back" option. We got 5.14% for three years. At times like this it's nice to have good credit!

So far, so good. The water pump doesn't leak. The gauges always work. And I'll bet that when it gets warmer the A/C will work too. It's amazing what we've learned to put up with driving an older car.

UPDATE - 01/12/2006 - My friend Chris pointed out that Co-Motion, makers of my favorite bicycle, used to make a tandem called the Bofus! I wonder how many Bofus owners didn't even know the joke. That reminds me, I am no longer officially a bike geek -- you know you're a bike geek when your bike is worth more than your car. For the three years that I had both, my Americano was worth much more than the Neon (my biggest accident fear in that car was that I might get rear-ended with the bike on the rack!).