When stars_and_magic and I split up in 2001, I found myself suddenly without a car and a credit rating that could be charitably classed as “dismal”. This being a state I could not long survive in Atlanta, I went shopping for transportation. I walked into Carmax with four thousand dollars, said “I need a car, and I want to finance it.”, looked at exactly one car, acquired a loan with a horrible interest rate but an affordable monthly payment, and drove it home.

That car was a 1998 Ford Taurus SE with 27k miles on it. It was a reasonably good size for me, drove comfortably, and gave me everything I needed at the time in a car.

Nine years and ninety thousand miles later, it was starting to show some wear. There was at least $1300 worth of suspension repair that needed to be done, the gas mileage (which was never all that impressive to begin with) was slipping, and there was an expensive feeling shimmy in the front brakes that I wasn’t looking forward to addressing. It also had an odd electrical problem that was never properly diagnosed and I’d just been living with for a long time.

Less important, but no less compelling (at least, if you’re me, which most days I am), the Taurus was missing a lot of amenities. Let’s face it, I’m a geek, and I love my gadgets. I was tired of the clunky cassette player interface for my iPod (and besides, the cassette player had just stopped working), and I wanted built in satnav and a CD player. I wouldn’t mind a hybrid, but I wasn’t sure I could afford one.

I decided this time to actually try and buy a car the way you’re “supposed to”. I called my finance company to have them run paperwork, fended off a rather persistent salesman from Ford who kept calling to ask when I might come in but wouldn’t actually tell me the thing I’d asked for, which is “How much does that Ford Fusion Hybrid cost?” (I eventually got the answer: too much. But it has a lot of cool features.)

The pre-approval came back on the loan, but irritatingly, they couldn’t give me figures on payments and APRs until I gave them a specific car’s VIN number. Honestly, the whole process was perplexing as hell, but at least now I had a round figure as to how much I could afford to finance.

Having had such a great experience with them last time, I went back to Carmax’s website to poke around. I love Carmax. The prices are right there, and they don’t dicker and haggle. You can see exactly what they have, and search nationwide by model, by feature-set, by price range…all without ever leaving your chair or having to talk to a salesman. Among the various cars I found was a low-mileage Honda Civic EX in Stockbridge, GA. that had all the features I wanted. The only concern I had was the size. I’m not a small person, and while the Civic isn’t as small as it once was, it’s still a relatively small vehicle. But I inquired about it, got a call back from a salesman, and set up an appointment to drive down Saturday and take a look at it.

we actually got there about an hour early, but the guy was available and we started the appraisal process on the Taurus and then went to take a look at the Civic and give it a test drive. Sadly, the fears were realized. Sitting in the front seat, the top of my head was just touching the ceiling, which is a fairly uncomfortable feeling, and made me feel pretty cramped. It drove fairly well for a little car, but I had reservations with how long I’d be happy with it. (It might have made a perfect car for Larissa, but that’s not who we were shopping for today.)

Rob's New Car!“No problem,” our fearless sales guy said. “Let me see what else we have here. Oh, hey, let me go check that out.” “That” turned out to be a 2007 Toyota Prius hatchback that had only just been moved up to the sales lot and wasn’t even on the website yet. (In fact, SalesGuy said it wasn’t there the night before when he came out to check over the Civic.) It had a few more miles on it than the slightly newer Honda, but it had every other feature I wanted, plus it was a Hybrid, plus it was slightly higher off the ground (which is a plus for me, as I don’t like climbing down into a hole when I get in my car…another annoyance with the Ford I’d grown a bit weary of).

We took it for a spin around the test drive route, and with every passing mile I was more and more committed. This was exactly what I was looking for.

So….I bought it.

Carmax had run financing numbers for me, and I had a great deal with a good APR and a reasonable monthly payment. On Monday, I’ll call the nice girl at Wells Fargo I’d been dealing with, tell her what I got from them, and let them fight for it if they want. If not, well, I’m happy with the numbers I got on it. And I got about what I expected from selling the Ford, and more than I’d feared given the laundry list of things that were wrong with it.

After doing a mountain of paperwork, we drove off with it, stopped at a nearby steakhouse for lunch, and then drove it home. I keep looking at it and thinking “Wow, that’s mine.” It’s an indescribably cool feeling.