January 7, 2001

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Being part Scott I tend to be pretty tight on my money. Perhaps the most obvious symbol of that is the cars I own. Since my great knee injury my wife has been driving the car I drove for eight years and I have been driving the car she has had for nine years. As of this Christmas the minivan was 11 years old and the station wagon close to ten years.

There is something comforting about an old car that I really like. For one thing you know where every knob and button is in the car. You can do anything while you are driving in the dark because you know just where to reach. You know exactly what to do in any situation because you have become one with your car. Jedi Master Yoda would be proud of me. You seldom see an old car in the ditch in bad weather. It is always some new fancy SUV.

Unfortunately, economics eventually catches up to you. With each car we have had over 7 years of no car payments. I always look upon car payments as some kind of ransom for being allowed freedom of movement. I know the bank gave me a lot of money to buy these cars, but I know I paid an even larger amount back to them. I guess I just hate paying interest, but I know it is one of those unavoidable things like taxes and snow shoveling. It was with great sadness that we realized the list of repairs needed on the two cars had come to equal their net worth.

It has always been my rule of thumb that when the cost of repairs equals the value of the vehicle it is time to part ways. When our excellent mechanic informed me the head gasket on the minivan was leaking and about to blow I knew the end had come. If we fixed that then one was obliged to replace the rings, timing chain and all kinds of other stuff. On the other car, I knew we had reached the point of no return as well. It needed a new clutch, the air conditioner had died, and the electrical system had failed so the electric windows did not work. Finally, rust was starting to make its presence known.

So for the first time in over ten years we were in the car market. I can't believe how much things have changed. Now you can do so much research on the Internet. You can even buy a car directly on your computer. You never even have to talk to one of those greasy car salesmen, if you don't want to.

Actually, as far as the car my wife was driving I had decided last November to replace it for her. Her Christmas present was a new PT Cruiser. However, to have one built to order is a three to four month wait due to the popularity of the model. So she is still waiting.

For my car, I picked something as sexy as a roll of toilet paper. Practicality and the fact we have three kidlets dictated another minivan. With the help of the Internet and my Father pouring through the Minneapolis Star we located a heater and keys model. That is another quirk I have. I don't like buying fully loaded cars. Too many extra buttons and too many extra dollars come with those fancy cars.

After all, the most wasteful investment we make is buying a car. You drive off the lot and the darn thing looses thousands of dollars in value. We found that out during trade-in time. I had decided to trade in both vehicles when buying my new minivan. According to my research the two cars should be worth about $2000.00 each. The sales man offered me $300 for both! After sitting in the waiting room in shock for about 30 minutes, we got up off the floor and found another alternative.

I could have sold the cars through the Shopper, but I did not want to sell something that would only be passing on my problems to somebody in Ely. The solution was to come to me by the recollection of a radio ad I had heard on the way to Minneapolis. I could give the car away for free.

Courage Center in Golden Valley advertised on the radio that they would be accepting cars right up to New Years Eve. They have a program where people like me can donate a car to them and then claim the fair market value for the car on their taxes. After seeking the gap between the dealer's offer and what is recognized as the fair market value I could see the advantages of donation. If I can claim a $4000 donation on my taxes for the two cars I could net more than the dealer offered. For instance, if your state and federal tax rate is 40% you would save yourself $1600 in taxes on a $4000 donation.

Everyone wins in this situation. You don't have to go through the hassle of selling your car. You don't have to get cheated by the car dealer. Courage Center takes the car to the car auction and keeps the proceeds for helping thousands of people with disabilities. Their only requirement is that the car must be safe to drive. They also take boats, campers, snowmobiles and motorcycles.

It was a fast and simple process. We dropped off the cars and went inside for free coffee and doughnuts. We handed over the titles and filled out a simple one page form. After handing over the keys we were done. In about ten days they sent a letter stating what we had donated and included a copy of the book value of the car. With that you are all set to claim your tax donation.

In 1999, Courage Center took 1900 cars in their donation program. The proceeds help support the many programs they offer the disabled. One important program is their aquatic program in their therapeutic pool. The therapeutic pool is a normal size swimming pool that is kept at almost hot tub temperatures. People with strokes or other crippling diseases can exercise in a warm pool without worrying about cramping up. Another great program is the camps they run for children with many kinds of disabilities. If you are interested in donating a vehicle give them a call at 1-888-440-2277.

I miss my old cars. As a concession to my kidlets both new cars will have automatic transmissions instead of manual 4 speed transmissions. I still keep reaching for my stick shift. Yoda is not pleased with me. Another pain is that now that we have new cars we will have to try and maintain them better. That means washing them more than three times a year.

To me, cars are a necessary evil. They are not a fashion statement. They are not a reflection of my inner-self. I refuse to fall for Detroit's ad men and buy an overpriced vehicle that looses value. I prefer investments that increase in value and you seldom find that on four wheels. As my Scott forebears would say, "Ye won't get rich by buying those fancy SUVs, Laddie!" So true, so true!


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