Recently, I shared about how we paid off our car 14 months early.
The process of buying Red the Corolla was full of firsts: first time visiting a dealership, first time taking a test drive and first time negotiating with a salesman.
But Red the Corolla is not my first car.
That distinct honour goes to the Green Beast, a 14-year-old Subaru.
A heavy car, equipped with all-wheel drive and heated seats, the Green Beast drove like a dream, especially in the winter. Sitting behind the wheel, I felt like I could drive through anything.
I loved my first car most of the time.
The rest of the time was spent learning a lot of lessons about car ownership the hard way.
My first car: How I came to purchase a 14-year-old Subaru
Looking back, I still think I made the right choice with the Subaru.
I didn’t get my license until I was 19 years old but it wasn’t until I went to stay with my aunt in summer 2010 that I really learned how to drive.
All that learning happened behind the wheel of the Green Beast, so when the opportunity to purchase it came up in 2013, I jumped at it.
A $5K bank loan covered the $3K asking price, the transfer of ownership and left a little buffer room just in case. I had it inspected, paid for new plates and purchased my first ever insurance policy.
I thought I was set.
Yes. I was that naive.
The Gas Tank Dilemma
The first problem I encountered with my first car was a leak in the gas tank.
It didn’t come as a surprise. The hole at the top of the gas tank was disclosed when I bought the Subaru but I wasn’t overly concerned about it. It wasn’t significant and, as long as you stuck to filling the tank to three-quarters full instead of topping it off, it was fine.
And it was fine — until the day a co-worker noticed my car leaking gasoline in the office parking lot.
A trip to the garage later, I learned the hole had become much larger, no longer isolated to the top of the tank but rather running right across the centre.
Down to a quarter tank capacity, I knew it was only a matter of time until I would have to replace it.
This is when I learned something important about Subarus: repair work is not cheap.
Not only would a new gas tank run closer to a grand, but the labour associated with the repair was extensive. Thankfully, my grandfather tracked down a secondhand part with a significantly smaller price tag. A family friend did the work at a lower rate and, a few weeks later, the Green Beast was on the road again.
For a while, things were fine. A few months later, the car lost the ability to accelerate. Several trips to the garage later, I still did not have answers as to what happened and I had lost my willingness to keep looking for answers.
I traded the Green Beast to the Toyota dealership for a $1,500.00 downpayment on Red the Corolla. That $18K debt joined the $9K I racked up trying to keep my first car on the road.
Four lessons my first car taught me
Reflecting on my experience as a first-time car owner, there are four important things I learned from owning a 14-year-old Subaru.
- Do your research
Don’t just focus on the gas mileage and features — research the price of parts and repairs and common problems that happened as the car gets older. I don’t regret buying a Subaru as my first car, but I would have been less shocked by the cost associated with keeping it on the road if I did some research.
- Seek wise counsel
In the case of the gas tank, I should have had it assessed independently before I bought it. I don’t think that assessment would have changed anything, but it might have given me a better idea as to when it would be necessary to make the repair.
- Pay cash
Taking out the loan to pay for my first car was my biggest mistake. Now, $9K isn’t a huge amount of debt, but thinking about how much I have paid in interest makes me sick. If you can’t afford to pay for it with cash, you can’t afford it.
- Know your limit
Eventually, the cost of repairing an older car exceeds the value of the car. That’s when it’s time to move on. In the case of the Subaru, I feel I did well to recognize when the time came to let it go.
For all the challenges I faced, I learned a lot of important lessons from my first car. Yes, I made mistakes, but overall, the experience made me a better budgeter — and a better car owner.
(And funny story: someone still drives the Green Beast! I see it around the city sometimes and I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make me smile. I hope its new owners love it as much as I did!)
Have you ever owned an older car?