Monday, August 01, 2005

An ethical question

Bizarrely, we are about to buy a new car, in addition to undertaking the bathroom renovation project that has been planned for lo these many years. I currently own a 1990 Honda Civic, which is lovable and trusty and incredibly fuel-efficient, but doesn't have room for much more than me and Rocky the nine-pound shih tzu. And since it's 15 years old and we'd rather not drive it until it quits (which, given the Honda nature, could be another 100,000 miles or until the body falls to pieces, whichever comes first) and it wouldn't be very baby friendly (not that there is a baby prospect currently... I could very well have said "plywood" or "passenger" or "crates full of organic vegetables" instead of "baby") and I would luuuurve to have a vehicle that could play these new inventions - have you heard of them? - called CDs... well, we started doing some research. And what we found was totally surprising.

We thought we'd reached the point in life at which we could afford a late model used car (which, I have to admit, I only recently figured out that "late model" meant "kinda new-ish"). So I started investigating prices -- thank you, Edmunds and -- and models and features of fine used Toyotas and Hondas. At which point I nearly passed out: These cars are wicked expensive. (And to think I've only lived in New England for eight years.)

The conventional wisdom that driving a new car off the lot causes it to lose half its value is not so wise any more. So I could buy a $16,000 2003 (four door!) Civic with 40,000 miles on it and a warranty with only three or four years left on it, or I can spend $19,000 for a brand new one with zero miles and a six-year warranty. And from there, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to the $21,000 Civic hybrid, which satisfies any number of desires on my part: the desire to save money on gas; the desire to consume fewer petroleum products; the desire to prove to carmakers and that simpleton in the White House that there actually is consumer demand for these things; and, not to be underestimated, the desire to have a cool new gadget.

And so there you have it: I am going to buy a brand new Honda Civic hybrid, for which there is a two-week to two-month wait in these parts. (How we are financing this purchase is the subject of an entirely different post involving spare kidneys, panhandling pooches and a room for rent in the front of our house.) So I should be driving this fine vehicle sometimes this fall. Amazing.

And this brings me to the subject of this post: How to handle the sale of the beloved Lil' Blue (no relation to Baby Blue), which has served me faithfully since I bought it from a recent graduate of Babson College who lived around the corner from me in Allston, Mass. in 1998. It's worth squat as a trade-in, so we've decided to sell it ourselves. I have all the maintenance records, and have looked up the blue book value. But I'm pondering taking it to my trusty mechanic to give it a once-over, so I know what a prospective buyer might find when he/she takes it to get checked out before laying down some cash.

The problem, though, is that if I do that, so as to be prepared to bargain with said buyer, I lose any chance of plausible deniability. I would know exactly what's wrong with the car and, if asked, would have to 'fess up. So it seems that the best course of action is to do nothing... which feels a little bit like copping out. (edited to add that "would," the lack of which seems to have confused a few folks as to my intentions and/or general level of weaselyness.)

And so, my dear readers (all four of you), I am wondering what you would do. Please, entertain me with tales of used cars won and lost, of buyers scorned and hailed. Failing that? A little advice (or, as the Internets say, assvice) would be welcome.