The Fast And The Frivolous

Cars. America, and Americans, are obsessed with their cars. Cars represent freedom, or that’s the storyline we’ve created. This is seen in our movies, our pop-culture, our music, and permeates throughout virtually all aspect of our lives. Why? Cars are convenience first and foremost, but in a status-focused society such as ours they also serve as identity. I say – “Meh”. Actually, a big, giant MEH.

Muscle car

This is what we all wanted in the 70’s #Gets5GallonsToTheMile

From a guy in his mid-forties who grew up in the 70’s, you might be surprised by this. My generation was raised in the glory days of muscle cars and V-8’s. I spent more hours than I’d care to remember as a child playing with Matchbox cars, and the “Herbie the Love Bug” movies were probably my favorite silver-screen treats, as silly as they were. Cars dominated life, and in some ways still do.

You Are Not Your Car

The movies associated with the snarky title of this post have made countless zillions, and Americans apparently still love watching attractive people race and smash up hunks of metal with 4 tires.  NASCAR generates over 3 billion annually (yes, with a “b”) and is a quasi-religion for countless men in America.  

I won’t go into the negatives that 70 years of car-dominated culture have created, this Atlantic article does it better than I ever could. The deaths are what is most shocking to most, they’re like a slow-dripping blood-loss over time.  All told, since the inception of the car in America in 1899, 3,681,499 people have been killed in car crashes though 2015. And the number of annual deaths has gone up quickly in 2015 and 2016 after years of decline. Smartphones…… don’t get me started….

If I could give one piece of advice to a young’un starting out in life about how to become FI, it would be to buck the behavior of the typical American when it comes to cars. What is that behavior? You know it, it’s the opposite of sanity. My $4000 used vehicle gets me to the grocery store at the same speed as your Audi, probably gets better gas mileage, costs way less to operate overall, and keeps me just as dry as yours does when it’s raining. You have a stereo in your vehicle, my $4000 vehicle does too. Same for heat and air conditioning. But your vehicle, if you’re the typical American, costs about $34,000. Mine, to repeat, costs $4000. Say it with me “Math is EASY!!”. (editorial note: This is all before I became FI and bought a new one but more about that in another post…)  


So why would you pay $34k for functionality that you can get for $4K? It comes down to wants vs. needs, vanity, peer pressure, and our national obsession with cars-as-identity. It violates what the Happy Philosopher brilliantly calls the fork-utility-happiness rule.

ford aspire

1995 Ford Aspire – Try pickin’ up chicks in this… #ItLooksLikeAMatchboxCar #AreYouSerious?

2001 Ford Focus Wagon – Only marginally more chick-friendly. Ok, not really…
#WagonsAre4Losers #DentInMyFender #NothingSaysEligibleBatchelorBetterThanThis









Chick Magnets

In my journey I’ve owned a teal Ford Aspire (or as my friend Marc affectionately coined it – “ass-pirate”) and a teal Ford Escort Wagon.  I don’t really care for teal, they were just deals that were too good to pass up, presumably ‘cuz no one else wanted them. Each cost under $4000. After I got tons of miles and hassle-free years out of those two gems, I upgraded to a blue Ford Focus Wagon, for $5200.  Big bucks for me. That thing rocked. I put up with this kinda stuff a lot….

You do get used to this…..

But I didn’t care. As a lover of all outdoor sports, it hauled my bikes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards like a champ, with all associated gear. When I traded it in, I still got $2000 for it, after 6 years of hard use. During that time I had to fix one broken power window. Cost? $350 – less than what the average American dumps into a car payment EACH MONTH.

Sure, I put up with endless jokes from my buddies about my vehicle choices, as they drove their BMW’s, Mercedes, and even Porche’s. I’m FI, they’re not. They’re still my buddies and I love ’em, it’s just a different set of choices. I’ll be sure to drive my jalopy by their office in the middle of a workday when I’m early-retired and give them a honk. Yes, my horn works just as good as theirs does…..

14 Responses

  1. Brian Y says:

    Yes!!! I love the post and drive similar beaters. I just found your site through a comment you left on another site. I’ll check it out now.


    • Accidental Fire says:

      Thanks Brian! This is a pretty new blog as you can see but I’ve been following the FIRE community for years now. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment, and check back for new content if you liked it.

  2. Linda says:

    Laughed all the way through your post. It’s what we’ve been living for yrs. When all my work buddies were buying new rides right out of college, we were powering down on the mortgage and driving a 69 VW van. When I finally bought new car with cash ten yrs ago, I announced to my co workers that I had finally got my dream car. They all threw their best guesses around the office, but no one could have ever imagined I would willingly purchase a Toyota Corolla. “40 mpg…baby” no other explanation was needed cause most of them already were aware of my thrifty ways. Still have the Corolla, but sadly I miss my bus.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I bet that 69 VW van was sweet though, nothing scores “cool” points more than that. And that Corolla should last you forever. Just remember every mile you drive you’re buying your freedom!

  3. Nothing screams cool like the minivan though…ultimate in utility 😉

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I actually strongly considered getting one – the ones with the seats that can come completely out are awesome! Tons of room for outdoor gear and weekend camping trips. I still think my Ford Aspire was uglier though, I drove that thing with pride!

  4. Alright, I’ll admit I kinda love the movies. And by kinda I mean they’re most definitely a guilty pleasure. I don’t know what it is about attractive people smashing up big hunks of metal but wow does it make for an enjoyable use of an hour and a half of downtime occasionally!

    Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t care less about cars as status symbols in real life. I drive an ’06 Corolla and wow do I LOVE my car. Free (since it was a gift from my parents, who bought it new all those years ago), super reliable, drives great, I replaced the radio last year so I can stream music from my phone since I mostly only use it for long trips. The best part (besides the lack of car payment)? Even all these years later I’m averaging about 35-38 mpg.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Nice! A free Toyota Corolla is even better than buying a used beater-upper. That thing should probably give you another 10 years if you want to keep it. And with that mpg, every mile you drive you’re banking coin into your savings! I used to use a device that converted my phone bluetooth output to a radio signal, then I would just tune the car stereo to that channel for my tunes. It worked fine. My friends, again, thought I was nuts.

      And thanks very much for the re-tweet!

  5. keithskreations15 says:

    Cars and Trucks.

    I love cars and trucks.

    Actually have too many, but they are all paid for. Our newest vehicles are both 2004 models. Selena’s wagon is in better shape than my Ford F-250 “Ranch” truck. For some reason it’s right rear bed fender has taken a heck of a beating, but it still hauls what I need it to.

    Our oldest vehicle is a 1931 Model A Roadster Pickup that looks like it just was pulled from a barn. Runs great, although slowly. I have 4 project vehicles in the works and my Mom and Dad’s bought new, 1965 Chevy Impala Super Sport that was restored some years back.

    A few too many motorcycles add to the lot. Well, the Motor Trike did see 100+ miles today, hauling Selena and I around South Central Texas on December 1st.

    We’ve only bought 2 new cars in our 36 years of marriage and won’t ever do it again. Oh, I did buy a new motorcycle in 2009, but it’s been paid off for years. Once again, the last new vehicle purchase.

    Not everybody sees vehicles as just transportation, some of us like to have them for different reasons. Me, I was born in 1960, so I spent my second decade in the 70’s, loving all the ’60’s era pavement pounders. My high school car was a 1965 Mustang Hardtop with a 289 and a three speed. I’ve got a 1966 Mustang restoration project going and I need to get back to work on, as well as a couple of trucks.

    I totally agree that it doesn’t make sense to spend big bucks on a transportation device, especially if you have to borrow to do so and are struggling with other bills. For the longest we had only our two vehicles and one motorcycle. That was back when money was tight.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yes, I don’t want to come off as completely anti-car. If tinkering with cars and motorcycles is your hobby and what makes you happy, then yes, go for it! My hobbies aren’t cheap either, I have 6 bikes!

      Plus, I’m sure you’ve learned tons of mechanical skills by fixing engines and those are translatable skills to other parts of life. The main thrust of my post was to target the people who live life with a perpetual $400 a month car payment, mostly to go to the grocery store which is 2 miles away.

      Thanks for stopping by Keith!

      • keithskreations15 says:

        Totally don’t understand folks that constantly have to have a new vehicle. Really can’t understand folks who have to have a truck, but never haul anything in it or tow anything either. What really amazes me is the couples who both have car payments, on top of a mortgage.

        Let’s not get started about $3,500.00 sound systems, and expensive aftermarket wheels and tires. It’s not unusual to see older custom painted Lincolns and Caddilacs with 22 inche weels and rubber band tires, parked outside of Section 8 housing.

        TONS of money spent that could be put to better use elsewhere.

        I’m sure folks think that about the money I have tied up in my old car/truck/motorcycle collection.

        Hey, good stuff in your post, and I’ll be looking forward to reading more.

  6. We have a 10ish year old Buick Station Wagon and it still runs well… though I am day dreaming of some new toys like a Samsung Note 8 🙂 …. and Ford Edge Titanium … it is an SUV that handles like a car instead of a boat 🙂 … electric cars are catching on over here now …. CPO, From the Far Side of the Planet 🙂

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Station wagons are the bomb man! That blue Focus Wagon pictured in the post served me so well. On one trip, I had two bikes, kayak on top, inflatable standup paddleboard, and full camping gear all inside – no bike rack even needed! And it got around 30mpg to boot!

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