We knew that once Winnie earned her driver’s license we would be getting a second car for her use. When Winnie received her learners permit in June 2006 we started shopping around at local dealerships. We knew we wanted an small and inexpensive car. Winnie saw several small cars she really liked including the VW New Beetle, Nissan Versa, and the Porsche Boxster. We quickly dropped the idea of a Porsche, but the VW was still high on her list. Besides visiting dealerships, Winnie learned about E-Bay Motors and all the good deals there. She would spend several hours at a time searching the E-Bay listings, asking me questions, sometimes even e-mailing the dealerships for more info.
She earned her driver’s license just before we moved north, so decided to wait on a second car until after our move.
We didn’t get back to car shopping until the summer of 2007. I was using the commuter bus system to get to work and Winnie was comfortable driving the Rodeo to her job, so a second car really wasn’t important. I did need some transportation to and from the bus stop, and occasionally had to drive to work instead of using the bus. So once again we hit some of the local dealerships and Winnie went back on line with E-Bay Motors.
We decided we did not want to take out another loan; we had finally paid off all the loans and credit card debts racked up since before my divorce. Paying cash defined our options to an economical used car that I could use for commuting, but still Winnie’s choice. After more searching, Winnie decided we really wanted a VW New Beetle.
I had recently learned about Craig’s List, something that didn’t exist down in Mississippi. I started looking through their car sales and found several New Beetles that looked promising and were in our price range. Once Winnie was sure that was what we wanted, I started making calls.
The car we ended up buying was actually the first I looked at. It was a 2000 New Beetle, silver-gray with a five speed manual transmission. All the cars we were looking at in our price range were sticks, so I decided to deal with it. I convinced Winnie she could, and should, learn to drive a stick, and finally she reluctantly agreed to at least try.
I contacted the seller via e-mail and arranged to meet her after work a distance away from where I worked, but also on the metro line. We met after work one evening and I drove the car around quite a while. I actually drove it longer than expected because we got lost trying to find the metro stop again, but that worked out okay also. It turned out the seller had purchased the car for her sister, but then her sister refused to learn to drive stick. This seller only held the car for about six weeks.
I checked out another car but was not impressed. Several days after my first test drive, I contacted the seller and made arrangements to buy the car. We haggled a bit but she held fast to her asking price and I let it go, much to Winnie’s disgust. She was sure she could have haggled off several hundred dollars, and in truth she probably could have. But the car was already priced below blue book, so I was satisfied with the deal.
Winnie and I met the seller on a Saturday morning at a local Metro stop. The seller was in her other car, so she drove us back to her house where the VW was parked. We made the transaction, and since the DMV was still open the seller accompanied us there to handle the paperwork.
The paperwork ended up not being a problem, but we were the very last DMV customers served that day. I put the new plates on and turned over the old ones to our seller. We said our farewells and parted ways. I drove Winnie back to the Metro stop and our Rodeo and brought our new car home. By the time I had returned home the front plastic license plate holder, complete with brand-new license plate, had already fallen off.
During the next few weeks I did work with Winnie teaching her to use a stick. It wasn’t nearly as bad as teaching her to drive outright, but still a teaching experience. She started to get the hang of shifting after a while then winter set in and lessons ended. Later on that spring we resumed lessons and Winnie did get the hang of stick-shift driving. After a few minor glitches (the first time she drove by herself she realized she didn’t know how to put the car into reverse, and ended up driving across her friends lawn to get home) she used the VW for commuting and really enjoyed driving it.
This car has proved to be a very comfortable vehicle, economical and surprisingly enough with a lot of interior space. It has a few nice touches that give it class, such as the cute flower vase filled with silk sunflowers Winnie picked out.
Updated: January 21, 2014
This car became Winnie’s commuting car once it became obvious that, despite the excellent fuel mileage, a New Beetle was not practical for northern Virginia commuting. Northern Virginia commuting traffic was rated the worse in the United States at the time we moved there, and the only thing that made commuting survivable for me was the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which require a minimum three people in the vehicle. To accommodate this, northern Virginia created slugging. I found that a two-door car with limited back seat space wasn’t really all that practical for carrying two adult passengers, so Winnie took the VW for her ten mile round-trip commute and I used the Rodeo. This worked well for the next year.
The biggest drawback with the VW was the cost of repairs. Shortly after we purchased it I had to rebuild the brakes, a $700+ repair job. Several months later the water pump started leaking, so I took the VW to a local dealer repair shop. It turned out that in order to replace the pump the entire front of the engine had to be disassembled and as a matter of routine the timing belt was also replaced. This repair set us back $1200. The dealer had to repeat the estimate to me three times because I just couldn’t believe I heard his correct.
About a year later we had a dashboard warning light go off, the cause of which turned out to be the driver side airbag sensor. This is the device that triggers the air bag to inflate, considered a safety device and required for passing a safety inspection. Our annual safety inspection was imminent, so we had to replace the sensor. This required taking apart the driver’s seat and set us back another $700+ dollars.
By now Winnie wasn’t happy with the cost of repairs, slightly more upset than I was, so we decided it was time to trade the VW in for a new car. Back in Mississippi, Winnie had looked at several Nissan’s and really liked them. So we started looking around the Internet for a new vehicle and decided on a Nissan Versa. It was late September, traditionally the time of year I go car shopping to catch the end of year model close-outs.
We set a date for car shopping at our local Nissan dealership for a Saturday, and the day prior Winnie was off work. She spent the entire day cleaning and polishing the car so we might get a better trade-in value. The next day we drove the VW to the Nissan dealer, and Winnie did find her dream car, a red 2009 Nissan Versa. After some haggling we received a trade-in offer that Winnie could live with and we closed the new car deal. As is the norm on a trade-in, we weren’t allowed to drive the VW home after the trade-in, which was a bit of a shock for Winnie. We drove the new Versa home the next day.
As much as Winnie loved her new Versa, for several weeks after the trade-in she complained bitterly about having to sell the VW. Even now, several years after we traded this car in, she still talks about the car. We still talk about someday purchasing another New Beetle, particularity a convertible model. It is very possible there is another New Beetle in our future.
Driving that little car, with it’s big personality, was just too much fun.