I know, I know — whose car gets stolen? Does that really happen? Or is that just the type of thing you read about in police blotters and crime-fiction paperbacks?
Yesterday morning, Will went about his normal routine: he got dressed, packed a lunch, grabbed his car keys and headed out the door for work. Ten minutes later, he came back inside.
“Hey Paula,” he said, “I think my car got stolen.”
I stared at him, confused.
“Maybe you just misplaced it?” I replied.
He stared back with a look that said: Are you nuts?
“Well, its definitely not out there,” he said. “I’ve walked up and down the block twice. It’s not here.”
We live in the city, where real estate is at a premium and only very expensive homes have garages. Street parking normally isn’t an issue. Use common sense, don’t leave expensive things in your car, and, um, try not to get kidnapped.
But now that story has changed.
“Did you leave anything valuable inside it?” I asked.
Notice that I didn’t ask about the car itself, as though I wasn’t at all concerned about retrieving it. Will drives a 1997 Honda Accord with 275,000 miles on it. Its Blue Book value is $1,030 as a trade-in, or $1,840 if we sold it on Craigslist. And one of the benefits of driving a car that’s worth less than $2,000 is that you’re not upset when it’s stolen.
In fact, my first thought was, “Oh man, I wanted to take a picture of the odometer!” I had planned to write a blog post triumphantly announcing that the car crossed over the 275,000-mile mark, a fact that filled me with frugal pride. I’ve been drafting this post in my head for weeks, trying to figure out whether such an announcement is worthy of 500 words, or if its better stated as a Facebook update. (Yes, this is what I think about in my spare time.)
But that’s a moot point now. The car’s gone. No odometer photo possible. Sorry, readers.
My second thought was: “Why Will’s car?” Beyond a doubt, Will owned the oldest, ugliest car on the block. Our neighbors don’t exactly park Aston Martins on the street, but there’s a strong showing of five-year-old Priuses, sporty-looking Mazdas and midrange, new-ish Nissans and Subarus. In contrast, Will drove the eyesore of the block (with my own car trailing behind as a close second). Why his?
Then it stuck me: His car got targeted because it’s so old. He doesn’t have fancy-pants keyless entry. He doesn’t have a security alarm. I’m not exactly a car-theft expert, never having attempted to pilfer one of my own, but I’m pretty sure a mid-1990’s Accord is fairly easy to steal.
Two sides to every coin, right? You care less about an $1,800 car … but its lack-of-features is precisely what puts it at risk. Count that towards the total cost of ownership.
That led me to my third thought: “What kind of neighborhood do we live in?” We border a gentrifying street, the kind dotted with vacant buildings and “payday loan” establishments that are slowly morphing into luxury condominium complexes and Whole Foods markets. It’s a great location from a rising-home-value perspective. It’s a little less great from a keeping-your-car perspective.
At least our neighborhood is highly walkable. We rely on our legs now.
That’s fine with us. We can walk to two grocery stores, one farmer’s market, several gyms and at least 20 restaurants and bars, all within less than a mile. I work from home and Will can ride the train to the office. So we’re not sweating it. We can easily be a one-car couple.
Obviously insurance won’t cover the cost of a replacement, because we’re both firm believers in only purchasing insurance to cover things that would financially ruin you. My health has a $6,500 deductible. My house has a $5,000 deductible. And instead of paying excessive monthly premiums, we shovel the difference into a savings account.
The result? We can pay cash for the next car we buy. (Which, by the way, is the only circumstance under which I’d buy a car.) But we’re not in any hurry to get one. We don’t need it.
The City of Atlanta police reassured us that they’ve got a pretty good track record of recovering stolen cars. “Usually it’s just kids going on a joyride,” the officer who took the report told us. “They’ll abandon the car once it’s out of gas.”
“Darn,” Will replied. “It had a full tank.”