27 June 2006

Car finally retired

Wikipedia file photo of a Ford Contour

For months I've been talking of retiring my aging, unreliable Ford Contour, which I had bought new in 1999. My recent plans were to let the registration and insurance run out late this year, and get every bit of last use out of the car until then; those plans were cut short this week, as I spend time in the desert on a work assignment.

The air conditioning compressor failed along with the fan; the fan only had a blown fuse, but the compressor was completely destroyed, requiring yet another costly repair worth more than the car itself. The decision was made to return the car to my home, then arrange for disposal - at only 7 years and 128,000 miles. As it turned out, the car never made it home, stalling just a few miles short due to a bad alternator and discharged battery. I am blaming my mechanic's improper fan belt replacement.

As of now, a repair shop has volunteered to take it, try to repair it, and sell it in a working-class neighborhood. I will have to meet with them to transfer the ownership.

So shortly after I turn 30 (and lose all my grandparents), I now part ways with my first car. It was my partner in my 6,000-mile Western US road trip in 2000. But I won't miss it a bit. It's been a nightmare to maintain and repair, the support from Ford has been pathetic, and owner groups were more likely to try to indoctrinate me into neocon politics than to try to help me. I've lost count of the times Camry and Accord drivers have told me "I told you so" regarding the troubles with my car.

The car had been in numerous accidents, including a major one; it had a way of being crashed into at a red light very often. But the real issue was Ford's outsourcing of its parts supply to the lowest bidder, often shady operations in Third World countries, to sell me a car at $16,000; this car, originally Ford of Europe's Mondeo, had been designed to be sold at $25,000+. While it makes sense in Europe, it doesn't make sense in the US, where there is no market for premium sporty compact Ford sedans. There will also be others who will blame Ford's rampant unionism for the cost and quality issues; but then, with greedy insurers and sky-high healthcare costs in the US, the only other option is slave labor. Of course, both Ford and UAW need to work together to come up with a more efficient, productive corporate culture rivalling those of Asian automakers at home (NOT in the US, where union-busting and low benefits are the rule).

Based on my experiences, and those of others, this car will most likely be the last Ford I'll ever own. In fact, I'm sick of domestic-branded vehicles, period; they are shoddily built, too big and cushy, or most likely both. Although I will live off of my other vehicle, a leased BMW 3-series, for now (and pay off the lease and transfer the ownership to me), it's too flashy for desert work duty. Company vehicles (in fact, another Ford - an Econoline) will fill in for now. But eventually, I'll need another inexpensive sedan, definitely an import. I spotted a brand-new Honda Accord hybrid today, and thought it would probably work very well for me.