What Car to Buy Now

An island friend has been telling me for several years that she is about to buy a new car. Meanwhile, she is driving the old sedan passed down from her father. She tried to sell it at a yard sale several years ago, but, since it did not sell, she has gotten several more years of good use from it, as she has tried to make up her mind about what new car to buy. Why can’t she decide what make and model to buy?

The thing is, the old sedan has a lot of things going for it. Many new car models do not stack up to it as well as one might think … especially in light of the special circumstances that exist on an island. For one thing, salt and high humidity are tough on an automobile. There is something nice about having a car that is so old that there is no concern about watching it deteriorate. It’s not a big investment or a status symbol.

What car to buy nowOn an island such as Anna Maria Island, many people live without having to travel far. Although it is a popular destination with tourists, the island has not given up all the resident-oriented businesses that make it possible to get just about anything one needs without crossing the bridge to the ‘city’. The streets are two-lane and the speed limits are low. It doesn’t make much difference what one drives around here, unless one wants to participate in a parade. Other than that, any old sedan will do.

Old cars seem to fit into the island life style without implying that the driver is poor. The driver might just be practical, and might even have much finer vehicles at multiple dwellings on the mainland, or “up north”, while keeping a utilitarian vehicle for the beach or seasonal visits.

Especially on those islands without bridges, people are motivated to keep an old car running rather than pay high prices for a new vehicle. I’ll always remember the “rent a wreck” approach to car rentals, which impressed me when I visited the Hawaiian Islands. Sometimes there are advantages to not looking like a wealthy tourist. Driving an old car there implied the status of being a local, which often out-shadowed any status symbol money could buy.

Despite the fact that almost any car will get the job done on an island as small as Anna Maria, there are some vehicles that make getting around such an intimate, picturesque place a lot more fun. There is something about a shiny Mini Cooper that seems to fit the scale and spirit of Anna Maria Island very well. Occasionally one sees tiny Smart Cars, and even golf carts, on the streets. These offer very festive ways to drive several blocks to the beach, the store, cafe or island restaurant. The Volkswagen Beetle, original or new, is another car that fits well here.

Still considering the fun factor, any kind of convertible makes cruising along the island feel like the ultimate holiday. Unless it is love-bug season or the top won’t close in a summer thunderstorm.

Years ago, an environmental activist friend of mine, who was visiting from Alaska, exclaimed with utter despair that she could not imagine why anyone would need an SUV on this small, flat, paved island. She had a good point, given that she was visiting in February. But, for those who live on Anna Maria Island year round, SUVs have a lot of advantages when hurricanes threaten. With higher ground clearance and lots of cargo space, even a compact SUV or a crossover vehicle makes it safer to drive on rain-flooded streets, and easier to carry a lot of special belongings out of harms way.

Smart Car, or Honda CR-V? Mercedes convertible or Hyundai Tucson? Hybrid or diesel? There are so many things to consider and tough compromises to make. All of which go to explain why my friend is still driving her old Ford Taurus.

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