Posted by: Jamie Stamm | April 19, 2008


As I was filling up my Dodge Caravan this afternoon with the most expensive gas I have ever bought ($3.51 a gallon – it cost nearly $55 to fill my tank), I began to reminisce about the cars I’ve had that have gotten better gas mileage – which would be all of them.

My very first car was a 1988 Ford Mustang. My parents surprised me with it during Easter break of my junior year of college, and I instantly fell in love with my bright blue baby. I outfitted it with a UNC sticker on one side of the bumper and a hot pink Grateful Dead dancing bear on the other (hey, I was in college), popped a Velocity Girl tape in the cassette drive and cruised around Chapel Hill like I owned the place. That summer, as I worked an internship at The Jefferson Post in western North Carolina, I had to gently encourage my Mustang up some of those mountainous country roads, but she never let me down, even enduring the many trips I made back to Chapel Hill to visit friends who had stayed at college for the summer.

It wasn’t long after I started my senior year at UNC that my Mustang lost its original engine – on a morning drive to take my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Jerry, to work – but my Dad found a rebuilt engine, and I kept driving the ‘Stang through the remainder of college and my first year of work at The Herald. When the radiator went just before Labor Day in 1998, though, I decided to take advantage of the holiday sales and buy my first new car.

I opted for a navy blue 1998 Ford Escort because my Pop-Pop swore by Fords – and because an Escort was about all I could afford on a reporter’s salary. I was proud of that car because it was the first vehicle that I bought with my own money, but I can’t say that I loved it. It wasn’t the best ride (neither was my Mustang but you would expect that because it was used), but it got me where I needed to go.

Just 75,000 miles into our relationship, on the night that I was supposed to leave for Winston-Salem for Christmas vacation, I totaled my Escort on the way home from work. I wasn’t hurt, but my car … well, it was pretty smashed up and the air bag had deployed, making the cost to fix it more expensive than the Blue Book value. So it was back to the car lots.

The first car I test drove was a burgundy Honda Civic, and I knew it was the car I was going to buy. I gamely went to other dealerships with Jerry and my dad, but I couldn’t forget how smoothly that Civic had driven. Two hours later, we were back at Honda and I was signing a loan for a car that was at the top of my price range.

But I had to have it.

I honestly can’t say a bad word about my Civic. It got great gas mileage, and it had no maintenance issues. I would have kept it until I ran it into the ground.

But then my husband’s car died.

And by that point, we had two kids. The back seat of the Civic was all but full with two car seats, so when we traveled, no one could come with us. (There was one very uncomfortable trip to Winston-Salem with all four of us and my sister when I wedged myself sideways between the car seats. Cera was concerned that I wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but I swear I was in there so tight, I wasn’t going anywhere.)

We had outgrown a compact car, and try as I might to convince Jerry that he could drive the van and I could keep the Civic, I knew that wasn’t at all practical. I’m the one who takes the kids to school every day. I was the one who should have the van.

And though it gets TERRIBLE gas mileage (22 miles to the gallon, according to its electronic display), I do love my van. It’s easy to get in and out of, and once my kids are in elementary school, we’ll be able to take their friends places with us. It’s great for tailgating and traveling, and it’s Carolina blue.

So I will live with my van for now. But in 16 years, when my kids are in college, I’m getting a Civic Hybrid (or whatever crazy option they have by then).

That is, if I have any savings left. They might all be blown on my next tank of gas.

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