Car shopping is an evolutionary sort of thing

I am going to say upfront that I really despise vehicle shopping. But I find myself in the position of doing just that. Although I shopped for vehicles before I was married, this is the first time I’ve had to shop for a vehicle since Jim died six years ago.

Fortunately, I have established relationships with a couple of car dealers in the area. Jim and I tend to be loyal customers. And I have family more than willing to help me with the process too.

It’s my van’s fault that I have to shop. It’s 10 years old with parts that are wearing out. I have Jim’s pickup truck that is 9 years old with very low mileage, but it has become obvious to me very quickly that it will not work for me when I have dog events.

One would think I would have attachment issues over the pickup truck, but it is kind of odd — it doesn’t really feel like Jim’s truck and it doesn’t feel like mine either. He bought it new in 2008 and died at the end of 2010, so he didn’t use it that much. I haven’t used it enough to feel ownership either.

It lives in my garage and I am accustomed to it being there. And I’m sure that when it comes down to saying goodbye, I will feel some sadness. It was Jim’s “perfect truck.”

Jim’s “perfect truck.”

But it has never really “fit” me. It is a little tall so it’s harder for me to get into it. It’s hard on my knees to crawl in the truck bed and get things that push forward. It’s not as safe a situation for transporting my four Brittany dogs because they have to ride unconfined in the cab.

I always feel relieved when I go back to driving my van, where I can fit in crates for the dogs, have side doors and a back hatch that make things easily accessible, and I don’t struggle to get into it.

So with the idea of trading in or selling outright both vehicles — the one that’s wearing out and the one that doesn’t fit me — in favor of purchasing one that will serve all of my needs, I have begun my hunt. My criteria is more in line with the features I liked most about my van, so different from my criteria as a younger person purchasing vehicles.

My crunched Chevy Malibou, Buick LeSabre, and Toyota Tercel minus its back bumper.

My first vehicle was a 1977 powder blue Chevy Malibou I named Winchester. I had my first job and my first car and I think about it as my new adult phase. It was a sweet deal and I loved that car, but a late night after working second shift, black ice and a utility pole ended its usefulness and nearly drove the engine into my lap.

I had a black Buick for a short time that didn’t work for me either, and then bought a brand new, burnt orange Toyota Tercel. It was not my color of choice, but it was available and the right price. It was a great little vehicle that helped me finish college. When I traded it in, the bumper was in the back seat. Someone welded it back together, resold it and I saw it on Bangor streets for several years after I had traded it in. That was my practical and utilitarian phase.

I went through a more sporty phase after that with a brand new blue Ford Probe. That car could go, and I loved the pop up headlights and sleek lines. But as it began to wear out and I began to get a little older and had more trouble getting out of the low-slung vehicle, I eventually traded it for a used dark green Buick LeSabre that Jim helped me find.

I was looking for safety and comfort in this phase of my life and it didn’t disappoint. I still miss that car. It was such a smooth ride and very dependable, but as my dog family began to grow and I became more involved in dog sports, it no longer served my needs.

I traded it back to the dealer from whom I purchased it to get my 2007 Chevy Uplander van, which was a year old when I bought it. That van has been a workhorse and perfect for dogs and dog events, and I think I’ve lived in it pretty much since Jim died as I was on the road most weekends during my escaping life phase. It has more than 188,000 miles on it.

Removing the back row of seats in my van allowed ample space for dog crates.

Jim bought his truck brand new the same year I bought my used van, and thus we had the two vehicles. Then when Jim died, they were both mine.

And now I find myself back in the used vehicle lots and online, trying to figure out what the next generation will be to occupy vehicle space in my garage. I want something that combines the best features of my two vehicles. I need AWD or four-wheel drive, ability to flatten or store seats or take them out to accommodate dog crates, ease of operation and getting in and out of it, and newer than what I have.

It also needs to leave me with a small or no loan after the trade-in or sale of my other vehicles, as I cannot afford a big vehicle payment, thanks to my Brittany dog Thistle who needs lots of medical care.

And I’m thinking I won’t mind having just one vehicle to register, insure and maintain. But first, I have to get through this shopping phase.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.