Divorce and the New Wheels Dilemma

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Starting this week, I’m in hiding from Audi Financial Services. They’re coming after me, I know, because I’m on the lam with their property—their 2010 Audi A6 wagon to be precise. I was supposed to turn it in two months ago. I would never do this to Avis or Hertz, but this Audi and I have a relationship. It’s been three years. This Audi knew me when I was married. Since my husband and I have split, it has been one of the few constants my life with my kids.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in love (it's blue and not green, for one thing). I am just having a hard time letting go. Should I buy this car I’ve been driving around for three years, or should I do what my ex would do, what we always did through our 16 year marriage, turn it in and and lease a new one?

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In our relationship, I handled all the admin responsibilities and decisions—except for which wine we drank and which car we drove. I like drinking and, er, driving. But as far as cars go, I just wanted to put the kids in, load the gear and go. In fact, I’d rather change a tire in the driving rain, than shop for a new car. Having to crunch numbers and read blog posts by auto enthusiasts on comparative pickup, safety features and sound system options? Take that jack and just hit me over the head.

But starting now, I’m determined to deal like a mature adult with the question of the family car.

After all, this is my opportunity to shed the “luxury car” with the $840/month lease and find a car that I love. Unfortunately, that would be a MINI, which definitely wouldn’t work for two teenage boys whose legs are growing longer by the day and who object loudly when they feel “their space” is being compromised.

My first thought is simply to avoid choice and purchase the car that I’ve been leasing. Ashley, a saleswoman at Audi Financial tells me that I can buy my Audi for its residual value of $25,000, which is a “an unbelievable deal,” compared with buying the same car on the market for around $32,000. True, I don’t have to learn new electronic dashboard controls, or get to know a new voice on the navigation system. I don’t even have to remove the hockey skates, bungy cords, emergency water bottles and other detritus that has been living in the back. But I’ve already spent $30,000 on this Audi, not including the three new tires I’ve purchased over the years. Spending almost $60,000 in total then, doesn’t sound like an unbelievable deal for a car that retailed for $50,000. I could buy a mint condition vintage MINI cooper for that!

And what about the fact that after three years, cars start breaking down? Audis are pricey to repair. Audi offers a “premium care” protection plan for $3,500, which covers almost all of the car’s major organs for three more years or 36,000 miles. But to me this is like paying your dentist ahead of time when you hit middle age—it doesn’t mean you won’t suffer the pain of a root canal, just that you’re already broke when you start. It’s bad enough having to go to the auto mechanic for checkups, but to have to go unexpectedly when something breaks is a grim prospect.

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I have dipped a toe in the quest for new car possibilities. I always thought our Audi seemed expensive, and now that I’m divorced and have less to spend, I would like—at least in theory—to spend less.

I have looked into electric cars, but there’s the battery problem. I want to want a Subaru. My friend Suzy, who is also getting divorced, put it this way: “A Subaru would be way cheaper to repair, but it makes me think gray hair, Channel 13 totes and cat obsessive. I just can’t go there yet!” There’s Volvo, the luxury car for people who like to pretend they aren’t luxury consumers. My ex would say that describes me. The price of a Volvo is roughly equal to that of an Audi, but I like to think I’m done with pretending. And besides the Audi has that turbo-charged engine.

Let’s say, I like my car, except for the color and the fact that it's getting…less young? My brother says that Audi doesn’t actually make full-size wagons anymore, so if I wanted to lease a new one in green, that wouldn’t even be possible.

Instead, I would “be forced to buy an Allroad, which he says is inferior because it's smaller, doesn’t handle as well and gets lower mileage due to its heavier frame. I go online to investigate. I find myself on something called Audizine, hoping to learn something about the new models: “I want premium plus with Nav. B&O and sports diff would be nice but not needed. Was considering an E92 M3 ZCP but I don't think I can do a BMW. Also considered a 996 TT but it felt so old...”

Reading this does not make me feel like a smarter car shopper. I’ll leave it at that.

My ex husband was a firm believer in letting the experts help you out, instead of trying to become an expert yourself. I’m starting to see the merits of this. I’m also starting to see the merits of a new car that’s a lot like my old car, only not old. Yesterday morning, my neighbor waved to me out the window of her car-- a current model Audi Allroad. It's smaller, sleeker, with neater lines but plenty of room for legs and gear, and the beautiful gray of a foggy Maine morning. I actually felt something like the flush of a new crush.

New, it sells for $8,000 more than the residual value of my current car. I call Audi, and speak to a salesman named Scott. We talk about the lease options and I discover that I can get it for $740/a month with a three year lease. I took the day to ponder and just a moment ago, I called him back with my answer. He’d gone home for the day, but his voicemail was still working.

“….Your call means a lot to me,” he chirps, “Goodbye and have an Audi Day!” It looks like I will be doing just that, for at least another three years.

Elise Pettus is the founder of UNtied, a website for women navigating Separation and Divorce. Check out the site's free monthly info events.

Also see: Undoing a Divorce: Ask Noah

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