In 2012 my girlfriend and I learned that we were expecting our first child. We decided that a car would make things more manageable as we live hundreds of miles from our families of origin.
Unlike previously, I decided to go about selecting a car in a more grown-up manner. That meant that I would figure out a set of adult criteria and use those criteria to find a suitable car.
We started with a budget of 25.000 DKK (3,500 to 4,000 USD). Our goal was a safe car, a station wagon, and reliability. Since particularly reliability (yes, the poor reliability was primarily due to bad decisions on my part) had made this old car enthusiast wary of buying cars, I looked east to Japan. The facelifted P11 Nissan Primera from around 2000 has a good reliability reputation but suffers a bit in the rust proofing department, I figured a well-maintained one would be alright. I would have liked a Toyota Avensis but that was not within the set budget, plus I honestly would like a minimum of comfort equipment and Toyotas of that vintage are usually more or less strippers compared to the competition over here. Hondas are even further out of the price range in Denmark.
I test drove a 1.8 silver station wagon which had all four front and rear fenders backyard painted which the ad neither mentioned nor showed. It drove well, but I did not entirely trust the seller – plus the car did not actually have the full set of service records that the ad said, so I declined. The 1.8 was the one I wanted as it had an adequate 125 hp and 122 lb-ft (165 NM) and most importantly better fuel economy than the 2.0. I did try a 2-liter silver wagon. It was loaded with power seats, fake wood, leather and an automatic (CVT) transmission. With 140 hp it was more punchy and this one had a full service history. It also had a creaking noise from the rear suspension and the fuel economy must have been pretty bad with this transmission and the bigger engine, so I reluctantly passed on that one as well.
The search was hard so at one point my girlfriend asked me what I would buy with a budget of 35.000 DKK rather than 25k. It seemed to me that the best buy in that category was once again from that storied Swedish automaker: the V40. With the 1.8 it had performance and fuel economy comparable to that of the Primera. It had six airbags and comfortable seats. The Business trim level of which there are quite a few in Denmark came with cruise control, climate control, power windows and other good stuff. I just missed one listed with 246,000 kilometers (153,000 miles) at 20,000DKK. Ironically this was the car we ended up buying a while later, when a dubious character had purchased it to make a buck on it. He kept dropping the price from the high 30s to eventually 25,900 DKK which is what we paid for it. This car had its periodical inspection (every two years) just performed without remarks and it had a full service history. That is why I deemed it safe to once again go with a high mileage car.
The car was a real treat and by far the most reliable car I have owned. This has to do with the fact that it belonged to a small family for a number of years before a brief stint with the dubious character.
This was the car I drove my first-born back from the hospital in (like Jim Klein in his turbocharged V40). What I really appreciated then and even more now were the little things. The fact that it had a strap for tying down grocery bags in the trunk. The little nets for small items in the trunk. The excellent seats. When you need to carry something long, there’s a release mechanism that folds the front passenger seat down flat so that you can easily use the total length of the cabin. These are the things Volvo think about and they make ownership effortless.
The car drove well and was reasonably quiet. Handling was not the focus when designing this car, nor was performance. I once drove a T4 version with 200 turbocharged horsepower and it was insane, spinning the wheels in the first three gears. The naturally aspirated 1.8, on the other hand, was very house-trained. It pulled evenly and competently but there was no sweet spot where you could find a bit extra power to overtake. It felt like someone whom you know will always be there to support you, but whom you wouldn’t go out for beers with, because come on, what’s the point of going out for fun, if it’s not going to be fun?
I simply took care of this car. I only added hubcaps and an aftermarket radio with bluetooth connectivity. Oh, and an ISOfix bracket for the child seat.
I had zero issues with it and it was never in the shop in our almost two years of ownership. Unlike all other cars I had owned up to this point, I did not kill it with neglect, which is something I’m quite pleased with.
I did kill it, though.
On a summer day in July 2014 I came up behind a semi double parked and a car behind it. I slowly pulled out across the full lines when I came back to the right side of the road, a parked car pulled out in front of me. I hit him and got the blame because I had crossed the lines, even though there was no other way to go either forward or backward with cars lining up behind me. The car was totaled and the insurance company charged my deductible of 5,000 DKK and offered me 25,000 for the car (20,000 net), so the depreciation for two years of ownership was 5,900 DKK which was very fair.
In the end, it would have had to go anyway, as I had decided to quit my job without another one lined up meaning we had to cut spending.
We did not buy another car until I got another job after a period of temporary positions and unemployment. With a new full-time job and another baby on the way we started looking again in the fall of 2016. This time we did not buy Italian or Swedish.