Oh! What a feeling that the Toyota is mine

  • Kristi O’Harran / Herald Columnist
  • Thursday, August 2, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

Take that, Key Bank. Our little game, where you loaned me money and I sent it back, is over. My last car payment check is in the mail. I now own a 1993 Toyota Corolla LE sedan with 111,000 miles on the odometer.

It’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve been making payments on my teal treasure for eight years.

Why do I tell everyone these things?

I guess I think we can all learn a lesson from my escapades. Our schoolwork today is about leasing a car. It must be a good deal for other buyers, but it sure was agony for the O’Harrans. Back in 1993, one of my darling children totaled my old sedan. The 16-year-old driver only took her eyes off the road for a second, then crash, boom, bang.

My insurance company cleverly figured the car was worth just what we owed. Isn’t that a coincidence? That left us with no car debt, but also no car. Did we have an automobile down payment sitting around an idle savings account?


You can lease a car for almost nothing up front, so that was our plan. We signed the contract with barely a glance at the fine print.

After we figured out what it meant to lease, I spent a lot of time driving my Ford pickup. We had to leave the Toyota in the driveway because we were limited to putting 1,250 miles per month on the odometer. That was the limit, 41 miles per day, year in and year out. When you turn in the car, you pay 15 cents per mile for any overage.

That’s $150 you cough up for only 1,000 miles over your limit. Yikes. Imagine actually giving them money to turn in the hunk of metal.

Thinking I could stay under 41 miles every 24 hours was a daydream. I forgot to calculate trips to Tacoma dart tournaments, going to malls and movies, seeing the folks 100 miles to and fro, visiting Kent in-laws and driving to Bellevue doctor appointments.

We didn’t even consider taking the car on vacation.

About three years into the lease, my Toyota was rear-ended in downtown Seattle. We had just left our son’s college dorm one rainy night when the car behind us couldn’t stop in time. After the other insurance company paid to fix our leased car, we noticed the rear windows squeaked when they went up and down, and you could tell, if you looked hard, that the rear end had been repaired.

When it came time to give the car back, my eyes were opened during a television news show. It reported that sometimes after you turn in a leased car, you get a bill for damages they discover after you leave. Back in 1997, I wrote a column about talking to a lease manager at a bank, who said return policies varied from lender to lender.

We knew we would at least have had to pay a $350 "disposition" fee to turn the car in. That just chapped my hide, but there it was, right on the contract. At some point, I also realized I would be carless again.

Stubborn by nature, I didn’t want to worry about getting extra charges after I gave back the car. Plus, I knew that I had babied my Toyota and I loved driving it. Enter Key Bank, who gave us a four-year used car loan to buy the beauty.

For those of you playing along, you realize I already paid almost four years, then got a new four-year loan on the same car. To make that fun, Key Bank sent me a coupon book for 36 monthly payments. A year ago, I thought I was almost done paying off the car.


Silly me, I forgot how many months I agreed to in the terms of the loan. It’s lucky I work with words, not numbers. The bank sent me the last 12 months of payment coupons in a new book last summer.

I ran the results and realized I paid a couple of bags of groceries shy of $21,000 for my sedan, which sold for about $15,000.

Let’s put my 1993 Toyota Corolla with 111,000 miles through the Blue Book process. According to the Kelley guide, the car has a $3,665 trade-in value. The numbers look pretty lopsided, as far as an investment goes, but I have to consider I have had eight years of fine driving in my LE sedan. It’s never failed me on a frosty morning, and the air conditioning keeps me cool.

I’ll never get over the joy of operating all the door locks with one button.

Would I consider selling my car to take advantage of whatever value is left on those four tires? Not on your life. I plan to take my odometer over 200,000 miles if the creek doesn’t rise. I realize it will probably take more money to keep my Corolla going now that it’s 50 in human years.

Isn’t keeping a car on the road an entertaining escapade?

At least I’m out of the payment game.

Kristi O’Harran’s Column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. If you have an idea for her, call 425-339-3451 or send information to oharran@heraldnet.com.

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