So much for the New Car Rotation

Posted Feb. 15, 2009, at 7:51 p.m.

For as long as I’ve been married to him, Dustin has tried to implement a New Car Rotation. The plan looks good on paper. If Dustin buys a new car, the theory goes that I won’t get a new car for another four years. At which time, the system reverses: Dustin keeps his old car; I get a new one. Dustin’s plan also involves having only one car payment.

So far, this policy has never worked.

Part of my dowry, you could say, back in 1999, was a 10-year-old Ford Bronco II, which Dustin worried might have problems on his dime. (Dustin’s car at the time was a newer Volkswagen Jetta, one of the perks of going to the Naval Academy, incurring no debt, and having a salary fresh out of college.) Dustin was especially worried about my Bronco making the cross-country move to our new duty station in San Diego eight weeks after our wedding. My dad, however, who had maintained my Bronco since I was 16 years old, mentioned in his toast to us at the wedding reception that despite Dustin’s anxiety about the aging Bronco, it was the “least expensive thing” Dad was handing over to him that day.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Everyone laughed. I blushed. Dustin felt relieved.

About two weeks later, while we were driving to our new temporary home in Pensacola, Fla., where Dustin was finishing up flight school before transferring to San Diego, my Bronco’s engine exploded in the middle of a dark, lonely highway. It was midnight. There wasn’t a welcoming building or human for at least 30 miles. Dustin mentioned my dad a few times as we sat there stranded on the side of the road.

One new, very expensive engine later (an engine that cost more than the car was worth), Dustin and I inexplicably chose to ship his Jetta with our household goods to San Diego and drive the Bronco across the country to our new home. It had a new engine, after all.

We hadn’t been in San Diego long when I found out I was pregnant with our first son.

“I can’t drive this old, unreliable car with a new baby,” I told Dustin.

“But I just put a new engine in it,” he said.

Soon after, we were at a dealership trading in my Bronco, whose body would be sold for scrap metal, and whose shiny new engine (the one we just bought) would be used as a transplanted car-organ.

“Let me do the negotiating,” Dustin said, “so we can get a good deal.”

Turns out, he should have just left me at home, because when Dustin got tough with the salesman, I panicked about his hardball tactics and said (in front of the salesman), “Dustin, stop being so mean to him! He’s trying to give us a deal!”

It ended up being necessary to trade the Jetta and the Bronco to get the car I wanted. In this New Car Rotation, the first of our marriage, Dustin left the dealer with no car.

Once we relocated again, this time to Jacksonville, Fla., and Dustin returned from his first deployment, he bought himself a used pickup truck that shook like it would explode if it went faster than 40 mph. A few years later in Pensacola, Dustin decided it was finally time to get himself a new car. And he wanted it to be a sports car.

But I had two children in car seats at this point. Dustin’s conscience got the best of him, and he bought me and the kids a new Ford Freestyle instead. He rotated the “old” Ford Explorer to himself.

These days I have three children to transport in my car. The Freestyle was getting cramped. So I was shocked when Dustin came home last week and said, “I’m thinking about buying myself a new car.”

“A new car? I can’t even fit the boys in the one I have,” I said.

“But I want to get a fun sports car,” he said.

A few days later, Dustin inherited my “old” Freestyle and I drove away with a new minivan.

“What happened to our Rotation Plan?” Dustin asked.

“We still have one. When I get a new car, we rotate, and you get my old one.”

Dustin looked sad. So I told him, “Hey, if you really want the new minivan to be yours, it can be.”

He chose not to take me up on that offer. He might not have a new car, but at least he’s not driving a minivan.

Then, my friend Stephanie told him, “But you do have a new car, Dustin. You have a new-to-you car.”

That works for me.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Smiley’s new book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. Contact Smiley at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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