Goodbye, minivan, hello cheaper fill-ups!

Never in my life have I been so happy to be vehicle-free.

Oh, sure, it was only for a few hours — but what a wonderful feeling to finally be rid of our glitchy mini-van. Recap, for those who haven’t been following our months-long car-shopping odyssey: The minivan’s automatic doors would continually not close properly (leading to constant dinging sound while driving above 10 km/h); the rear hatch rattled on the highway; the engine dropped out on us just as we entered a highway (thank goodness Matt was driving, and managed to get us to the off ramp!). On top of all that, the thing is now costing $80 per fill-up, and that lasts only a week.

We had leased the minivan five years ago, when I was pregnant with Isobel and knew we’d have severe cash-flow limitations for the next couple of years while I was on mat leave, and after my return to work when we’d be covering two pricey daycare bills (the infant room fee at that time was $1,200 a month, which now seems like a bargain; some parents in our part of town pay $1,600 a month for infant-room care!).

Leasing has its proponents and its detractors, but in my years as a personal finance writer, I had the opportunity to learn a LOT about leasing (for work), so I understand that there are some circumstances in which it doesn’t make sense, and some in which it does. Some people, plain and simple, like to buy their cars outright (no financing and definitely no leasing), and if you can swing it, great — anytime you can avoid paying interest of any kind, you’re saving money.

But for the majority of parents, saving $20,000 or so to buy a family vehicle (new or used, pretty much everything that fits two kids, a dog and enough stuff for a road trip to grandma’s house is in this ballpark) is a pipe dream. So the best you can do is look for a financing situation that costs as little as possible, and allows you to get the best vehicle for you.

In our case, that meant not taking advantage of 0% financing, which was available on a couple of vehicles we tested. The Volkswagen Golf wagon didn’t feel like a confident ride (too many people said they’d had bad experiences with VWs), and after the glitchy minivan, we were determined to get a safe, solid, reliable vehicle. We could have snared a great purchase price on a Ford Escape, thanks to a corporate affinity deal between my employer and Ford, but the financing was painfully high — 4.9%. We couldn’t countenance it.

Then there was a new development: Matt switched jobs midway through our shopping odyssey. His previous employer had provided him with vehicle for work purposes, which he paid a small amount of tax on as a taxable benefit. But we also had the minivan, which was a more appropriate family vehicle for us. I detested having two vehicles, but his job was his job, so we dealt with it.

His current job, however, provides him with a vehicle allowance, which he can use however he likes. So that changed things. Did we want to use that money to purchase a vehicle outright, instead of leasing again? That didn’t really make sense, since Matt’s work use of the vehicle would be adding wear and tear that his work should be paying for. So we decided to lease again, for a short term — 39 months — when we found a vehicle we loved, that suited our needs, that fit our budget and that had a reasonable lease rate of 1.9%. Plus, it has four-wheel drive (I never trusted the minivan on slippery winter roads), a tight turning radius (great for parking and manoeuvring) and is way better on gas than the old minivan.

And yesterday, we picked up our new….

Wait for it….

Subaru Forester!

Umm… I think Bronwyn likes it!

Because we’ve been through the lease thing before, we’ve very aware of keeping the mileage low and maintaining the vehicle in pristine condition (as much as that’s possible with two kids and a dog) to avoid being slapped with fees at the lease return. So we’re using a cool product from Prince Lionheart called the SeatSaver to protect the upholstery. Much more protective than a blanket or folded-up towel, and nicer looking, too. Check it out:

If you’re in the market, now’s a great time to score a deal on a new vehicle. Manufacturers are trying to clear out the remainder of their 2011 stock before the 2012 model year rolls in, so you’ve got a lot more room to negotiate on price.

Are you looking for a new family vehicle? What type of vehicle do you plan to get, and will you purchase outright, finance or lease? Tell us why.

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