I did something this week that I've never done before: I carried an auto loan to its full term and paid off a car -- one that I still own and intend to drive for a while.
My 2013 Ford C-Max, purchased when it arrived at my local Ford dealership in October 2012, turned 100,000 miles on the odometer Sept. 22 on my 58-mile drive to work. Three days later, I made the final of 60 monthly loan payments to my credit union.
(Before you do the math on my work drive -- 116 miles round trip -- I know the odometer reading doesn't compute; the difference is thanks to the occasional press car.)
Over the past five years, my C-Max has not been completely trouble-free, but it's been damn close. Twice an automated Sync update drained my battery, leaving me stranded in a garage and forced to call AAA. I also had to put a set of tires on it, but that was just this year, thanks to my switchover each winter to snow tires.
Nope, my only complaint about the Ford C-Max remains the same one I had after my first month of ownership: It never got anywhere close to the 47/47/47 mpg I was originally promised.
Five years on -- and after Ford Motor Co. a few years ago sent almost all C-Max owners two checks totaling $1,000 for a pair of C-Max mileage restatements from 47/47/47 to a more easily achieved 42 city/37 hwy/40 combined -- I couldn't care less about the original mileage shortfalls. Over its 100,000-mile life with me, my C-Max has averaged 36.2 mpg, according to the on-board monitor, and that includes spending about 20 percent of its life wearing mileage-inhibiting winter tires. More impressive, however, is that more than 25,000 of the 100,000 miles on the odometer were clocked in EV mode, according to the on-board monitor. A rough guesstimate of the math puts the fuel savings from the battery mode over that distance at just over $2,500, using an average price per gallon over the last five years of roughly $2.75. Not bad, considering the up-front premium I paid for its hybrid drivetrain.
The C-Max was the first hybrid I've ever purchased, but it won't be my last.
Even if my experience hadn't been good, it's a sure bet that hybrids and electrification technologies are going to become ubiquitous across the U.S. fleet. We won't be able to avoid the technology, and that's okay. Over five years, I developed an affinity for experimenting with the hybrid, seeing how long I could drive in electric-only mode before the internal combustion engine would kick back in to recharge the battery. It became a game of sorts, and it was fun to play.
In truth, it's been a great car, and it continues to be. I said it originally and it remains true: Though the C-Max doesn't get much love from consumers outside of taxi operators, it's a really excellent Ford Focus, at least from a packaging perspective.
Surprisingly, the most difficult part for me of the last year has been resisting the urge to buy another vehicle. After a lifetime of training (or maybe brainwashing is a better description), I've tended to view paying off my auto loan as a kind of unnatural act. I've always had at least one monthly car payment, and not having one seemed strange and unnerving.
Couple that with the then-approaching odometer flip to six digits -- long ago a deeply seated harbinger of impending automotive doom -- and the pressure mounted to buy another car. I've found myself trolling AutoTrader.com and other sites for deals on another C-Max. I came incredibly close to pulling the trigger on a 'hailstorm special' as my odometer continued to climb, but I resisted the urge.
From a maintenance standpoint, it's hard to complain about my C-Max. I've taken it to my local Ford dealer to change the oil and rotate the tires religiously, and almost all of my mileage has been on the highway, which explains how, when it last went in for a checkup a few weeks ago, the C-Max still had 8 mm of pad left on its original rear regenerative brakes and 5 mm of pad left on the fronts.
Even the Sync system and I have learned to live and let live: Sure, I now have to mispronounce my last name with an extra syllable in a Spanish accent to get it to call my home ("call vell-e-ket-ez"), but it works every time I do.
In truth, the only thing that may convince me to re-up intoa newer car is Ford's expected decision to whack the C-Max from its U.S. lineup when its Michigan Assembly plant in suburban Detroit is converted to make the Ranger and Bronco. When a new C-Max is no longer available, I may just have to grab one of the last ones.
But until that happens, I think I'll enjoy the extra cash in my pocket each month. It's a new feeling, after all.
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