Dear Tom and Ray:
Here's a question I call "dueling grandmas": My wife's mother has given us a '92 Toyota Camry sedan with 55,000 miles on it. My mother has given us a '95 Volvo 850 sedan with 54,000 miles on it. We have to sell one of them to buy a Subaru Outback, because we need all-wheel drive where we live. It's very complex. We don't want to offend a grandmother AND make the wrong choice. I always assumed the Volvo was the better car, but it has lousy visibility (the headrests take up the whole rear window!) and drives a bit like a truck. What should we do? -- Marc
TOM: Well, they're both good cars, Marc. And they both should have many miles left on them. But the first thing to do is have both of them carefully inspected by your mechanic, to see if any major components on either car are in danger of failing soon.
RAY: Those inspections might make your decision a lot easier. But if both cars are in equally good condition, I think I'd keep the Camry.
TOM: Me, too. And the reason is repair costs. At 54,000 miles, the Volvo is going to need quite a bit of mechanical attention during the next 50,000 miles -- starting, most likely, with one of Volvo's famous $800 timing belts. We often have to revive customers after they see those bills. The Camry, by comparison, should give you relatively little trouble.
RAY: So the issue is, how do you break it to your mother, Marc? Here's what I'd do. I'd call Secretary of State Colin Powell and see if he's available to handle the negotiations. If he can't do it, then draft a letter to the grandmas.
TOM: Address the same letter to both of them. Tell them both how truly grateful you are for their generosity. Tell them how they've both made your lives immeasurably better.
RAY: Explain to them that in the interest of the safety of their grandchildren, you need to trade one of the cars for an all-wheel-drive model, but you can't decide which one to part with. Tell them it's even harder to let one go because they're both treasured gifts from a grandma.
TOM: Tell them you've asked for advice from several mechanics, and they've told you that both cars are good vehicles -- making the choice even harder.
RAY: Then tell them that after considerable thought, you've decided that the only way to make the call is to pick a name out of a hat and randomly choose a car to sell. And unless they object, you're going to hold a drawing next week and abide by however it turns out. I'm sure they'll both agree.
TOM: Then rig the drawing so the Volvo goes. It's a great car, and a safe car. But if you're relying on donated cars these days, you probably don't have the budget to care for an aging Volvo yet.