Column: A GAP In My Thinking

Column: A GAP In My Thinking


Kenneth B. Lourie

— Recently, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to buy a new car (in this instance, “new” means different, not a current model year). Estimated repairs at 137,000 miles that could have escalated into the unknown – and unaffordable – thousands compelled me to fish so I wouldn’t have my bait cut (and I don’t even like to fish). As a result of this unexpected commitment, the light at the end of the financing tunnel has all but disappeared (I had one year left on our previous car). Where once I was nearly right-side up, I am now upside down, inside out and no longer counting the months until my final payment. Now, I am counting the days until my second month’s payment (there’s too many months remaining to count months). All that I had anticipated as being old is once again new: the bank/lien holder, the payment amount/terms and the inch-thick payment booklet. Seventy-two months can really stack up.

But I really didn’t have a choice, unfortunately. In fact, I was dealing from a position of weakness (my car was undriveable). The dealership, after examining the car’s engine, sort of knew that fixing my car, given its age and mileage, was probably unlikely, so they made me an offer – as a trade toward the purchase of one of their vehicles. It wasn’t ideal by any means, but given the mechanical troubles, I didn’t feel as if I had any practical options (I wasn’t going to tow my car to various dealerships for offers, was I?) so I swallowed hard and tried not to bite the hand of the seller as the deal (and I use that term loosely) was presented to me. I accepted. And so the damage/I mean deal was done. I wasn’t happy about it, although I did receive fancy, and expensive, floor mats for free. However, I wasn’t quite finished.

As any car-purchaser knows, the deal isn’t really done until, as they say, the paperwork is finished. And “paperwork” means sitting down with the finance manager to sign and seal that “deal.” Only after doing so will you know what your “new” car is actually going to cost (with miscellaneous “add-ons” like undercoating). For me, my monthly payment increased by nearly $100: extended warranties, prepaid service contract and tire replacement insurance, all of which sounded like a good idea – and prudent, at the time. Now I’m not so sure, but what’s done is done and the less said about it the better. I really do have other things to worry about, as you regular readers know.

One of the offers the finance manger made to me, which I had no regrets refusing, was GAP insurance. My understanding now is that GAP Insurance pays off the balance of the outstanding loan in the event an accident “totals” the car, far exceeding the settlement offered by standard coverage, often suggested/encouraged/required when a low down payment is made and the borrower is approved for a significant percentage of the cost of the vehicle. Given the other add-on commitments I had already made and my impatience at considering additional dollars, I passed and so we finalized the paperwork.

Maybe I was too hasty. Incorrectly, I thought GAP Insurance had more to do with the balance of the loan being paid off in the event of death and/or disability. Since I’m already disabled and have sufficient life insurance – and don’t want to think about death, if possible, I declined. I never even gave the finance manager an opportunity to explain or to give me a quote. For all I know, the price might have been right. I should have at least listened since, as an a cancer patient, still undergoing treatment, I’ll never be able to buy insurance any other way. Had I listened, I would have learned of my misunderstanding, and considering what I now know to be the meaning/purpose of GAP Insurance, I might have considered it.

But it’s too late; I called, and now I’ll never know if the benefit was worth the cost. But that’s what happens when you’re terminal; there’s only so much you can worry about. It’s somewhere between picking your spots, being mentally overwhelmed and self-preservation. It’s a regular three-ring circus – without the clowns. I hope I live to regret my decision – and never need to fill the gap caused by my “hasty” decision.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac and The Connection Newspapers.