Editor's Column: Used cars along Whidbey roads suggest recession is over

Those who doubt the economic recovery need only look along Whidbey Island’s main highway where the number of used cars for sale is returning to normal.

Following the stock market crash of whenever it was, islanders drew back and decided to keep their old wrecks until the economy turned around. As a result, for months there was hardly a single privately owned, four-wheeled curiosity beside the road between Oak Harbor and Clinton.

This meant that those of us always looking for a good roadside deal had nothing to do but keep our eyes on the road instead of craning our necks to look back at a nifty ‘78 Galaxy, or slowing down on the highway to take a better gander at a ‘99 Grand Am. The resulting epidemic of safer driving no doubt drove a hole in the state’s budget, as troopers were at a loss for drivers distracted by old cars with “For Sale” signs on their windows or whitewashed across their sides. The good news is that the slowdown is over, which means ticket-writing for distracted driving will soon be on the upswing. Combine that with the new law banning talking on the cell phone while driving, and Gov. Gregoire will have enough money rolling in to hire thousands of new state workers to keep track of all the money.

It was sad to drive north on Monday and see that a mini-van for sale just south of Coupeville was gone. It had been parked in a farmer’s field for only a week or so, and I had admired it both by bus and by slowly driving past in my 21-year-old pickup. I’ve never had a mini-van, and this one looked to be in prime condition: no dents or cracked glass that I could see, nor could the 40 impatient drivers lined up behind me. I had a notion to stop and check out the mini-van up close on Friday, only to find it gone on Monday. Some lucky weekender got himself a fine-looking mini-van.

I also missed out on an ancient ‘70s-vintage turquoise Cadillac parked north of Freeland. I stopped to look at this one, and despite its 197,000 miles it was in outstanding condition: good paint, tires and interior. Trouble was, I could only afford to drive it perhaps once a month at 10-miles-per-gallon. But it would have been great to go those few miles in style, rather than in a deer-battered pickup.

There was a nice-looking Audi parked near the 19-mile marker, which was tempting but I still believe the myth that foreign parts cost more. And further south are a large pickup and black car side-by-side, as if the owner was so confident in the economy he was going to sell both and get himself some new wheels. Such optimist is indeed inspirational.

I’ve seen cars for sale in the fields south and north of Oak Harbor, outside of beautiful downtown Clinton and at the main intersection going to Langley. Highway 20/525 is a veritable gold mine for those looking for used vehicles, just as it was all those years before the Great Recession hit. People may be afraid to list expensive items in Craigslist, but nobody’s going to shoot you and steal your used car alongside the highway in broad daylight, at least not on Whidbey Island.

Judging by our “for sale by owner” auto situation, the recession is officially over. And for would-be buyers, the time for indecision is over. If you spend a weekend thinking about the mini-van, it will be gone by Monday. The time to stop, look and make a deal is now, or you’ll forever regret passing it by.

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