Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Car woes

I've got car woes.

Oh, there's really nothing wrong with my car. It's nothing special, but it gets me from one place to another. Yes, its fenders are rippled and dinged, its bumpers scuffed. There's that annoying indicator light that stays on all the time, even though my mechanic's says the light's the problem, not the thing it represents. It still runs.

But I want a new car.

I've been driving the 1999 Volkswagen Passat Wagon we bought for Our Son when he learned to drive back in 2005. It was economical; it was safe - drivers, passengers, and side airbags - it could carry around the musical instruments he was playing at the time. It wasn't racy or something that would tempt him into reckless driving; yet at the same time it wasn't a lame grandma kind of car. Nor was it a giant gas guzzler.

When we bought the Volkswagen, we already had a 2001 Mercury Sable wagon - bought because [The Man I Love] is an upright bass player and we needed a vehicle that could haul one around. It also came in handy, with its back rumble seat, for ferrying the middle-school car-pool from our neighborhood to the bus-stop. I could carry seven kids in that car, all wearing seat-belts!

We also had a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder convertible - that was my very own personal mid-life crisis car that I chose for myself. Unfortunately for me, when I bought it I had a 40 mile commute on the freeway, and quickly learned how uncomfortable it is to drive a stick shift - let alone an open converitible - on the 405 everyday.

That's how I ended up with the Sable, driving the carpool, and [The Man I Love] got to cruise through Brentwood everyday with the top down in the Eclipse.

But that was all before Our Son went to college. When he left, we were a 3-car family with only 2 people at home. It turned out that the Passat - wrinkled fenders and all - was more fun to drive to drive than the Sable, which heaved and bounced like a couch around the S-curves of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. So I drove the Passat throughout our son's freshman year, [The Man I Love] cruised in my convertible, and the Sable sat in the driveway, its wiring and engine cavities tempting our rural wildlife for nesting and chewing on its tasty insulation.

When Our Son came home for the summer, we got the Sable running again, and then when Our Son went back to school, it was the convertible that sat under the oak trees, where rats hid acorns in its engine compartment.

All our cars suffered high maintenance bills from wildlife activity, but eventually we were faced with a $2500 repair bill for the convertible. By that time, it was an 8 year old car with 90,o00 miles on it. The mechanic offered to buy it from us, and we agreed.

So we were a two-car family. With two cars in bad shape.

It was the Sable that gave out first. So we bought a new car for [The Man I Love]. But the Passat is on its last legs. We recently had a repair estimate for about $600.00.

We're going to wait until June, at least, to make any changes, but in the meantime, I'm planning on doing some car shopping to figure out what I want.

I know I want a small car, inexpensive, with great gas mileage. The Fusion Hybrid is our "deluxe" car, so for me I just want a commuter car. And I want to spend less than $20,000.

So that means a Mini is out, at $28,000 new, and $22,000 for a recent used.

A while ago, I rented one of these, and it was a lot of fun to drive. It goes for about $16,000 new, and holds its price pretty well - used Smart Cars are about the same price as new ones. I had a blast driving it, and I loved the attention people gave to it. But I'm not sure it's the best for our rural roads. And it's not a conventional choice.

And it reminded me a little of a car I once had in the '80s. A little odd.

Renault Alliance

I admit I am aware I've made some pretty quirky car choices in the past. Like this one.

Fiat 124

And this one. I bought that one from a friend. Six months later the frame broke apart.

But this time, I'm not buying old used cars. I want something reliable. I'm looking at modern technology cars, new or a couple years old if used.

Toyota's Yaris is a small car that's supposed to get good mileage and be reliable. They go for about $18,000 new, and a recent used one goes for about $13,000. It looks a bit like an egg. Only boring.

The Honda Fit looks a little more interesting. They cost about $19,000 new, and about $16,000 used.

But neither of them are a hybrid, and I really like [The Man I Love]'s hybrid. Why doesn't someone make a mini-compact in a hybrid?

Honda's new Insight is probably the cheapest hybrid on the market, at about $20,000 new.

But you can get a 1-2 year old used Toyota Prius for about the same price.

I've also had people recommend that I look for a used Toyota Camry. You can get a 1-2 year old Camry Hybrid for about $20,000, or a used non-hybrid for about $14,000. Camrys are reliable - but I find them boring. And I don't think I need that big a car.

So....what would you buy, if you wanted a small, energy efficient commuter car for between $12,000 and $16,000?


Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

Can't help you...I like to be bigger than others on the road. I drive a Ford Expedition. Of course, I don't commute to work...so other than short trips in town, we use it for trips these days. My husband has a Ford 500 (same as this years Taurus) and loves it, but again...not a compact car.


Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

OMG - I rented a Smart Car the last time we were in Paris - and I HATED it. Though it was cute - and it's true you can park ANYWHERE - it has zero pick up. Pulling into traffic was taking your life in your hands. Going around the circle at the Arc d'Triomphe, I really thought I was going to kill us.

I'm not above form over function - but, a car really has to function LOL.

Vallen said...

It's too bad Saturns are out. I have a litle one, 2001, that I adore! If I had to ppick a new car to buy I'd be in the same pickle as you. I don't like much on the market right now.

cactus petunia said...

Go for the Honda...They get great mileage, especially if you're doing a lot of freeway driving, where the hybrid won't be of use. And the Fit's back seats fold pretty flat for more room for Jack. ;)

cactus petunia said...

I just bought a 2000 Honda CRV...and the most important requirement? That two big dogs can fit in the back with plenty of headroom!


Honda Fit
I bought one a few months ago. This works well for us.

The Honda Insight stinks. The AC goes off when you're at a stop. No good living in Hell.

I did not like the SMART car. It was like driving a lawn mower.

As for hybrid...I'm a cynic.


Does a hybrid really benefit the environment or is it just a marketing scheme? I wonder if the battery is just as harmful. Certainly, carpooling, walking, and telecommuting are solid alternatives; but somewhat unrealistic in southern California. Isn't it a shame that our neighborhood weren't planned as walking communities?

I can vouche for the Fit performance and the back seats do, in fact, fold out of the way to allow a dog (average sized) ample room.

I have an Element to use for dog duty. It rocks.

Good luck in you car search.

phd in yogurtry said...

The only point I can contribute -- dollar for dollar, hybrids will not save you money. Not unless gas prices are in the $4.00 range. Not very green of me to say, I know.

And as a mom of three kids who drives an suv/wagon .. um .. in this way I am green ... with envy .. for your small car, whatever it might be.

Briget said...

I bought a Prius in April and I am still madly in love with the car. (Put it this way - her name is Bubbles). Both the drive and the ride are like buddah...but I don't drive curvy mountain roads. It seems to me to corner well on the minimal challenges of the Cincinnati hills, though. Only problem - because of the special innards, you have to take it to a qualified dealer or repair place. Mine is several cornfields up 71 - a trip that had to be planned to avoid rush hour when the 5000 maintenence was due.