Saturday, March 12, 2011

Time for a New Car: (Sigh) My Dilemmas

So I've had my current car -- a 1998 Mercury Tracer -- since before I had my driver's license.

It had 64 miles on it when we got it; it is my first car. It now has 179,880 miles on it. It has treated me relatively well, the only major repairs being an alternator and serpentine belt, plus the occasional battery and set of tires. Until this week.

Let's Start At The End.
While I was in Columbus, my Oil light came on, but only at low speeds -- the faster I drove it flickered, then was completely off at freeway speeds. My level was a bit low and I was past-due for an oil change so I stopped in and had it topped off. That didn't fix the problem.

I dropped my car off at my friendly neighborhood mechanic (bonuses: he's also a friend of a coworker, and he's literally across the street from my house), he thought it was most likely the pressure sensor, so I gave him the go ahead to replace that. That didn't fix the problem, but car is saft to drive since further testing indicates it's probably an electrical issue. My car is pushing 13 years old. I'm well overdue for new shocks and struts, and who knows how long it is until something else major needs work.

Back to a Different Beginning.
For years I had been saving to buy the car of my dreams: The BMW Z4. Not so much because I wanted a sports car or a convertible, but because I really liked the styling. In 2007 I had reached my goal at about the same time as I got a letter from my then-landlord telling me how much they intended to raise my rent. In the span of about 18 days I went from not being in the housing market to being a homeowner. Yes, in short, I impulse bought a house.

Both of my parents lent me money to help with my down payment. I finished paying my Mom back last year, and started paying my dad back in January. I hate debt, and right now my mortgage and the loan from my dad are the only debts in my name. I had planned on new car shopping after I had finished paying back my dad, but it seems that my car will need serious attention much sooner than the 2 years or so that will take.

Where this leaves me: It seems that I need to start car shopping sooner rather than later. Since this will be the first car I've actually purchased I'm intimidated not only by the prospect of negotiations but by not having a clue what I'm looking for. So I guess the first step is to create a shortlist. I definately want someting sedanish, but beyond that I'm pretty open.

Traveling as much as I do, I've had my share of rental cars. Several have been unmemorable, others have ended up on...

The No/Hell No list. You (probably) couldn't pay me to own one of these.**
  • Anything Kia: Not impressed by the build quality and just felt cheap driving one
  • Toyota Yaris: I felt claustrophobic driving it, an thought the car felt cheap
  • Chevy HHV: The HHV felt like I was driving a hearse but with worse visibility
  • Chevy Aveo: The Aveo is a visually unsatisfying toaster, and never left the rental car lot because I couldn't fit one, let alone both of my suitcases in the so-called trunk. My luggage is not that large.***

Cars That I have To Say No To, But Feel A Bit Guilty:

  • Mercedes: I've never driven one, but I don't think there's another brand that I so uniformly dislike the body styling. To my eyes almost all of them look like something a grandparent should be driving. As a local dealer is a Cleveland Orchestra sponsor, I feel a bit guilty for rejecting them so out-of-hand and for fundimentally superficial reasons, but at that price point...
  • Lexus: I likewise feel guilty about rejecting Lexus out-of-hand based on their role as a PlayhouseSquare sponsor, and if someone was giving one away I wouldn't say no, but I've never understood the brand promise, brand hallmarks or diferentiators are. In short why it's worth the premium.

Rental Cars I might say Yes To

  • Mazda 3 I had this one on my last trip to Rochester; good get up an go. Responsive handling. Generally fun to drive.
  • Subaru Outback: I got one of these in Michigan a few years ago and really had fun with it both on the freeways and backroads, but it might be a bit large. Good handling, a bit sporty.
  • Chevy Cruize: This one proved itself on the back roads of North and South Carolina and again on one of my trips to Virginia. I don't remember it being quite as getupandgoey as the Mazda, or as sporty as the the Outback, but still a decent car.
Other Cars I'm Interested In
  • Honda Accord: The Cleveland Heights Honda dealership is literally within walking distance of my home. My mechanic said he could have bought anything and that's what he drives. Low TCO, high ROI. I've never been behind the wheel on one though. My mom has been a happy owner of several accords over the past 30 years or so.
  • Honda Civic: Ditto everything for the accord except the part about my mom and mechanic owning one.
  • Toyota Prius: The dealer is also within walking distance, and the technology intrigues me... let alone the promise of higher mileage. But the technology (or rather the cost to repair that technology when it breaks) scares me a little. My mechanic warned that "everything is special" on the car and specifically pointed to oil (requiring full synthetic, whatever that means) and special tires as being more expensive than on most other cars.

The Unrealstic Options
  • BMW: As much as I like the look of the American-made Z4, and enjoy driving my relatives' 3- and 5- series when I visit, between the requirement for premium fuel, up front cost, and total cost of ownership make them "not the best choice" at this point in my life.
  • Audi TT: I like the look, but I've never seriously considered this one and suspect it has all of the same pitfalls of the BMW.

Anyone have their favorite cars to add to the list? Any comments? I guess I should say that I'm considering both new and recently used (e.g. ~2009 or newer); planning on buying rather than leasing.

* - My current savings balance is roughly equal to 6 months gross / 8 months net income, but I'm not really excited about draining that.
** - Though if you have something in mind, feel free to email me. l (yes, just the letter l) at
*** - I had a debate with the Hertz guy about this. He claimed that the Aveo met my reservation's "Ford Focus or Equivilant". I mantained that at Ford Focus has a usable trunk and the Aveo has a door in the back, not a trunk. I won.


  1. Does this mean that you're finally going to get Ohio plates?

  2. I always said that I'd get Ohio plates as soon as I got a new car. It's just 3 years later than I planned.

  3. I swear by my 2006 Honda Civic. The 2011 is basically the same, with a few minor tweaks.