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And so the second round of car shopping begins…

September 18, 2011, 1:08 PM

For those of you who don’t know, I’m looking for a new car. As you may have noticed over the years, the Sable, while certainly a comfortable car, has been needing about one major repair a year as of late, and I’m tired of dealing with it. So I’m trolling around car manufacturer Web sites and dealerships looking for a worthy replacement for the Sable.

The first round of selection is complete – that was done from the comfort of home, compiling a list of cars to check out. I think the term for the kind of car I’m looking for is “subcompact“. In driving the Sable around for these last few years, I’ve realized that for most of what I use the Sable for, I have too much car. I don’t take passengers very often. It’s extremely rare that I’ll carry more than one passenger. In the entire time I’ve had the car, I’ve taken more than three passengers once – that time during the Boston Megaraid weekend when I carried six other people in the car, including one across three others’ laps and another one in the “trunk” – and that was only for about a mile (if that). Then it is also rare that I will ever fill the cargo area. I think I filled it completely up once or twice when I was moving things to Maryland, but otherwise, no. Buying groceries doesn’t even fill the back area up. So I end up transporting a lot of empty space around, and extra space (and the weight of material needed to enclose it) comes with a fuel penalty. Plus the car is simply too big for a lot of the spaces that I try to squeeze it into. There are plenty of instances, like the parking garage at work and the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, where I have a really hard time getting into and out of spaces because it’s a tight garage and my car is a few sizes too large. I have scuff marks on my car from where I’ve been less than successful in my maneuvering. If I had a smaller car, I’d be a lot better off.

So on Saturday afternoon, I went over to the Toyota dealership on Route 355 to try a few cars. I tried one car strictly for fun (but never tell the dealer that you’re doing one just for fun), and two were serious.

The first car was the non-serious one: the FJ Cruiser. See, there’s no way in hell that I would ever buy an SUV, or even seriously consider buying one. If the Sable is too much car, this is definitely too much car. But it was definitely interesting. The car had a backup camera and alarms if you got too close to something. It also had large rear view mirrors. It also lacked side windows in the back, unfortunately, and that was a bad thing, because I felt a bit closed in while in there. The high belt line didn’t help things, either. Didn’t matter, though – it was out before I ever set foot in it. Then the brake was a bit touchy, in that it didn’t take much to cause a lot of stopping. The Sable is good on stopping, but not as touchy as that.

Then the next car I tested was a Prius. That car is definitely a cute car. It’s got a lot of technology packed into it, for sure, but it drives like any other car. However, the motor’s cutting off in the middle of a trip felt somewhat disconcerting, though I’m sure that’s just because I’m not used to it. With the Prius, it drove well, and I felt fairly comfortable driving it. However, I felt like the car was too smart for me. Seriously, the Prius had a lot of gizmos and things going on, but I felt like I was too stupid to figure out how to work this car. Then a lot of things felt like they were in weird places. Some stuff was right beyond the wheel. Some stuff was WAY back like where the windshield meets the dash. I didn’t quite know where to look, and that was a bit of a problem.

Now the last Toyota-branded car I wanted to try was a Yaris. However, the dealership didn’t have any Yarises with an automatic transmission. See, while I technically do know how to drive a stick shift, I don’t think the dealership would appreciate it if I burned out a clutch on one of their brand new cars while doing a short test drive. They also looked to see if their sister property on Cherry Hill Road had one that I could test out, and the other property didn’t have one, either. So I’m going to have to table the Yaris for now until I can locate a dealership with a Yaris to test drive.

So having tested the Toyota vehicles that I could test, I headed over to the Scion side of things, since the xD was the next car on my list. Getting into the car and getting things adjusted, I knew pretty quickly that this was not the car for me. It had the same problem that Mom’s old Sienna had, that being that the pedals and the wheel weren’t in good places for me. If I sat close enough to the wheel to be able to reach it, I was too close to the pedals. If I sat at the right distance from the pedals, I was too far from the wheel. I assume that if you actually fit the car correctly, then it’s not a bad drive. Since we were already well into the test drive when I realized that the car and I had irreconciliable differences, I stopped asking questions about it and just chatted up the employee a bit. It was a good time, as we discussed how the horn in the DC area has so many different meanings, from “hello” to “f— you” and everything in between, and how I’m sure he gets some people for test drives where he is glad to get out of the car at the end of it on account of their driving skills (or lack thereof).

Then the Scion xB was never in the running. I consider it to be an ugly car, and certainly wouldn’t want to own one. Mom owns one of those ugly cars, though, and she seems to like it. I’m going to get to drive it for the first time this Saturday when Mom comes to visit. That will be an interesting trip – I’m taking Amtrak down to Staunton on Wednesday, spending a few days in town, and then riding up with Mom in her car to Vienna. There, she’s taking the Metro to the National Book Festival on the Mall, and then I’m taking her car home (my home, that is). Then all she has to do when the festival is over is take the Red Line back up to wherever and that’s that.

So now all I have to do is find a Toyota dealer that has an automatic Yaris to test, and then I’ll have evaluated all of the Toyotas I was considering. Then I’m also going to be testing some Hondas, Kias, Hyundais, Nissans, a Ford, a Mazda, and possibly a Chevy. So I certainly have a lot of field work still to do. Hopefully I come up with a good, solid, reliable car that I can have last as long as the Previa did (almost 16 years).

Web site: Seven hidden costs of buying a new car

Song: "Loving You" by Minnie Riperton. I think a generation of people on the Internet, however, know the tune better as "Bugging You".

Quote: So I'll let you know what else I come up with in this journey...

Categories: New car