Whistle, Ruby Rider

So it’s going to come as a vast surprise to you that one of my great joys in life is camping. Ten years ago, we bought a “family car”. It was the SUV on the market that had the best fuel efficiency at the time since I’d also like for there to be a wilderness to visit. Over time I liked the car less and less. The vaunted fuel efficiency was a flat out lie. I didn’t know it was *possible* for a car to handle so badly in snow. Or rain. Or overcast weather. But I do try to drive cars to the ground.

Then last time I went to Camp Wilmot I almost didn’t make it up the world’s tamest road. AND I didn’t have enough room for four boys and three sleds. And I was just … done with it. So I hit my husband’s website CarGurus to find a new one. I had two primary criteria: fuel efficiency & cargo capacity. I want to bring more crap when camping. I want to be the person who volunteers to bring them *all* up to camp. My sons are headed towards the six foot mark in the next few years, and the back seat doesn’t assume such giants. So I wanted a bigger car. But I balanced that desire with my responsibility towards the environment. This world is literally burning under the magnifying lens of carbon, and I need to do whatever is in my power to mitigate my impact on that. So the best option for fuel efficiency was critical to me. Then there were the other considerations: heated seats (yes please!), fun to drive, comfortable second row, not boring car colored.

Adam and I test drove a couple cars. We hated the Highlander Hybrid, which balanced awful handling with really mediocre fuel efficiency. We tried a used Ford Explorer, but the hybrid isn’t out for another few months and it was not a big improvement. Then I finally talked Adam into test driving the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid – a brand new model. Also a minivan. But I learned to drive on a minivan (a red one!) and still have a soft place in my heart for them.

I loved the car, and brought it home with me that night!

The car is soooooo cool. I’m still uncovering features. Not just heated seats, but heated steering wheel! Hands free door opening! Self park! (I’m still too nervous to try that one.) Separate heating and cooling for all the passengers! Plenty of electrical/USB outlets! I can’t wait to go camping in it!

Best of all, it’s a plug in hybrid that gets between 30 – 80 mpg. That’s on target with our Ford C-Max commuter car. Super impressive, even if we end up in the low range. (At some point we might need to install a second charger, but not yet.) It’s everything I wanted!

Naming is always hard, but we finally all settled on our choice, from a favorite TV show. Everyone say hi to “Ruby Rider

Soooo sexy!

My brother was in need of a car, so he flew up and took home the old Kia (Herodotus), where he’ll drive it into the ground for us!

Goodbye Herodotus!

Just a quick note from the purchasing process with CarGurus. I am usually the car buyer in our family, due to being the person who cares. But when we bought the Kia, my husband was the one who got all the questions/comments addressed to him, due to him being male. But since I expressed interest via CarGurus with my name, they knew that I’m the buyer and did a great job of addressing themselves to me. It’s just a nice, subtle change I appreciated!

Disclaimer: We do get a nice rebate from CarGurus for highlighting our buying experience and rather nice rebate as employees. The opinions are mine, and do not reflect official CarGurus points of view nor my employer. That’s pretty much always true.

Herodotus (I)

Our family’s “plan” afor cars is to buy a new car every five years. The way this plan (theoretically) works is that we take out a four year loan on a car, get a year to build up a down payment, and then trade out our oldest car. Since we’ve been married just over 10 years, we have one or two cycles of this under our belt.

The ailing Brunhilde
The ailing Brunhilde

There are, however, a few challenges. For instance, 9 years ago when we bought Brunhilde, we had no children. Now we have two. Two children requires slightly more space (and stuff) than zero children. I spent all last year wishing for a slightly bigger car, mostly because of camping. See, camping with two children for four days in a Toyota Matrix with no roof rack required slightly less planning and spatial reasoning than your average shuttle launch. We shivered our way through the early and late seasons because there wasn’t enough room for me to bring sufficient blankets for the weather. The kids get like two toys for the whole time because more won’t fit. And if Grey’s feet ever get long enough to touch the floor, we won’t be able to bring the cooler anymore. I thought about renting a larger car for those four weekends… but that ends up being quite expensive — almost a car payment per four day weekend for an SUV.

Then Brunhilde, our 2002 Saturn, starting making an odd kathunk while being driven. We brought her to about 5 different mechanics and spent many oodles of dollars getting her fixed. Then, a month later she started thunking again. I couldn’t bring myself to go through that all the repair rigmarole and cost again, so I stuck my hands over my ears and said “LALALA” as loudly as I could. This worked for several months. In fact, the car is still drivable.

The car as seen in the rear view mirror.
The car as seen in the rear view mirror.

Still, over the last six or so weeks, we gradually worked our way through the possible candidates. I didn’t like the Honda Odyssey at all, and it was crazy expensive. We loved the Dodge Journey from the outside, and it looked pretty, but driving it was somehow disconcerting and backing it up was terrifying. I had high hopes for the Toyota Rav 4 (I was holding out for a third row seat), but the 3rd row on the Rav 4 was pathetic. Not even my mother-in-law, whom I have stuffed into the hatchback trunk of a tiny Mazda (the first time I ever met her!) would not fit in it. We didn’t even bother driving it.
I added the bumper sticker when I paid her off.
I added the bumper sticker when I paid her off.

That left one candidate standing. The Kia Sorento. Seats 7 (as long as none of them has any luggage). Gets up to 29 mpg (theoretically). Came shockingly fully loaded at the base (I’m enjoying Sirius radio, bluetooth phone connectivity, backup cameras & radar, and most importantly a butt warmer). We opted for Tuscan Olive and spent several hours signing away the next five years of our life. (What can I say, it was too expensive for four years. At least it was at 1.9%?)

We’ve named it Herodotus, since I just finished reading Herodotus’ Persian Wars. Thane is utterly cute telling you that we have a new green car named Herodotus. (I haven’t had the heart to tell him it’s actually tuscan olive.)

To digress to car naming, our first car – which my husband was given in 1997 – was Olaf. Then Brunhilde, another Saturn. We still have Hrothgar, a 2007 Toyota Matrix (blue!) and now Herodotus. We keep getting more ancient. I think the next car might have to be Gilgamesh. And I don’t know where you go after that!

Meet Herodotus
Meet Herodotus

Brunhilde, having done 9 years of yeoman labor, was despised by the dealership. Something about a thunking sound. I guess it would’ve been too much to hope they would miss that. I tried pointing out that her stereo was probably worth half of what they were offering, but they would have none of it. I finally decided to donate her to WBUR. At worst I’ll get a tax deduction roughly equivalent to her trade in value. At best, I’ll get a better one than that and ‘BUR will get cash too. Seems like a win/win.

In early days, I must admit that Herodotus is bigger than he seemed in the showroom. Putting him in our tiny narrow driveway aptly makes the point that he’s rather wider than his predecessor. And the fuel efficiency tracking is so far well under the promised range, making me worried that I failed to fulfill one of the conditions I cared most about. Do you get points for trying really, really hard? I finally have a trunk LARGER than a Costco cart, which I proved amply today. Also, I’d forgotten how freeing it was to drive old cars that were mostly or totally paid off.

But boy, it is nice not to thunk my way down the highway.

Welcome home, wanderer
Welcome home, wanderer

Cars and trucks and things that go

Vehicles have been consuming a disproportionate amount of my mental energy lately, and not just because my youngest feels the need to narrate as we drive by. “Bu car! Red car! Big truck!!!” About two? Three weeks ago? I posted about how both of our hitherto reliable vehicles had simultaneously developed urgent problems.

The elder of our two cars, a 2002 Saturn named Brunhilde, has the less driveable of the problems. There’s something with the solenoid or warp drive or some such thing that causes it to lurch every time it shifts (it’s an automatic). So far she’s been to:

Midas: $500 for unrelated issues. Never actually checked to see if it worked.
Midas: Said, oh, the problem actually requires skill so we can’t fix it.
Transmission place: told us to go to the electrical place
Electrical place: said the electrical was fine, told us to go to the transmission place
Transmission place: said that they can look at it in a week. Maybe. It’s now at the transmission place and we are holding out high hopes that maybe someone will actually look at it sometime this year and tell us how much to fork over for fixing it.

Of course, it’s a 2002 Saturn with over 100,000 miles on it that is already nearly 2 car payments deep on repairs. I reckon it has about another $3000 of repairs before the repairs are worth more than the car. So there’s a chance that the transmission place will call up and say, “It’s a warp core breach, cap’n. I canna fix it!” And then poof! We will be in “So we’re buying a new car this weekend mode.”

I don’t wanna buy a new car this weekend. But my family motto is “Nuquam non paratus” which translates to “Boldly go where no mom has gone before”. Or “Never unprepared”. One of the two. So prepared I must be. (My husband’s family motto translates to “Never a good one among us.”)

This is one of the those all-to-frequent moments when I wish you could just write a sql query against life. It would look like this:

SELECT Car, Price, Fuel_Efficiency, Number_of_Passengers, Cargo_Space
FROM 2010_Cars
WHERE Number_of_Passengers >= 5
AND Cargo_Space >= (SELECT Cargo_Space FROM 2007_Cars WHERE Car = ‘Toyota Matrix’)
ORDER BY Fuel_Efficiency DESC

Right there, that would give me everything I’d need. Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to compile that database manually? And then there’s the fact that I know this exact database (or its corollary) actually exists, and I’m totally duplicating effort. But nooo…. they have to have these “friendly user interfaces” that bury the key pieces of information on page 6 and clog up the pages with pointless pieces of non-information like “sporty feeling”. Bah! You know, it’s really hard to even track down how many can be seated in a particular car!

What I really want is a car that can be converted to seat 6 (those rear-facing seats that can flip up), has about double the cargo capacity of our Matrix (our camping trips are like the space shuttle launch in terms of what we have space for), gets 30+ mpg on average, and costs about $17k. Is that so much to ask? (She asks rhetorically.) So I know I’m going to have to give on one or more of those, but I want to play with the give and takes. For example, I’ve been daydreaming about the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but the mpg isn’t actually THAT great and the price is about double what I want to pay. It’s remarkably difficult to find a place where you can just enter in your criteria and they’ll shoot back a list of matching vehicles. Cars.com, for example, asks what make and model you want. I don’t care! I care about features and functionality, not branding! How should I know what makes and models have the features I want?!!?

Anyway, hopefully it’s all moot. I’m sure the mechanic will call back and say that the grand total is $120, and they filled the tank and detailed the car while they had it. And then I’ll go collect my free flying unicorn. And schedule an appointment to replace the bits of our other car, Hrothgar, that have, you know, fallen off.