Saturday, February 08, 2014

[Cars] The Search for a New Ride

Search for a New Ride: The check engine light won't go off. I think it's an emissions thing which would bother me if I cared about the environment. I get a howling road noise between the speeds of 45-50 mph. Mechanic says a new set of tires will solve it. I'm not so sure, but I might try it in another 2000-3000 miles. But the real killer is that It's burning oil at a rate of about a quart every 1500 miles. No leaks, presumably just head gasket-y kind of stuff. It's got 185,000 miles (but, impressively, no rust). It might be the year to wedge a crowbar in my wallet and get a new car. Time to do some looking.

The first realization that comes from this is that new cars are really friggin' expensive. If I were to get a four-year loan for another Camry, a 2014, I'd be looking at a monthly payment between $550 and $600. Not to mention that my insurance might go up. Then there's the question of what to do with my current car. As a trade I would get nowhere near what it's worth. I could go through the hassle of putting it on Craigslist and finding a buyer that way, but who's going to pony up cash for a car with the Check Engine light on. And if I'm going to get it fixed up for sale, I might as well keep it, right? I could donate it to charity, but the tax write-off would likely be less than what I would get for trade-in. I'm so confused.

I really don't know what kind of car I would get. I no longer feel locked in to a Camry or any Toyota. Don't laugh, but my first thought is that I should get a minivan. Minivans ride and drive as well as most sedans, and when I look at that cavernous space in back -- well, it'd wonderful to be able to just throw a set of bikes in the back, or load up bags of mulch by the score, or take five people and their luggage on the 4 hour drive to Mackinac Island, all without breaking a sweat. But minivans are more expensive than Camrys. That's not entirely true; I could get a low-end Dodge Caravan for probably less than a Camry, but then I'd be driving a low-end Dodge and there are compromises in going low-end. For example, I would not get a full-sized spare tire -- a mini-spare is optional -- standard is a tire inflator kit. I think my minivan would have to be a mid-level Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey, and that means moolah.

But let's face it: the overwhelming majority of the time, it's just me in the car. All that space would be empty. It would probably be cheaper, but a good deal less convenient, just to rent a van or pickup truck on an as needed basis. The practical answer would be to do that, then get something small and efficient. The new Honda Fit looks awfully cool. Another favorite if I went this route would be to go with a Prius V (the Prius station wagon model). The Prius V is roughly Camry-priced, but I would have to take it through a serious test drive to see how I liked hybrid driving. The Honda Fit might be even better. It can't match the hybrid for mileage, but it's no slouch, and I could slide in easily under 20 grand.

Then again, longevity is key, since I treat a cars as a durable good -- something that I will still be using 10 years from now if not longer. That makes me worry about mechanical and technical complications in cars like the Prius. Hybrids have been around for over a decade now, but is that long enough to be considered proven? And the Fit is renowned for its cutting-edge technology, which makes it suspect for the long haul.

Of course, if durability is the primary concern, the best choice is probably a full-size Lexus or Toyota -- especially a Toyota truck. That's an idea: a Toyota Tundra pickup, one with rear seats. It solves most of my issues, with the added bonus of allowing me to see over all the crossovers and SUVs and such. I could get the six-cylinder version since I won't be doing any major hauling. Two-wheel drive. Mileage still would probably be only around 17-ish on average.

So, let's recap. I've found reasons to both buy and not buy a new car, and if I buy, I've found reasons to select anything from a tiny compact car to a full sized truck. This is what it's like in my head. It's a wonder I ever make any decisions. If you were to bet, you'd do well wagering I was still driving my current ride by the end of the year.