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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Merry Christmas To Me?

My issues with cars, good and bad, has nearly reached legendary status here on the blog. I’ve told you how I can pack nearly anything into a car, how much I loathe snow tires, how goofy electrical issues keep me up at night and how bad I have it with brakes, wheels and transmissions. I’ve also told you how Christmas can be very expensive to a car owner and that beings us up to date. Although, I expect each and every one of you to go back and read all those posts as a homework assignment. I’m kidding. You have far better things to read about, I’m sure. *sniff*

So, to summarily bring you up to speed, I used to drive a 97’ Chevy Cavalier, which I loved and then the head gasket blew in 2005. As my wife and I searched for a new car, I zeroed in on a 2005 Malibu Maxx. I drove it for two years until our daughter was born. I then handed over the keys [read: pried out of my hands] to her to have it as the Mom Mobile and began driving her 99’ Pontiac Sunfire. I drove that for two years in which time the transmission, gas gauge, air conditioning, brakes, rotors, exhaust and little volume knob on the radio broke or needed replaced. Each year instead of a car payment I put almost $500 into keeping it road worthy. Knowing full well that this car would not pass inspection at the end of the year I made the decision to start looking for a replacement.

Both my wife and I tend to differ on what is acceptable in price and features on most things including cars, vacation rentals and other things. Still, we work together well when it comes down to the important things like picking a color. I say that, lovingly, as my wife will be the enforcer and I can rely on her to help beat the sales person into submission, but she sometimes reveals too much when she walks in off the street. She’d make a great poker player, if the object was to show everyone your cards as soon as you get them. However, we did agree on one thing in our list of features we wanted in a new car, four cylinders.

That seems rather trivial but we have a V6 on the Maxx and it does eat a lot of gas, at least when she drives it. I can stretch a tank of gas on that thing to 300 miles and still have a quarter of a tank. She’s refilling at 220. But transmission speed aside, she kept telling me, “This is your car. You have to make the payment. It’s your decision.” Yet, every decision I made was met with criticism.

Let’s break down what I wanted on the new car.

Four Doors:
It’s nice to be able to get into the back seat of your own car without having to contort yourself into some weird position. There’s been a few times where I’ve had to grab the car seat from another car and put it into the back of the Pontiac and that is a pain in the ass. I’ve gone to pick my daughter up from being babysat with the Pontiac and she does most of the work getting into and out of the car seat because of how far it sits back from the door.

Four Cylinders:
I do a lot of back road driving on hills to get to work. A V6 is nice to have on those hills, but I only need 4 cylinders everywhere else. That being said, I shunned a lot of cheaper cars because of the size of the engine. 2.0 or better was what I wanted. This pissed me wife off as much as my insistence on 1080p vs. 720p when we shopped for an LCD HDTV. She doesn’t understand those things, she looks at the price.

I love having the Maxx because it’s a wagon/hatchback. Even though, I’ve managed to fit a 32” television set into the back seat of the a coupe, it’s nice to have that hatch and fold down seats. When we were shopping for the Maxx, I looked at Cobalts and besides being over priced I did not like that the back seat did not fold down flat. I was able to fit a 7’ Christmas tree, still in the box, into the trunk and back seat of my Cavalier. The opening between the trunk and back seat and the angle of which the back seat pitched up when laid down would make it impossible. Now, my wife says this is unnecessary since we have the hatch on the Maxx. I told her, “No, you have the Maxx. I may need it when you are out.”

When we began looking for the car, the auto industry was floundering. I figured it was a good time to buy. I knew I had a good six months to really make a final decision but getting the sales team to sweat it out with me and bring down the bottom line was intriguing. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on buying a new car. My wife wanted me to get used but at the time, I told her that used car prices were bloated because of the profit margins on them. The brand new vehicles eat into the overhead the longer they sit on the lot. I’d be willing to get a previous year model, brand new, over used vehicle because of the inflated prices. They only way I’d consider a pre-owned vehicle is if it had less than 15,000 miles per year since its production and was less than $15,000. My wife went with $10,000 but I told her that was too much to hope for.

With all those variables in mind I narrowed my choice down to a Top Four List of cars.

I started with the Kia Soul. Regardless of what others thought, I believed it to be a good car.
It had exactly what I wanted in features and I was really ready to loosen my grip on owning a GM vehicle. The Maxx and Sunfire has been hard on brakes, rotors, and other maintenance items that I never had to worry about before on the Cavalier. Being a new model for 2010, there was no way I was going to be able to negotiate pricing.

I then checked out the Scion XD. Scion seemed like a reliable manufacture because of them being part of Toyota. The pure pricing thing irks me because there is no haggle room. I’m sorry, but when they promote that as being beneficial to the customer, it’s really not. They say that because they can’t budge on pricing, you don’t have to worry about the dealer raking you over the coals on pricing and you can go to any dealer and get the same price. I say that it’s crap because then you get screwed on all the additional charges that dealers pad the bottom line with not to mention, I don’t believe that pure pricing addresses the true cost of the vehicle. The bar was set too high from the beginning. Even the used models are maybe a hundred dollars cheaper. Sorry, but where’s that standard 20% depreciation on a car after being driven off the lot? The XD get left for the XB once I sat in one. I nearly clunked my head on the XD but the price on the XB made it impossible to consider.

Chevy HHR was my silver bullet to all this. It had all the features and it was still a GM car which meant I could haggle over brand loyalty, use my GM card rewards, and take advantage of the GM financial issues to bring a new car down into my price range. I could never find one at a dealer. They are either that popular or nobody wants one on their lot. I did find a few used ones that I would have considered but never made it out to a dealer to talk before it was already bought.

Toyota Matrix was a pie in the sky dream that I could never have afforded, even used as most were only in my price range if they had close to 100,000 miles on them. People told me, “Well if you like the Matrix, buy a Pontiac Vibe. No chance. I don’t care how much crap you sling about the Vibe being built on a Matrix chassis. It’s still got Pontiac wiring and that transmission is suspect. In any case, the Vibe was way out of my price range as well. It was a fall back if all else failed.

I thought I’d never get a car at this rate and soon I began noticing that the Sunfire was leaking something. At first I thought the gas line had a hole in it because it always smelled like gas. Then, I noticed black puddles on the ground. I checked the oil and it was full. Someone suggested transmission fluid. Nope. Another suggested something from the head was leaking. The problems were mounting. Now, I couldn’t even start the car unless I turned the key, then stopped, pumped the gas pedal a couple of times and then tried the key again. And on top of all that, the muffler rusted out and the thing sounded awful.

My in-laws had just purchased a PT Cruiser and loved it. They got it used and relatively cheap with low mileage. I had not read anything good on the PT and it was just a little small in the front for my taste. That was another red x on the XD and Soul, the front ends were short and living in deer central, I didn’t want one to come through the dashboard by way of the grille. With only two weeks before the inspection was to run out I made a last ditch effort on searching for cars. It appeared as if the auto industry crisis was over since all the prices on cars were back up again and I missed out on the cash for clunkers deal because the Sunfire wasn’t eligible due to gas mileage. If I had tried to push back a decision and get the Pontiac inspected I would have ended up sinking a good $500 or more into it before the sticker could even go on the plate.

There was a used PT Cruiser at the same dealership my in-laws bought theirs. 2006 touring model with 37,000 miles on it for less than $11,000. I looked up the blue book value and it came back at $9700. I was ready to settle. I walked into the lot and started to make the deal. As we were walking back to the office my wife and I noticed a sharp white vehicle staring at us.

Buy Me

Now, I have no experience with brands outside of GM so I don’t know what is good and what is bad, but I’ve always thought that Mazda had a good reputation. Sitting here was a 2006, Mazda 5 Sport with 37,000 miles on it for a couple thousand more. We wanted to talk numbers before driving it. I managed to work the dealer down $1800 dollars with a trade on the Pontiac. Go figure. Who would have thought I could have gotten anything for that POS? Granted, I know I really got zero for the Pontiac and the dealer was being resistant about bringing down the price since my wife was willing to take the PT Cruiser one way or the other. Also, we came in looking for a small car and ended up being interested in a minivan. Actually, it made a lot of sense. With the Maxx only being a five door sedan we are limited in expanding the family anytime soon. Also, whenever we go anywhere with her parents, we have to take two vehicles to fit everyone. A minivan would solve the problem for awhile and then we could eventually replace the Malibu with a sedan.

After all was said and done we worked out the particulars and took the Mazda for a test drive. I liked it. It had plenty of room, being a six passenger vehicle. It was a four cylinder, hatch back, and both rear doors were sliding. The visibility in front was great. I didn’t like how low to ground it was as going over speed bumps was tense and I didn’t like how there was more wheel than tire on it. Still, it was acceptable and it only took my wife driving it to want it, too. We walked back in and made the deal. I was psyched. The weight of this decision had been bearing down on me for months. Having to drive that leaky, noisy, death trap around was almost unbearable. Finally, I was going to be able to tool around in a car less than ten years old that has a hatch back and four doors. Finally, my wife was on board with a car purchase and we agreed on everything. Finally, I was getting to drive what I want.

I am now the proud driver of a Malibu Maxx...again.

Yeah, I got played. Merry Christmas, honey. Enjoy it.

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