Friday, February 16, 2007

So I bought a Prius instead

I took the long way home from the dealer tonight, just to spend some time in my new car. I did about a 20 mile trip on some back roads. The Prius says I did about 40 mpg.

I resolved that with my first tank of gas or two, I would not attempt to maximize the gas mileage by tinkering with my driving technique; rather I'd drive without thinking about it, to get a baseline. Despite that, this evening, I couldn't help playing with the accelerator and the brakes to try to get the best mileage.

Apparently the trips that I make most often are exactly those trips which are supposed to get the worst mileage in this car:
The Prius and other hybrids get the worst mileage in the first five to ten minutes of driving...

Frequent short city trips will not produce good mileage, even though the Prius is rated very high for city driving.
I live less than 10 miles from work; it's about a 10 minute drive. It appears that it will be a challenge getting a really good mileage from this car.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Disappointed by the Yaris

Just a few days ago, I was all set to buy a Yaris; I felt sure that taking the test drive was a mere formality. I had seen the car parked around town and I loved the way it looked. It was a small hatchback and cheap, just what I wanted. But I took a test drive last weekend and unfortunately, I was disappointed.

When I got in the car, I instantly disliked the layout of the instrument panel. Specifically, the environmental controls for temperature and vents are laid out in a vertical column of three dials (a reviewer at CNET described it as an "interesting configuration". Hmm). The dials looked like some cheap junk you'd find on a child's toy (IMHO). It was awkward to reach the lowest dial, the one for setting the temperature, because the stick shift was in the way when it was pushed forward. Ok, I'm not in love with the interior, but I can live with it.

When I put the car in gear, I noticed that there was no tachometer. No tachometer on a manual transmission car? Weird - and annoying. Maybe I overly rely on the visual cue provided by a tachometer especially when I'm in low gears; I stalled out the Yaris several times during the test drive. Not the greatest experience.

I rarely drive a car other than my own Geo Metro, so maybe I'm too accustomed to its manual transmission, which I've been using for the past 10 years. As I drove around, I never felt comfortable with the shifting process in the Yaris. The reviewer at CNET described it this way:
The gear ratios in the transmission require some getting used to: First gear should be held longer than in most cars, up to about 15mph, with second gear taking over to about 35mph. Third gear can hold out and even cruise at 55mph.
I am pretty sure I'd get used to the gear shift, but it wasn't nice that I didn't feel immediately comfortable with it.

After the test drive, I had mixed feelings, but I was still interested, so I talked to the dealer about options. I had already decided that I wanted a couple of optional features that I'd pay extra for, but I absolutely wanted them: a) side curtain airbags and b) a bright color: "Blazing Blue Pearl" or "Absolutely Red" (supposedly there is no extra charge for the color, but the airbags do cost extra).

On the airbag issue, it is stupid that side airbags are optional. At the very least, they should be readily available. Without them, the Yaris earned a "poor rating [from the IIHS] in side crashes without side airbags and a good rating with them". I have jokingly referred to my Geo Metro as the "death trap" for years, but it's not entirely a joke. It's not the safest car to drive.
Americans who buy the smallest cars on the market are twice as likely to have fatal accidents as drivers of midsize and larger vehicles [2006 report from IIHS]
Save the environment and your money, but sacrifice your life? Having additional airbags makes me feel better about driving a small car.

I was unbelieving when the dealer told me that I absolutely could not get side curtain airbags. He claimed that Toyota sends out a fixed number of preconfigured cars to each region of the country, and that I would be unable to get airbags anywhere, because there were no Yarii in the Northeast (or practically anywhere) with side airbags... He showed me a book of specs which indicated that he was not lying. He also showed me specs that indicated it would be unlikely that I could get the color that I wanted (only a small percent of Yarii in the Northeast are painted in the bright colors that I wanted). It was weird but I'd almost swear the dealer did not want me to buy this car (unless I bought the one straight off the lot). I can understand why they want you to buy one off the lot rather than ordering one, but does it make sense to discourage you from buying that model altogether? I don't know, but I guess it worked on me. I came away from the dealer disappointed and thinking seriously about other options.

What the dealer did not mention was that it would be possible to get a Yaris special ordered from the factory with your choice of color and options. I was later told by another dealer that I could special order the car, which would be created in Japan for me, and which would cost more and take a "really long time" to get here. Since my current car is failing, I did not feel comfortable waiting a "really long time". I had also read some discussions on the web that left me with the vague fear that a special-ordered car might not ever actually arrive... The whole experience left me feeling uncomfortable, so I crossed the Yaris off my list.

I definitely get the impression that dealers are discouraging customers from buying the Yaris. Maybe they make too little money off these cars. In this case, the dealers who discouraged me from buying the Yaris did not get any further business from me, but I suspect they don't care.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Old car, new car

In my internal debate over buying a new car, two expenses loom menacingly: an increase in my property tax, and an increase in my auto insurance. The increase in insurance will mainly come because I'll have to get collision/theft coverage. I dropped that coverage on my old car years ago, but I'd be nuts not to get this coverage on a new vehicle. I haven't priced this yet, but I know it's going to hurt.

In Connecticut, every town has a different mill rate. The mill rate (which is essentially a percent), together with the assessed value of your property, determines your yearly property tax - in this case, the tax on my car.

Last year my town assessed my car as being worth about $1000. (This reminds me, maybe I can get them to buy it from me? I don't think anyone else will give me $1000 for it at this point.) The associated property tax was about $30, practically nothing.

If I get a Yaris, I'll probably be paying around 15 times that amount - as much as $500 yearly. Which is just awful. The idea of that new expense makes me want to repair my old car and keep it limping along.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The test drive

My car, now 12 years old, has developed a problem that will cost so much to fix that I have 99% decided to get a new car.

I knew that the end was coming eventually; I've been looking around at other models for a couple of years now. Things I want in my car:
  • It must be as small as possible. I like being able to squeeze into impossibly small parking spaces in NYC.
  • It must get the best available gas mileage.
I also want manual transmission, and prefer a 2-door hatchback, like my current car.

Up until recently, I was unable to find anything with a reasonable gas mileage, other than a hybrid. I'd been considering the Honda Insight, but they're expensive for such a small car, and it's hard to find a used one (Honda actually stopped making them last year, which is a pity).

In 2006, two acceptable cars came out: the Honda Fit, and the Toyota Yaris. My heart is really set on the Yaris. The Fit is a four-door and strikes me as excessively large. It gets slightly worse mileage than the Yaris. The more I think it over, the more I want the Yaris, and the more I want it now.

There's just one little problem: I have to test drive one to make sure it doesn't have any features that are so objectionable that I couldn't stand to drive it for the next 10 years. I am incredibly eager to test drive one, at this point, but my local dealer does not have a hatchback with manual transmission in stock. It's very frustrating... here I am ready to spend huge wads of cash, and there's this seemingly trivial, yet essential, barrier: the need for a test drive. *Sigh*.