01.02.05

Buying a New Car

Posted in Consumer advice at 10:49 am by ducky

Right before we left to go to visit our moms for Christmas 2004, I put my beloved husband’s beloved fifteen year old Honda Civic station wagon in the shop. The shop informed me that the car needed US$2500 worth of repair, which is more than we think the car is worth.

And while the car might have been beloved by my beloved husband, it was NOT beloved by me. It had no power steering and took more physical exertion to shift than I thought was necessary. It also didn’t have air conditioning, a fact which bothered some people who are not as enamored of our scents as we are.

Thus on Friday we looked at cars and on Sunday we bought one. Now, lest you think us hasty, we have had a line item in our long-term budget for two years that said we were going to buy a car in December 2004. We had money sitting in our checking account ready to go spend on a car.

What we wanted

We had a hard time getting around to actually making the purchase because we couldn’t find the perfect car. What we really wanted was a 2005 Honda Civic hybrid station wagon that got 60 miles per gallon. Alas, that car doesn’t exist at the moment.

Our most stringent criteria were that it had to be comfortable for me to drive and Jim had to fit in the back seat. We also wanted enough cargo space to carry supplies for parades and rallies, so wanted a small hatchback.

What we bought

The car we eventually bought was a blue Mazda 3 hatchback. This car is a bit taller than our old one, so Jim fit. The seat goes up and down and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so I was able to get comfortable in it easily. It’s got lots of cargo room.

What I like

I hadn’t bought a car in a long time, and I was impressed by how much better cars are now (aside from the gas mileage, which seems to have gotten worse). I realize partly we got more because we paid a little more, but they weren’t always expensive things. These things were new to us:

  • Storage cubbyholes everywhere. I didn’t count, but there are at least four cupholders, while none of our previous cars had any. There are two storage bins in the floor next to the spare tire. The ashtray converts to a sunglasses holder when you throw out the insert. The center armrest has not one, but two cubbies. There are two cubbies above the wheel wells in the trunk.
  • There is a button on the dash that you can push to brighten up the dash. On our old car, if your headlights were on, it assumed it was night and that everything can be dim. That isn’t always true when it’s raining, so that button is nice.
  • At the top-center of the windshield, there is a patch — perhaps part of the antenna system? — that is mostly opaque. It is right in the spot that is not covered by the sun visors, so I expect that driving in sun will be more comfortable.
  • We got an automatic transmission, but they make it easy to get the benefits of a stick without having to deal with a clutch: you can put the transmission into a mode where you can bump up or down the gear easily.
  • Electric and automatic everything — standard. Power windows. Power door locks. Cruise control. Power window adjusters. Fog lights. Rear window wiper. (These existed before, but were higher-end features.) LED (plasma?) indicators and gages.
  • Safety. With the options we got, we got ABS brakes and six airbags. All five seatbelts are three-point belts.
  • Sound system controls on the steering column.
  • Air conditioner with coolant that won’t destroy the ozone layer

It also feels much more zippy than our old Honda. Not only is it not fifteen years old, its engine is 53% bigger. Yes, I understand that is part of why the mileage isn’t as good as we’d like, but it drinks only 16% more gas, not 53% more gas.)

What I don’t like

It’s gas mileage isn’t as good as we would have liked, but that seems to be in part a function of the times we live in. I would have liked it if it had a aux input jack to the stereo (so that I could plug in an MP3 player), and when I open the door, rain dumps down. Those seem like minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

What else we looked at

We really wanted to like the hybrids. Alas, the Prius just doesn’t fit me right. We rented a Prius last year for a week in an attempt to figure out how to configure it to make it comfortable for me to drive. We failed. The Honda Insight is only a two-seater, and thus inappropriate for our current family of three. We tried the Honda Civic hybrid, but my six-foot-tall beloved husband bumped his head on the ceiling when sitting in the back seat. The only other hybrid is an SUV, and we aren’t emotionally prepared to get an SUV.

We looked at both the Scion xA (which was too small for Jim) and the Scion xB (which had great headroom and cargo room, but which looks like a hearse to me). We looked at the Toyota Matrix, which Jim really liked. Alas, it didn’t fit me in the same way that the Toyota Prius didn’t fit me. (Not surprising.)

Where we bought

We bought at Oak Tree Mazda. John Kapelowitz spent quite a lot of time with us and gave us a very thorough, informed tour of the car. Jim got a few quotes over the Internet, including one from Oak Tree and one from Menlo Mazda that was lower. We went back to Oak Tree because we want bricks-and-mortar dealers to keep existing.

Touching cars is very important in the purchase process, and we wanted to respect the cost they carry for inventory and sales. We also wanted to reward John for the nice service he gave us.

Greg Kimberley dealt with all the paperwork. It took a surprisingly long time to get the car, even paying cash, but it was a painless experience. The Internet quote we got from Oak Tree was very reasonable, and he didn’t try to pull any sort of bait and switch, or any sort of heavy upselling. Because we paid cash, perhaps they figured we were savvy enough that they wouldn’t be able to mess with us… or maybe they were genuinely nice.

Bottom line

I’m pleased. It’s a fun little car and driving it doesn’t make me ache!

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