Friday, March 11, 2011

My reflections on purchasing a new car

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:42pm
In July of 2000, I bought a bright blue VW Jetta diesel (an early delivery designated as a 2001 model). It has been a wonderful car over the past nearly nine years and 150,000 miles. Given the longevity of the diesels (with their lower RPMs and lower operating temperatures), it likely has another 150,000 left in it. I really have enjoyed the diesel experience (45-50 mpg!), and it was the perfect car for me. Having learned to drive on a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle during the energy crisis of the mid-'70s, it was fun to be back in a fuel efficient V-dub again.

However, the Jetta had begun to show its age, with the normal wear and tear one would expect after driving the equivalent of more than six times around the earth (circumference=24,900 miles). I had been saving money for a future new car purchase, because I knew it would have to occur someday. When I heard the new economic stimulus package included a provision for an “above the line” tax credit for the sales taxes paid on new vehicle purchases during calendar year 2009 only, I thought maybe this was a “sign” to go ahead and begin looking.

Another reason to get a new car was the idea that I would not trade the Jetta for a new model, but instead give it to my daughter Halley, who had achieved a 3.8 GPA during her first semester of college at Marshall. She had announced this spring that she planned to transfer to WVU next fall for the remainder of her schooling. I knew that she could benefit from having her first car while in school. The Jetta would serve her well—at least as soon as she learned to drive a standard. It made sense to keep it in the family. It is a good car!

A key requirement for me when it comes to a car is fuel economy. I remember the gas shortages of the OPEC oil embargo, and have always tried to conserve. Thus, diesels and hybrids were high on my list. I thought about the elongated Mini Cooper Clubman, but despite its small size, the 29/33 MPG rating is not that good (plus there is no local dealership).

If Ford had brought over the diesel powered Focus they sell elsewhere around the world, I might have picked an American car. For that matter, if the Chevy Volt concept car that Anna and I saw when we went to the big North American Auto Show in Detroit all the way back in 2002 had been available when GM first predicted, I might be driving one of them. Or even if Dodge would have done something fuel efficient rather than resurrecting the Chargers and Challengers of my youth. But unfortunately, none of the “Big Three” automakers offer anything close to the fuel economy I currently get.

By the way, prior to the Jetta, all of the cars I had owned from 1984 to 2000 had been American made*, most recently with the Saturn that my ex-wife got in the divorce. I went to the initial Saturn Homecoming at the factory in 1994 and still have a soft spot for the company. However, Saturns today are really just rebadged Opels and don't even have the innovative plastic body panels—they are merely a shadow of what the company originally intended to be.

Anna and I attended the Pittsburgh International Auto Show over Valentine's Weekend (is she my kinda girl or what!), where I began my research—although being a bit of a car buff, such research is always ongoing. I liked the new version of the Jetta (except for the chrome front bumper), however, they made it larger and heavier and more powerful, so the MPG according went down. Not only that, but the MPG difference between the automatic and the standard was negligible. It was still in the running, though, because of my enthusiasm for the diesel concept.

While the original Toyota Prius (2000-2003) did not impress me, the design used the past five years was appealing to me. The sloping roofline was similar to the futuristic car designs I used to doodle in grade school. However, I have always enjoyed manual transmissions (i.e., DRIVING a car, rather than riding in a car that shifts for me), and you can't get a Prius with a standard.

The Honda Civic hybrid was OK, but I didn't like that it looked just like a regular Civic. So I was intrigued when I heard that they were redesigning the Insight to be similar to the four-door Prius. Not only that, but the Insight would endeavor to be less expensive, plus would have paddle shifters so that the driver can shift the automatic CVT transmission at will, just like an Indy driver has behind his (or her—Danica Patrick) steering wheel.

When the Insight finally arrived earlier this month, I was excited to see the Sky Blue Metallic paint, which I really liked. However, it is smaller than the Prius, and the quality seems a bit less than the Prius. Plus, the fuel economy is in the low 40s rather than the high 40s. It was still under serious consideration until I took it for a test drive. It was fun to drive, but the instantaneous feedback on the computer readout of the gas mileage made me realize that using the paddle shifters for a more “sporty” drive was going to have a negative impact on the MPG, taking the fun out of my driving.

What really cinched the deal for the Prius was the financing package being offered in some areas of the country to sell off the 2009 models before the new 2010 models arrive. Luckily, my local dealership was offering the 0% for 36 months offer from Toyota, and I was eligible to finance 100% of the purchase price. The other stroke of luck is my favorite Prius color (not that any were as good as my Jetta's Blue Lagoon Metallic) and desired options were available on a model that the local dealer acquired in a trade with an Ohio dealership. The combination of the 0% financing through the end of April, and the local dealer having a model in the color and with options I wanted, resulted in me making the purchase decision sooner than I had planned—but I think it is the right thing to do.

One final consideration was that Toyota had made an investment in West Virginia with the engine plant in Putnam County, as well as the new Hino truck factory in Williamstown. They have proven themselves to be a good company, and many of my friends with Toyotas were very encouraging.

Thus, tomorrow I am now joining the hybrid ranks with a Barcelona Red 2009 Toyota Prius, while the VW diesel continues with another family member behind the wheel. I hope it works out well for both of us.


  1. Not sure if you still have the Blue Lagoon Jetta in the family, but if you have any interest in selling the Blue Lagoon Jetta TDI, please contact me, I love that color and have been searching for one for a while.

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  2. I don't think she has any near-term plans of getting rid of it, because it still is running good. I agree that the Blue Lagoon color was the best of all! I'm glad my dealer had one (and it had the options I wanted--manual transmission, but not all the bells and whistles).