Is the runaway Prius the next balloon boy hoax? I thought this story was a bit crazy when it came out because the guy refused to put his Prius in neutral when the emergency worker told him to. Plus, I just didn't see how he was able to try and unstick the accelerator pedal with his hand while driving; he'd practically have to duck below the steering wheel to do so. The story could be true, but it's really odd. All of the other sudden acceleration stories (most of which have unhappy endings) ended quite quickly. This was a 20-minute joyride. Something's rotten in Denmark, that's for sure.
So I threatened in my earlier post to compare the operating costs of three Toyota vehicles, the Matrix, Corolla and Prius. I chose those three cars because I have firsthand experience with them. I still own a '99 Corolla (102,000 miles, baby, and still going strong!) and J drives a '04 Maxtrix (90,000 miles).
However, the April 2010 edition of Consumer Reports* makes the comparison pretty easy for me, and actually solved the problem of what category a Prius actually falls into. Right now, Consumer Reports classifies it as a family car with a price tag of around $26,750 and a cost per mile of 47 cents. This is comparable to a Volkswagen Jetta ($23,939, 48 cents per mile). A Toyota Camry has a price tag of about $22,850 and a price per mile of 53 cents. The cost per mile, by the way, includes depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance/repairs, etc.
The Toyota Corolla LE, which is a more upscale version of the one I own (a CE) is $16,205 with a cost per mile of 45 cents. So yes, it would be cheaper for me to own an LE by about 2 extra cents per mile, but it would be a small car comparatively and that's not what I wanted. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports didn't provide a cost per mile for the Toyota Matrix, so I can't offer you that information right now.
Overall, the Prius has one of the lowest cost per miles provided by Consumer Reports. The really high costs -- over $1/mile -- belonged to cars most of us can only dream about such as the Mercedes-Benz S550 at a whopping $1.70/mile and the Porsche 911 Carrera S at $1.53/mile. The Mercedes-Benz, btw, is the most expensive car to operate. The cheapest looks like the Honda Fit at 42 cents per mile. The most expensive small SUV is the Land Rover LR@ SE at 83 cents/mile and the most expensive mid-sized SUV is the Jeep Commander Limited (V8) at $1/mile. The car that surprised me the most was the Honda Civic, which came in at 58 cents/mile and the Dodge Charger at 71 cents/mile. I always thought of the Civic as a more economical, fuel-efficient car, so it surprises me how much more expensive it is per mile compared to the Corolla. I think a Fit might be a better value and I anticipate (though I don't know for sure) it might be a bigger car.
I would probably have to redo my cost per mile for the Prius as mine was nowhere near the $26,750 price tag listed in Consumer Reports. I suspect my cost would probably drop 2 to 3 cents as a result. I was also pleased to find out that Consumer Reports has my model -- the 2009 -- selling at $20,000 to $24,000 used, which means given what I paid for mine, I could sell it today and actually break even or come out slightly ahead.** I don't think that's a bad deal. Maybe I should take back my earlier statement about cars not being a good vehicle for investment...
*I think most of you know this, but I'm using Consumer Reports as an independent reference; no money is changing hands here -- we pay for our subscription. Second, I'm not being compensated by Toyota in any way; after 10+ years of driving Toyotas and having 5 of them in the family, I'm just a very loyal consumer. **My Prius is not impacted by the recall as it was manufactured in Japan (vin number starting with J).
When people find out I drive a Prius now, the reaction generally consists of the following:
"Do you know you'll never get your money on that?"
"You have to replace the battery in two years."
I'll tackle the second question first since people focus on that. The battery in the Prius has an eight-year or 100,000 mile warranty on it so the manufacturer will cover it if it conks out before that. The dealer did tell me that they have never replaced a battery outside of the warranty period though. I know you can't generally trust a dealer, but I figure they had no reason to truly lie here. Also, I do plan to drive this car at least eight years, if not longer; after all, I did drive my Corolla for nearly 11 years, and so if battery replacement comes up after eight years, that's something to deal with then.
As for the "you'll never get your money back" statement, the first thing to emphasize is that a car is NOT an investment. Regardless of the vehicle you choose to drive, you will never get your money back; it's a depreciable asset from the moment you drive off the lot. It's just a question of how quickly your car loses value and prior to the Toyota recall brouhaha, Toyotas held their value pretty well (my 1999 Corolla, not involved in any recall, is still worth about $3500 to $4000 according to Kelly Blue Book).
Now the Prius is a wee bit different in the sense it's the one car that once sold at higher prices USED rather than new; but that was when gas prices were higher -- I don't expect that to happen now (and again, when you drive it for eight plus years, resale value becomes less and less important).
The question is whether the additional cost of a Prius is offset by its fuel savings. A lot of studies, including Consumer Reports, have said no, but most of the comparisons are made to a Civic or Corolla. I find this to be a fallacy because a Prius is NOT the same as a Civic or Corolla in terms of features and size. When I was looking for a new car last summer, one of my requirements outside of fuel efficiency and reliability was that it needed to be bigger than the Corolla I was replacing; I wanted to be able to fit four adults comfortably into the car. Given the timeline of how long I intend to own the car, I wanted something bigger that could fit in nicely with any life changes. The Prius is about the same size as a Camry inside, maybe a little smaller, but there was no way a Corolla/Civic would fit my requirement for a bigger car.
It'd probably make more sense to compare the Prius, with all of its features, to a midsize hatchback or sedan, which cost more than a Corolla/Civic. When I compared my Prius to a Camry, I came out ahead, but I also got super deals on my Prius so I wouldn't necessarily take my calculations as representative of what the truth really is; I won't get the hybrid tax credit on the Prius, but I will get to deduct my sales tax on my federal tax return this year, so that will be an additional savings that you can't count on year after year (and this savings applies to any vehicle purchased in 2009, I believe). I honestly don't believe the difference in price is that big when you compare the Prius to similarly sized cars with similar features.
In my next post on this subject, I will compare three cars -- the Corolla, the Toyota Matrix, and the Prius -- to show the operating costs of these vehicles.
So my Prius has been recalled in this Great Toyota Brouhaha of 2009/2010. The car, however, hasn't been recalled for the stuck accelerator, but rather the floormat problem. So that's definitely a relief. I think having the stuck accelerator would be more worrisome of a problem, but I trust Toyota and Consumer Reports when they say it's a rare problem. I still think more people have died due to people talking or texting on cell phones than this accelerator problem.
I'm not discounting scariness of the issue, but for whatever reason, my loyalty to Toyota is strong. We're a three-Toyota car family and we've never had a problem outside of normal maintenance with any of the cars, including the '99 Corolla and '04 Matrix.
It also seems that Toyota is taking it on the chin, but it seems the problem is widespread across multiple brands. All you have to do is type "sudden car acceleration" into google and you'll see it spans a multitude of brands. According to Consumer Reports, 40 percent of complaints are related to Toyota and 28 percent to Ford (second place). I don't know how much of that difference is related to comparative number of vehicles on the road. Still, I think other people -- especially Ford owners -- should be aware of the issue since it does seem to be prevalent, but at the moment is completely focused on Toyota.
The good thing is Toyota is addressing the problem and they have a fix forthcoming that should put people's minds at ease. This recall doesn't change my feelings about Toyota and I would certainly consider another one in 10 years or so.
Scary article from the NY Times - Driven to Distraction - At 60 M.P.H.. Honestly, I can barely flip radio stations and drive at the same time, let alone check email/voice mails etc. I suppose most people who are like me put the cell phones away while driving, while everyone else is talking on the phone or texting and thinking they're doing just fine.
It scares me I'm on the road with people who are this reckless and careless. As my earlier saga with the car illustrated this past summer, people are trying to save themselves 10 to 20 minutes but in the meantime are costing the rest of us time and as this article points out, sometimes something much worse.
The article also comes with a game to test how distracted you are while driving and texting. I failed miserably. I can't text when I'm parked and concentrating 100% on the text, let alone while driving.
However, as I said, I think people who realize the dangers have already put away their cell phones. Everyone else thinks they're invincible or better than everyone else and nothing you say will ever convince them otherwise.
Is it just me or does the Dodge Charger remind anyone else of a shark? Seriously, every time I see one -- and I've been seeing a lot of them lately on Sweat Sock City highways -- I hear the "JAWS" theme. Please tell me it's not just me.
So after nearly 4 weeks, I finally have an appointment to get my car fixed. For those of you not in the know, I had a minor fender bender in my new car about a month ago. I was hit from behind IN A PARKING GARAGE BY A WOMAN WHO WAS TEXTING HER LAWYER. I felt bad for her because she was clearly distraught, in the process of getting a divorce, and for some reason, felt that A PARKING GARAGE WAS AN APPROPRIATE VENUE TO COMMUNICATE VIA TEXT MESSAGE WITH HER LAWYER.
There are so many things wrong with this incident on so many levels. Texting while driving at any time is super dangerous and distracting. I don't care how dexterous one is with their thumbs, you're not that good. Second, it's a PARKING GARAGE. A RESIDENTIAL PARKING GARAGE. Meaning, there are people backing in and out of spots all the live long day and people walking across the parking garage all the live long day. So it's not even the best place to TALK on your cell phone (especially when you consider it's a two-way garage, not a one way, and with tight corners; I affectionately call it "The Garage of Death.").
The point is, I had stopped and because she was texting, she did not see I was at a full stop and she hit me. Luckily, she owned up and now the insurance company is going to pay my claim. Anyway, she's off the hook now. She gave me her insurance information, but in return for her inability to make good decisions, I have had to do or will do the following:
1) I had to file a claim with Very Big Insurance Company. I used to work at Very Big Insurance Company for four years, so I know how they work and so I thought I was prepared. HA HA HA.
2) I had to go to the doctor because I had back pain from the incident. Doctor verified back pain and sent me to the pharmacist. I was out $40 from the incident, not to mention the 30 minutes at the doctor's office and the one hour at the pharmacy waiting for the prescriptions to be filled.
3) The claim rep called to let me know he got my claim, but then never called me again. So I then made a follow-up call but the claim rep had gone on vacation and they still had not contacted the woman who had hit me to verify the incident. They promised to call me.
4) They never called, so I called again. This time they agreed that my claim was valid, the woman verified it, and so now I can get it fixed, but to wait for the official letter.
5) I've received the official letter so now I made an appointment at the dealer to get it fixed. I'm taking it on Monday. In the meantime, I have to be without my shiny new car that I've owned less than 2 months. Luckily, I can drive my beloved Corolla instead of going to a rental. I find rental cars seriously annoying.
I feel very grateful that the accident wasn't worse than it was. I'm aggravated that my dream car has already been marred and in such a stupid fashion as well; I'm probably going to need an entirely new bumper (in addition to the dent, it also came loose from the frame of the car). And this accident was entirely avoidable in every way possible. She felt she needed to text her lawyer at that very moment in order to get something done, and those 30 seconds have caused a whole lot of aggravation on my end -- something that, with everything else going on in my life right now, I don't need.
All you people on your cell phones who think you are driving really, really well? No, no, you're not. And yes, we can tell that you're talking on your phone while you're driving -- it's that obvious. So cut it out already. You're not cool, you're dangerous.
True Car gives you values of what people are paying for cars in your zip code. It allows you to customize the car and then shows the bell curve of what a good price is, what a great price is, and you can deduce from that information when you're being taken for a ride. Just another tool to go along with the Kelly Blue Book, CarFax, Edmunds, and Consumer Reports, but this one really helps demystify what a good deal for a car is.
The Honda Insight is so not made of buy. Just tiny and cramped inside -- my head nearly skimmed the ceiling -- with a dashboard that looks like a video arcade. The rear window is hard to see out of and then there's a random little icon that tells you if you are driving efficiently or not; it's hard to see the point when it's really the job of the hybrid to manage the fuel efficiency, yes? The car handled roughly and the model we test drove -- at 250 miles only -- was making a funky rattling noise already. Anyway, not liking the Honda Insight a whole lot. Only the price has something going for it, but it's only a couple grand removed from the Prius' base model. And oh -- the lifetime warranty that they're offering on Hondas -- could be a good selling point. Even so, if you're looking, I say go for the Prius.
Three must-haves I carry in my car trunk: a flashlight, jumper cables, and an air compressor for the tires. All pretty self-explanatory, and it just seems incredible to me to not have them. I once got stuck out late at night on a freezing winter evening (pre-cell phone days) with a dead battery because I forgot to turn off the car headlights. Luckily there was someone there who could jump my car and I was able to get home, no problem. Since then, I've always had jumper cables in my car and I've probably jumped about a dozen cars or so. They're not expensive -- maybe $20 to $30 -- but what they give you in peace of mind is so much better.
I also recommend an air compressor. These things are definitely not expensive -- I bought mine for about $20 at AutoZone. This is one of those items that you pay upfront for, but then really appreciate. Previously, I used to have to either go to the garage to get my car tires inflated or search out a gas station to fill my tires. I don't know about you, but the gas stations I always stopped at were either broken or missing a gauge (I have one of those in my car now too). Plus, you always had to have quarters if they didn't give you free air with purchase of gasoline. Now, with my air compressor, it takes about two minutes to fill up the tires in the comfort of my own garage.
I calculated it costs me about $1.50 to fill up all four tires at the gas station and when gasoline cost $4/gallon, it was about 70 cents to travel 4 miles to the gas station. So it's about $2.20/month to fill up my tires. I've owned the pump for more than a year now, so I've easily made that money back. Plus, it's just *convenient*. I can justify cost all I want, but really, it's just the convenience of knowing I can plug this thing into the cigarette lighter in the safety of my own garage and it's just all around better situation.
So, I definitely recommend just having jumper cables and air compressors for tires. It's an up-front investment, but I think worth every penny. Adding a flashlight and a tire pressure gauge for kicks isn't a bad idea either.
I still haven't received my stimulus payment, which is insult added to injury, since I didn't get a refund (wah!) either. But I was amused at how people are spending their stimulus payments. Mine, which I haven't received, has already been spent on a new starter and battery for my car, and the leftover went to an oil change and my recent excursion to Calgary. I don't think this is what W had in mind.
I started a new job on Monday and it's been busy and I haven't had time to blog when I come home, just because it's been kind of intense and I've been tired. Which is funny because I didn't have time to blog when I was house hunting and once I stopped that, I was blogging all the time. I'm hoping things settle down soon and I'll have more time to say things.
And oh! I filled up my tank for the first time in more than a week on Tuesday evening and I calculated during my experimental "hyper-miling" phase I got nearly 37 miles to the gallon (36.575 for those of you into precision). My Corolla gets 30-32 mpg on the highway and 25-28 mpg in the city. So yes, driving slower (when it was safe) and cruising to stop signs and traffic lights does work and saves gas.
So I have to eat my words from yesterday as I decided to try traffic wave experiment aka "traffic jam reduction". I was convinced it wouldn't work in Sweat Sock City because honestly, whether it's a car or real estate, every free space in this city must be occupied; no two molecules of oxygen may flit and float without hindrance. I intentionally left about 15 seconds between my car and the car in front of me; my driver's ed teachers would be so proud. So I drove the speed limit, all the while maintaining the space. The space never really disappeared. It got smaller sometimes as I got closer to the traffic, but it never was less than 6 to 7 seconds in size. For the first time in months, I didn't need to apply my brakes at all on my commute home.
What fascinated me most was the fact this space was rarely taken advantage of by other drivers on the road. Even an 18-wheeler in the lane next to me didn't seem interested even though he could have easily fit. On the 25 miles to downtown, I saw maybe 5-6 cars take advantage of the open space and for the most part, they came from the lane on the right. It's as if the wide open space scared the other drivers; we're so used to being a culture where we try to jam as much as possible into a tight space that this concept of a 15-second space was foreign.
Of course this is all unscientific, based on one trial, and traffic for these past two weeks in Sweat Sock City has been light. I will continue to experiment and monitor. If this is indeed a true phenomena, then... WOW. Never (well, almost never) get stuck in traffic again.
I'm intrigued by this concept of hypermiling -- getting the most possible out of a gallon of gasoline. I read a story over the weekend where one guy got something like 150 miles per gallon, which completely blows my 32 miles per gallon right out of the water. Of course, he probably takes 80 million hours to get to work, and some of the techniques are not safe on a 70 mph (ha!) interstate, but I've been attempting some when it seems feasible, such as cruising to a red light or letting my foot off the gas on a "potential" slope. Since I drive about 50 miles RT a day, even a 10 percent reduction would be of benefit to me. I haven't tried reducing traffic jams yet, but boy if that works...*
* It's a fact that here in Sweat Sock City any open space, regardless of its size, will be immediately filled with a vehicle. If the vehicle is larger than the space, then tough cookies to the vehicle just to its rear. Passing on the right is also acceptable when a space immediately opens up, especially if it means crossing across four lanes of traffic at 80 mph.
I'm fast (and scarily) becoming a Discount Tire groupie. I ended up having to go there after work because my car was vibrating and shaking so violently on the interstate that I was genuninely concerned about safety. It had been vibrating at over 60-65 mph on my way home yesterday and then this morning, the threshold dropped to the 55 to 60 mph. I called Discount Tire to see if they could get me in at lunch time but their wait time was about 90 minutes. I figured I'd put it off until tomorrow or the weekend.
Well, on the way home, the shimmy and vibration grew fierce enough that I became concerned. I was confused too because Discount Tire had told me that they had rebalanced my tires on Saturday but the last time this had happened, it was a balancing issue. I was really hoping it wasn't anything more severe. There was a Discount Tire on my way home, so I got there around 5:15 pm and they were able to get my car in and out in just over an hour. Apparently, the tires were out of balance. Weird. Anyway, once I got back on the highway, I floored it to 70 mph, a speed I rarely hit in my decade-old Corolla, and there was just the very slightest vibration. So problem (mostly) fixed, and again, at no charge.
But yeah, I've been to Discount Tire three times in four weeks. They're probably going to start flagging me as a problem customer. Shessh.
I don't think I can adequately express in this blog just how much, just HOW MUCH, I heart Discount Tire. Seriously, the service is awesome, quality is great, and you can trust these guys to make a problem right -- even when it's not THEIR problem. I've had two recent experiences with Discount Tire that pretty much sealed the deal for me. The first was when I needed to get my tires balanced. Three of my Frankestein tires are from Discount and the other is from Firestone. So I fully expected that Discount would give me the three tires I'd bought from them for free and I'd have to pay the rebalancing on the fourth. They gave me all four tires for free. Awesome and unexpected.
The second story came today. My car -- 10 years old! -- failed the state safety inspection (but hey, it passed the emissions tests no problem, so... yeah?) and so I needed to get a brake job in order to pass. So I took the car in, got the brake job done, and then the techs there told me there was something wrong with the lug nuts and then the studs and the threads and all those scary things techs tell you and you think, "OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO DIE WHEN I GET ON THE HIGHWAY." So I went back to Discount Tire because they were the last ones to deal with my tires. I told them nicely (I've learned my lesson re yelling at mechanics; more on that in another bloggity) that I trusted their opinion, the brake job people scared me, could they check out my lug nuts, studs and threads? Anyway, when I called them back later, they told me not only were they replacing my lug nuts, they were ordering them from another store (hooray?). I got my car well before the 2 pm time they told me and not only that, they didn't charge me for the new lug nuts, even though I have no idea where the problem (if any) originated. Also, they rebalanced my tires and put air in them. For free.
The best part was when I offered to pay for the lug nuts and they said no. I said, are you sure? And the response? "Yes, just come back and see us again."