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Vehicular Challenge

Michael gave me a lift early Sunday morning to pick up the car from where Xy had abandoned it on Airline Highway the night before. It wouldn’t start. While we were unloading her Xmas shopping a cop pulled up and chastised us for leaving the car there overnight. He waited while I called Progressive Roadside Assistance. They told me all their tow contractors were fully booked and accepting only police calls. So I had the cop call it in, and eventually we got the car to the Banks Street Service Station. I had to borrow a bunch of cash from Michael to pay for the tow. (Note to self: Pay him back.)

This morning James gave Xy a ride to work. I called the closest car rental place and reserved a vehicle, then went over to Banks Street Station with the girl on my hip and explained the situation to Tommie. He called me back a few hours later and said that in his opinion the car needed a new engine and should probably be considered a total loss. (We still owe $4,333.18 on it.) Progressive won’t be able to get an adjuster out until Wednesday. I picked up the rental a few hours later — about the last car available since so many people had cars flooded over the weekend — and so we are driving a Kia Spectrum for the next little while.

To be honest I’m hoping the Saturn is totaled. We have really come to dislike that car. The worst thing about it is the antitheft system which triggers improperly under certain atmospheric conditions, rendering the car unstartable for eight minutes at a go. Number two, it rides waaay too low to the ground, constantly scraping bottom over the slightest dip in the road, and as recent events illustrate that’s just not a good thing when streets are flooding. And we have numerous miscellaneous gripes over the rapid deterioration of interior details.

So I think we are going to be shopping for a car real soon. We hoped to do so anyway, but events are forcing our hand.

Our last two cars were slightly-used Saturns. I was never crazy about the product, but I liked the Saturn approach to sales: no BS, no haggling, the price listed was just the price. Alas, Saturn is no more, and I wouldn’t buy them again anyway after our frustrations with this vehicle.

Thus I feel supremely unqualified for navigating the automotive purchasing transaction.

I don’t even really know what we want. I’d kind of like something that rides higher than a standard sedan but is not so bulky as sports utility vehicle. And wouldn’t it be nice if that also could run off electricity. A hybrid hybrid if you will. I gather such things don’t exist. So we are setting our sights lower. An affordable compact wagon perhaps? Lee got an HHR and that looks pretty good to me.

Any advice is most welcome.

Published inFinancial ShitMiscellaneous


  1. alli alli

    I bought a Prius in 2007 after my dear beloved Subaru Outback died and went to heaven near the Canal street cemetaries. I’ve been super happy with it, although if I moved back up north I’d need better handling (it slips on wet roads occasionally). It’s got SUV-like space, since the seats fold down and it’s a hatchback, but it’s small and easy to park, and I get between 44 and 48 mpg.

  2. As you know, we were just forced to get another car when the old one could no longer be revived after 266,000 miles. We went for what we knew was reliable, since we were a bit too early for the totally electric car that the hubster wanted. So now we have another car, which is too low for the standing water in the streets – although as a Toyota, we’ve had no problems (fingers crossed) and it gets good gas mileage.

    I know you listen to Car Talk – a couple of weeks ago, a woman called with similar wants (although she wanted something for snow, not water), and instead of their usual Subaru recommendation, they suggested a Honda Element for her. I’ve had 3 Hondas, one of which I drove 246,000 miles. Hondas are good vehicles, the Element would be a bit higher, and it would have plenty of room. The downside with a lot of these new vehicles is that they’re not getting the outstanding gas mileage they used to. Most of the hybrids (with the exception of the hybrid trucks/SUVS, which get sucky mileage) are just cars, and not high enough to drive in our roads/canals.

    Good luck navigating the waters, so to speak…hopefully, you’ll find a good compromise.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous

    This summer I saw 2 adults, 3 kids and 2 family,s worth of gear with tents & sleeping bags comfortably drive off from a camping trip. I was impressed.

  4. jack jack

    Subaru Outback, safe, well made in Indiana and decent but not great mileage. A good used one can be had a good price.

  5. Rob Rob

    I saw a Mini Clubman on the compact wagon list in your post. I drive a Mini Cooper (smaller than the Clubman), and I love it. Fun to drive. GREAT gas mileage. It’s bigger than you might expect on the inside. And, similar to Saturn, there’s no backing & forthing on the price (I can’t stand buying a car, but I actually enjoyed this purchasing experience). Good luck!

  6. Lee Lee

    I’m with jack on the Outback B. I used to work for Royal on the Eastside (Subaru dealer here in Btown). They’re really good cars that have the features you’re looking for. They have a beefed up suspension that sits a few inches higher off the ground than the Legacy model they are built off of. If you start looking, don’t be fooled by the V6 model. Only look for a 4cyl. Subaru’s have whats called a “boxer” engine, which is a really good design. As jack said, they are built in Indiana near Lafayette at a “green” plant. It’s grounds are actually a wildlife sancturary. Or you could go our route and go with the HHR. We’ve been impressed by it’s many abilities.

    My first car ever was a “flooded” car. As long as the fluids are changed and any electronics that were flooded are replaced, it should work fine. Unless XY “flooded” the engine. That would ruin it. Did I use the word “flooded” enough?

  7. Lee Lee

    PS. We only paid 10K for our HHR which was 2 years old with only 15K miles on it! It’s not stripped or a rental sale either.

  8. mike mike

    FWIW, Subaru Foresters or Outbacks are the default choice for our demographic out here. The Forester in particular offers some of the advantages of a more SUV-like car (greater interior space, for example) without the penile-overcompensation-gigantism thing. The sort-of 4wd is helpful for our occasional unaddressed snowfall.

    Used but-A-Grade Foresters are about $7k. We got ours for $5k because one of the mechanics we had inspect it prior to purchase felt it needed a new transmission but that it could go for another couple years without the new tranny. When we told the seller, he agreed, and said he’d been told the same thing five years prior. We’ve had it for two years now, no new transmission (which was estimated to be a $2k cost).

    On reading the comments it would appear to be a Subaru flood.

  9. David David

    I second the Prius, as you know. Though, I drive it frequently in Toronto in snowy conditions, and it’s fine. Also (except in the coldest period of the winter) I always get over 50 mpg.

    If you’re dead-set on an SUV, the Ford Escape comes in a hydrib model. But a cheaper option might be to get an Escape with a 4-cylinder engine. (Prices are: ~$30K vs ~$20K) A co-worker had one and got fuel efficiency comparable to the hybrid model–in the low 30 mpg’s. Ford’s quality rating is now rivaling Honda and Toyota’s.

    I’ve heard got things about the Subaru’s, mostly from Car Talk, but its quality rating isn’t as high as other manufacturers’.

  10. Anne Anne

    I do love my little Scion, into which I manage to place three cats in large carriers, a dog in a crate, and assorted personal items when evacuating. It’s also no hassle, and I picked out the features on-line ahead of time (prices displayed for each). Brought in the slip, got the car custom built, and drove off with it for $13,800. I average 33 mpg in the city, ride a little higher than other tiny cars, and I love the car.

    That said, it might not be the best for kids and stuff. I do put two car seats for the kids in there often, but they take up most of the back seat. You might want it for a second car.

  11. David David

    Also, there’s no way in hell I’d buy a GM vehicle–turd sandwich. Your Saturn that wouldn’t start reliably was a GM.

  12. Carol Carol

    I love my Honda CRV. It’s not too big, but with the back seats down we can haul quite a bit of stuff and it’s high enough off the ground to navigate most puddles. Best part is the routine maintenance. We only have to change the oil every 10,000 miles. Would definitely stay away from GM or Ford.

  13. David David

    I think Ford gets a bad rap just due to its association with the other, failed domestic car companies–GM and Chrysler. When the other two recently did, Ford did not receive any government money.

  14. Perhaps it’s a little boring, but I’ve got a five year old Corolla that’s had exactly one mechanical problem (a loose “serpentine” belt, which is what they call the alternator belt these days…I guess because it does more than run the alternator), otherwise, no complaints whatsoever. It can seat four adults, provided you’re not driving long distance, the back seat folds down if you need extra storage, and the mileage is a pretty steady 25 mpg city/around 30-35 mpg highway.

    Paid $15K for it..

  15. Fits are alright [Honda], perhaps mileage-wise–they have a surprising amount of room inside, the xDs are nifty [Scion], and I’m a Toyota girl (entire family, even extended! has T-cars), yet not sure which T. model is best right now.

  16. Liz Liz

    We have a Nissan versa and like it. When leaving for Gustav we fit 2 adults, one 5 year old child, three cats in carriers and a lot of stuff. When we returned, we fit all that stuff plus a generator in the back hatch. It has an annoying squeak it developed around 6 months but otherwise good and it tells you when your tire pressure is low – a nice thing in New Orleans! It has a similar gas/height profile to the honda/toyota models but cheaper with more amenities for the price.

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