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Saturday, 31 December 2022


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“Mercedes wanted $540 for a cheap little plastic interior part that broke. Honestly, the bit that broke couldn't have cost as much as $10.”

Mike the plastic part was obviously sub contracted to Leica. No other possible explanation.

My last car was a 1998 Saturn SL2 with a five speed manual transmission. I had to order it. I drove it for 23 years 8 months and had 226K on it. My plan was to drive it until the wheels fell off. I was on my way home from the shop where they had just installed new tires on the when I stopped at the four way almost in sight of my house. Unfortunately the Ford F150 behind me didn't. Most of last year none of the dealers had cars in inventory for me to test drive. This year isn't much better. My wife and I have been sharing her 2005 Pontiac Vibe. Up until the Saturn got totaled we referred to the Vibe as the "new" car. Oh well....

I once owned a 1998 Audi A6 which was a beautiful car with an amazing interior and their Quatro drive train (good for Michigan weather), though not very gas efficient. It came with a 4 year warranty including maintenance. I was a happy camper until it went out of warranty and I found that it was nearly impossible to get ANYTHING repaired on it and walk out of the service place having spent less than $1500-2000. It turns out that part of German Engineering (at least back then) was to solve design problems using elegant but incredibly complex solutions (read: Expensive!). In contrast, I owned a Mazda 6 (Soul Red!) for 5 years and never had to pay more than a few hundred bucks for any maintenance or repair except for new tires. Oh yeah, plus it never needed any. And it was fun to drive even with a 4 cylinder engine!

If you keep a vehicle, do regular maintenance, Good synthetic oil and premium filers, it will last.
Replacing what goes bad and wears is much less expensive than a new vehicle. Better yet if you can do basic jobs yourself. You will save a fortune that way.
If you like particular models/years/brands sticking with them will make it easier to deal with. Older vehicles kept up work well, cost a lot less to insure and generally are not the target of car thieves.

About Mercedes ... I lost a lot of respect for them when my son-in-law, an expert mechanic, told me about a Mercedes he had done a brake job on. For the non-mechanical, this generally involves replacing brake pads and possibly turning or replacing rotors for a total material cost of at most a few hundred plus a couple hours labor - and that's generous. Instead of replacing these parts, which do wear (they rub together when you put on the brakes) Mercedes required that the entire brake assembly (calipers etc.) be replaced at a cost of about $1000/wheel, plus labor. And labor would be a lot more when replacing that much stuff. Why did they do this? Who knows - it certainly increased dealer profits without adding one cent of value in terms of function, performance, or style.

If you think you sold the Miata at the wrong time just because of the opportunity to drive it NY, whatever you do, don't look up what they're selling for now.

Happy New Year. Please don't become prosperous this year, as I would hate to witness the train, or rather the car wreck that might ensue. Stick with a monochrome year.

Ah, the Miata. I bought one with 4000 miles on it in 2001 and drove it until 2008, when I needed a car with a lot more cargo space. I liked driving that car more than any other I've had.

If or when a plugin hybrid Miata comes out, I'd be mighty tempted, but I still need more space than it's got. And mine was terrible in snow or ice, so there's that.

Humans are complicated. Twisted, convulsed, contradictory, we imbue emotions into functional decisions, and detach ourselves where emotional investment is warranted. Go figure.

Cars rank high in all that. Even those who claim using only rationality, frugality, and spreadsheets when making purchases are deeply ensnared in emotions. Doubt me? Ask them about car buying - they’ll wax on forever about the virtues of their process, and list all the salient points of their virtue mobile. Look into their eyes while they go on and on. You’ll see the same heightened level of passion as you would listening to some gear-head going on and on about their ‘68 Mustang they’re rebuilding or the new Corvette some other guy just got.

There’s just no escaping it.

We drove our 2008 Toyota Sienna until it had a catastrophic failure of the cooling system. We loved that minivan (THE most perfect conveyance ever devised by humans). It took our family on many adventures, near and far, over 12 years and 250,000 miles. Until it died. As it was early on in the pandemic and the wife (a teacher) and boys were homeschooling, we didn’t get a replacement for months. Didn’t need one. Our 2011 Camry was more than up to the task.

Eventually though when school switched to in person, we had three people heading in diverse directions all at the same time. So, after a few weeks of comparison shopping, I went with the poor man’s Tesla - a Model 3 SR+ at $38,000.00 in March 2021. Already have 25,000+ miles on it - it is such a fun car to drive! And practical. Not as roomy as the minivan, but our lives have changed and so this works. This past summer, I took the Tesla from Sacramento CA to Louisville KY on a three week tour of the US. 5,500 miles. A real blast. (Oh, I’m retired.)

But yeah. Cars.

Our current car is a super practical 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD hybrid minivan. Also the most expensive care we've ever owned. But it's perfect for us. Good traction, and fuel economy like a much smaller car.

Our only other car is a red 2000 Miata with about 65,000 miles, sitting tight and waiting for spring. It's my wife's car. People around here often think it's something much more expensive and exotic. It looks great, but smells a bit like a hamster cage because the people we got it from had lots of mice in the garage and the Miata was a winter home for them. It's the first car we've ever had that makes me smile every time I get in it, even just going to the grocery store.

That little Miata will be appreciating in price over the coming years Mike. Get yourself an original one in good condition and enjoy it.

My benchmark these days is 250K. I was determined to take my red Solara up to that mark, but in 2015 reality arrived. I needed a knee replacement. I knew that I needed a car that had a seat high enough that I could just park my butt onto it. So, one day while waiting for the Solara to be serviced, I strolled through the dealer's used car section, found a nice 2010 RAV4, and made a cash deal for it with my 232K Solara in trade. 125K to go.

In December of 1999, I saw a brand new Miata (here, they're called Mazda MX5), through a showroom window, at night. It sounds fully crazy, but it spoke to me. "I am yours". And though I had no money to speak of, that exact vehicle was mine within a month.

On January 1, 2000, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But I was lucky. It was in one of my tonsils. And it hadn't spread anywhere else (proven by a Gallium Scan). And I had critical benefit medical insurance. Meaning that I got a massive payout, once the diagnosis was confirmed.

During my treatment, my immune system was flat lined by my chemo, so it was necessary for me to not be around people. Period. Because no matter what I'd have caught from them, it could very well have killed me.

So, what does a 35 year old who can't mix with other people do to keep their sanity? Go for long drives, in their Sunshine Silver Miata. The only downside to having it ended up being a deal breaker. It was losing my anonymity. It turns out, that a bald man (think chemo/hair fell out) driving a convertible, with no number plates, in a small town, attracts a ton of attention. All of it unwanted. (It didn't have number plates because I'd ordered vanity plates, and they were going to take many weeks until they were ready for collection).

So eventually I traded down to a brand new Ford Mondeo ST24. I'm just too much the introvert for attention.

But I still remember every drive I took in that car. It was telepathically connected to my finger tips and toes. The only car I've ever driven where the experience of driving was akin to dancing with a long term dance partner who knows how you'll move before you even know it yourself.

Life's a funny old dog, as they say.

I've posted before on my car experiences, owning 60+ cars in 60+ years of driving, and I sure have lots of tales about cars, I'll share a few.

For the last 50+ years, I have purchased new cars for my daily driver, valuing reliability and "modern" conveniences above absolute cost. My older brother is the opposite - I think he has owned one new car in the last 50 years, after he quit working for or managing car dealers.

I typically keep cars for 50-75,000 miles. My brother drives them forever, often repairing cars I think should be junked. He bought a Mercedes Coupe with ~150K miles and ran it to 300K before selling it. The Toyota Sequoia he has owned for 20+ years has over 350K miles on it. Both have cost a lot in maintenance - the Sequoia had the interior replaced when the seats' cushioning collapsed and upholstery split - costing thousands of $$. He drove a BMW 3 series to 220K miles and spent almost $10K in the last year on repairs - over $1500 to fix the AC finally got him to sell it. My 3 series BMWs never cost me a penny in service because it was included in the warranty and darned little in depreciation either.

MY last few vehicles have been Honda CR-Vs. Never spent a nickel on repairs except a flat tire recently and a door lock broken by a vandal trying to break into it (never got in, however.)

I've never been stranded by a car failure either.

Ya pays your money and takes your choice.....

I'll also share my Miata stories. I bought my first one, a red 1991, used after it came off a 3 year lease. I drove it for 7 years, longer than any other car I owned. From about 25Kmiles to 60k miles, I had no costs but routine service and tires (drifting around New England rotaries uses up tires pretty fast!) and modifications (roll bar, radio mainly.)

I bought it while I was racing my Alfas so I would have a street toy and something to keep my skills with a manual shift and heel/toe downshifts.

I always had Jeep grand Cherokees for towing the race cars and commuting. Well, I loved the Miata so much it became my regular commuter car, even in New England winters. In fact, I had a goal to drive it with the top down in every month and I succeeded almost every year.

The Miata replaced a - ready for this? - C4 Corvette. Black on Black. I bought the Corvette as a track car for fun, kept it only a short while because it could eat up $500 worth of carbon fiber brake pads and almost $1000 in tires in one afternoon at the track. And it was typical GM quality - S**T - continual electrical and fuel injection problems.

But the story I like to tell is the difference in the perception of the cars. When I had the 'vette, I was once approached by a woman my age (all in black) who looked like a mobster's girl, telling me how much she liked the car trying to - well you get the idea. When I had the Miata, it was young kids who would tell me how much they liked the car.

I got rid of the first Miata when even Boston became filled with giant pickup trucks and SUVs. One day I looked into the rear view mirror and all I could see was a giant bumper of a truck. Had he hit me that bumper was at the height of my head. Sold it shortly afterwards.

When we moved to CA, I bought another - a '94, because it was rally cheap and we lived off roads that were perfect Miata territory. Sold it in less than a month for the same reason as the first. I was stopped at traffic signal and looked over - no under - the lifted-up pickup next to me. Sold that one quickly too.

Now I drive Honda CR-Vs where I might survive being hit by one of those trucks.

Postscript: Here in Santa Monica now, we have a new breed of driver - we call them "urban rednecks" - young men driving giant tarted-up pickups (Ford Raptors a favorite) that cost a fortune and are never used to haul anything. They just want to show off their "redneck" attitude. Maybe to distinguish themselves from the metrosexual Tesla drivers.

It is California where "you are what you drive".....

The Mazda Miata is a very fun car and being fun is its own form of practicality. One late summer evening, my wife and I drove down the now-winding, now-fast highway along Turnagain Arm fjord just south of Anchorage in a Miata loaned by the shop then fixing our regular vehicle but running late. What a fun ride with the top down under the literally midnight sun.

I've bought only one new car in the many decades that I've had a driver's license, a 1998 Saturn SW2 station wagon with a 5-speed manual shift.

When I finally gave that vehicle away in late 2021, the SW2 had accumulated 343,000+ mostly trouble-free miles. I bought it on the advice of an automotive engineer friend and it was the best $15,600 I ever spent - a strong, super-reliable engine and 5-speed manual transmission coupled with a responsive upgraded sports suspension - a solid and practical vehicle that was fun to drive and neither fancy nor automated and waiting to break. It was built from high-grade standardized components like struts, etc. The corrosion-proof plastic body panels were surprisingly tough and damage-resistant.

I only gave it away because the transmission was starting to make a bit of noise presaging eventual tranny problems. The young man to whom I gave the vehicle had a father in the automotive repair business so that the manual transmission could be economically rebuilt.

We added a few thousand to the likely cost of transmission repair and bought a clean, used 140,000 GMC Yukon XL that's moved grown children to new locations, plowed through heavy coastal Alaska snows, and transited the Alaska Highway a few times, all without incident, another practical and solid vehicle.

Did I mention that I'm still plowing our 500 foot long driveway at home and our small office parking lot with a 1983 Chevy K-10 short-bed truck whose odometer stopped a few decades ago?

I think MX5's are more fun than Boxster's. I think you have to drive like a loon to have fun in a Boxster and at low speeds I find they feel heavy and are just no fun. An MX5 is fun at any speed.

For me the Boxster is for showing you can afford one and the MX5 is for showing you know what fun is.

I lusted after a Miata for years but have never owned one. My son had one that the offered to sell to me cheap when he moved from CA to TX and I was tempted to do the deal, fly out to CA and drive it back to NY but our budget was tight at the time and it wasn't in the cards. :-(

Realistically, I'm not a Miata person. I'm more of a soft-top Jeep Wrangler person. I like going places a Miata isn't really designed to go. I wish someone would make a cross between a Miata and a Jeep. That would be me except that now I am retired and really couldn't afford it.

Continuing on the car theme. I recently purchased a lovely plug in hybrid car, haven't used any fossil fuel yet. Regarding their complexity; the report of the January 6 Commission on the riot and insurrection runs 845 pages; the owner manual to my new car is 832 pages.

My last car, I'm embarrassed to admit, was a lovely red BMW. I was given advice by a friend who is a service advisor at another dealership. He said BMW's are great cars but you should sell them when the warranty ends. I found that out the hard way when I paid what seems like an exorbitant amount for a simple shock absorber (strut). As much as I liked the car, it felt like I was just waiting for something else expensive to fail so I traded it for my new plug in hybrid for which I waited four months!

Now we'll see.

"Soul Red" is the greatest car color!! We had a 2016 SR Mazda3 with a manual transmission-lots of fun, but there was an accident and we didn't want the car anymore. Replaced with SR Mazda CX-5, mostly because we could find one on the lot.

Go for a Miata! Zoom Zoom!! (we have had three different red ones)

I have learned it's OK to indulge in my old age. I wanted to get a stick shift again before they go away forever. Almost all of my daily drivers have been stick, but my last car, a '16 Accord Sport was a CVT. I looked for a '22 Civic Si back in October but the dealers around here were marking these babies up a lot. So, I went with a '23 Acura Integra optioned up with all of the goodies so I could get the stick. Acura makes you get the top trim to get the 6-speed. Thankfully, the local Acura dealer kept things close to MSRP.

It's so nice to be back into a stick again! It was more money I wanted to spend, but so far so good, so much more engaging than an automatic. We'll see how long I keep it. Depends on if sticks are still available in 2030. I hope so!

[That car replaced mine. It bears more resemblance to mine than it does to the original Integra, but I wish them luck with the nameplate. The problem for enthusiasts of stick + engine is very frustrating. Often you can only get the lower-powered engine with a manual (for example, the Subaru Crosstrek that someone mentioned the other day). One of the reasons I bought mine was that Acura turned this on its head--you could only buy the more powerful engine with a stick. I'm glad to hear they've continued that with the new Integra. --Mike]

I read your first post and was almost tempted to comment, then didn't get round to it, but here's a second one on the same subject and here I am. I did a word search on the word 'climate' on both and it came up with zilch. Lots of talk about cars and car size and their depreciating value and no mention of climate change? That and the number of people who die each year globally as a result of vehicle 'accidents'. I'm fairly fascinated by cars, but mostly because they are an epically striking cul-de-sac in terms of development and efficiency. I've owned a couple, but since 10+ years ago, I would far rather catch a bus, train or walk. Cars and the awful impact on everything they've created is a blight on our past, present and future. I realise they're necessary for you because you've chosen to live in an isolated area and for many others, but the pollution, the violence, the sheer manipulation of the car industry in dismantling, defeating public transport systems, even making jaywalking an offence. But most of all, climate change. This is fiddling while Rome burns.

Wishing you a sincere and slightly late Happy New Year and thanks for a usually sane and interesting regular read over many years.

[Unfortunately, such choices can't devolve to the individual. It has to be addressed at the level of public policy. At the individual level I'd love to have an electric car and a bank of solar panels, but I don't have enough wealth to have that. I wish I did. --Mike]

Some cars have cost me dearly, while others paid me back with miles of smiles. My current daily driver is a plug-in hybrid Ford, a C-Max. Back in '17, Ford offered 0% financing on marked-down prices. Considering the $9007 in state and federal tax credits, I got a loaded new car for $20,000 net. I couldn't afford not to buy it! After 64,000 miles, it's been trouble-free and still fun to drive. Because my usage, with mainly short trips in EV range, suits the PHEV drivetrain, it's averaged 65 mpg.

The past two years really scrambled the usual assumptions of car ownership cost. Depreciation is usually the biggest cost penalty of a new car purchase, but mine has hardly depreciated at all. Experts predict a sharp drop in used car prices this year, and I've seen some huge markdowns in the sort of vehicle I'm shopping for (used luxury compact SUVs). Used car inventory is still tight, though, and depends on new cars continuing to sell. It's hard to time when to buy. My trusted source says wait another month or two, because variable rate loans will cause many foreclosures and resales. Then there's the Carvana inventory liquidation that's likely to come sooner than later.

Last week I was offered a tempting deal in a Lincoln MKC, and I almost took it. Lincoln is an old man's brand, but they really want to sell cars. You you know Lincoln offers 0% loans on Certified Pre-Owned cars? Only three years, but still! They also bump the OEM warranty out to seven years. This 2019 MKC (fundamentally a much-better equipped Ford Escape), was $29,500 at 45,000 miles. I could barely afford not to buy that one, but I had a problem with the seats. If you don't, I'd recommend the brand as a good buy in these uncertain times.

I do not know much about cars, but I do know that the best car, ever, is the one you do not have to pay for. My company has provided me with a Buick GL8. It is over ten years old, far too big for my taste, has run close to 300,000 kilometers and been scratched numerous times—including by me, recently (did I mention it is huge?). I can afford to buy something newer, more modern and suited for my needs, but why would I when I already have the best car ever?

Anyone that claims to be a car person and casts shade on Miata enthusiast is most definitely not a car person. The Miata was a bit of a surprise success and has almost single handedly kept the purist 'sports car' flame alive.

I don't own one, but a Miata was my second choice when looking for tossable, lightweight convertible a few years backs. Lucked into a cream puff AP2 S2000 that I may never sell. Don't know how it came to pass, but it seems to be worth far more than what I paid for her in 2014.

I'm late to the recent car posts (Christmas computer avoidance), but there are few things in life that annoy me more than America's growing love affair with giant trucks and SUVs.

I would wager a decent chunk of my limited bank account that <10% of trucks on the road are used even once per month for real truck activities (e.g., pulling a heavy trailer, hauling 1000+ pounds of bulky or dirty cargo in the bed, etc.) and similarly <10% of giant SUVs ever see a full load of passengers. Most rarely if ever leave the pavement. Having grown up in a rural Midwestern farming area where folks, including my family, used trucks as tools and work vehicles, I find it all economically and environmentally wasteful and frustrating. Today they're mostly just status symbols for a status obsessed society, with the manufacturers feeding the desire by making the vehicles bigger, shinier, and fancier (and more expensive) each year.

I shouldn't speak too loudly as I'm guilty too. My 2007 Toyota Yaris hatchback wasn't getting me the street cred I was looking for so I upgraded to an infinitely cooler 2010 Honda Fit hatchback! Between the two, I've hauled more cargo than most truck owners ever do, including multiple dressers, cedar chests, a clothes dryer, numerous sets of tires, and once in the Honda a disassembled 60-inch-long oak kitchen table plus four matching chairs in a single trip, all while getting 38-45 mpg. Plus, I keep my vehicles polished and waxed so (to me) they look just as good as any over-chromed truck or SUV on the road.

As far as purchasing a new vs used vehicle, I've never been able to figure out the math on a new vehicle purchase. Even if you plan to drive your new vehicle for 20 years and 300K miles, doesn't it make more sense to purchase a low-mileage used vehicle at a significant savings and drive it for 15 years and 250K miles? Both vehicles will be subject to the same wear-and-tear over the years and need the same regular maintenance at different points in their lifespan, except with the used vehicle you avoid the massive depreciation that occurs right after purchase. Some will say that you need the new vehicle warranty, but I would suggest that if you know your target vehicle is likely to need significant repairs early in your ownership maybe it would be wise to shop for a more reliable brand or model.

Used vehicles are an even better deal if you do some or all of the maintenance yourself. I've owned something like 15 small/econo cars since my mechanic dad helped me fix up my first well-used car (1987 Pontiac Grand Am) in high school. At the time of purchase they were 5-15 years old with 50K-150K miles. The most recent purchase in 2021, a 2014 Nissan Leaf EV with 62K miles for my wife, was the most expensive at $5500. Most of my used cars have been sold after a couple years for more than I paid for them. Even if several had been complete lemons I would still be ahead vs buying a couple new cars over the same time span.

Finally, I'm not sure if Mike's response to Colin about solar panels tells the full story regarding costs. Buying (note: I'm not talking about leasing) solar panels is indeed expensive, but instead of depreciating in value they will instantly raise the value of your home and relatively quickly pay for themselves. The cost analysis will obviously be different for every situation, but to throw around some generic numbers imagine a scenario where you're paying $200/month for electricity and you secure a 10-year-loan at $300/month to purchase and install solar. Sounds expensive, except you're not paying $300/month, you're paying $100/month because your new solar panels are supplying your electricity. Depending on where you live you may qualify for both federal and state rebates as well. Plus, unlike a new car purchase which will continually decrease in value (unless we're talking about a Ferrari or similar), once your solar panels are paid off they continue to provide you with free electricity for 25+ years.

Good point, ASW. If you're concerned about the environment, adding solar panels will probably be a better investment than an EV. The average car is driven less than an hour a day, so it sits idle over 90% of the time. Solar PV panels will work all day long. Thinking a better car will solve all our problems is just a modern variation on our love affair with cars.

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