My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: III: Enjoying Heather’s Car— Or, By the Time We Got to Woodstock…

My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: III: Enjoying Heather’s Car— Or, By the Time We Got to Woodstock…

On Saturday, Heather dropped the dime. Frustrated by game-playing by car dealers, anxious about getting in over her head, and experiencing hybrid anxiety every time she thought of going cheaper and getting a gas-powered car, she came to her decision and left with a 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid with a lustrous pearl white finish.

Hybrid Sign Crop

We’ve been getting 47 mpg on the highway and a little better than 50 mpg in town. This is a car that actually exceeds its advertised gas mileage!

The Accord is beautiful, has plenty of torque, and is more complicated than an F-15 Strike Eagle. It’s at least as much mobile computer as automobile. The owner’s manual is hundreds of pages long and it’ll be months before we figure everything out.

We’re getting used to the keyless entry and push-button start. We’re getting hooked on the right lane view and backup cameras. We’re enjoying playing music and audiobooks and making hands-free phone calls over Bluetooth. And best of all, we’re enjoying the high gas mileage.

2014-04-19, Heather's New 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid  003

Heather’s Accord on the lot at the Honda dealer, just before we drove it home.

We slept late on Sunday (because we were wiped out from a week of car shopping) and drove up the freeway to Woodstock, New York. Were there hippies there still, we wondered?

When we hit the town center, our questions were answered. Forty or more mostly older men sat in a circle, banging on drums.

2014-04-20, By the Tme We Got to Woodstock, It Was Two Thousand Fourteen  022

There were dancing groupies:

2014-04-20, By the Tme We Got to Woodstock, It Was Two Thousand Fourteen  017, Crop

There was even a bicycle dude.

Bicycle Dude

“Score!” Heather said.

Woodstock is a picturesque little village in the Catskills, about 100 miles from New York City. Today it looks like this:

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My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: II: The Cars

My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: II: The Cars

Heather had in mind a mid-sized sedan. She sometimes has to drive clients about, and her Honda Civic was just too small. On her list were these cars:  Honda Accord Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Ford Focus, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Chrysler, 200, and the Volkswagen Passat.

When she was okayed for car rental by her insurance company, Heather asked for a Fusion, but Enterprise didn’t have one handy and put her in a Focus. Before she got home she knew it wasn’t the car for her. The dash was v-shaped with about forty buttons on it; there was no convenient place for her cell phone; the only powered USB port couldn’t be used when a cup of coffee or bottle of soda was placed in the rear cup holder; and perhaps worst of all, the window ledges were semi-circular, making it impossible for us to rest our arms on them. I thought the car looked cheap, and that was verified when we needed to move one of the front seats forward. The mounting mechanism looked and felt flimsy.

The Camry Hybrid got good mileage and was a competent car, but it just wasn’t exciting. Something can be said for that, but it fell by the wayside nonetheless.

Heather refused to even consider the 50 mpg Prius. She didn’t like the dash, and most of all, she hated not having a clear view through the back window. The window is split horizontally by a tray that sits behind the rear sets, and three headrest block much of the lower half.

Heather thought the Sonata was beautiful but drove like a gas cart. Takeoffs started out powered by only the electric engine and felt underpowered—until the gasoline engine chimed, making it suddenly surge forward. It was pretty, though.

Neither of us felt particularly comfortable in the Fusion. As with the Camry, Heather declined the salesman’s offer of a test drive.

Our number two choice was the VW Passat. Its 1.8L turbocharged engine was powerful, and we both liked the uncluttered interior.

Our number one choice was the Honda Accord Hybrid Sedan. It was perfect, but for two things—a small trunk (because of the hybrid batteries) and no spare. That’s right, not even a donut. Otherwise, though, the Honda was perfect, and it’s the car Heather eventually went with.

After the fold: some photos of the cars in question.

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My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: I. The Salespeople

My Vicarious New Car Buyer’s Experience: I. The Salespeople

Thumbnail Photo: California car salesman Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.

Hidee hi, there, friends and neighbors! This is your old pal, El Monte Slim, tellin’ ya’ll ta come on down here to Widetrack County in Wilmington. God damn, we got some outasight bargains here for ya in cars— and be sure to bring the kiddies, too, cause we got free pony rides and lollipops for all the little folks. Talk about suckers, look at this sucker over here! Yessirree Bob, that’s  a ’58 Dodge pickup, white, of course. Gotchyer radio, gotchyer heater, gotcher overdrive, and it’s gotchyer Easy Rider rifle rack, yes sir, with room for not one, but thureee of your favorite rifles! Yes, sir! And be sure to ask for it by license plate number KKKU2, and for the first hundred of you mothers to c’mon down, we got a free America Love it or Leave It bumper sticker. So c’mon down and ask for El Monte Slim. And now back to our movie, The Jackson Five Story starring The Osmond Brothers.

—Cheech & Chong, 1991

In my time on this planet I have owned 34 cars and one pickup. Not one of them was purchased new.

That’s right. I’m nearing my 65th birthday, yet have never owned a new car. Moreover, only two of the 35 were purchased on a car lot; a third was leased. I found that experience so horrifying I drove the car back to the dealer and returned the keys.

For all practical purposes I’m a car salesperson virgin. I was, anyway, until this week.

I suppose technically I still am, so let me say this: for the past week I have been having a new car buyer’s experience by proxy.

I’ve been tagging along with my girlfriend Heather as she has searched for a replacement for her totaled Civic sedan. We’ve visited five showrooms and I’ve ridden in the back seat as she has test-driven three candidate cars. I’ve experienced her conversations with a half-dozen new car salesmen and one used car saleswoman, and even participated by asking questions like, “How much torque does it generate?” and “What colors are available?”

Heather hasn’t yet made a decision, but I have enough new-car-buyer’s-experience-by-proxy involvement to say this: what everyone says about car salespeople is true.

Would You Buy a Used Car From This Man

Before I go further, let me say we’ve experienced a representative sample of salespeople—an older gentleman from India or vicinity; another older man from China or thereabouts; a recent immigrant from Southeast London (all three with English which was difficult to understand, especially the Londoner, who had a thick Cockney accent); a nervous young Toyota salesman from New Jersey; a talkative Middle-Aged gentleman who kept putting his arm through the steering wheel during the test drive; and a young woman who sells former fleet cars for Enterprise. So male, female, young, old, experienced and new to the profession, and native English speakers and those for whom English was a second language. We would up buying from a young man from Kingston, Jamaica who was the best of the lot.

Every one of them liked to us and attempted to manipulate, obfuscate, and misdirect. Some were better at it than others, but no one fooled us.

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On Thursday, while stopped with my left turn blinker on to turn into a business complex in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, a young man of 23 hit my girlfriend’s 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid from behind at full speed. It’s impossible to estimate how fast he was going, but I would guess just a little under 40 miles per hour. Since I was clearly visible and he didn’t slow, I suspect a cell phone was involved.

The blow was terrific. I felt it most in the small of my back.

The seat mechanism broke and I found myself flat on my back, out of reach of the steering wheel and brake pedal as the car idled slowly forward. I had turned the front wheels slightly to the left in anticipation of the turn, and the Honda moved into opposing traffic, which was slowing because of the accident.

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