Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Globetrekkers Go Car Shopping

How is it that a discussion of how to get me to the airport became a flurry of car shopping?

It was like this: a few days ago, I mentioned that I would like to try to find a Thursday flight for a long weekend visiting my family in Minneapolis. John teaches Thursdays and could only drive me at certain times of day, or I could find another ride somehow.

We only have one car, because of our recent travels.


Long story short, rather than let our '92 hand-me-down Plymouth Voyager sit in the driveway for five months, hoping against hope that it would start when we returned from Antwerp, we sold it to our friend Farmer H, who raises chickens on a farm north of Harrisonburg. Delicious chickens, by the way. Real chickens, like Auntie Em raised in Kansas.

So we were down to the Camry, which was a surprise 30th birthday present back in...well, let's just say several years ago. It runs great and I love zipping around in it, love the manual transmission. For long trips though, it stinks! The girls are growing like weeds--sorry, like beautiful precious flowers--and when they don't want to be in the car, the easiest way to let us know is to kick the back of our seats. Since there's no legroom in the back, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the thumping. That, and the sore butts, hips and back we get from the front seats, which are just not very comfortable anymore, if they ever really were.

Fast forward to this week. "How can I get to the airport" turned into "this is a GREAT time of year to buy a car!"

I got all excited because I've never actually chosen my own wheels before. If it were just me, and money were no object, I'd already have the red Mini Cooper with white racing stripes and checkerboard rearview mirrors sitting in the driveway, with matching mini-Minis for the girls to scoot up and down the block. And John would get his Jaguar or Cadillac or whatever.

But it's not just me, and money most definitely IS an object. Why spend any more than you have to, after all?

We've been all over the web in the past few days.,,,, and were some of the most visited. I particularly appreciated the advice on, which features a flowchart questionnaire designed to come up with the cars you should consider based on the things most important to you.

Since this car is to be the tour-mobile for all the trips we look forward to taking, there were three major considerations: seat comfort, spaciousness (rear seat legroom!) and fuel economy.'s little questionnaire spit out five models: the Hyundai SantaFe, the Chrysler Pacifica (one I've had my eye on), Mazda5 (another one I like the looks of), the new Ford Taurus, and the Ford Edge, a new CRV-style model that just came out.

We'd had a Taurus before and liked the ride quality, but it had this disturbing tendency for the entire dash assembly to shudder above 65mph. I come from a Chrysler family (and you thought we were German/Scandinavian) so the Pacifica was on my radar. Not as frumpy as a van, I thought. As for the Santa Fe, I really don't like all these roller-skate-like designs that are out there, but trying to keep an open mind. Never thought of Hyundai.

Monday, I picked MeiMei up from school and drove out to Myers Ford in Elkton for a test drive of one of the '07 Ford Five Hundreds they're trying to get rid of. It was deja vu all over again...floaty handling, shuddering as I put the brakes on, very underpowered and very frustrating. I didn't like it at all. John suggested I go back and try one of the Limited editions, since I just drove one of the base models.

Tuesday, I dropped the girls off at school and went straight to the Chrysler dealership on Route 11. Nice salesman, low pressure, and soon I was zooming down I-81 in a red Pacifica. It was so much fun to drive, I was singing out loud to the great stereo system. I picked John up from work and took him to breakfast. He didn't like the Pacifica. But the power liftgate! I said. Nah, seats not that comfortable, he said. But it's so cool! But it's so expensive, he said. For that kind of money, we could get something better, he's right.

Hyundai SantaFe: didn't even want to test drive it. Salesman, so young he's probably still using Clearasil, was naming every part of the car he could point to, apparently to make it seem more "loaded." But come on..."this is the leather strap for pulling the liftgate down" is a little much. Especially just having used Pacifica's power liftgate button on the key fob. And then, as he described the safety features of the Santa Fe, screeeeeeccchhhhh....BAMBAM! About 100 yards away on Route 11, a Land Rover had run into some kind of sedan. It was a bad looking accident, the front corners of both cars absolutely smushed, but the drivers got out and seemed ok. Still, though I tend not to be superstitious, if that ain't an omen, I don't know what is.

Went to have lunch with JieJie, who is still having a tough adjustment to kindergarten. There's a lot going on in such a big school, and the cafeteria is really chaotic, especially compared to the orderly lunch room in their Antwerp school. In a way I'm sad that she has to get used to all the noise, but we're not in Belgium anymore... it was so quiet there!

After lunch, I went back to Myers Ford to drive the Ford Five Hundred Limited. It was much nicer, both in the gadgets included in the dash/console and in the drive/handling. There was no shimmy, no floaty feel. I was not in love, but it would be an acceptable car. But then I'm sitting there going Man, $400 a month is too much for an "acceptable" car! I want to be in love with that next car. Cadillac had a great slogan on the commercial I just saw for their new CTS: "When I turn my car on, I want it to return the favor." Yeah, baby!

So that night we went full circle and came to the conclusion that if we need a car for a long trip, we'd save a lot of money just by renting it for 2 weeks, instead of the monthly payment, the increased insurance, increased personal property taxes (Virginia...sheesh), all for a pretty car that's going to spend way too much time in the driveway. Matter closed.


The next day, John confessed to visiting the Cadillac dealership to look at the CTS. Too expensive, though nice. As for me, I snuck over to the Nissan dealer to peek at Maximas. They're so pretty! And I have to say I'm a sucker for high-tech goo-gahs, from navigation systems to Bose stereos to an engine that actually learns your driving habits so it can perform more efficiently...Come to Mama! And they said they can go to auctions and get program cars just coming off of a one-year lease, saving the potential Maxima owner thousands of dollars for basically a new car.

Brought Maxima brochure home, shared with hubby. Opened new can of worms. What about the Toyota Avalon? he said. It seems the obvious choice, since he's as much a Toyota man as my dad is a Chrysler man. Since we already have a Camry, maybe we could get a good trade-in and stay with one car, just a larger one that fits us better AND works for long trips. Hmmmm...

No, we haven't test-driven it yet. Stay tuned. I'm reminded of the man who sets his hat down at the haberdasher's, tries everything on and ends up so confused he tries to buy his own hat. Put your money on the 2000 Camry. It's paid in full.

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