13 September 2007

Here we go again!

It looks as if we're going to go back to the car lots.

No ... no ... NO! The Escape - so far - is doing very nicely. Although it's currently "in the shop" getting some of the U2s beat out of it (you know ... rattle and hum .... a few squeaks ... the basic fit 'n' finish discrepancies common to brand-new cars.).

Today we were on one (1) rental car, a 2007 Mazda3 (zoom-ZOOM!). Not too shabby a ride. It's good, because we had our '05 Honda Civic Hybrid up the street at our wonderful indie mechanic's shop, investigating a little rumble 'n' shudder it's taken to doing when it accelerates from a dead stop.

"Mr. Randy" did a flushing of the transmission, and that took care of the problem. For now. I'd been Google'ing this situation, and I didn't like what I saw. It's an ugly little matter of the "CVT" transmissions Honda has in their Civic hybrids, and its - ohhhhhh - short life span. These things are crapping out on people as early as 50,000 miles (did GM build 'em, or something??). And, after barely two years of driving ours, we've racked up nearly 66,000 miles on this buggy.

The tranny enema did the trick. However, Mr. Randy told me this might be the beginning of the end for our little 'green' car's transmission.

Well, now that we have our car back - without rumble-rumble-rumble (mutiny-mutiny-mutiny) - we're not going to take any chances. Mr. Randy said he was aware of Honda having begun a 'phantom warranty', replacing these CVTs free-of-charge, but I don't want to chance it. For all the wonderful overall reliability (with some exceptions, of course) of Japanese makes, their dealership and service people tend to be, how do I phrase this, ummmmm, hardasses.

In other words, it's a good thing most of their models are trouble-free because you don't want to deal with their service departments. I had to when a fan relay gave out back in May. And I didn't like how they tried to charge me $200 just for a diagnostic fee! (I can understand this if I used their time, and took it to Mr. Randy who could've replaced it for half what they were asking).

Right now, the car is running normally. And I do NOT want to be put in a position of having to grovel to Honda for a 'comp' transmission for a car which is now nearly 30,000 miles out of warranty.

So we're going to get rid of it while the going's good. The problem is, like a golldurned fool I was so blinded by the siren call of the hybrid -- 40+ MPG IN TOWN!! (*swoon*) -- that I didn't think about the dark side of going "green." $50.00 oil changes (hybrids only take Mobil-1 0w-30 synthetic, and it ain't cheap buster). Different and unproven transmission technology.

What it all amounts to is, we've been driving a science experiment on wheels.

We did something I loathe doing. We financed it with a 66-month note. We currently owe $13,500 on the car. And KBB and Edmunds return trade-in ranges between $13,800 and $11,500 (!). Depending on the dealership's mood, we might be a little upside down. Egad.

I did the math, too. Highway mileage for a hybrid versus a regular small car (i.e. Civic, Corolla) is almost identical. And in-town only differs by 10 MPG or so. I came to realize an ugly truth: over a three-year span, the extra $ for gasoline wouldn't come near exceeding the premium cost of a hybrid model.

Again, egad.

So. The cars we're thinking about:
  • 2007 Toyota Corolla. $1,000 rebate on the remaining '07s. It means dealing with Toyota's games, but I'll make sure I'm psyched up for it. The 1k rebate will make for some wiggle room in regard to any lowballing on trade-in value. The Toyota dealership in the "New River Auto Mall" across the river in S.C. has one on their lot right now. Maybe it'll still be there Saturday. Seraphim, I think, has a hankering to go back to a Corolla (we traded an '03 Corolla S back in '05 for the hybrid).

  • Honda Civic. Standard internal-combustion engine, thank you. I don't know, though. I have a feeling Honda dealers won't be feeling generous with trade-ins on Civic Hybrids.

  • Mazda3. The rental car outside is an '07. And I like it. Very solid and reliable small sedan. The only thing I don't like is the bright-red backlight on the dashboard. Gives a Knight Rider feeling when driving after dark. I almost expected it to start talking to me.

  • Hyundai Elantra. Lots of bang for the buck. And reliability is improving by leaps and bounds. Depreciation, however, is a big problem. Two blocks off the lot and the car is already worth a negative amount. You'll have to pay THEM to take it off your hands when you trade in for something else. I liked the Sonata we rented last Fall to drive to Pittsburgh, though. Very smooth ride.

  • Mitsubishi Lancer. Reliable sedan from that other Japanese make. I'm curious about it, and I think there are some '07s left. Don't know much about it otherwise, but that's what kicking the tires and taking test drives are for.
And there's one more we're thinking about. Better get out those smelling salts again:
  • 2007 Ford Focus. We could again milk Seraphim's employee benefit (invoice +2%), and they've been very good to us in the service department, making a thorough attempt at getting the new-car bugs out of our new Escape SUV. I like the lady in service we've dealt with. At the risk of making too quick a judgment, this dealership is nothing like the ones we've experienced buying Toyotas and Hondas (again, the biggest PITA of the whole process). The '08 Focuses (or would that be Foci?) have yet to arrive, and they're piling on lots of rebates ($2,500, anyone?) to get rid of the '07s.
The Focus is listed as a "recommended" car in Consumer Reports, although it has "average" reliability. That's the only thing which gives me pause. Nearly every review I've read, from CR to Edmunds, to lots of various and sundry 'reader comments', all say the same thing: "fun to drive."

We haven't test-driven any "Foci" as of yet, so I'm withholding any further thought until after we both have a turn at the wheel. Feature-wise, it looks very good.

Tomorrow we'll be looking at the Honda lot in Garden City, and if nothing looks promising there we'll be going north of the river to Hardeeville. Maybe we'll hit paydirt somewhere.

And if that doesn't pan out, we'll make a beeline for the Ford place in Savannah and possibly have another strike at the gong.

Another Ford? Taking such a risk, I'm afraid, might trump possibly being on the hook for a $3,500 transmission were Honda to get all arse-wholey on us in the event of a tranny failure. Not to mention whatever else might go wrong.

The bottom line is, with our driving habits and routines, I do not like driving a car that's out of warranty. There's a security to be had in knowing that if something craps out, it'll be covered. I don't like surprises, not with big-ticket things like automobiles.

Therefore, I want to get the hell rid of this hybrid, stat.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "New Car Fever, Again" Gleck

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