Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Baby Got (Hatch)Back: An Automotive Snark
Last week, car shopping went abruptly from "I should think about that" to "I need to do this right now," so I've spent way too much time lately at dealerships and on car websites.
Apparently, someone passed a law saying that all car salespeople must be male. Over the past week, I've dealt with I don't know how many salespeople, and they've been a multiracial, multiethnic group of young men. The demographics are pretty much the same as a minor league baseball team. I have no explanation for this.
I thought car shopping would be easy enough. I had my Consumer Reports at the ready, and I knew the parameters I had in mind. Cost is a real issue, given that the whole family is on one academic paycheck, so the cooler, more expensive cars were out of the question. Reliability is key, as is mileage; I consider money spent on gas or repairs to be money wasted. I don't do SUV's. And most important of all, it had to have enough headroom in the backseat to accommodate tall children. Still, I figured, with car companies desperate for customers, how hard could it possibly be?
Yuck yuck yuck.
I didn't get the memo, but it seems that, at some point, the car companies collectively decided that anybody who wants rear seat headroom should just buy an SUV or minivan and be done with it. Cars – by which I mean, “not trucks” -- have incredibly short back seats these days. It seems that the trend of higher bodies has collided with the trend of aerodynamic shapes to squeeze backseat headroom.
Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Fusion, Ford Focus, Mazda 3 – no backseat headroom in any of them.
The Honda Fit has headroom, but awful rear-seat crash test ratings, so I ruled that out, too.
The Scion xD has headroom, but it's butt-ugly, gets terrible mileage, and has one of the shorter windshields I've ever seen – it's like the thing is squinting. I sort of like 'visibility.' I use it every single day. No, thanks.
I've had lousy luck with Toytoas – I've buried two of them – and Corollas just make me sad, so that was out. (The Prius was out of my price range, anyway.) And I won't do Dodge or Chevy, just because I don't enjoy spending time in repair shops. (How Chrysler stays in business is a complete mystery to me. A few years ago I rented a Sebring, and couldn't believe the overall crappiness. My brother in law bought a Dodge truck new three years ago. At 50,000 miles, the transmission went. His mechanic told him they're notorious for that. Amazing. They're like big American Yugos, without the charm.)
After burying two Toyotas bought used in my grad school days, each having consumed several years' worth of repair shop intensive care, I have an allergy to the concept of buying 'used.' There's just something comforting in the concept of a warranty. I know that, say, a used Camry wouldn't have been an unreasonable option, but I'm just not there psychologically. Twice burned, real shy. Besides, with the two greatest kids in the world, I'd like the most current safety features I can get.
So, my latest in an ongoing series of hints I like to drop for the Big Three automakers: some of us have tall children, and don't want SUV's. Hint freakin' hint. Produce something decent -- reliable, safe, efficient, not-butt-ugly -- and you'll own this demographic.
Or you can keep producing unreliable, squat, poorly-engineered pieces of crap, and try to make up the difference with union concessions. Your call.
Also, I'm fairly sure that equal opportunity laws apply to car salespeople. I'm just sayin'. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that it's not actually technically illegal to have women on your sales team. Whether it would help, I don't know, but I'm guessing that the overall level of cluelessness might be a little less bad. ("I don't know about antilock brakes, but check out the CD changer!") Worth a shot, anyway.
And then there's Idiot Feature Creep. When did sunroofs become moonroofs? And why do about half the cars out there suddenly have them? I didn't get that memo, either. Little known fact: when they put in a sun/moonroof, you lose about an inch of headroom. When there isn't enough to start with, that's a big deal. Clearly, this is a conspiracy of short people. They're getting back at the rest of us for those high shelves at Barnes and Noble, or maybe that Randy Newman song.
So after all these years, and all this research, and all this looking, I'm back into the hatchback habit of my grad school years. Back to the egg. As The Wife puts it, I'm returning to my roots. All because the ()#%)# car companies haven't grasped that some of us have tall kids.
Confidential to the Ford Motor Company: Seriously, are you guys even trying anymore?
You do need a bigger car. Try a Camry, Buick, Mazda 6 or Honda Accord. I'm pushing 5' 11'', and can easily sit in the back of an Accord.
The bad news is, of course, these cars are more expensive than the Civics and Corollas. But all have fairly good ratings, are OK on gas, and will give you the room you demand.
Yes, yet another trade-off that needs to be confronted....
Good luck, Dean Dad.
I know that's what they called it on my dad's early 90s or late 80s Taurus. The interwebs tell me it used to just be Ford's term for sunroof (since the 70s) but that it is now sometimes applied generically to describe glass sunroofs.
I had to upgrade to a "family car" (4 doors) with my latest, just about the time the coupes started to look REALLY cool. It was a sacrifice I had to make since the wife drives a MommyMobile (Toyota Sienna).[sigh]
You might check out the new VW Beetles. They supposedly have a lot of headroom (but only two doors.)
An internet buddy that was in the car business for a couple of decades says the best time to buy is December- the dealerships will cut you the best deal to get cars off the lot.
Your needs: a vehicle that comfortably fits tall passengers in both the front and back seats at a decent price.
Your desires: A vehicle that is small (not SUV or minivan) and brand new.
Your results: Misplaced frustration at automakers because your needs and desires do not match.
Suggested alternatives: My family of tall people (my mom was shortest at 5'11 and my dad, brother and I were all 6'2") had a minivan and a 4 door F-series truck. We tried the large car route and it simply did not work for us. As much as Suv's and minivans are maligned, there is rationale for their existence. In addition, you should consider used. I have had goo luck have a used car inspected by an independent mechanic prior to purchasing it.
Loads of headroom. Unbelievable reliability/safety. Passable gas mileage. Not technically an SUV, since it's a wagon (and you're still smaller than most vehicles on the road). And, according to my wife, not at all ugly. I'll admit that the jury's still out on that one.
It might not be for you, though. As the salesperson said when we bought ours: "There are Subaru people, and then there aren't."
Front seat headroom is great; back seat headroom (and space in general) is AWFUL. I'm 5'9 and felt enormously cramped in the back seat of my friend's Beetle.
There's a wagon (9-5) or a hatchback (up through 2003, 9-3). The cars are mainly 4cyl turbos, which means 35mpg on the highway, and did I mention that they're the safest cars out there?
We bought a 6-year-old SAAB 900 from a friend for $6500. in the five years we owned it, we spent that much again in repairs. we longer have that car.
But the '95 toyota Tercel i got new for grad school is going strong after 143000 miles. And DH got 230000 miles out of his Accord.
My brother is 6'4" and has plenty of headroom in his Focus wagon. Do you guys have the wagon version down there? They stopped making them in 2007, but I've been very happy with the two we've had.
Sigh. I miss the days of my old Mazda 323 hatchback, circa 1990.
Same problem for us now. I'm the 5'10" daughter; I married a 6'0" man and have two children who are, while young, tall for their age (and need the massive carseats that small children who grow quickly wind up needing).
We ended up in a Subaru Legacy wagon. More room in the backseat than the Forester, more room in the trunk for gear. Yeah, the AWD cuts down on your milage. And around here, at least, they're ubitquitous (that which is not Subaru is Honda in this town). OTOH, in the Midwest they're hard enough to spot that I'd imagine service might be an issue.
But yeah, my dad ranted the same rant in 1984, down to the "Stupid Big 3 manufacturers are going to wind up BANKRUPT if they don't continue to ignore actual needs of actual people!!"
(I'm 6'4"--it's the first car I can actually sit up in the back seat that I've seen.)
Call and ask to talk to the fleet manger. Quote him a price for the car you want that is $500 above the invoice price. Settle for nothing more.
The Motley Fool has a great, humerous guide to car buying that is spot on. The best part is their "Fax" method of pricing vehicles. http://www.fool.com/car/car12.htm
I think you might well be happy with a Honda Accord, as suggested by several other people. We have one, and it's comfortable for tall people and carseats. It also hasn't given us a lick of trouble and is pretty fuel-efficient (30 mpg on average).
I know you said you weren't looking at used, but you can get really good deals at VW if you go in at the beginning of the model year and ask for *last year's* model -- I got mine in October for cheap because it was the last one on the lot and they wanted to make way for the '04 models.
It's never been the shop for longer than the oil changes took, except for one repair on the moonroof which was only that bad because I let it go for too long. I get about 28/33, depending on how much stuff I have in it.
If what you want is a car with lots of space, good gas mileage, accident shedding construction, and great reliability . . . I think you're gonna pay pretty good money for it. I read that your car needs have increased nontrivially with the kids, so rules of thumb that worked before don't work as well now.
I recently bid a fond farewell to a VW wagon. I recommend it. I've crossed over to the minivan darkside now, though, so you may not want to listen to me.
We have had great luck with Toyotas.
But, I feel your car shopping pain.
Anyway. Look for cars with high roofs. VW Golfs used to be pretty good. Honda Civic hatchbacks are surprisingly room headwise, though they are a bit cramped in the leg. And wagons of course (volvo etc) generally carry a high roof line back.
Also, search out height adjustable seats. Those often go lower than fixed height seats. (try a VW).
I talked to a retiring Subaru dealership owner a year or two ago. His one complaint with the brand? "They last too darned long. I see my repeat customers once every ten years."
When they're ugly and the paint is chipped and the upholstery is faded and rotting away, those darned cars will still be on the road.
And my 6 ft 3 dad can sit comfortably (well, almost) in the back seat.
The down side is that here in the southeast there aren't a lot of dealers. Mine is still under warranty but the closest certified repair shop is 2+ hours away. But in my previous 4 locations, everyone seemed to drive one.
Of course, I'm now driving a Mustang Convertible (not a family friendly car, but sooo cool).
And our last Ford, a Ranger truck, had ~ 180,000 miles on it when the A/C went. We still see it on the road sometimes.
We've had our share of dud cars, but they all seem to have been Chevys. As for Toyota, we had a Toyota Echo that my husband could fit into (it seems to be egg shaped), and it had ~120K on it before my husband slammed it into the back of a semi. He walked away from it with 19 stitches, but the car was totalled (and the air bags didn't go off).
I'd like this as our next car, but the wife prefers Subaru. I'm 6'2", older boy is in the 100th percentile for height, both of us are quite happy in the back of our Legacy. You used to be able to get FWD Legacies, which helps with the gas mileage, not sure if they're still available.
Toyota quality has apparently been slipping.
I've also enjoyed driving Subarus; the one I own has a nearly spotless repair record.