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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Auto Show


That seems to be the magic number. Any car at the show that would be of any use to me seems to run about $25,000. At least on the main floor of the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show. On the lower floor, where the German and Luxury vehicles are displayed, the price is more like $45,000. What happened to all the sub-20K cars? As far as I can tell, there are only a few, and they are mostly sub-compacts and stripped-down, smaller SUVs. But add in all the features "as shown" and they all creep above $20,000. How did cars get to be so expensive?

Let's take a brief step back into reality. In all likelihood, I will not be purchasing a new car this year. More likely, I will continue to drive my 1994 Geo Prizm, which is great car, although it is getting crankier by the year and definitely starting to show its age.

But with 2 kids getting driver's licenses this summer, I've been contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle. I've been reading the car magazines and looking through the papers and I still am not sure what I'm looking for. So the Auto Show is a great opportunity for me to see and feel and smell the different options.

I found that as far as I am concerned, the Auto Show has 3 types of vehicles:

1. The cars I really want.

2. The cars I probably want.

3. The cars I should probably get.

Looking at this rationally and logically, I need to define what exactly it is that I need from a new vehicle.

1. It needs to be reliable. I can't have a car that spends more time in the shop than on the road. I need to get to work and to several hospitals everyday. I don't want a car that has a transmission that suddenly falls out on the road (cough...PTMobile) or that has doors that sometimes don't close (bigger cough..PTMobile) where you pull in to the dealership and they say, "Oh yeah, GMC has always had a problem with the door hinges rusting." Information I could have used before I purchased your gas-guzzling piece of cwap--ahem.

Anyway, reliable, which for me means that I need to steer clear of American automobiles. Now, I have never owned a foreign vehicle before. The closest I have come has been the Geo, which by the way, is an order of magnitude more reliable than ANY OTHER CAR I have ever owned, and which I attribute to the fact that it is secretly a Toyota Corolla. Other than that, I have owned a string of American crapmobiles from GM and Chrysler whose built-in obsolescence features have been all-too obvious.

So probably a Japanese vehicle.

2. It must be able to handle SNOW. I'm fed up with a-swishin' and-a slidin' all over the road 6 months out of the year. I want big tires and All-Wheel-Drive. I don't want to have to cancel any more gigs due to wimpy transportation.

Which brings me to

3. It must be able to transport my stuff.

I know, I have tended to gravitate towards sedans in the past.

My first was this charming little 1974 Buick Apollo that I inherited from my drummer back in '86. The roof was rusted through, so we covered it with bookbinding tape. I don't want to say the car was past its prime when we got it, but bits of it were always falling off as we drove down the road. Why, one time my keyboard player was riding in the back seat and asked me, "hey, was that your mirror that just flew past me?" Another time, we were stuck in a snow-filled parking lot, and Mrs. B, at that time my fiancee with finesse for driving in snow (aka Ms. Wisconsin) tried to force her way out of the lot by gunning the engine. The car didn't move, but the muffler shot its way out of the lot and into the street (where it came to land, curiously enough, next to three other mufflers). That car ended its life abandoned on a side street in lower Manhattan.

In between cars we also went through a few Plymouth Voyager minivans and a 1983 Chevy Citation which was the epitome of cwap. But when I moved to Wisconsin, I got my own second personal car, which was this boat-like 1972 Ford Torino. Yes, the same car as Starsky and Hutch, just a few seasons earlier. I again inherited this from someone, this time my wife's aunt. I really wish I had held on to this baby. It is now considered to be a classic muscle car. At the time, though, it was a tank that didn't quite fit into my garage (which has the scars to prove this), didn't have any sort of traction in snow, and refused to start or just plain stalled whenever it rained. A delightful vehicle. I traded it in for a radio on my new Geo.

So, the Geo has been a fine little car, but...it's little. I can't fit a PA system, two huge speakers, a bass cabinet, a bunch of guitars and mic stands and speaker poles into it. Instead, I've been driving the PTMobile, but again, that thing is trouble, and it leaves Mrs. B stranded with 6 kids and no transportation.

Which leaves me looking at SUVs. They meet my criteria. They are generally reliable (at least the Asian ones are), they can handle snow, and they have enough room for my stuff. Let's just leave the German ones out. They are cool, and there is a collection of them that I have to walk past in the hospital parking lot, like a kind of Bavarian Gauntlet, but they are way too expensive for me. Plus there's that whole "Nazi slave-labor" thing and my mom would hate me so let's talk Toyota. Probably a Toyota RAV-4.

Sticker price: $25,000


Ezzie said...

Oh - I was going to say the Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla, but those probably don't have the room you need... there's the Subaru Outback (great with snow), but I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for - cheaper, though, and 4-wheel drive. My dad has one.

My MIL has a Chrysler Pacifica - no clue as to the price tag, but it's got great handling. Vision isn't as great as I'd like, but amazing to drive.

Essie said...

I was also thinking of getting a Rav-4. But gotta pay off my Camry first...

GregoryT said...

I wrote a comment but apparently it didn't get posted. Here it is:

Did you think about the "Geo" of our days - the Pontiac Vibe? It can be obtained with AWD, and when you recline the rear seats, you get a flat, plastic lined floor, which even has anchor hooks for tying the equipment. And you should check out the interior - it's really roomy. At the same time, it's a fuel miser. (24/30 with AWD). And it costs well under 25k.

PsychoToddler said...

The Vibe is basically a Toyota Matrix, but it seemed a little smallish to me. I think once you trick it out with 4WD it's close to 25K.

cruisin-mom said...

Sorry, P.t. can't help with the snow factor. Living in 80 degree weather most of the time here in Hollywood, with all of the stars, we don't really know what a good snow car would be.
But Toyota or Honda are both always reliable.

PsychoToddler said...

Well, you guys have all those mud slides to contend with.

Not to mention having to wade through layers and layers of crap all the time.

Jack's Shack said...

I have been very happy with my Odyssey. My sister has one too, she loves it. I mention her because she lives in New Jersey and has to contend with snow.

It costs a couple of bucks, but it has plenty of room and really is a pleasure to drive.

wanderer said...

Definitely look at the Honda CR-V and/or Pilot which are available as 4WD or AWD. I had a CR-V for four years and it was wonderful. Didn't break down once. I think they are both in your price range, though the Pilot may be a little more (it is bigger and more luxurious than the CR-V). You can't lose either way (CR-V, Pilot, RAV-4). The new Subaru Tribeca is nice too, but might be a little pricey.

PsychoToddler said...

I like the Tribeca. That's running closer to 30K, but it has a great "cockpit", like you're in a shuttle craft. Definitely in my top 3.

Is that the one with the "glass cockpit", Mrs. B? There was one that we sat in that looked like it needed clearance from air traffic control to take off.

The Honda CRV was on my list, but it was a little smaller in the cargo area than the RAV-4 and seemed more rubbery in the dasboard area. I was less impressed. The pilot is nicer but you're right, more expensive.

gunny walker said...

Is there some kind of hatchback you can get? Do people still make hatchbacks? What about Scion XA? Of course, I have no idea ho that would handle snow and heavy equipment. At least it ventures into triple digit horsepower, and when the tires go out, you can wrap them in electrical tape. Normally, SUV drivers make me sick, but considering your clan, an SUV makes sense. (Unless the Asians make a school bus.)

PsychoToddler said...

I know, Gunny, I can't believe I'm actually considering an SUV. I swore I would never get one. But after this winter, with me losing work because of snow, I decided I needed something with more height and power.

Hatchbacks are a little small for what I need, plus with my back, I prefer something I don't have to stoop over to load up.

I liked the Dodge Magnum, which is basically an old style station wagon, but it's still vulnerable to bad driving conditions.

PsychoToddler said...

BTW, Jack, the Odyssey is a sweet minivan, good for Mrs. B, but I don't need one as a personal car.

tuesdaywishes said...

I think you should get a Camry or some other import with a great reliability record. When you need the extra space (4 times a year? 10? ) rent an SUV for the day. As long as you don't pick it up in an airport, you can get it for $75 or so. (Less if you're willing to drive a panel minivan from U-Haul)The rest of the time, you don't have to pay for, park, or gas up all the extra space and muscle you aren't using.

Ezzie said...

Whoops - should be Camry above, not Corolla... I'm not a CRV fan, though the one I was driving was older. Not very powerful, not very safe-feeling, and it shook a bit. Plus, the trunk is small for a car like that.

(Oh, I should probably explain - I don't own a car, but people often lend me theirs or have us take it while they're out of town.)

shmiel said...

I put a fairly large bass amp, a double bass,an electric bass, a fold up cart for the amp and a tool bag with assorted important junk all in the back of an outback circa. 1998(albeit with half the back seat down)....and if i packed it carefully i could probably get more in there...I can fit all but the double bass under the cover without the back seat down and theres still plenty of room. Snow is a breeze, even in the blizzard we had a few weeks ago, I coud plow through the plow ins at the end of my driveway.

PsychoToddler said...

Shmiel, my issue is that I often also have to shlep the PA besides the bass amp. So that means a bass cabinet, two 15" PA speakers, a monitor speaker, bass head, PA head, an acoustic guitar amp (sometimes), my bass, my acoustic guitar, a big bag full of wires and mics, two or three mic stands, a pair of speaker poles, and...what else...oh, me. And my guitar player, and his amp, and his two guitars, and stands, and boxes of strings....

tuesdaywishes said...

After your last comment, I think the U-Haul is a good idea for gigs, regardless of what you actually buy. They will often thrown in a hand truck for another $5, and you load by walking stuff up and down a ramp rather than lifting.

Val said...

I have nothing else to add to the recommendations for your car (partial to the CR-V), but just wanted to say how much i LOVE your Ford Torino - EXCELLENT car! Our family had a station wagon version and though a station wagon, it was still sporty looking! Probably one of the few American cars my family owned!

PsychoToddler said...

Val, I should point out that that picture of the Ford Torino up there--that's not actually mine. That's from a sales brochure. See the two carefree people skipping on the beach (or in death valley, hard to tell) behind the car? I'm neither of them.

The truth is that for some bizarre reason, there are no surviving pictures of my actual Torino. But I'll describe it for you:

It was bomber green, it was a 4-door (not the two-door coupe you see there), and it didn't have the vinyl roof. However, it was fun to drive. Unless it was snowing or raining.

Mrs. Balabusta can probably confirm the night I walked through our front door, 2 hours late, soaked through my overcoat, my lab coat, my shirt, undershirt, skin, muscle and to the bone because I had been outside in torrential rains waiting for AAA to come and tow away the beast because it refused to start. And I was POST CALL too!

It would have been nice to keep it, but in those days, it was all I could do not to take an axe to it.

MissShona said...

Wow - good taste in the [older] cars!