Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My addiction

My name is Badtux, and I am an addict.

My addiction is not to drugs, or alcohol, or food, or gambling, or anything else you may be thinking of. No, my addiction is far more expensive: I am addicted to new cars.

Here is what I have owned over the past ten years:

  • 1995 Ford Ranger
  • 1996 Ford Aspire
  • 2000 Subaru Forester
  • 2003 Chevrolet S-10
The Ranger flipped and was totalled when the swing-arm "Twin I-Beam" suspension tucked in while trying to avoid a deer. I lived on a farm at the time and needed a truck, so I bought a really rough farm truck, and then bought the Aspire for the 110-mile daily commute. The Aspire, alas, merely aspired to be a real car (although I must admit that the 35+mpg would sure be nice today!), being horrendously slow, rough-riding, noisy, and cramped, with a top speed of maybe 50mph on Western grades even if you downshifted to 4th gear and floored it. When I got a big bonus for delivering a program on-time (not to mention that by this time I was no longer commuting 110 miles a day, and was making considerably more money), I looked at what was available, looked at what my next move might be (i.e., to Colorado snow country), and bought the Forester. The Forester, alas, proved to be expensive and fragile, albeit it was a technological marvel and drove like a dream. When I bought an older house and started renovating it, I needed a truck again to haul construction materials and tow construction equipment. I bought the S-10 because of the small trucks available, it had the most towing capacity (other than the Dodge Dakota V-8, which had a large-truck price), the largest bed capacity, the lowest overall height (important for handling stability), and the most powerful V-6 engine, as well as being the cheapest.

I sold the house because I had to move due to my job, so I don't use the truck as a truck anymore. In fact, it mostly just sits under its shed, looking sad, because it sucks gas like a warblogger inhales Twinkies, and I mostly drive my motorcycle instead. Not to mention that it has a 122-inch wheelbase and is 18 feet long (barely fits in a standard garage) and thus is horrendously difficult to park in a big city.

Recently my mother and stepfather came to visit, with her 1995 Honda Civic with 150,000 miles on it. Since my truck obviously isn't up to hauling three people around, I hauled her around in the Civic. Even with 150,000 miles, the thing handled so crisply and accelerated and shifted with such verve that my truck felt like a friggin' 18-wheeler by comparison. Oh sure, if I wanted to tow a 5,000 pound trailer, pull a stump out of the ground, haul a load of cinder blocks, or otherwise do truck things, the S-10 is a wonderful truck. It has a fun factor, however, of approximately zero, and just isn't practical in the city. Especially in a city where the price of unleaded still averages over $2.50 per gallon and the thing sucks it down at 14 miles per gallon.

The only good news is that because all the truck does is sit, it doesn't have many miles on it and is in very good condition and thus if I sell or trade it in, I can get a good price for it, enough to pay it off. But the next rainy season starts in three months, then I have to drive the thing again (while I have good rain gear, I really prefer *not* to ride my motorcycle in the rain).

Thus my addiction. What car should I look for next? Requirements: Has to be fun yet practical. Has to be able to haul me and a female friend and a lot of camping gear on graded gravel roads (no off-road stuff, but traction is useful here). Has to get decent gas mileage (20+ in the city). Prefer it to be roomy enough to carry a fair amount of stuff, at least as roomy as my old Forester was. Prefer a station-wagon or SUV-like shape with a hatchback since that's most practical. Prefer it to be under $20K.

What I've ruled out: Mini Cooper. Too low-slung. Really, really fun, but not the ideal car for blitzing down gravel roads. Toyota Prius. Aside from the waiting list, it can't be fitted with a tow hitch, and while my Trailer In A Bag and motorcycle add up to a whoppin' 500 pounds and thus can be towed by pretty much anything, you gotta have a tow hitch to do it!

What I've not ruled out: Seeing how my mother's Honda behaves with 150,000 miles makes me yearn for a Honda. However, I'm not enamored of Honda's styling, which is bland and, well, corporate. Plus their prices have become quite unreasonable. The Honda Element is non-bland and reasonably priced, though, so that's a strong possibility.

Toyota RAV-4: Blank, bland, bland. Bleh. But drives well.

Used 4-cylinder convertible Geo Tracker or Suzuki Sidekick. Not very practical -- slow, convertible top loud in the wind, etc. -- but really fun, and so tiny that they can park anywhere in the city that a car can park and some places you'd swear a car could NOT park. Too bad they're not sold new anymore.

Any other suggestions for what a penguin with special needs should be driving? Or should I just buck it up and keep feeding fuel to the S-10?

-- Badtux the Addicted Penguin


  1. Under 20k? Perhaps, if you trade in the truck, a new Mariner[Lincoln] is possible. If you haven't seen them yet, it's a small SUV, good gas mileage. Personally, I don't think you can beat the service that comes with Lincoln-Mercury.

  2. Take a look at the Honda CR series. Truck-like with good mileage.

  3. The Honda CR-V is seriously bland. Bland bland bland. At least the Honda Element (which is built on the CR-V platform, BTW) has some character. The CR-V is also out of my price range. So if doing a Honda, I'd probably do the Element rather than the CR-V. Besides, it's more compatible with entering the car with muddy boots, since the whole interior can just be sloshed down with a bucket to wash all the mud and dirt out.

  4. Heh, people like you keep me in business. Personal and professional recommendations, buy a Ford (Lincoln/Mercury). GM's electronics suck. Honda is definitely the best of the Japanese. Caution, the Ridgeline has a unitbody instead of a frame. It ain't a truck, even though it looks like a pickup.

  5. I would look for a used VW Jetta or Passat wagon with the TDI. I like the feel of the ride and you get the hybrid-like milage while still driving like a teenager. (Not that I advocate driving like a teenager. even for teenagers)


  6. TDI's are very rare and expensive here in California, since it is illegal to sell them here (a stupid law, IMHO). You can't even import one from another state unless it has at least 8,000 miles on the odometer.

  7. I yearn for an Element. However, I have a civic with only 75,000 on it and getting rid of a Honda with only 75k is like throwing a perfectly good car in the trash.

  8. I am sure it is your patriotic duty to keep buying lots of gas. Toss the milk and feed gas to the cat too.

    Have you looked at the ugliness that is a Scion? They are supposed to get reasonable mileage. And they are not bland.

    Personally, I, with my authority issues, drive a Trooper. The irony amuses. And it's got a trailer hitch. My next car will either be a Jeep or a Ford.

  9. Heh, yeah, a Civic with 75,000 miles on it hasn't even hit the prime of its life yet. My mother's previous Civic (before her current one with its 150,000 miles) was a 1988 Civic. When my brother (to whom my mother sold it, with around 170,000 miles on it, when she bought her "new" 1995 Civic) sold it in 2001 to buy a Volvo because his grandchild's rear-facing carseat would not fit into the back seat of the Civic, it had 264,000 miles on it and still ran fine. (The Volvo, on the other hand, was a POS that cost him a fortune in repairs over the next few years).

    Oh dear, I suppose I should not admit that I have a brother with a grandchild. This penguin feels old...

    As for my patriotic duty to consume as much gasoline as possible, I believe I shall ponder on that one a bit before putting it into action. My pocketbook says differently. Oh, I know this makes Vice President Halliburton cry, almost as much as an Amnesty International report makes him cry, but ....

    -- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  10. By the way, just as a side note, I had a '71 Nova that I bought wehn it had 250k miles on it. I put another 50k on it before I sold it. Ran like a dream the whole time. Those late 60's early 70's Novas were unbelievable. They had a straight six engine that would not die. Just would not die. I remember taking that baby home from work, a 35 mile commute, during a massive blizzard and cruising past all these brand new Lincolns and so on that were stuck on the side of the road. The next morning I went down and dug it out of the parking space. It was completely covered in like six feet of snow drift. I started the engine and it had a weird sound, so I backed it out a little and opened the hood. The engine was literally packed with snow. The snow was so fine, you see, and the wind so strong that it had blown the snow in through every crack and crevice and packed the engine compartment with snow. I brushed the snow away and the engine sounded entirely normal after that. Loved that car. What a sweet car that was. Completely reliable.


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