My very first car was a 1980 Ford Escort station wagon. I bought it from my grandparents for $500 in 1988 and it served me well for the next 5 years, well into 1993. But as I graduated from college, the road grime, duct tape and metal clothes hangers which held the rust together finally showed signs of giving out. Since I was leaving the safe, walk-able confines of the college campus for the not walk-able, paying job with a two hour commute. So, I needed to buy a car.
I was familiar with Ford, so I first went to the local Ford dealer. Before I had even had a test drive, the sales person had my blood pressure up, and my heart rate up and my head spinning, as he told me to ignore the sticker price because he was already cutting it in half and he was not going to allow me to leave without a new Ford.
I took the test drive and the car was fine. But I left without a new Ford despite the salesperson’s histrionics. Instead, I drove a few hundred yards up the highway to the Saturn dealership.
I got out of the car and found that I was able to walk around the lot, look at cars, look at more cars and just kind of feel unpressured. I found a salesperson and he was helpful and enthusiastic. I test drove the car, a 1993 Saturn SL1 sedan with a manual transition.
And I loved it.
I ordered (back when Saturn had you build the car you wanted) a blue-green SL1 and picked it up a week or so later. And I still loved it.
And thus began a love affair with a car brand. We have had 6 Saturns since then. Two SL1’s, two SW2’s and two Ion 2’s.
But then on a dark, dark day, October 1, 2009, it was announced that there would be no more Saturns. No more peppy, sporty, largely-problem free cars with salespeople who didn’t yell or challenge you to not leave without a new car. And I was sad. I was sad because I didn’t want to see such an awesome company go away. But also because my car was already 5 years old. And cars have a limited lifespan, no matter how well you care for them.
At the same time, I’m getting older, just like my trusty Saturn Ion 2. I am trying to abide by the “control what you can control” mentality, but that’s really not my comfort zone. But one thing I always made fun of and was sure would never hit me was the stereotypical “Mid Life Crisis”. You know the one, where the guy hits a certain age, usually between 40 and 45, and he does something wild. Something crazy. Something designed to recapture the fiery manliness of his younger days.
Nah, that would never happen to me. Except… well, it did.
About two weeks ago, I woke up and I was sure my car was on its last wheels. I had put a couple thousand dollars of repairs into it despite it being only worth around $1,000. And no matter how much I hemmed and hawed about it, I knew – it was time to replace the car.
But with what?
With no more Saturns, I had no idea. I mean, from the moment I walked into that Saturn dealership in May of 1993, I had never even once thought about any other car brand. Over the past year or so I’d thought about what my next car might be “some time down the road”, but hadn’t gone to any great lengths to figure it out.
I spent the past couple of weeks searching the internet, researching cars and basically fretting and getting myself worked up. I spent several days being largely annoying to my family as well, trying to get them to at least give me an opinion about whether I should get a new car or not because, honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was because I needed a new car or wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly sure that the two options of need or want were actually even different.
Finally, I pulled the trigger and sent an email to ask for a quote. About 30 minutes later, I had a quote – a no haggle, no hassle, lowest price quote. My blood pressure went up a little bit about the price, but down about not having to haggle. And still I waffled on the whole thing. I nearly went to take a test drive of my selected car on Thursday night. Then I didn’t. Then I nearly went on Friday, but I didn’t. This time, though, I emailed to get an appointment. It was late so I expected no response. But I got one, asking me to call to setup an appointment for Saturday.
On Saturday morning I waffled some more and paced a lot and did more research. But as soon as the hour was decent, I made the call and found myself in my Saturn Ion 2 for the very last time. I arrived at the dealership at 10 am and test drove the car I had selected.
And I loved it.
And this is when it hit me: I was having my mid life crisis. I wanted this car, sure, but I also needed it. The more time that passed, the more I could feel it right in my stomach that this needed to happen. We came back from the test drive and talked about the no-haggle, no-hassle price and settled up on the trade in and other things and the deal was struck. And then I waited. And waited.
Four and a half hours later, I drove away in my brand new Toyota Prius Plug-in. Four and a half hours of me sitting there feeling more and more like it was critically important that I have this car. It wasn’t even mine and I was feeling protective of it. I really don’t understand why I felt this way, but I did. And the feeling has only increased.
I know, I know. A real man’s mid life crisis involves red corvettes with the top down. But that’s not me and that’s not my crisis. I needed a car that fit my mostly-local lifestyle. I needed a car that fit my solar panels.
I have had the car for 4 full days now and I still love it. I’ve used a little bit of gas, but mostly have been all electric. A full charge of the battery (from nothing to full) requires about 3 hours of time and costs approximately 36 cents. Except that my solar panels are now working and therefore the cost is, well, pretty close to zero.
Driving this car is like driving a computer. There are diagrams and displays and settings and all kinds of buttons to push. The ones I care most about are the ones which show the engine and battery. When the car is using the electric motor, green arrows flow from the battery to the wheels; when the car is braking or coasting, the arrows switch and flow from the wheels to the battery. When the gas engine kicks in, passengers don’t feel the transition… it just kind of happens seamlessly. And when it does, red arrows flow from the little icon representing the gas engine to the wheels.
Red = bad, of course.
After each trip, the car tells you about its efficiency. Most of my trips in this car have shown 999 MPG, which is to say that no gas was used. Many other trips have come in between 148 and 250 MPG. I had one trip that was only 54 MPG, but that one started without any charge on the battery at all.
The bottom line is that four days is not a long stretch of time during which one can decide if a car is excellent or not, but so far, I’m pleased with it.
And if I open the windows and drive fast enough, I can imagine that the top is down and I will, literally, only hear the sound of the wind passing by, since the electric engine is almost silent.