New car: 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid

Last Friday I purchased a car almost sight-unseen. After writing the sellers a check I gave the car back to them for an undetermined amount of time.

How’s that for a lead-in?

For the past three years we’ve been a one car household. Because I work from home and Benjamin’s school schedule allowed for some flexibility in car usage this hasn’t been too arduous. Since he’s started working full time it’s become apparent that we needed a second car to prevent me from being even more hermity than I already am.

Because I’ve gotten along without a car for so long and because it’s more for the periodic bopping around I wasn’t all that picky about what car I wanted. Enter Meghann and Peter, good friends from Austin who moved to Colorado last year. They recently bought a beautiful home up in the mountains at the end of snow season and discovered that their two hybrid vehicles weren’t going to cut it in the winter and that they really needed at least one 4-wheel drive vehicle. The car they were planning on selling was a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid. We talked about it and they agreed to sell it to me.

At the time I purchased it, I had never seen the inside of the car, much less driven it. I knew Meghann and Peter took great car of their vehicles and that despite being a 2004 model it only had 59k miles on it. Add on that it gets ~50 mpg with a manual transmission and I was sold.

I borrowed the car from them this past Friday to get it registered (VIN verification, emissions test, etc) which was an ordeal I won’t bother going into detail here1. Then I gave it back to them on Saturday. Right now they need two vehicles until they make some time to purchase their new one. I on the other hand don’t really need it. I have survived without one for 3 years already, what’s another week or two (or three or four)?

The day and a half I had the car I really enjoyed it. It was fun to drive a stick again although it’s a bit different experience than my Mustang — not quite as much get up and go. I still have to get use to the optimal way to drive the vehicle. When driving the ‘stang it was more energy efficient to shift into neutral when coming to a stop light or stop sign to let the engine idle. In the Civic (who does not yet have a name) the vehicle must be in gear to charge the battery so taking it out of gear to coast to a stop prevents it from charging. I grok the necessary change but it’ll take a few weeks to retrain my muscle memory.

When Meghann and Peter hand off the car for good there are two very important things that must be done:

  1. Give the car a name. I’ve been assured that it currently doesn’t have a name so it won’t get confused when I christen it.
  2. Get the windows tinted. I’ve no idea how they survived in Austin without tinted windows!

1 The short version: hybrid cars don’t need emissions testing in CO; DL office != title registration office; Arapaho county != Denver county; was told I needed a Security Agreement form filled out by the bank but in truth I could have filled it out myself there in front of her instead of leaving, faxing it to my bank, having them fax it back, getting it notarized (by suggestion from my bank) and coming back later to wait in line again.

eGo CarShare – hassle vs value

Ever since moved to Colorado we’ve been a one-car household. Overall this hasn’t been a problem seeing as I’ve also worked at home since we moved too. Because Benjamin was in school I was able to schedule my use of the car when he was in class — I’d drop him off, run my errands, and pick him back up after his last class.

Now that he’s at his internship I have to schedule any errands during the weekend, and sometimes that just isn’t possible. Luckily, eGo CarShare placed a car within walking distance of our house. The idea is that you’re able to rent the car in 15 minute increments. You pay by the quarter-hour and the miles driven — the insurance and gas is included.

I had hoped to report to you how wonderful this experience was. So far it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve only used the car twice. The first time was a decent experience after learning how to use a Prius (oddly, starting the car isn’t intuitive). The second time was a disaster and proves to be getting worse by the day.

The second time I rented the car was April 8. I had a meeting from 1:00 to 3:00 just 2 miles away from my house. I wasn’t comfortable biking there due to the overall inaccessibility of the location by bike due to I-70. Instead I walked down to the Town Center, had lunch, and at 1:00 walked over to pick up the car. I fob’ed in, and noticed that there was about 1/4 of a tank of gas left. I say “about” because it’s a Prius. The gas gauge is a digital read-out and it isn’t entirely clear if there were 12 total bars of which only 3 were lit up (thus 1/4 full), or if there were 10 total bars and three of them were lit up (thus 1/3 full). Sadly this is an item of concern. If, during your use of the car, the unit has 1/4 tank of gas or less, you are suppose to go to a Conoco and use the CarShare fleet Conoco card to fill up with gas. If you fail to do so you pay a $25 fee. As I was unable to ascertain what the level was, I decided to err on the side of caution and plan to fill up with gas before returning it.

At 2:55 I left my meeting and drove to the nearest Conoco — which is 1 mile on the opposite side of where I would have returned the car (ie: I added 2 miles to my overall trip due to needing to fill it up with gas). The pump would not give me a receipt so I had to go inside and get one from the cashier. I ended up returning the car 4 minutes late, which will cost me a fee of $27.50 because I didn’t notify them first. CarShare will credit you $2 for the hassle of filling up the car. However, it apparently takes at least 15 minutes ($1.625) and 2 miles ($0.60) to accomplish that task — or $2.23. Worse, because I didn’t initial my receipt (because I wasn’t aware I was suppose to) I’m not even getting the $2 credit!

And it gets worse. I got an email today saying that the car was “filthy” when the next occupant got in it. Well, it was filthy when I got in it too — but apparently I’m suppose to call and report that immediately and if I don’t I’m assumed to be responsible for it. Tack on an additional $25 plus the cost to clean it.

So we’re looking at a minimum of $52.50 ($27.50 late fee + $25 Improper Return of Vehicle fee) plus whatever they charge me to clean the car in addition to the $18.22 it cost me to rent it in the first place.

I freely admit that many of the issues I brought on myself due to lack of knowledge: I should have called and let them know that the car was dirty, I should have called and gotten confirmation about how the gas level reads in the Prius, I should have extended my reservation by 15 minutes in order to fill it up thus costing me only $1.63 extra instead of $27.50 — all newbie mistakes. Although now that I know, given my last experience I’m not very motivated to continue using this resource.

Update: After communicating via email with Amanda, the CarShare fleet manager, it appears that customer service is alive and well within the organization. After explaining the situation Amanda took my word that the car was filthy when I got to it and is following up with the previous user. Moreover she is forwarding my email to the billing manager and she expects them to waive the late fee due to the gas issue. Even if they opt not to waive the late fee, the customer service level alone is enough for me to give them one more shot. As I told Amanda, I really want to like this service to supplement our 1-car household. I just need to stop making newbie mistakes and keep the Member Support phone number on speed-dial.

Fusion, not fission

This Saturday Benjamin and I went and bought a new car: a 2006 Ford Fusion. The entire car-buying experience (from loan to insurance to buying the car) was a very stressful and frustrating ordeal. Let me break it down:

Selecting a Car
Finding which car we wanted to buy was the no-brainer. We did our research and select four cars that meet our MPG and amenity criteria. They were the Ford Fusion. Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima — all of which were in our price range. On Monday, January the 16th we went and test-drive every vehicle except the Camry (which Benjamin took one long look at and said “nope, no way”). We made it clear to the salesmen that we were only test driving and would not be buying a car that day. The test drives were very pleasant as were the salesmen. In the end it came down to the two-door Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion. After some discussion and research we settled on the Ford Fusion.

For a variety of reasons we wanted Benjamin to own the car and thus has to be on the loan. In order to facilitate this I was going to give him $12k (the maximum tax-free gift amount for 2006) for the down payment and he could finance the rest. We were hoping to have him as the only owner for reasons that I don’t want to go into at the moment.

Benjamin’s credit union was willing to give him the desired funds at 5.80% interest – the lowest of any of our financial institutions. That was too damn easy I swear.

I called my insurance company about adding Benjamin to my policy. They stated that he would have to be on his own policy even if he lived with me. I thanked the woman, hung up, and went insurance shopping. I went to the HRC website and looked up which insurance companies scored the highest on workplace equality index. Nationwide insurance scored 100%. I found an agent in my area (just down the street), called him up and got a quote to match my existing coverage on both my house and my car. To do a 1-for-1 swap with my current insurance would save me $500 a year. Moreover they were willing to put Benjamin on the policy if both of our names were on the title (apparently Texas law requires the person on the title to insure the car). I received two quotes, one with Benjamin on my policy (+$800 a year) and one with him on his own policy (+$1600 a year). I went ahead and put the gears in motion to switch my coverage to Nationwide while we went back to figure out our loan.

Loan – revisited
Benjamin’s credit union would not allow me to be a co-signer on his loan because we didn’t have joint credit. We explained that we have a joint credit card (and savings/checking account) through my credit union but that wouldn’t work. Without my name on the loan we can’t have both of our names on the title and thus can’t have them on the same policy. I contacted my credit union and asked if we could get a joint loan with them. They said that wouldn’t be a problem although their lowest interest rate is 5.95%. That’s 0.15% higher but still better in the long run if we’re going to save $800 a year on insurance. We’re only financing for 3 years which yields a savings of ~$1400 over the life of the loan if you factor in the higher rate of separate insurance policies. I had wanted to have the loan completely taken care of when I went to talk with the dealership so I asked the loan officer when I could come in and fill out the paperwork. She asked what dealership we were planning on buying from. Turns out the credit union has a contract with most dealerships in town to have the dealership file the paperwork directly to the bank and “make it easier on the customer”. That means that the dealership has to run the credit report and other credit-type paperwork on behalf of the bank. The credit union’s contract with the dealership specifies that credit union customers can not go directly through the credit union that they must go through the dealership. WTF? Ok, fine – we’ll do it that way.

Car pricing
I dutifully went online and used a tool to calculate the dealer price of the vehicle that we wanted to purchase including all of the features as well. I did some calculations and decided the absolute maximum amount we would pay for the car including TTL. If the dealership wouldn’t sell me the car for this price, we wouldn’t be buying it — at least from that dealership. jeffford & jonobie had recently purchased a Mazda 3 and found out that IBM employees get a special pricing plan from Ford, the X-Plan. The X-Plan starts the price negotiations at supposedly the dealer’s price (although I don’t buy that for a minute) but the price is suppose to be significantly less than the MSRP. I did some research and did the appropriate steps to obtain my Ford X-Plan PIN that I would need to present to the dealership to obtain X-Plan pricing. By this point I think we were prepared for the war.

Buying the car
Earlier in the week Benjamin and I contacted our sales person and made an appointment to come into the dealership at 3pm on Saturday afternoon. Benjamin had to work in the morning and wouldn’t get out until 1:15pm at the earliest. Shortly after he arrived home our sales person called and said that two separate couples had come in and were wanting to buy the car, could we come in sooner? We said yes (I’m wary the whole time thinking he’s just trying to catch us off guard) and leave for the dealership.

We drive up and don’t see the car in the lot next to the other Fusions. Unsure of where it might be we walked into the showroom and there it is! The car had been detailed and placed in the showroom which was very obviously why people were suddenly interested in it. The sales person set us down and asked what kind of payments we were wanting to make. I informed him that we wanted to negotiate the total cost of the vehicle, that I was on the X-Plan, provided him the paperwork, and set back. He went to go ask if his manager would sell the cost at X-Plan cost (since there were other buyers that presumably would pay more than X-Plan pricing for the car). His manager apparently agreed. The sales person then wanted to know how we were going to finance it and I said that I wanted to complete a buyer’s order with a finalized price before talking about financing. He dutifully filled out the buyer’s order, describing each line as it was filled out. Beyond the X-Plan price (which I truly believe to be negotiable even though they won’t tell you that) the only items that I believed to be negotiable totaled $100. The final price was ~$500 less than what I had decided to buy the vehicle for and instead of haggling over $100 I decided to just take it.

There isn’t much more to add – except that I had to argue with the finance manager why I didn’t want his extended warranty. When I mentioned that when Benjamin worked at CarMAX that he received more in commission for selling an extended warranty than he did for selling the car the man got on the defensive and said that Covert was a “family owned and operated” dealership and that they wouldn’t rip off their customers like CarMAX – the sleaziest dealership in the business (yeah, like I believe that).

Benjamin doesn’t like the names I’ve picked out for the car: either Cold or Fission. He does, however, absolutely love the car. I am very pleased with how well it drives, how quiet it is inside, and how happy it makes Benjamin — that in itself is worth the car’s weight in gold.