Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Agonizer

I did it with a camera purchase, and now I'm making that seem like impulse by comparison. I'm talking about my thinking about whether to buy a new car given that our family is expanding.

We have a 2002 Honda Civic, and that purchase was the fallout of Kathy's post-9/11 freakout. She wanted to have a way out of the city if there was another attack, and I went along with it, even though I wasn't comforted by the possibility of being stuck in traffic with the rest of the city's residents that were trying to flee. Having no car at that time meant that it would have been a royal pain for us to do a lot of comparison shopping, so in November 2001 we went to the Honda dealer, liked the Civic, and bought it then and there.

And for 90% of the time, the Civic is all we need. It's got us covered for any around-town travel. For leaving town, however, it's rough, though with the loss of Junebug, it's at least feasible. Once #2 arrives, however, anything more than a weekend requires a bigger car.* As would camping, as we were packed to the gills with just the three of us. And the Civic isn't as comfortable as we'd like, though I think that has more to do with our aging than the car's aging. Kathy was on board with getting a new car, but the truth is, I'm the one behind this push, and she'd be ok with whatever I decide.

So I started looking in August -- I didn't see many station wagons, which would have been my first choice, and minivans get such lousy gas mileage that we didn't want one, which left us looking for the most part of SUVs. Not that SUVs get great mileage, but at least some of them are in the 20s, which is way more than what the minivans get. We started with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but didn't jump at them because the price wasn't good enough to justify stopping our search. I started considering the Ford Escape, even though its storage was a bit less than the Honda or Toyota, and it's a noisier car, because it's cheaper and I liked the idea of buying a vehicle that's union made in the U.S.A. The Subarus, Outback and Forrester, were interesting, but we don't need 4-Wheel Drive and didn't like the cost it added or the mileage it subtracted. Then we read about the upgrade to this year's Chevy Equinox, and would consider paying more up front to get the best mileage in the class, but it's a larger car in exterior size, even though its interior is comparable to the Escape rather than the Honda or Toyota.

Finally, a couple of weekends ago, someone mentioned the Volkswagen Sportwagen TDI, and I was back to looking at a stationwagon. It's a fair amount more expensive than the others we were looking at, but its mileage is so much better, as in ~34 MPG. I test drove one a couple of weekends ago, and enjoyed it. Kathy liked the idea of being in a car rather than an SUV. And if the dealership had had one that had the features we wanted, it's likely we would have bought one right then.

But they didn't. And it's not an easy car to find -- they come off the lot about as quickly as they arrive, and most dealerships have back orders. No price negotiation, and the ones showing up are generally fully decked out with features I don't need and certainly don't want to pay for. So the price differential is even more than I'd originally thought.

And so here I am, back to wondering if we can live with the Civic for a little while longer, all the while considering the possibilities. One possibility is that we could get a roof carrier, even if we're not sure we could lift it onto the top of our car. All I know is that I need to agonize about this decision for a while longer, because that's what I do.
* -- I recognize that "require" is a relative term, but you try telling Kathy that she doesn't need to pack so much stuff, or that Nora doesn't require her own seat if she comes.