2010-05-04

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After eight and a half years and 192,000 miles—yes, that’s over 20K miles a year—I’d started looking about for a new car to replace my Acura RSX. As much as I liked it (and the engine still seemed to be in pretty good shape), it needed work: squeaky brakes were a must-fix and tires were due to be replaced within the year, and it had annoying and expensive non-critical problems: a blown air conditioner compressor and an ugly dent in the passenger side door. A median estimate for all that would be around $2500, notably more than the car’s actual value at this point.

I’d made a short list of cars to look at—the Ford Focus or Fusion, the Mazda 3, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Nothing by Honda, Toyota or Nissan particularly grabbed me this time, which surprised me. (Which isn’t to say that I’d turn down a 370Z, but it’s out of my price range.) The Hyundai appealed to me as something similar to the RSX but more powerful, with rear-wheel drive, and just an all-around great driving machine. And even less practical than the RSX. The Mazda 3 surprised me by being as interesting as it was—for what’s basically Mazda’s answer to the Accord, it’s aggressively styled, has some interesting standard electronics and even with an automatic transmission is as responsive as the stick-shift RSX. (And it’s a five-speed auto with a “manual shift” mode, to boot.)

The Ford salesman was pretty cool, managing the neat trick of seeming laid back and attentive simultaneously. He didn’t fail to close the sale—the car did. It may be that nearly nine years with a quasi-sports coupe has changed my perceptions, but the Fusion seemed to take the steering wheel and accelerator as suggestions rather than commands. It’s a distinctive ride style I imagine some people would like, to be sure, but those people are not me.

I hadn’t actually expected to buy a new car now, either way, but Mazda was offering a 0% APR deal expiring on Monday. Gnaw gnaw gnaw. So I took a deep breath, went back, signed all the papers, drove away from the dealer five minutes before they closed, and the car immediately died.

No, seriously. A mile away from the dealer the “check engine” light came on, which isn’t necessarily serious, but so did the “automatic transmission malfunction” light, which is drive to the shop now do not pass go do not collect $200 serious.

As you may guess, this caused a great deal of stress for me, and more than a little consternation at the dealership. Their service department wouldn’t re-open until Monday (yesterday). I got a loaner then—apparently a very ad hoc “don’t strand the customer” choice of cars, as they’d actually just closed when I rolled the ailing car back up—and then swapped it for a somewhat more official “drive this while we figure out what’s going on, please” loaner on Sunday.

To wrap the story up somewhat more quickly, yesterday I checked in with the service manager in the morning, who optimistically said, “It’s probably just a loose connector.” I wasn’t so sanguine, and had been preparing myself to politely but firmly suggest that perhaps they should look into getting me a different car. As it turned out, the return visit in late afternoon made that unnecessary. When I walked in, they greeted me with, “We’re getting you another car and it should be here in a couple hours.” They couldn’t determine what was wrong with the original car (“something’s wrong with the transmission”) and didn’t want the deal to be permeated with lemon scent. I’ll give them points for handling it proactively.

So, bottom line: new car. Payments for five years, but slightly less than the payments on the RSX were, and with no interest. A lot of the gadgetry that’s become standard in the last decade, too—the advancements are remarkable. I may be a nerd and post pictures later.

I’ll take it out for a long drive—well, maybe not for three weeks: this upcoming weekend is booked for Mother’s Day stuff, and the weekend after that I’m keeping open for potential visitors.

After that, though, I drive somewhere stupidly far away.

(Also: props to Menlo Mazda and Jessica, the saleswoman there who helped me out and handled what’s surely on the list of Things You Do Not Want To Go Wrong With Your Sale with grace. And, if you’re in the market for a Ford, Zach at Sunnyvale Ford gets cool points. Hopefully he won’t lose them when I say I’ve bought a Mazda elsewhere.)

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