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Cars and stuff


Unrelated to anniversaries of any kind:

Yesterday Lola did indeed take me with her on a Prius-test-driving expedition. We went to the Toyota dealer near my place. The salesman we talked to was nice, and friendly, and didn't push too hard at first. He said they didn't have a 2005 Prius she could try out, but that the 2004 model was identical in every respect. (Later, he casually mentioned a couple of differences.)

He came along on the test drive—I'm never clear on whether that's standard or not, having never actually gone on a test drive from a dealership before—and spent most of the drive pointing out various features of the car, but in a reasonably nice way. I sat in back and marveled at the continuously updating "current MPG" display on the dashboard, showing anything from 12 to 99 miles per gallon at any given moment. We were also very taken with the high-end package's built-in telephone capability—your cell phone can talk to the car via BlueTooth, and there are phone controls built into the steering wheel. Oh, and the in-dash navigation system in the high-end package does voice-activated navigation, though I suspect that you have to pre-program addresses; I doubt you can just speak an arbitrary address and have it give you directions. But I could be wrong; I haven't checked.

Anyway, when we got back to the dealership, he took us inside and started taking down Lola's information, and it gradually became clear that he was attempting to get her to buy a car through the simple expedient of filling out a contract and handing it to her to sign. She noted that she wanted to negotiate a price before signing anything; he said that all the Toyota dealerships in the area had agreed to sell all new cars for exactly MSRP, no more and no less. She told him (truthfully) that other dealerships had offered her (small) price reductions; he said that she could negotiate a price after her car arrived (there's about a two-month backlog in Prius orders at this point). Which would require putting down a thousand-dollar nonrefundable deposit. Which is just ridiculous. Eventually he went and got his manager, who said the same thing about no dealership being allowed to offer a reduced price, and then he said that since he wanted her to buy from them, he would be willing to work with her. He then offered to throw in the floor mats free.

Lola said she would get back to him later, and we left. We poked around on CarsDirect (thanks again for the pointer, Jenn!) and gradually concluded that the dealerships she'd talked with were pulling a bit of a fast one: they say they'll give a reduced price for the car, but what they actually mean is that they'll throw in the ridiculously expensive floormat package (over $200) for free, thus giving a reduced price for the car-plus-floormat package that just happens to come to the exact MSRP of the car-without-floormat package. Makes the customer feel good (you're getting a whopping 1% discount!) without having to actually come down on the price of the car. Not illegal, arguably not even immoral, but definitely deceptive, because they don't make clear that that's what they're doing. I suspect that it's common in a lot of sales industries to have overpriced extras that you don't expect to actually get money for most of the time, so you can throw them in for free to make the customer feel good; I'm pretty sure that was true with the mattress dealers I talked with when I was buying beds a few months ago, for example.

Later, I looked at the Civic Hybrid on CarsDirect; significantly lower price than the Prius (CarsDirect can actually get the Civic Hybrid for lower than invoice), but I gather it's slightly less environmentally friendly, and it doesn't have all the cool extras the Prius does. On the other hand, the cool extras are expensive, and I suspect I'll like the Civic better as a car. I briefly considered the natural gas version of the Civic, but it has a range of only 200 miles and requires 12 hours to refuel (which you do basically by hooking it up to your gas line at home), so I think it's not quite right for me just yet. Anyway, I think my next step will be to go test-drive a Civic.

I didn't drive the Prius—I think I'll be a little twitchy about driving for a bit, and I didn't want my get-back-on-the-horse experience to be with an entirely unfamiliar and rather expensive car—but I did sit in the driver's seat for a bit while it was parked, and though it was reasonably comfortable, the seat back is still not the right height to fit my neck and head the way I want it to. And the sloping hatchback provides an odd window of rear visibility; not awful, but not nearly as much as I'm used to, and with a solid horizontal bar across the middle of it. I imagine I could get used to it pretty quickly, but I want to look at other alternatives first.

(I'm getting ahead of myself; it's vaguely possible that the insurance company will repair my car. But it seems awfully unlikely.)

Hey, I seem to have forgotten to ever link to the excellent but long 9-part series Confessions of a Car Salesman. Edmunds.com hired a journalist, Chandler Phillips, to work undercover at two new car dealerships in the LA area: a high-pressure Japanese dealership and a low-pressure no-haggle American dealership. The resulting story is fascinating; a must-read for anyone considering buying a car.

Oh, dear, it's gone and gotten late. I was considering staying home today—not feeling entirely well, and slept badly. (Woke up at 4:30 to rustling noises; dozed; woke up again at 5:30 to a sharp snapping noise that I was sure was the mousetrap; dozed while fretting about whether I'd set up the mousetrap in such a way that it would harm the mouse, and about five times in a row dreamed that I was going across the room to check on the trap and then woke up and realized I was still in bed; finally got up at 7:30 and checked the trap and discovered that it hadn't been sprung at all; went back to bed, slept for an hour and a half but had a violent and scary nightmare.) But I'm feeling a bit better and more awake, so I should go to work. Hope my bike is in working condition.


Have bought a Prius a few months back, a lot of this is sounding awfully familiar. A few random thoughts.

1) Comparatively speaking the 2004 and 2005 models are the same, but that's a tad misleading because the 2004 model was completely redesigned so it's substantially different from the earlier models.

2) While the "sell for MSRP, no more, no less" sounds obnoxious, I have yet to hear of anyone getting a discount on a Prius, but I've seen multiple stories of dealers selling for substantially above MSRP, basically taking advantage of the scarcity. A two-month wait for a Prius in a large metro area sounds a little short to me. I got mine after a six-week wait and the dealer was astounded it was that fast and that was on top of being faster due to being in a small city where the demand for them is not as high.

3) I also looked at the Civic hybrid and was not impressed. The mileage is lower and there are a lot of ways in which they've made tradeoffs to get the mileage up at the expense of convenience for maintainence. For example they use special tires (which got me worried about safety issues) and there are parts that have to be completely replaced with every oil change. In addition, the battery back for the Civic hybrid is placed in such a way to cut down trunk space and prevent the rear seats from folding down.

4) When I test-drove the Prius I noticed the weird sloping rear window and split view with the bar and was a bit worried about that. I stopped noticing it within about 3 days of driving the car once I got it. On the other hand the fancy displays are a menace. It's very easy to be distracted by the mileage readout or the display showing where the power is coming from. The package including the navagation system is expensive, it's an extra $2000 above everything else so I passed on that one and can't tell you anything about that.

Overall I'm generally happy with it. If you've got more questions feel free to ask.

Toyota makes great cars, but their dealers do have a reputation for being pushy. (As, for that matter, do Honda's.)

I've driven my mom's 2004 Prius a bit and been a passenger in a Civic Hybrid. The Prius seemed larger inside despite being almost exactly the same size overall. According to Consumer Reports, it's also faster. And it's definitely mroe SFnal. :)

I don't disagree with anything said about the Civic. I was very disappointed that the rear seats don't fold down. However, I got it for about $7000 less than I could have gotten a Prius, and I decided my *next* car could be a Prius maybe. :-)

I don't have a lot of requirements except for safety, reliability, and good gas mileage. It's hard to beat Honda on the first two. I'm getting about 40-42 mpg (sticker said 47-48), but my friend with a Prius says he gets 42 (sticker says 52-60, or something like that).

If you can afford the high-end Prius, yay! I loved all the cool features. The Honda has none of those.

Thanks, all, for the info on the hybrids. It was a totally amazing experience being swept along on the journey towards a contract: it was practically seamless, really. Those dealers are _slick_! Luckily, over the course of the last several years, I've learned how to say no and not feel bad about it. (Sure, I'll just sign that contract and plunk down my grand and commit to buying it from you at the MSRP you've listed, and then later when the car comes in try and negotiate the price... and can I buy that bridge too?)

So far I'm still leaning towards the Prius, but have any of you heard anything about hybrid batteries (this is 3rd hand from a co-worker) needing to be replaced every 4 or 5 years for $4 or $5K? The Toyota salesguy said, if I remember correctly, that Toyota gives a 10 year/ 150K miles warranty on the battery (or was that the synergy drive thingamabobby?)... but I'm wondering if you Prius owners (or other hybrid know-it-alls -- ahem, excuse me, afficionados :) ) know anything about it?

Coupla' other things: 1) Apparently, in the "All the Toyota dealers got together and decided to price-fix" scenario, they agreed to sell Priuses (Prii?) only at MSRP: no undercutting the price, no tacking on extra to the price -- anymore.

2) The wait used to be much longer -- up to 6 or 8 months. But now supposedly they have a 45-60 day guarantee or something from Toyota. I dunno' for sure, but the three dealers I talked to all gave estimates of less than 3 months.

3) MotorTrend mag rated the 2004 Prius as their Car of the Year, for lots of reasons. Pretty nice article, actually. I don't know how to insert links (someday I'll learn, I'm sure), but the URL is http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/car/112_04_coy_win/
if anyone is interested.

4) Plus, as Jed said, the phone-in-the-steering-wheel feature was way cool. And all those other features, ohmigod, it was like driving a space pod or something. Plus with that cool space pod shape... well, I'll let you all know if I actually order one.


Tracking through the paths of toyota.com, I discovered the following info:

The hybrid components system of the Prius come standard with 8 year/100K mile warranty, including the battery, though in some places the battery has a higher warranty (as the salesguy told us is the case here).

The oh-so-cool Bluetooth in the steering wheel option only works for specific Bluetooth phones, which of course you have to buy for lots of money. Sigh. I love my almost brand-new phone, but it's not a Bluetooth. So I guess I won't be taking advantage of that feature until I need an upgrade on my phone in a coupla years.


I'm not sure about battery life, but my Civic has no scheduled maintenance other than oil changes for the first 110,000 miles. I hope. I really, really hope. :-)

Since neither of these cars were mine, I didn't have to factor price into the equation, so, not really a fair comparison, I admit. :)

Apparently there are Prius geeks who share efficiency-maximizing tips and compete to try to post better mileages. Don't know if there's anything similar for Civics. If there is, it could be interesting to compare the tactics, since as I understand it the engineering approaches, as far as when which motor turns on and whatever, are pretty different.

As far as mileage goes, the Prius is very sensitive to a bunch of different factors. From what I gather, my daily commute is about the worst possible option for mileage (which I had noticed with my old car) and I'm getting about 40 mpg. The few times when I've been driving in other situations (i.e in trips longer than 5 minutes and a more common mix of speeds) it's been substantially higher. I've had half-hour trips when I was averaging over 50 mpg.

Yes there are plenty of Prius geek sites out there. The main one I've looked at is Prius Chat. The more arcane points made lovely zippy noises as they went sailing over my head but they do have some useful FAQs.

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