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When I first set out to find a new car, I did not imagine that I would be writing a down payment check 8 days later. I fully planned to take my time, consider all of my options, go for multiple test drives, read reviews, do the math to anticipate financing scenarios, and everything else that goes into making a completely rational decision.

That clearly didn’t happen the way I thought it would.

On the eighth day of my car shopping mission, I visited Crown MINI of Richmond. I had no real intention of buying a MINI because I thought it would be too expensive, but I figured why not take a test drive just for fun?

When I walked through the lot scanning the inventory, I tried my best to look only moderately interested, playing hard to get if you will.  What happened next was essentially love at first sight, followed by an irrational impulse to leave together immediately. I spotted a 2012 Hot Chocolate Cooper Hardtop, no racing stripes, black roof, minimal as far as design goes, but it was the manifestation of everything I wanted in a car. Different, but not obnoxious. Premium, but not extravagant. Small, but not impractical. And to my pleasant surprise, affordable, but certainly not cheap. 

I handed over my info for a credit check, and less than 12 hours later MINI cobe and I were driving back to Raleigh.

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On the Eighth day of car shopping, the car gods gave to me:

Eight (ish) seconds to accelerate

Seven inch center speed-o

Six air bags for safety

FIVE. HOURS. OF. Paperwoooooork

Four cylinders

Three cup holders

Two doors with a hatchback

and one MINI with great fuel economyyyyyyy!

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After spending hours online researching cars, I’ve narrowed down my “short” list to the following vehicles:

Honda Fit
Mini Cooper
Kia Rio
Toyota Yaris Hatchback
Mazda 2
Mazda 3
Subaru Impreza
Volkswagen Golf
Ford Focus

Now, it’s time to get serious.

In the last 3 days, I’ve visited over 8 car dealerships, test driving each of the above cars. With the exception of the Kia and the Subaru, because those dealerships didn’t have the cars on the lot…. pretty dumb move on their end. How do you expect to sell cars if you don’t have them for people to test drive! Idiots.

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Not gonna lie, kind of tempted to get a Kia Soul just so I can buy a pet hamster to ride shotgun with me at all times.

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Let me just say that I kind of hate car manufacturer websites.

I’ve been to every website of almost every make of car I think I might consider. And I can’t remember which ones I like and which ones I don’t, so I have to go back to the website to figure out what were the pros and cons of each.

Almost all of them seem to have some type of comparison tool, but of course they are different on every site and they suck on every site. It’s like they try to cram every little detail, even the ones that make no sense and are probably on every car that exists and all I want to know is whether or not there’s an audio input for my mp3 player.

I wish there were car personal shoppers that would do all the work for you that you don’t have to pay (like travel agents).

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Day two: Creating my consideration set.

To help me narrow down my list, there are few things I have determined to be mandatory and not at all mandatory for my perfect car.

Things I’m looking for:

-Hatchback (had to start somewhere, and I like the way they look.)
-Automatic transmission (I’d love to drive a manual for the cool-factor of knowing how to drive a manual, but unfortunately car salesmen really don’t want to take the time to show you how it’s done.)
-Power windows and locks (this should be a given these days.)
-Cruise Control (I am shocked at how many cars don’t include cruise control as a standard feature. I loveeee using cruise control and I’d rather not pay $1,000 extra to have it)
-Volume controls on the steering wheel (this won’t make or break my decision, but it’s nice when a car has them. I consider this to be a “safety feature.”)
-Good gas mileage (“good” is negotiable)
-Center console or armrest (I just like it)

And I want all of this at or around the $20-$25K price point (No Audi’s, BMWs, or Mercedes for me)

Things I don’t care about:

-Sunroof/moonroof (Doesn’t really make a difference to me one way or the other. This seems to me like a place where I can save some cash by opting out of one.)
-Navigation system (I have a GPS system - that is a piece of crap - but I’ve heard that the in-dash systems aren’t that reliable anyway. Again, another added cost that I’d like to avoid.)
-Rims (Don’t even get me started.)
-Heated seats (I bet these are nice in the winter, but I’ve never had them before and I’m pretty sure I could live without them.)
-Floor mats (why does every car dealer try to throw in fancy floor mats for hundreds of extra dollars? My car is going to get dirty, especially on the floor. I can deal with that.)
-Satellite radio (I am conditioned to listen to my iPod so I don’t mess around with satellite radio.)
-4-wheel or all-wheel drive (if it’s snowing outside, I’m not leaving my house, therefore, I do not need all-wheel drive or all-terrain tires or cold weather tread, etc.)
-Automatic rain sensing windshield wipers (I CAN SEE WITH MY OWN EYEBALLS IF IT’S RAINING OUTSIDE. YOU’RE OFFENDING ME.)

Next step: Finding cars that fit these criteria.

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Day one of my car shopping experience started with a phone call to the always trustworthy and reliable Mamacobe and Papacobe.

I think it’s a universal rule that parents know more about everything than their children, especially when it comes to cars. And I had absolutely no idea where to start.

Here’s a summary of the questions floating through my mind:

What’s the advantage of buying a car versus leasing a car?

Should I get a new car or a used car?

What can I afford?

What color should I get?

Should I get a hybrid?

How many cars should I test drive?

Do I want bluetooth in my car?

What are the best shoes to wear for a test drive?

What kind of tires will last the longest?

How many airbags do I need?

And so on and so forth.

Welp, let me just say my parent’s helped me narrow down my consideration set from EVERYTHING, to everything that’s new, rather than used.

Making some progress…

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Like I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve decided that the time has come to start getting serious about buying a new car.

Let me preface this by saying that I have zero experience in purchasing a vehicle.

The original Cobe Car was bought by my lovely parents, Mamacobe and Papacobe, in 2002 when I was 17 years old.  It was a used car, but was in excellent condition and had very few miles on it. My parents had a budget they wanted to stick to, but other than that they welcomed my input on the type of vehicle I wanted to drive.

From what I can recall, I pretty much just wanted a 4-door automatic with airbags, air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a CD player. For a seventeen year old girl, I was pretty practical-minded. I was never the type of teenager who wanted a “cool” car (however, in the early 2000’s in Chesterfield Virginia, “cool” basically meant a Ford Mustang.)

Now, let’s jump back to present day.

In my experience working in the advertising industry, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few different assignments related to the car category, and the shopping experience has been one of the areas that I am responsible for dissecting and understanding.

In other words, part of my job is to empathize with those who are actively shopping for a car, understand what makes them attracted to some car brands over others, and how they make decisions throughout the car buying process.

Yet, when it comes time for me to buy a car myself, I have absolutely no idea what kind of car I want or where I should start.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Finding the next Cobe Car is going to be a serious endeavor, not to mention a huge slice of my savings account, so I want to be extremely confident about the car I choose.

There’s about a month and a half left in 2011, and my goal is to have my new car by 2012. This does not give me much time to research, test drive, and figure out financing, but I think it can be done.

Let’s just hope Cobe Car version 1.0 can make it through Christmas.
Wish me luck.

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I’m not the most thoughtful driver when it comes to car maintenance.

Case in point: In the last year, I’m pretty sure I’ve only had 1 or 2 oil changes (Come to think of it, it was almost one year ago exactly). Which probably isn’t good for my car. But today I woke up extra early (meaning I set my alarm extra early but still woke up at the same time I normally do…), gathered my AAA Car Care Center coupons that I’ve been hoarding for months, and took the Cobe Car in for the oil change she deserved.

Not only does the AAA Car Care center have really excellent chairs in the waiting area, but they were extremely pleasant and nice, and made the experience quite painless.
That is, until I got the report card for my car. Granted, I knew this was coming, but hearing it was still hard….The Cobe Car is not doing well.

She is suffering from a disease I’d like to call Acute Commuting Fatigue.
Her shocks are almost non-existent, her air filter is clogging her engine to breathe correctly, she needs all four limbs (tires) replaced, the catalytic converter is not operating properly, and she’s making horrible noises and sounds of suffering that remain undiagnosed. (Other less-serious symptoms include: malfunctioning CD player, faulty power locks on both back doors, busted back speakers, a magnitude of cosmetic flaws throughout the exterior shell, and she requires a really annoying series of steps to get the windows defrosted.) But she continues to power through for the greater good of getting me to work on time.

For some of the more serious symptoms outlined above, the AAA center gave me a quote that’s somewhere around $1,500 for parts and labor, including my AAA discount (but this doesn’t include the cost of the four new tires I would need.)

!!!!!!!!!!

I love the Cobe Car, but she is not worth $1,500.
I opted out of all of the above for the time being and sheepishly handed over my credit card and my coupon for the $24.95 Holiday Oil-Change Package. Don’t judge me.

It seems inhumane (and probably unsafe) to keep the Cobe Car suffering for much longer. Therefore, starting today I am officially entering the research phase for purchasing a new vehicle.

I’ll be taking recommendations for vehicles to add to my consideration set and of course, I will be live blogging my decision-making process until I find the next Cobe Car.

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Traffic was slowed down this morning due to an interesting collection of road debris.

Clothes.

Clothes strewn all over the highway.

Makes me wonder about the different scenarios that could have caused such a catastrophe.

Potential explanations:

1. An innocent man, accused of horrendous crimes, says goodbye to his wife, who is carrying his unborn child.  In order to save his family and provide for their future, he must fake his death and remain in hiding across the Canadian border. They stage a scene across 40-W to make it appear that he has committed suicide, having walked straight into traffic, his body is seemingly destroyed and vaporized, leaving only his clothing as the evidence of his existence.

2. Two young lovers, brought together by a forbidden romance, choose to flee the city during the early hours of the morning to start a new life together.  They shed their clothing and discard their belongings, as if to tell the world, “we don’t need your rules.”

3.The driver of a Kmart truck, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, starts to nod off during his early morning shift. The hatch, improperly fastened, loosens just enough to swing the doors wide open, causing the cargo to tumble onto the asphalt.  The rough winds are powerful enough to slam the doors closed before too much damage is done. But not before a palette of Jordache jeans and Route 66 tank tops are lost to the open road forever.

4. A young girl awakens on her fifteenth birthday, bouncing down the spiral staircase of her majestic suburban home, to find her smiling parents standing with mounds of gifts for her to open before school.  She tears off the hot pink wrapping paper and rips open the first box, giddy with excitement. Her parents watch quietly with wide eyes, awaiting her reaction. The young girl takes one glimpse of a green cotton sweater, and suddenly she throws herself into a fit of fury. Green?!?! She wanted pink!!! Always pink. She runs to her bedroom, shouting words no fifteen year old girl should know, and in her tantrum, she gathers up as much of her closet as she can fit in her arms, storms out of the house to catch the bus, and in her grand finale of irrational drama, she chucks her wardrobe out of the emergency exit door, oblivious to the road hazards that have yet to occur, but satisfied that she has totally taught her parents a lesson.

Just my thoughts, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.

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Yes America, sometimes I tweet while driving.

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Below you might notice a change from my typical bar graph.
In September I spent $40 for $50 worth of bus fare passes as motivation to start taking the bus to work more frequently. (One-way bus fare is $2.50, so theoretically I paid for 16 round-trips and got 4 free.)

Out of curiosity to see how much gas money I save as a result of riding the bus, I have accounted for my bus fare, represented by the highlighter yellow shading.

As of today (well into November), I still have about $15 of that fare that remains unused, so the difference is not quite drastic yet. I guess I need to be more diligent about taking the bus in order to see the impact on my wallet.

In the month of September, I spent $135.08 on gas & fuel, and $40 on bus fare ($175.08)
In the month of October, I spent $171 even on gas & fuel.
(Total: $306.08)

With that money, I could have bought:

-A phone charger and a new iPod FM adapter for the car ($80 some dollars!!!)

-A new pair of glasses and a year’s worth of contact lenses

-A wedding gift for my dear friends Danielle and Mike who were married on October 15th (Congratulations! And you will receive your belated wedding gift soon….promise!)

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Hey. Remember two months ago when I said I was going to write a four part series on eating in cars and then never followed through? I’m going to try again.

Starting with Part Two: Motivations that justify eating in the car.

Eating while driving has become a bit of a pastime for me over the years.  But admittedly the meals/snacks/treats I’ve enjoyed in the Cobe Car are rarely consumed out of necessity (e.g. in a rush/on the go/on a road trip, etc.) The majority of time spent eating in my car is usually for no other reason than I’m really hungry and can’t possibly wait the amount of time it takes to drive 5 more miles, park my car, and go inside to eat dinner at my kitchen table like a normal person.

My top situational motivations for eating while driving are as follows:

1. Satisfy my animalistic instinct to gorge on fast food

2. Emotional instability (see crying in cars)

3. Boredom/Kill time in traffic

4. Just really excited about the lunch I packed for work

I’d like to go ahead and coin the term Satiated Dissonance as a phrase that shall be used to describe that feeling you get after fulfilling your craving to eat in the car, which is immediately followed by a self-hatred/regret/disgust/motion sickness type of reaction. I’ll go into more detail about this sad, empty feeling in “Part Four: The ups and downs of eating in cars,” but for now, just keep in mind that no matter how strong the urge, you won’t be happy with yourself after you shove a donut into your mouth in order to free up both hands to make a sharp U-turn, only to get powdered sugar and crumbs all over your shirt and your steering wheel.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

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Unfortunately, the adapter that plays my iPod through my car stereo has died.

I spent the first drive sans iPod in cold silence, reflecting on my loss.

But in my effort to move on, I’ve spent the last few days dialed into the classic rock radio station in my area, and I now feel like an expert on the subject and would like to serve up the following tips on how to start your own classic rock radio station:

1. Give your radio station a name that signifies tranquil, simpler times but with a slight edge so as not to be confused with a neighboring easy-listening station.

Acceptable monikers: 101.4 The River, 106.7 The Wave, 102.8 The Rapid (The relationship between music and the symbolism of water is very powerful for listeners.)

1a. Don’t forget your tag line.

"Home of Rock N’ Roll," "All the Classic Hits You Love," Or "All Rock, All The Time" are appropriate choices.

2. Appeal to several different audiences by following a loose interpretation of “Classic Rock” when building your playlist.

Including but not limited to: Jewel, John Cougar Mellencamp, The Pixies, Savage Garden, and Lenny Kravitz.

3. Inspirational quotes are a must-have in between commercials and set changes.

Make your listeners feel good about life by leaving them with poetic and thought-provoking lines such as “The only thing wrong with happy people is that they have not known the joy of tears.”

3a.  Have your radio hosts make positive affirmations several times an hour.

Use phrases such as “What a beautiful day it is!” and “From all of us here at the station, we hope you have a magical weekend!”

4. Make sure to have a healthy balance of variety in your programming.

A recommended ratio is 20 minutes of taking calls from your listeners seeking life advice for every 15 minutes of actual music played.