I mailed off the title and other release information for the Accord this afternoon, and once that’s been received and filed, we should be getting an electronic deposit from the insurance company for the value of the vehicle. While digging through my records for the proper paperwork I came across the original CarMax listing for it, as well as the original loan paperwork. We bought it with 25,000 miles back in 2012 and hit the deer at 102,939, for an average of ~7,080 miles a year. I’m sure COVID had a huge impact on this number, but even if I subtract three full years, that’s still a little less than 10K per year. The other interesting thing is that our APR in 2012 was 4%; right now USAA is at 6%. We were able to pay it off in 2017 a few years ahead of schedule due to some well-timed freelance checks coming in, and I hope we can do the same with whatever we wind up buying this year. I updated the research chart with some new numbers and a down payment of $12,000.
After some miscommunication with USAA and Enterprise regarding the wildly overpriced rental we were given in New York, I finally got an excellent CSR on the phone and she straightened everything out. One thing I learned is that our rental will only be covered until next Wednesday, and we’ll have to return it then or pay to extend it. We can get by with one car for a while with some careful oversight of our complicated calendars, but it will be good to have two foul-weather cars on the road as soon as we can.
This morning I called USAA after looking over my auto claim on their website and seeing no movement whatsoever; I bypassed the extension of the adjuster who had haphazardly contacted me and tried to get someone else on the phone, but they were too smart for me and I wound up in her voicemail box again. After leaving a clearly dissatisfied message, I put it aside until this afternoon. Checking back in on the site, I found no movement. I looked away from my laptop and when I looked back I saw a prompt for a review of their service. Fed up by this point, I left them a not-so-friendly but detailed summary of my frustration and hit send.
Two minutes later the house phone rang and a rep from USAA—not the one who I’d previously been playing phone tag with—introduced himself politely, stepped me through the details, and gave me a valuation on the car quite a bit beyond what I’d been thinking it would be. He advised me on next steps, answered my questions, and said goodbye. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders; this was what I’d been asking for the whole time.
There’s a phenomena that I’ve noticed at times like these, when I’ve reached my boiling point, I’ve been frustrated by poor customer service, or just ignored: the Sky Pilot will provide me with some means of griping through an official channel, and seconds after I’m done spewing bile I’ll be contacted by someone else at the offending organization who is absolutely the nicest person in the world, who answers all my questions and provides the best experience possible, and I wind up feeling like an entitled asshole.
There’s clearly some kind of message I’m being sent. Should I start mass-producing scathing Yelp reviews?
We still haven’t heard anything from the USAA about the Accord as of this morning, but they assure me the very expensive rental bill for the shiny Chevy Trailblazer out in the driveway will be covered. It was a very comfortable car to drive home: heated seats, dual climate controls, CarPlay, and a host of other whiz-bang features we are not used to at Lockardugans’ Luddite Car Emporium and Repair Facility. It’s a CUV, so it’s slightly smaller than the CR-V and suffers from the same annoying design problems other CUVs we’ve driven do: little to no visibility over either shoulder, tiny rear porthole windows, and a bit of cheapness to the finish. This one is the RS model so it’s “sportier” (I suspect that just means some badging, racing stripes and fancier seats) but we averaged about 36MPG on the way home according to the on-board computer. Not too shabby.
I spent some time over the break doing some research into new and used cars and broke my top choices into two main categories: midsize pickup trucks and SUVs. I’m really only interested in Honda for the latter, but I think I might have to add the RAV-4 to this list just to be complete:
What I’m seeing is that the Fords and the Honda are the top contenders; as much as I’d love a new Tacoma, the gas mileage on this and the Ridgeline are just terrible. Apparently the Tacoma is brand new for 2024 but I wouldn’t buy a first-year model of anything for any amount of money. I’m thinking ahead to the next five years and having to haul a ton of stuff in and out of houses and (hopefully) to college; for that I’d like a quad-cab pickup with towing capacity—ideally the Travelall will fit this role too, but that would be toward the end of the 5-year plan for that truck unless we win the lottery. And to be honest, stuff like heated seats and CarPlay are exceptionally nice—I’ve been very spoiled to jump in the car and have it immediately pair with my phone to start displaying my route on the touchscreen. The other big consideration is price; I don’t know what they’re going to give us for the Accord but I’m shooting for $10K down on whatever vehicle we decide upon. I’d like to get the payment below or as close to $400/mo. as possible; we’ll see who can give us the best interest rate and terms before we go shopping.
Honda just released an electric update to the Motocompo, a tiny foldable motorcycle they designed and built for city traveling back in the 1980’s. The original gas-powered bike was produced for two years and now sell for ridiculous amounts of money; the new Motocompacto is listed for $995. Cleaner, lighter, and just as funky, it folds down into a 30″ x 21″ x 4″ box, is good for about 15 miles of range, and takes 3.5 hours to charge. If I was commuting into DC every day and had a longer walk to deal with, I would have already placed my order for one.
Saturday morning, Jen was walking across the street to church when she spied an antique pickup truck parked on the side of the road with the hood up. Even though she was late, she walked over and asked the owner if he needed a hand, pointing at the Scout in our driveway. After hanging up the phone with her, I hustled out to the street to see if I could lend a hand. The owner was puzzled; he’d just rebuilt the carb and had driven it all week but now it was randomly dying on him. I pointed out the gas seeping around the gaskets on the carb and told him I figured it was something clogging the jet inside. After a couple more tries he got it running again, and I offered to follow him back to his house to make sure he made it. He led me to a beautiful little farm in Oella where he had a mid ’60’s Corvette in one garage bay next to the original Deere tractor used to work the farm before he bought it. We talked cars and houses and threw his shepherd Barney half of a frisbee in the sunshine; he prank-called his son to tell him he’d bought my Scout. I had work to do so I said goodbye and extended an invite to stop the next time he spied the garage door open. All in all, not a bad way to spend an hour on a Sunday morning.
My friend Bennett went out and found himself the high bidder for a 1950 Hudson Hornet at an auto auction last weekend, and asked the boys if anyone could help him get it home. I love an adventure, so I met him at his storage facility and we drove down into D.C. to pick it up. He’s got a good hauling truck and a heavy-duty trailer with a winch, so the actual recovery was pretty drama-free.
When we got it back to the storage lot, we had the first real opportunity to look it over, and realized it was very complete. Someone had pulled the original Hudson straight-6 out and put a Chevy 350 in with an automatic transmission. It was done well as far as we can tell, too—they put time and effort into the wiring, welding, and engineering. It has a new gas tank, driveshaft, and exhaust, so we figured what the hell and tried turning it over. With a new battery and some gas in the bowl of the carb, it fired right off. So we put some extra gas in the tank and kept it running long enough for the fuel pump to draw from the tank, and it idled on its own happily. Bennett tested the transmission, which appears to shift cleanly.
So this brings our record of dragging-shit-home-from-an-auction-and-getting-it-to-run to 2 for 2; the plan for next weekend is to bring a couple of guys back over and see if we can cruise it around the parking lot.
There are a lot of “Will it Run??!?!”-style videos on YouTube these days, which all follow the same basic format: a guy (they are usually guys) drives or flies somewhere to find a long-abandoned car in a field or barn, spends 3/4 of the video trying to get it running and driving with a minimal set of tools, and then spends the last 1/4 driving it halfway across America to get home. They are hugely popular for reasons I can completely understand: they involve older cars, the host explains what they’re doing, there are usually one or more catastrophic things wrong with the car they must address, and there’s always something that breaks on the way home. I love these videos because I like old cars, I appreciate learning how to fix things, and I love road trips. I would love nothing more than to do this for a living—but I’m not a good enough mechanic yet. Much of what I’ve learned from these videos has come in handy as I’ve gotten the Chrysler and the Travelall running, fixed the brakes, and worked my way through the other systems.
Anyway, there are a lot of these out there now, and I like some more than others. As with podcasts, it’s all about the host; some people are insufferable and rub me the wrong way, and others I enjoy spending time following. I just found a new one with a guy who split a major revival into two parts: a get-it-fixed half and a get-home-but-visit-interesting-places half. The car in question is a beautiful rusty 1960 Impala, abandoned for years, and he manages to keep it running across the country as he checks out some really interesting landmarks. Subscribed.
(Image: David Tracy)
One of the authors over at the Autopian, my favorite car site, bought a car sight unseen from a field in Australia, then flew there and spent five weeks rebuilding it out of rusty parts with a group of local car nuts. The goal was to then drive it 400 miles to a car meetup. When I say that I was skeptical of his ability to succeed, I’m not kidding; in the previous installment of the story, things were looking grim—the third engine they’d sourced was garbage, so they dragged one out of a chicken barn and threw it in the car. He posted the final chapter of the story, and it is as inspiring and awesome as I was hoping it would be. They got it running, passed the inspection, drove all 400 miles to the show, and then drove back home.
Something I learned: in Australia, they market and sell a brand of starting fluid called “Start Ya Bastard”. I sense an import opportunity and the promise of big dollars here…
I was down in DC three weeks ago for a work thing, and because I had to hump a bunch of video gear from the office to my old CEO’s house as well as meet up with a bunch of folks for lunch, I drove the Accord. We were eating at a restaurant I’d never been to before, so Siri took me in and dropped me at an empty parking spot right out in front of the place. I went in, lunch was had, and we left two hours and five minutes later—just enough expired time for the Accord to collect a $50 ticket. The ink was still warm when I pulled it from the wiper blade. Last week I went online to pay it, grumbling, and found a cryptic message that said I owed $0. Puzzled, I waited for the official paperwork to arrive. Yesterday I got two (?!?) letters from the DC government that confirmed things: the officer hadn’t turned in his paperwork on time, so by law I owed nothing. That was a nice gift.
We got the CR-V back from the body shop yesterday, looking like a half-brand-new vehicle. The list of stuff they replaced was long, but the visible stuff included a new bumper, bumper surround, front fender, and weatherstripping; the rear hatch opens and closes again, and the spare tire hangs straight. It’s good to have our old girl on the road again, even with 150K on the clock, and I hope we can keep her going for another 50. Now I need to bust out the buffer to shine up the sheet metal that wasn’t sanded and repainted so that it matches correctly.