I’ve always been a fan of the styling of the 1959 Buick Skylark Electra; It’s a rare example of how diagonally staggered headlights can actually look great. The way the headlight eyebrow is molded into the side of the car, flowing back to the side of the car below the wing, is a high point of late ’50’s design before things got square and boxy as a response. I saw an absolutely gorgeous example at Jalopyrama back in 2016 and fell in love with it in person. So this example on Curbside Classic checks all the boxes: sitting on a comfortable (but not egregious) lift, BFG All-Terrains, with a tough-looking roof rack holding a spare tire and other equipment.

Date posted: April 18, 2024 | Filed under cars, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Wow, this is a PR nightmare. Volkswagen trolled its own biggest fans by teasing a new harlequin model on April 1, and then was shocked when people actually got excited about it. I suppose now they’re trying to figure out how to respond without being even douchier than they originally were. The harlequin was a multicolored, limited edition model produced almost 30 years ago, back when the VW brand still had some friendly brand equity, and it was a rare treat to see one flash by on the road; I remember one parked on the street in Baltimore City for several years. VW’s brand has faded since then, with lousy reliability eroding their cars-for-the-people image and Dieselgate erasing any reason to trust them. What could have been a great idea—imagine if they’d used April Fools to actually announce a cool promotion for a car they actually planned on rolling out—they tripped over their own feet again.


Date posted: April 2, 2024 | Filed under cars, humor | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I spent more money in one day than I have since I bought this house, and while part of me is thrilled, the other part is a little queasy. In the morning over coffee, I locked in plane tickets for a trip to Portugal in the early summer, right after Finn gets out of school. We’ve got friends who own an AirBnB in the city of Porto, and we locked in a date with them last week. I’ve got a line on a house sitter for Hazel, and I’m making those inquiries this week to reserve his time. Normally, I’m lousy at planning things like this out far in advance, but I’m trying to learn from past mistakes this year, and when these opportunities arise, you have to jump on them.

In the afternoon, after careful consideration and an assist from Dr. Gebler in the negotiation phase, we bought a new car to replace the Accord. This is a 2024 Honda CR-V EX in Canyon River Blue, optioned out with the same features the 2006 has (electric everything, moonroof, cruise, etc.) plus heated front seats, an electric driver’s seat, dual climate controls, lane-keeping assist, and a backup camera. We did a quick test drive to make sure the windshield didn’t make Jen sick, then pulled the trigger and got it for $50 over dealer invoice. The salesman couldn’t have been nicer, and frankly the process was much smoother than I was expecting. The only hiccup was waiting for the detailing crew to get it ready for me. After everyone else left for home (it was a complicated commute involving two cars and late homework). I drove it home solo while talking to Mom with the hands-free phone hookup and felt like I was on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. And for an automatic, it’s really nice to drive.

Future plans for it include aftermarket remote start, a set of Honda rails and roof racks, trailer hitch, and rubber floor mats throughout. And I’m not a fan of the stock wheels; I’ll have to keep an eye out for a set of these at the pick and pull yards around town.

Meanwhile, the ’06 is in the driveway patiently waiting for new tires and a clutch rebuild, which will come first on the list once money issues get sorted out.

Date posted: January 30, 2024 | Filed under cars, general, honda, travel | Leave a Comment »

Over the last two months we’ve had a series of rental cars while we waited for the insurance check, and now that my work schedule has freed up, we used the time to do some test-driving Saturday afternoon. I’ll compare and contrast the rentals with the two candidates here, as it’s been helpful to put them all in context with each other, even though some of them are not apples-to-apples. From the top:

Chevy Trailblazer RS
This was the first rental we were given after the Accord was slain; the guy up in Syracuse offered me a Mustang convertible first, but we were hauling too much stuff home and I’d never have been able to fit it all inside. The Trailblazer  was the sport model and was pretty well loaded, so it set a high bar for the cars that followed. It’s classified as a compact SUV in the same family as the CR-V and RAV4, but it felt cramped inside, and the visibility behind the B pillars was abysmal. We found it pleasant to drive, with lots of pickup, and it got excellent gas mileage. The infotainment connectivity was also top-notch—Chevy’s implementation of CarPlay was very intuitive and easy to learn. I’m not in the market for a domestic, but Chevy made a good effort here.

Chevy Malibu
This was a quickie rental, mainly just to get me to and from a work project outside of Dulles, so I wasn’t as picky about exactly what the car was. It did all of the things a sedan normally does, and was pleasant to drive, if unremarkable. It was the mid-level trim level, so it had a lot of the same features as the Trailblazer, but the way they integrated CarPlay into the gauge cluster wasn’t as refined, and the interior ergonomics weren’t as well-considered as the Trailblazer even though there’s more space to work with.

Ford Edge
This is classed as a mid-size SUV, so it’s a bit larger than CR-Vs and RAV4s, and I did feel the size difference behind the wheel. It had plenty of pickup but I heard the engine a little more than in the Trailblazer, which was sort of shocking. The gas mileage was better than I was expecting but not on the same level as a compact. The interior was more roomy but I also found a lot of wasted space that could have been utilized better. CarPlay integration was good, and the iPad-sized dash display spoiled me completely for any car display afterwards. But Jen didn’t have many good words for this car when we sent it back, and I would have to agree.

Nissan Rogue
I asked for a CR-V when I was at Budget, but a language barrier with the staff meant I drove this off the lot. I haven’t been interested in a Nissan in decades, and I have to say this car proves my bias out. It’s perfectly adequate for transportation, but nothing I would seek out to own. The engine is peppy and quick (the car is equipped with Sport mode) but I find the wheels break loose whenever I give it the beans. The interior is a mixture of interesting choices and wasted space. The wheel feels good in my hands, and the controls are all easily reachable, but CarPlay integration is absolute garbage and the interface on the touchscreen is terrible. And the shift knob thing is an annoying mixture of push-it-forward push-it-back-click-the-button-is-it-in-gear and then realizing the infotainment system thinks you’re trying to use the phone and locks you out of gear. Fuck this car.

Honda CR-V EX
The reigning champion in this household, and the one to beat. The 2024 is a mixture of good choices and some questionable ones. We liked the seat position and visibility from all angles, and the wheel is comfortable in my hands. The car feels good on the road and I was able to figure out where the corners were immediately. The seats are comfortable and this model adds electric adjustment for the driver. Actually, this car is optioned almost exactly like our ’06, with some additions: heated seats, dual climate control, and a turbocharged engine. The display is surprisingly small but I’ve read good things about their CarPlay integration, so I’m not worried there. Jen liked how it drove and how it felt. I wasn’t as impressed with some of the usage of interior space, which our ’06 excels at, which is my only complaint. Oh, and I hate the stock wheels this comes with.

Toyota RAV4
We asked for the midlevel model but the salesman put us in the luxury hybrid model, which was annoying. It felt fine, and the visibility was good from all angles, but the example we drove had warps in the windshield that made Jen feel sick. (Interesting, as this hasn’t happened in four successive rental cars). The car drove fine, but we don’t know how the gas engine would feel in real-time driving, and our experience with the salesman doesn’t have us interested in going back. It was fine, I guess. One thing that’s interesting is that the midlevel RAV4 isn’t optioned as well as the CR-V: no heated seats, no moonroof, and a couple of other things we would have to pay extra for, and the MSRP is higher. So, no thanks, Toyota.

Honda Ridgeline
We’re not considering this but figured we’d try one while we were there. The truck is clearly bigger than everything else we’ve driven, but was designed very well inside. It felt good in my hands and I knew where the corners were at all times, but it’s an adjustment to go to a full-full-sized truck. The interior was very well thought out and I liked the driving position as well as the seat; my only beef there was that the view out the back window was like looking through a keyhole. The rear seats fold up onto the back wall to make space on the rear deck. Out back the deck is bigger than I thought it would be, but the real feature is a lockable well under the deck larger than a cooler (but set up like one with a drain plug) and a dual-axis tailgate. If we were in the market for a pickup I would definitely consider this.

So we’re going back for a CR-V sometime this week. I have to get the financing sorted out on Monday, but we’ve got a healthy down-payment ready so I think we can get the monthly payments to a reasonable place. Then I’ll hit up Honda Parts for a roof rack, and keep an eye on the local pick-and-pull for a better-looking set of wheels.

Date posted: January 28, 2024 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

A check from USAA showed up in the mail on Friday evening for the settlement; apparently the Grievance Effect is still all-powerful. So our car hunt will commence next week. With the payment stalled I haven’t done any further looking into candidates, so I guess we’ll start with the ones at the top of the list and see what else is out there.

Meanwhile, the CR-V just topped 160,000 miles. Go little buddy!

Date posted: December 24, 2023 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

After a week and a half of silence from USAA I got on the phone this morning and navigated their stupid menu system after three tries to get to a human being—the first two tries landed me in the voicemail of my Customer-Non-Service Representative. Once I’d wrangled a live person and explained what I was calling about, they transferred me to a specialist who listened to my situation, put me on hold, and then conferenced me in with a woman at the title/salvage yard in New York. She helpfully told me they were waiting on the lien release, which I hadn’t included in the paperwork. After ascertaining what it was I was supposed to send along, I asked them repeatedly why I hadn’t been contacted about the delay or with further instructions, and they basically deflected. Irritated, I found the document in my files and sent it off FedEx this afternoon; hopefully I’ll hear something back before Christmas and we can go get a new fucking car. Meanwhile I’ve slagged the woman who hasn’t been assisting me to everyone at USAA.

I dropped the second rental off at Budget this afternoon, and we’ll see if we can make it through the holidays with one vehicle. This rental was a full-size Chevy Malibu, and for a Chevy it really was quite a nice car. The controls were almost exactly the same as the Trailblazer we rented in New York, so there was no learning curve to go from one car to the other. Heated seats and remote start are definitely on the list of must-have items for the new vehicle.

Date posted: December 13, 2023 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

Seen on the way into D.C. today, motoring on 295 at a comfortable 75mph: a Citroen DS 2.1, or déesse (goddess). They are famed for their hydropneumatic suspensions, which erase any bump in the road, advanced engineering, and futuristic design. I suspect this one was being ferried somewhere, as there was a large inventory sticker on the passenger window.

My grandfather drove one of these in the early 70’s (I had an English-made Matchbox of this car and was aware enough of its shape to recognize his) along with an enormous black Cadillac, a Saab 900, and a host of other exotic foreign cars.

Date posted: December 6, 2023 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

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. With the ending valuation from USAA, the Accord only depreciated $636/year in the 11 years we owned it. 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.

Date posted: December 1, 2023 | Filed under cars, honda | Leave a Comment »

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?

Date posted: November 29, 2023 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: November 28, 2023 | Filed under cars, honda | Leave a Comment »