1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eight: Cars

For the weekend Whatever 20/20s, I’ve picked some topics I can be brief on, because, hey, it’s the weekend. Thus, for today, let me talk about my extremely boring history of cars.

In 1998, I was still driving the very first car I ever owned: a white 1989 Ford Escort, which was a “Pony Edition” of that model. This meant it was even more cheaply built and constructed than the average Escort of the time. And you know what? I loved it. Why? Because I bought it for just $4,000 in 1991, it was super-cheap to maintain and drive, and because I was someone who fundamentally didn’t care about cars, in terms of their look or the status they might confer. I saw a car as a thing to get me from point a to point b as reliably and cheaply as possible. The Escort certainly did that. I drove it for twelve years, until it died literally in the parking lot of the dealership were I got its replacement, in 2003.

The fact I drove it for a dozen years confused some friends of mine. As I remember one of them telling me, in 1999 or so, “Dude. You can afford a better car.” And well. Certainly by that time I could have had a different car. But “better” is a subjective thing. The Escort ran and was cheap and I didn’t care about anything else, so in that respect it was the best car for me. I didn’t want to spend more money on a car, even if I could afford it. One of the ways I got to point of being able to afford things was not spending foolishly. I drove that car exactly to the point of it not being drivable. And then I got a new one.

Which was a minivan! A 2003 Honda Odyssey, to be exact. And which, I want to be clear about, I was not planning to get. I wanted to get one of those Honda Elements, one of those nifty, boxy little cars with the hose-downable interior, because we had an Akita at the time, and the Element seems like a perfect vehicle to schlep around a dog that shed its own volume in fur on a regular basis. But Krissy wasn’t thrilled with the Element, and the Honda salesdude, perhaps sensing a chance to upsell, showed her the Odyssey instead. The moment he showed her the collapsable third row which could magically disappear into the floor, her eyes got really wide, and I realized we were about to buy a minivan.

This was ironic, because just a couple years earlier, Krissy asked me to shoot her if she ever said she wanted a minivan, and I (reluctantly) said I would consider it. However, between that moment and the moment we bought the minivan, things changed: namely, we had a kid, and had gotten a very large dog, and moved to a rural area where having a car with a lot of space to haul things around in suddenly became very attractive. Krissy, whatever else she is, and she is many wonderful things, is inherently practical. A minivan made sense now, so previous protestations went off to the side.

I accepted that we were going to bring a minivan home, but I felt it incumbent upon myself to note that getting a minivan meant owning up to certain things. Which is why I got a personalized license plate for the minivan which says “NOTCOOL.” Because minivans just aren’t cool and will never be, and you have to accept it. And also that’s fine! Because Krissy was right, we needed that minivan. It was super-useful, and comfortable, and whenever social events were planned, people were glad to see us, because we could fit a whole bunch of people in the car. Minivans: Not cool. Practical as fuck.

We still have the minivan, 15 years on. More accurately, Athena has the minivan; she took it to college with her. It’s safe, still runs well (minus balky sliding doors), and Athena’s very popular with her college friends because she can haul things for them. She’s named the minivan “Yoshi” and she loves it. I expect it will get her through college and then we can give it an honorable retirement.

My current vehicle is a Mini Countryman, which we got in 2011, the first year they were available; Krissy’s car, a 1997 Suzuki Sidekick, was feeling its age and it was time to upgrade. Because we live in the boonies, we wanted something with all wheel drive, but at the time that meant either getting an SUV or a Subaru Forester, and neither option made us happy. But then Mini announced the Countryman, and we were all, like, hmmmmmm maaaaaybe.

Although it was replacing Krissy’s car, the Mini became my car. Krissy decided it made more sense for her to drive the minivan, and also, despite signing off on the Mini, she’s not especially in love with it (the seats could use a smidge more lumbar support for her tastes). I, on the other hand, really like it a lot. It’s the first car I’ve ever had that I actually appreciate for more than its simple “get me to where I am going” value. I enjoy driving it, and I like how it looks, and it feels a bit like a Tardis because it’s tiny outside and surprisingly roomy inside. I also like the look of the 2011 model more than later editions; the only thing I don’t like about it are the terrible cup holders. But otherwise, it’s nifty. I expect I’ll drive it until I can’t.

Since Athena has the minivan at school, we’re technically a single car household at the moment. We get around that because Krissy has a company car that she’s able to use (she has to pay for non-work-related gas and upkeep, which seems totally fair), but at some point we may have to get something else for her. In 2015, when I got that big deal with Tor, I gave some thought to surprising her with a convertible Ford Mustang, but when I very innocently asked her what she thought of them, she kind of shrugged and said she wasn’t in love with them. So I didn’t. That said, Krissy currently has a coupon, as it were, redeemable for the convertible of her choice any time she likes. It seems only right.

As noted above and elsewhere, I’m not in a rush to turn in my Mini, but when I do I expect it will be for a hybrid of some sort, and then an electric after that. What I really want, though, is a car that will drive itself. I’m still not that much of a car person, and I’m at the bend in the curve where my reflexes and reactions are going to get worse, not better. I’m hoping that by the time I’m sixty-five, I won’t have to do any of the driving at all. We’ll all be safer, and I’ll still be able to get places. I think it’s an achievable dream for everyone.

(Huh, I didn’t end up being all that brief on this topic after all.)

60 thoughts on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eight: Cars

  1. I have a 2007 Odyssey that I didn’t intend to buy either. But when I was cookie mom last year, and when my family all rented a beach house together…yep. It was awesome. I’ve never been cool, so I wasn’t worried about that part at all :-)

  2. Sad news on the self-driving car front. I have a 4 month old Tesla Model 3, and it is great on boring highways, but once you get even slightly weird or off the highway, it doesn’t do too well. So whenever somebody says when a fully self driving car will be available, add 5 years. No matter who you’re talking to.

  3. I’ve had the same car now for 14 years, and I really don’t want to let it go. But I’ll probably have to soon. For my next car, I just want the most environmentally friendly car I can get. An all-electric vehicle would be ideal, but I’ll settle for a hybrid.

  4. I’ve got a 2002 Odyssey, absolutely do not need a minivan anymore, but I love that car! Regular maintenance keeps it in fine working order and, best of all, it’s paid off. You’re right about the cup holders though. Ew. What were they thinking? The only time I think “I need a smaller car” is when I have to back out of my driveway into the narrow street on the mornings of garbage/recycling pickup. It’s quite the obstacle course! I’m a couple (times quite a few) years older than you and would like that self-driving car right now. Alas, I am in for a wait… quite a long one, I suspect.

  5. I learned to drive in rural Massachusetts, bouncing back and forth between a massive Ford Country Squire station wagon (called The African Queen for reasons) and a third-hand Triumph rag-top which I loved with an unseemly passion. Thereafter (living in cities, where the parking/public transit equation made a car, in my mind, unnecessary) I didn’t own a car until we moved to San Francisco 15 years ago. Since then we’ve had a 1997 Honda Civic which was staunch and sturdy until it was rammed by a car; then a 2003 Honda Civic; and finally, in 2015, a brand new Honda Civic (the first new car either of us had ever owned). Despite the fact that Danny has to drive up to Marin every day for work, we have managed to stay a one-car family (see: cities, public transportation, etc.). I would love our next car, if there is one, to be a hybrid. If there is one.

  6. Should we mention to Krissy that she could go upscale to a Bentley convertible? A tad pricier…but I the seats are comfy…

  7. My only two cars were a 1958 Ford Fairlane and a 1971 Ford Mavrick. The latter disappeared beneath a snowdrift in the great Chicago winter of 1979. For months, all that was visible was the radio antenna marking its presence beneath the drift. Then one day I came home. The snow was removed from the street and the car was gone. All the parked cars were gone. The Mayor lost that next election.

  8. Goddamn could someone figure out an electric storage medium that has around 40kj/kg, a recharge rates of a minute, and unlimited recharges?

    And costs a grand or less?

    If you want pure functionity, electric motors are so much better than gas. One/one-,hundredth the moving parts. Crazy low end torque. Zero emmissions.

    But battery tech is the suckorz.

  9. Hah! I went the opposite direction on two of your purchases. I DID buy the Element in 2004 (6’4″ and loved the headroom). And then in 2012, when I was dealing with long term effects of a ruptured disc several years earlier, I reluctantly traded in my manual Element for an automatic CR-V (one of the frowned upon SUVs of your post). I’ve ended up loving my CR-V but not as much as I loved the Element. One thing it does have on the Element though is a much quieter ride.

  10. I traded my 15 year old Subaru Forester for my new Forester last November. I managed to trade the old one before the oil leak under the engine (cost to repair 3x the worth of the car) killed it and before Trump’s savvy business tariffs priced me out the new one. Like you, I don’t consider my car as any kind of status symbol… but I got the color I’d been coveting since I first saw it.

  11. Our boys are 4 and 7. They may never need to learn to drive, but I’ll probably teach them anyway, even though I’ll be 58 when it’s time for the oldest to start learning.

  12. I did what you didn’t–bought an Element (got mine in 2004, so it was the next model year from what you were looking at). Really enjoyed it–rode well, quiet for what it was, and supremely practical. So practical that a few years ago when my daughter was looking at buying something, lamenting that Honda had wait making the Element, that I offered her mine as a gift. She jumped at the offer, and it’s been living in NYC since.

    The replacement was a 370Z. Not a need, but I’ve reached the point in my life I don’t need practical anymore–if I have to get three cubic yards of mulch I’ll pay the delivery fee, and the same for furniture, appliances, 4X8 sheets of plywood, etc. And, of all the vehicles I’ve owned, the Z is far and away my favorite. My wife never has to ask twice if she needs me to pick up something from the grocery store, but she also has to let me know if she needs it quickly so the way home doesn’t involve some twisty back roads.

  13. I had the same experience with pontoon boats as you did with minivans. “I don’t even want to set foot on one of them!” But when you’ve got 25 people (some of them very old) and a refrigerator to schlep across the lake over the course of a couple days, you swallow your pride and rent a party barge. It helps that the other rental boats are mostly ski boats, which isn’t my style either at this point.

    Car-wise, I managed to keep my ’92 Civic running until an electric became feasible. May your current cars last until an EV works for you. (It will be sooner than you think.) I agree with Steve that level 4 self-driving is at least 5 years further away than anyone tells you.

  14. I had a 2001 Honda Odyssey and LOVED it! At first I thought those self-opening sliding doors were a silly luxury, same for the remote lock/unlock. But I can’t tell you how may times my two boys and I would be bolting for the van in drenching rain, and being able to open the doors as we ran was priceless!
    Then when I got out of grad school and the Honda was 10 years old, I traded for a Mini Cooper S. It was fun to drive, and really cute, but I mostly do city (non-freeway) driving now and it had a standard transmission. Lots of shifting there! Plus my boys both grew up to over 6 ft and it was my only car. We just didn’t all fit in there very well!
    So after five years with a basic 2002 4Runner I just got a Honda CR-V. Very comfortable, big enough to fit tall people AND their luggage, and gets great mileage. The only thing I’m not so jazzed about is the Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT), but I’m getting used to it. The interior really reminds me of my Odyssey, though the cup holders in the CR-V work MUCH better!

  15. Glad to see this come up as a topic as I’ve only just caught up on the digest entry that covered cars and comments there are closed.

    What’s the situation with diesel like over the pond these days? Here in the UK I’m getting 60+ miles to the gallon from my Citroen C3 and really not sure what to do when it comes to replacing it. As our neighbour has just stuck a fence down what was a shared driveway charging a fully electric vehicle will mean running a cable across the footpath, which is not ideal.

  16. We made some bad car decisions early in our marriage, leasing (very bad value for a dollar) and buying a couple of new cars with financed payments for years. Then we got smart, and realized that buying for cash, and purchasing a car at least a couple of years old meant that somebody else paid for the majority of the depreciation, and we spent nothing on interest.

    Which is why we own a 2005 Honda Odyssey (another vote for the wonderfulness of the model) which we saved for three years to purchase, and just got rid of our 2000 Mazda MPV in favor of a 2007 Toyota Camry in spectacular shape. In addition to carrying a ton of stuff, the Odyssey turned out to be ideal for installing the lift for my power wheelchair, so it is my freedom-mobile, returning me to society and independent work. The motorized and remote controlled doors and back hatch also make it possible for me get in and out easily. It’s a great car for the mobility-challenged, and super comfortable on long trips.

    Yes, there are always ongoing maintenance issues and costs with older cars, but it’s generally less than a year’s worth of payments would be, and a good detailing can generally make it seem like new inside when you get that yearning for a nice clean car.

  17. Minivans CAN be cool! Just turn up the aircon. Or buy a Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid, which we can’t buy in Ireland, unfortunately.

    Incidentally, the Mini Countryman is not considered tiny here. My sister has a Mini One, which is smaller, but HUGE compared to the original Mini.

    I share your self-driving car wish, BUT we should be careful what we wish for. When you’re 65 driving may be ILLEGAL! Though the jury is still out on the safety comparison.

  18. One excellent way to make a minivan cool is to turn it into an art car. Many of them have a body structure that lends itself well to becoming an Enterprise shuttlecraft. :-)

    Everybody I know who has had an Odyssey has been delighted with it.

    Our current cars are both minivans, as a consequence of being convention dealers — we need vehicles that can transport a booth’s worth of merchandise. If we had the money for another car, I’d be looking for a Scion XB, the original “box on wheels” design rather than the current “yet another identical mini-SUV” one. A friend has one of those, and I’m deeply envious.

    When the Element first came out, we both had the immediate reaction “It looks like a Hummer pool toy!” And in fact we saw one that had a custom spare-tire cover saying “Humvee Escape Pod”. Alas, that car too has undergone body changes that moved it away from its initial ideal.

  19. I learned to drive on an AMC Gremlin (because I am old), but I have never owned a car of my own. In fact, despite having a driver’s license, I have not driven a vehicle of any kind in probably 25 years–I have a license but you do not want me to use it. Obviously I have lived in cities (or, for college, in a very small town), but I do worry about my lack of experience. If I had to start driving again for some reason, I would definitely take lessons. I have friends with vehicles, which is useful in a number of circumstances, but I love me some public transportation; there’s a reason I have a CTA-map shower curtain.

  20. I’m glad you like your Mini, but you missed a heck of a car by not getting the Forester. They run forever, hardly ever have mechanical issues, and are so much fun to drive.

  21. John, if I may make a suggestion: I’d love to read a Whatever 20/20 post about Krissy. How you met, what she’s added to your life, etc. It’s obvious that she’s a great person who has been really wonderful for you, so I’m sure a lot of your fans would love to hear the story of the two of you… and then three.

  22. Have to recommend the Toyota Prius as a contender for next car. Tons of backseat and hatchback room, and average 48MPH all around, even with my lead foot. Peppy enough, too. Altho, did drive a high performance Tesla awhile ago, and….OMG. Dreams.

  23. Our family got to the point of “going minivan” three years earlier, in 1999 (for the 2000 models), and we wanted the Honda Odyssey too, but it was the first year for the “really new” Odyssey (the old one was built on an Accord chassis and was smaller)…and seemingly everybody wanted one. Honda dealers were taking full advantage of that situation with mandatory gimmicky dealer add-on crap to pump up their profit, or just outright overcharging. And the oft-printed rumor was that Honda was intentionally holding down the output of the Canadian Odyssey plant, as a favor to their dealer network so they could reap those windfall overages.

    Which kind of broke my longtime Honda loyalty (with both cars and motorcycles) and drove me to go out and buy a 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan. Which we drove for 12 years. And then after that went running back to Honda for the next vehicle, because that darn Toyota had so many cases of plastic parts that just broke with normal wear and tear (what used to be called “planned obsolescence” for American cars in the sixties), and cost hundreds of dollars to fix (most of it for the high cost of “genuine Toyota parts”). For example: four out of five doors on the Toyota van had some sort of inner plastic door handle gear or linkage part break (in one case, the flimsy plastic door handle itself broke!). I finally got to where I started fixing the darn door linkages myself, with Superglue and Ductape! So much for famous Toyota quality!

  24. A tree fell on our 2005 diesel Jetta, which I had planned to drive more at least a couple more years. We were parking on the street because we couldn’t use the garage. My wife came back from the grocery store and told me that a parking spot had just opened up in front of us; should she move the car there? I told her not to bother.

    Then three hours later there’s a big storm and a tree on the hood of the Jetta. Fortunately we didn’t ind any ruby slippers underneath it.

    Also, is Miami as much a pain in the ass about students having cars as they used to be? It was a hassle unless you lived off campus (and even then they didn’t like it–they just couldn’t stop it).

  25. As someone whose 2006 Honda Odyssey work vehicle (middle seats removed and back ones alternately folded all the way down or halfway down to act as a cargo van) was just totaled by someone who didn’t understand right-of-way, and whose boss replaced it with a 2003 Element, I can tell you that Krissy definitely made the right call. In addition to the Odyssey’s increased cargo and passenger capacity, the Odyssey is just a much more pleasant place to spend time than the Element. The driver’s seat is not as comfortable or as adjustable as the Odyssey, though it does feel more open.

    The Element is kind of a half-assed compromise between an SUV and a minivan. It’s easy-to-clean interior might make it nice for outdoors adventures, but even with AWD it lacks ground clearance and other features you’d need in a proper 4X4 to get you anywhere other than maybe some fire roads that the Odyssey couldn’t take you. And on the road, it can’t carry as much gear or as many people as the van. The Element probably does do better in snow and ice, though in my area that’s not a concern. And it has a MUCH better turning radius and will fit into tight parking spaces much more easily. But as my personal vehicle is a WJ Grand Cherokee, dealing with the minivans’s size has never really bothered me.

    I like the Element and it’s a cool car, but as I’m not out to impress anyone with what I drive, especially what I drive while making deliveries, I’d pick the Odyssey every time. But then, I got a crazy deal on my mom’s old Aerostar after my previous car was totaled and drove it for years, too. I could fit every surfboard I owned in that thing and still have room to sleep in it with one of the seats removed.

    Basically, minivans are awesome.

  26. I’m not surprised you skipped the 2011 Forester for the Countryman; the 2009-2013 Forester had a very unappealing interior with cheap-seeming plastics. We have three of the previous type with frameless door windows (two 2007 automatics and an ’06 5-speed) and hope to keep them going a while longer. More recent Foresters are uncomfortably big and tall for us, but lots of people like them. No more stick shift will be available in the latest (2019) model, alas – at least in North America.

  27. Dude, I have to hope you weren’t insulting the Subaru Forester up there because I’m on my second and will gladly buy another when this one gets worn out. (And anyone who drives an Odyssey isn’t allowed insults.)

    I’Verizon driven a couple of Minis on the roads of England (yes, including motorways), but that was way before the days of Escalades and, yes, Odysseys. I don’t know if I would risk it these days. Parking is easy, I admit.

  28. I love the American term “minivan”. It seems so incongruous to apply that label to what is, in my terms, such a huge vehicle. In the UK, the word “minivan” has quite a different meaning. My first ever car was a UK minivan. It would fit quite comfortably on the back seat of your minivan and you’d still have room for six passengers and their luggage. The differences of scale that hide behind that word on the left and right hand side of the pond never fail to amuse me.

    When the mini range of vehicles was first introduced in the UK (in the 1960s) the joke was that a pedestrian crossing the road was hit by a mini and had to go to hospital to have it removed.

  29. For years, I relied on hand-me-downs from my folks, including a ’77 Mercedes Diesel and an ’86 Mercury Cougar. The first car I bought myself was a ’04 Focus, a literally no-frills model WITH A TAPE DECK! IN 2004! Two years ago my wife and I traded up for a ’11 Ford Escape. It’s been a great vehicle, we went to Denver from Portland, OR last year, and this year went to Worldcon in it, barreling thru the fire zones of Northern CA. Downsize of the Escape is we have had to put a lot of money into repairs in it since getting it. Still worth it.

  30. Self-driving cars are currently in the stage of “good enough to be dangerous”, because people trust them more than they should. Legislation says that the driver still needs to be attentive, but it’s hard to be attentive when you’re not actually doing anything. I have no doubt they’ll be great in time, but it’ll be a few years yet.

    I don’t drive at all, myself. Have lived in town all my life and never felt the need.

    TRiG.

  31. I had a California driver’s license but forgot to renew it (I live in Hong Kong). And my first car, which I sold pretty soon after I got it, was the 1993 Toyota Corolla my parents gave me.

    I think it’d be great when self-driving car technology is perfected, but there will always be a few people who love cruising on a freeway in their expensive sports car. How do we accommodate them?

  32. I like to buy a new vehicle and run it until it dies and then get a new one. I’m on my third Toyota Tacoma. My first one lasted about 15 years until it literally died on the side of the road. The second one I kept for about 13 years before I traded it in on the current one (it was leaking transmission fluid and needed several other expensive repairs). Once they are paid off, costs are incredibly cheap (basically gas and an oil change every 5,000 miles). Take care of them and they take care of your wallet. My wife’s Accord is starting to get a little long in the tooth and we’re looking at a CR-V or RAV-4 that can pull my tent camper. Those who just have to have a new car every 2 or 3 years have more dollars than sense . I’m retired from Honda. The Element had a lot of nice features but just never clicked with me. And I needed a small pick up which Honda didn’t make (the Ridgeline was more truck than I wanted). I’ve never regretted buying the Tacomas.

  33. @ Alan: The American minivan is so called by comparison to a full-size van. For reference:
    Full-size Dodge van: https://file.kbb.com/kbb/vehicleimage/housenew/480×360/1998/1998-dodge-ram%20van%201500-side_dtvan981.jpg
    Dodge minivan: https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/616uvHxYDfL._UY508_.jpg
    As you can see, the full-size van is a delivery truck, while the minivan is more like a large car; it’s the more-or-less direct descendant of the mid-20th-century station wagon.
    @ Alex: We don’t — at least, not on the public highways. If they can afford that level of vehicle, they can afford to go to a private performance-driving park and have all the driving fun they want in a place where they’re not going to kill anyone who isn’t also there for the same purpose and willing to take the same risk.

  34. We’re a two-Prius household right now and it’s working well. My first car was a 1992 Toyota Camry which I had for 19 years (but only 162K miles(1)) and finally had a heart attack (piston got stuck in the cylinder, and was worth more than the car at that point to drill it out). We needed a car, Priuses were on sale (and we knew we liked it, having purchased the first one a few years prior) and live four blocks from Toyota, so we walked over and found a great color/trim-model on the lot for even cheaper than the sale price. Picked it up the next day and haven’t regretted it since.

    1. We are very grateful that our respective jobs and most of our social activities lie within 5 miles of our house. We just don’t drive that far, even when we were making four trips a year from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara and/or San Diego.

  35. Check out the new Honda Insight Hybrid. 50+ mpg and more stylish than the Prius. I just bought one and love it.

  36. I’ve owned 3 new cars in my life: a Chevy X11 (based on the Citation body, but with a stick and paint job), a Dodge Neon, and my current car, a Honda Fit. Between and amongst them, I’ve owned a
    secondhand Dodge 024, a secondhand Datsun stationwagon, and a secondhand Ford Taurus. My favorite cars have been hatchbacks, just because all of them can haul an incredible amount of cargo. I’ve loaded 20 2x4s into my Fit, and because of the drop seats, they all (wait for it) fit. OTOH, my secondhand cars have all given service above and beyond what I paid for them.

  37. Twenty years ago I was driving an F150 that got all of 12 miles per gallon. Today I drive a Tacoma that gets 20 mpg. Both vehicles were/are great for old abandoned roads. Haven’t owned a sedan since the late 80’s but looking at picking up a second vehicle for cruising. Altima or Camry maybe.

  38. My wife always dressed well and wore some fairly expensive jewellery (which she had bought for herself). She drove an elderly, fairly ratty VW Beetle, and someone once asked her “Bonnie, why do have such expensive jewellery and such a scruffy car?” “Well”, said Bonnie, “no-one wants to sleep with my car.”

    Will

  39. I replaced my 20 year old Isuzu Trooper with a 2018 Forester equipped with eyesight (the Trooper just wasn’t reliable anymore). I love the tech upgrades. The Forester doesn’t have the cargo capacity my Trooper had but it is easier to drive when there are crosswinds.

  40. Still driving the first car I bought from new (a dealer demo model) – 1985 VW Golf. It made the trip from the US to the UK when I transferred here for work. Before that I shared various VW Bugs with my father – he commuted by train from CT to NYC and I had the use of the car in between dropping him off and picking him up at the station. The Golf is cantankerous but gets me where I want to go (local trips mostly as I’m retired)). The older mechanics who do the yearly service on it love it – they can get their hands dirty on something that isn’t all-computer.

  41. John, I’d just like to say that I’ve very much enjoyed the 20/20 posts. I dareseay it’s been a great amuse bouche for many of us in our daily feed of the rest of it.

  42. John really appreciate all your posts this month. I have been on whatever for many years and seen you in person at several events. Awesome, even topics that shouldn’t be interesting (your car history) are. Thank you again and keep it coming.

  43. Dear Steve,

    Maybe you can address the question Timothy has raised about whether semi-autonomous mode makes you less attentive? Nothing like hands-on experience to counter hypothesizing.

    I have very conflicting opinions on when we will get truly autonomous vehicles. On the one hand, I cannot imagine the real-world problems will be sufficiently solved to bring it to fruition in much less than 10 years.

    On the other hand, there are a large number of major and reputable (NOT Tesla) players who are claiming vastly shorter timetables for rollout. GM is still claiming it’s going to rollout a taxi fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolts in San Francisco before the end of next year. To which my gut reaction (see previous paragraph) is WTF?!

    Oh yeah, and they chose San Francisco not merely because it’s well-mapped, but because they consider it one of the TOUGHEST driving environments. I guess if you can make it on Broadway (in San Francisco), you can make it anywhere.

    A whole bunch of auto manufacturers are claiming that anywhere from 10 to 30% of their car sales within 5-6 years will be autonomous vehicles.

    I am still incredulous, but I can’t see what these players have to gain by over-hyping future products that they aren’t taking orders for at this time (unlike Tesla). Generally speaking, that’s known to be a bad marketing strategy.

    ~~~~

    Dear Timothy,

    The “uncanny valley” concerns me, too. But I don’t know if it’s a real concern or not. I don’t yet own a semi-autonomous car (although I hope to in the next year or so); I don’t actually know if it promotes less attentiveness (since is not a case of not doing anything; you’re just doing less). All I know so far is that the semi-autonomous cars have a lower accident rate than your average human driver. But we don’t even know if that’s meaningful because we don’t know how much selection bias there is in who buys the semi-autonomous cars.

    So… Maybe a problem, but currently just an unvalidated hypothesis.

    ~~~~

    Dear Alex,

    The projected rollouts for autonomous cars from all the major manufacturers assume that most of the cars on the road will be human drivers. Barring an edict that bans human drivers, which is obviously not going to happen instantly and suddenly, that’s the environment they will be faced with, what all the engineers and designers working on this are assuming. So, either that’s a solved problem or this is a nonstarter.

    Long-term I can certainly see banning nonhuman drivers, but we are talking LONG term. It’s not like switching over to digital TV, where all you had to do was buy a cheap converter box. The investment in automobiles is substantial and expensive.

    That said, car manufacturers are starting to talk about coming up with a common communications protocol for autonomous cars, so they can tell each other what they are planning to do. That’s a pretty easy problem, compared to the one of making them work at all in the real human-inhabited world.

    – pax / Ctein \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
    ======================================

  44. Never had a minivan. The first time we could afford a second vehicle, it was a full-sized Chevy van, 80,000 miles, only wrecked badly once, used for salt-water fishing. Eventually it died and we got a new Chevy van, which lasted almost 25 years (with a new engine halfway through.) I replaced it with a Kia, which isn’t really big enough to put a large box in; I probably should have bought a Prius a couple of years earlier which would have left the van still running. I’d also looked at the Element (fun, but a bit rattley, and the gas mileage was really lame) and the Nissan Cube, and a few years later my wife’s PT Cruiser was getting elderly, she discovered she liked the Ford Transit, and Ford had just redesigned it to something that we didn’t like at all, and none of the used ones around had all the windows. (And they’ve stopped making the Element and the Cube, the Scion x-Box turned into a minivan also. We’ll probably either get a minivan or some comfortable-ride Camry or something.)

  45. “Krissy currently has a coupon, as it were, redeemable for the convertible of her choice any time she likes”

    Miata
    Is
    Always
    The
    Answer

  46. All hail the Odyssey. Our 2001 model got two daughters through middle school, high school (and all its associated trips), university (hundreds of miles apart, of course), and moved them into their first apartments. We still own it. Perhaps not “cool”, but certainly an awesome vehicle.

  47. I have a 1997 Saturn that just keeps on chugging along. The A/C and heat are shot, but (knock on wood) the important parts that keep the thing going from place to place keep on chugging along fine.

    When my parents finally broke down and got a minivan some years ago, I pointed out to my mom that she’d finally totally sold out. She was now terminally uncool and her hippie days were now finally officially dead. She admitted I was right. The minivan was and still is used for transporting dogs, mainly. Different dogs now than when they bought the thing. But the current dogs are therapy dogs and go all over the place on their visits, so a dogmobile is pretty much a necessity.

  48. The first car I remember was a 2003 minivan. Unfortunately it got clipped hard at the young age of 8 and had to be replaced.

  49. I loved my 2007 Element. I could strap 8 surfboards on the roof, put a twin inflatable mattress in the back, carry an amazing amount of stuff in it helping friends move, and it handled mid-Atlantic snow with aplomb. All that said, it got middling gas mileage and got squirrely in crosswinds.If only that kid had noticed the red light he ran I might still be driving it today.

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