Good Bye Neon. Thank You.

Moments ago, the tow truck from New Gate School dragged away our 13 year old Dodge Neon. This is the car Jen and I bought days before we were married and was our only car for 9 years.

Moving across 3 states. At least 1 cross-country drive. More iPod adapters than I can remember.

Cleaning the glove compartment was like high-speed review of all those years – through proof-of-insurance cards, garage receipts, and cassette tapes.

Three years ago (almost to the day) I asked, Which Car Should I Buy?. That was when our – then 10 year old – Dodge Neon had just surpassed the threshold where anything other the regular maintenance was no longer worth the investment [1].

When I originally asked about a a new car – I was envisioning a vehicle; equally compact, fun, distinctive, and with as much life in it. Something like a Cooper Mini, a VW Rabbit, or a Audi A3. But I asked you, because nothing called out ‘buy me’. What I didn’t anticipate 3 years ago was needing to fit 3 car seats in the PT Cruiser.

This week, we picked up the Neon’s replacement: a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan.

While it doesn’t fit all the criteria I originally outlined – it hits quite a few.

Plus one more I didn’t expect back then.


1. Shortly after this, it surpassed the point where regular maintenance was also no longer worth it. Issues left for the students at New Gate; dead starter, dent in rear fender, oil leak, missing hub cap, broken tail light, froze up rear brakes.

Which Car Should I Buy?

Repairs on the ’98 Neon are approaching it’s value and I can’t rely on it the way I was once able to. It’s been a great car, but I can see the day when it won’t serve us anymore. With that in mind, I’m starting the search for a new vehicle to replace it.

From exploring the car sites, their aren’t many cars that seem like a worthwhile replacement. So, I’m in no hurry and happy to wait until the right car comes along – even if that means another 75k on the Neon.

Things I Care About – in Order

  1. Distinctive exterior.
    Something that demands a love it or hate it reaction. A beige Toyota Camry – um no. I think you need to go to extreme sizes for this – super big or super small. I’m going super small.
  2. Gas mileage greater than 30mpg city.
  3. I can fit comfortably and can see out the windshield.
    In many cars – convertibles, those with sunroofs, anything from Jeep –
  4. Easy to get a car seat in and out of backseat.
    Yes, as of next year, we’ll be back to the bucket car seat.
  5. Reliability
    It’s not uncommon for my car to sit un-driven outside for a week or two in the depth of winter or height of summer. I don’t care. I expect it to start when I turn the key.
  6. Minijack & iPod connectivity
    I actually prefer to not having AM/FM/CD/Satellite capabilities.
  7. Bluetooth phone connectivity.
    Having the phone integrated into the car’s audio system sounds very convenient.
  8. Carbon neutrality.
    Not just the usage, but I’d like the carbon imprint of manufacturing and delivery offset as well.
  9. I could fit a bicycle inside.
    Outside of my laptop gear, and a car seat, a bike is the most likely other thing I’ll be hauling.
  10. In 15 years a new driver might want to drive it.
    Barring a dramatic change fuel infrastructure, the idea of keeping a car that long for the kid to practice driving with is pretty attractive to me.
  11. Built-in garage door opener
    Again, a nice convenience. Makes it far more likely I’ll put the car in the garage.
  12. The fuel it runs on.
    Today, alternative fuels are at the point where using less regular unleaded gas is still more effective.

Things I Don’t Care About – in Order

  1. Color
  2. Engine size
  3. Upholstry and floor mats
  4. Chrome and trim
  5. Wheel sizes and locks
  6. Transmission type

All the ‘build your car’ sites care more about the second list than the first.

Cars I’ve been looking at thus far – Ordered by interest

  1. Scion xD
    Looks like a direct response to the Fit, but with better AV options.
  2. VW Rabbit TDI
    In the comments, Nathan suggested I look into it, so far, I like what I see.
  3. Honda Fit
    I sat in a Fit earlier this week, it feels pretty comfortable. I can see out the windows and the put the seat almost exactly where I want it.
  4. Toyota Yaris Sedan
  5. Nissan Versa
  6. Honda Civic
    It’s a good reliable, reputable car. That doesn’t feel as comfortable as the Fit.
  7. Honda Civic Hybrid
    Trading mileage for trunk space.
  8. Mazda 3 5-Door
    It’s been a very long time since I’ve looked at Ford. Kinda surprised this one is here.
  9. Toyota Prius
    It’s got the distinctive look and the tech gear, but seems kinda boring otherwise.
  10. Cooper Mini
    Trading the inconvenience of a 2-door for still being really cool in 15 years.

Am I missing something from this list?

Note to Chrysler: Despite my long history of Chrysler vehicles and that I feel more comfortable buying a Chrysler than a Ford or GM, you don’t have anything interesting that I haven’t already purchased.

Elsewhere:
Andy Atkinson is also in the market for a new ride, and ran the insurance and mileage numbers for his candidates.

Update 1 Sept 2010
So, I bought a Dodge Grand Caravan

Computers and Cars: Differences and Similarities

Driving around this weekend with the family and the dome light in the car wouldn’t turn off. An irritation for sure, but not as serious an issue as the speedometer, tachometer, or odometer not functioning at all. Freaky.

Scouring through the owners manual while still on the road, we came up with nothing. Not even sure why Chrysler spent the money on printing, all it did was frustrate us more.

Also this week, my decade-plus-old Apple Personal LaserWriter 300 came home after a long absence. This printer is a workhorse – printing on anything that’ll fit in the paper slot

Unfortunately, despite having the hardware to bring the printer into the home network, none of computers we use these days have the software to recognize it. I suppose it goes on a shelf next to my Remington Rands and Smith Coronas.

Imagine if your car no longer fit on the road. Baffling.

Cars Shouldn’t Smoke. I’m Sure of That.

Last Thursday, as I come to the end of the exit ramp off Hwy 100, the Neon started smoking.

Knowing this is generally a bad sign, I called up Stinson Auto and they sent over a tow truck. The tow truck driver took one whiff of the car and frantically disconnected the battery.

“I don’t want it bursting into flame on me.”

Guess I should grab my laptop from the passenger seat then.

Early Friday morning, Matt from Stinson Auto calls – says the driver’s side front brake line collapsed. End result – brakes could be applied, just not released. The smoke was the wheel fighting with the brake when I hit the accelerator.

On the plus side – the Neon and it’s lack of hauling capacity was out of the way during the move.

Stinson Auto and the Loose Hubcap

The last week or so, I’ve noticed an odd squeaking coming from the driver-side front tire. Shows up a little over 20mph and it gets louder the faster I go. Not a good sign. Turn the wheel left or right at any speed and it completely disappears. Nothing.

I had to stop by Stinson Auto anyway to pay for the brake job and alignment they did prior to this noise appearing.

After driving a couple of blocks, Eric the Mechanic tightened the odd plastic, threaded nuts on the hubcaps. Yep, that was it.

Stinson Auto Brought the Neon Back to Normal

Back when Saint Paul the Auto Repairman fixed my tie rod end, he noticed the front brakes needed to be done and warned:

“You’re going to lose a caliper.”

He also warned the alignment was off. To go straight, turn the steering wheel 60 degrees off normal. No, Jen didn’t want me driving the car until both problems were fixed.

I poked around CarTalk’s MechanXFiles for a reputable repair shop nearby. I found Stinson Auto, just a few blocks away.

Yeah, it’s that local, half-run down auto shop you drive by and wonder if they’re any good or just a front for the mafia.

I gave them a call, dropped the Neon off, and at about 4pm, they call me with an estimate. Reasonable, especially considering they planned on fixing it yet this evening.

Six hours later – yes – 10pm.

“This is Joe from Stinson Auto, wondering if you’d like to pick up your car yet tonight.”

(I waited until morning)

They far surpassed my expectations on all accounts, that’s NE Minneapolis for you.

Thanks Joe.

Stinson Automotive Inc
(612) 788-9229
3300 Stinson Blvd
Minneapolis, MN 55418

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Timeless automobiles on Howard Rubin’s list:

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