Friday, August 30, 2013

I feel so ashamed!

 Well, sorta.

I started a new role at work this week. I'm serving as a chauffeur and companion for a developmentally disabled gentleman. This morning, I had my first opportunity to drive him around in the car that is designated for his use.

Yes, it's a Prius C.

I know, I know, I feel so dirty. OK, not really, but I was certainly not excited about driving the evil contraption. It's not a bad looking little car, sure, and it's nice and small, which I like a lot, but when the key is inserted in the ignition there is no "Vroom," no "putt putt putt," nothing but some pretty lights on the dash and maybe a dull hum. It's downright unnatural!

Putting the car into gear and pressing the accelerator doesn't immediately produce any discernible difference in sound output, but it does make the car go, which is, I suppose a good thing since if the car didn't go, no one would want it. In any case, it didn't go all that fast really. Acceleration was somewhat sluggish, but not too much worse than other small automatics I've driven. When we got up on the highway it sprang to life with more vigor than I expected, easily keeping pace with the other vehicles

The ride is surprisingly smooth, better even than any other small cars I've driven. Yes, potholes and manhole covers and rough road surfaces still telegraph up the spines of the vehicle's passengers, but it's not quite as jarring as it could be. The ride almost felt a little spritely, if not sporty. The driver's seat has a nice comfortable shape to it and supported my back well, despite the periodic jolts from the suspension.

I gradually found myself liking this little piece of machinery with its off-center instrument panel and quiet little engine. It still felt unnatural, but it had wooed me with its fiendish tricks.

I'm not sold on the hybrid idea. Sure, the fuel economy isn't too bad, but I owned a Hyundai Accent ten years ago that got comparable fuel mileage. The technology exists to make cars with comparable gas mileage and no hybrid engine, or to make vehicles that neither use gas nor an outside electric power source (Hydrogen fuel cells use no gas at all and run cleaner in every way, but have been abandoned by the auto-makers), but instead we have these fashion statement cars that cost quite a bit of cabbage, but allow the hippie types to feel good about themselves.

But, I liked the Prius C. It was fun to drive, was comfortable for a small car, and was reasonably peppy once the gas engine kicked in. I don't think I'd buy one for myself, but I can now see why someone would. I still think it's a bit of a fashion statement (as evidenced by all the greenie bumper stickers festooning the hindquarters of many a Prius), but it's actually a decent car. Of course, until the EPA uses the same standards they do in Europe allowing high mpg diesel and gas engines, It's one of the few current options for a decent high MPG vehicle in this country.

I think I need to go take a shower. I can't believe I liked driving a Prius.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lessons learned

About a month ago, I became the parent of a teen driver. A few near heart attacks later and I think my son is starting to get slightly less terrifying behind the wheel.

He wants a motorcycle of course, and in the innocence of youth, doesn't quite understand the costs involved. His dream is a sportbike:

The reality will be a 50cc scooter to start, then when he gets the money, he can buy himself a bigger bike.

As for the driving, he's doing pretty well so far. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but I'm screaming in terror a little less often. Tonight, he learned an important lesson about road debris. While we were driving down Manheim Pike toward home, a large piece of plastic somehow came up off the road and hit the side view mirror.

It was a battery cover from something or other; I can only assume a boat of some sort. In any case, something like this is startling enough when it hits a car, but for someone on a bike, it could cause a lot of trouble.

On a bike or scooter, as any experienced motorcyclist will know, hitting road debris can have disastrous results. This gave us a bit of a teachable moment about the dangers of stuff in the roads. The battery cover seems harmless enough, being lightweight plastic, but it made a surprisingly big scratch on the plastic mirror cover and would have hurt horribly if it hit an unprotected or lightly protected body part.

So, my son has learned a lot in the last month of driving...and I'm starting to find more white hairs every day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I know, I know, it's not a scooter...

I'm so used to riding budget motorbikes and driving cars that cost less than $30,000 new. The closest I've ever come to driving a luxury car was in my youth when my parents had big ungainly Buicks. I learned to drive on a 1984 Buick Regal Limited. It was a luxury car of sorts, and my Dad bought it used. I never realized until now that those Buicks had nothing on real luxury cars.

I've always wanted a Jaguar, but I never thought I'd actually own one. I was told; "They're too expensive," "you'll never afford the insurance, nevermind the repairs." and so on.

But then I kept seeing S-Type Jaguars with insanely low price stickers on the windows all up and down Manheim Pike. So, I started doing some research. I found out that the S-Type is powered by a Ford engine and is relatively reliable. Due to various factors, the resale value of Jaguars is relatively low, despite the reliability of many of the Ford era models. To fill in the blanks there, Ford owned Jaguar between 1990 and 2008. They used Ford powertrains in many of the Jaguar models they built during that time, which was a good thing for the American market as most powertrain parts are readily available from Ford.

Parts outside the powertrain, such as power window parts, elements of the suspension, etc., well, those are available through Jaguar, and as I discovered while waiting for the dealer to fix the window retractor before final pickup of the vehicle, that can be a bit of a pain. But, all that aside; It's a Jaguar, someone else already paid off the depreciation, and it was about the same price as a used 2011 Toyota Yaris 3 door hatchback...

It is beautiful to behold. That front end styling reminds me of the Mark 2 jags of the 50's. The European luxury car looks are something you just can't get from an American car. Yes, some Buicks look vaguely similar, but they only mimic the styling without truly capturing it.

...and it handles like a dream. Those Buicks my parents owned, sure they were comfortable, sure they had some nice features,! There is no comparison. My wife and I went for a drive this morning to take care of a few errands, and took the long way home. The jag accelerates like no car I have ever driven, and it corners like a dream. Then there's the fuel economy, which is amazing for a V-6.

Let's not forget the interior. The wood and leather show some age, but not enough to truly diminish their beauty. While buzzing down the highway or on side roads just tooling around, the interior  makes the ride so enjoyable that the normal stresses of driving don't seem to exist.

All this in a vehicle for which someone else paid more than $50,000. So yes, luxury can be had on the cheap. There are some trade-offs such as little bits broken off here or there in the interior, and a scratch here or there on the exterior, but if you do your research, and shop a bit, you might find a treasure in someone else's castoffs.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Good weather for scootin.

This week I said a sad farewell to my truck and the Honda Sabre. Thankfully they are both in good hands. I sold them both to a friend from high-school who is a talented mechanic and is going to get them both back into fighting trim. He told me he wants to cafe the Honda, which is cool because I'd had that idea for it when I originally got it, but never had the money to sink into it.

This week was a great one for riding. My church held our annual Day Camp and Teen Week, and as always, I rode the scoot to camp when I could. Monday, I took the truck because I needed to transport some things which would not have fared well in the crate. Tuesday, It was very very wet in the morning, so the scoot stayed home, but the rest of the week was lovely.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I was able to ride with my pastor and best friend. He just got a brand new 2010 Elite 110 with a total of 2 miles on the clock when he rolled it off the dealer's lot into his truck, so we had to ride together. His 2008 Wildfire will go to my son as a beginner street bike. Yes, it still runs. He had a mechanic fix the issue with the snapping belts.

The Elite is an amazing machine. It is only a 108cc scooter, but at times I had trouble keeping up with it. It saddens me that they sold so poorly. Lancaster Honda still has two of them in their showroom.

So we had two Hondas, riding in tandem. One a true Honda with all the right badges, and one a Honda knock-off, built by a great little company from Tiawan.

I look forward to more rides in the future.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tough decisions

I've come to a crossroads in my life.

In November, I received a back injury at work, which has made it very uncomfortable to ride my bike or drive my truck. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which is basically asthma with an attitude. This summer, whenever we've had a major storm or extreme humidity, I've needed to stay in the air conditioning. Unfortunately, about two weeks ago, I had to go to work early on a Thursday morning. I took my preventative inhalers, but the next thing I realized after leaving the house was that I was sitting in my driveway trying to call my wife on my cell phone.

Apparently I had collapsed due to lack of oxygen due to my lungs' inability to process the humid air. I'm told by the doctor that I need to stick to air conditioning as much as possible on humid days or days with a high pollen count, etc. My little S-10 has no air conditioning. My sabre and my Kymco don't either.

Add to that that I have been transferred to a new job at work that will require me to use my personal vehicle at times, and my truck really isn't set up for that.

So, I'm selling the truck, and the big bike. I'll keep the Kymco since it is so cheap to run and keep insured.

On Wednesday, my wife and I were taking our son to an appointment, and I saw a sky blue vehicle that really caught my attention. I was shocked at the price sticker and even more shocked when I went online and looked at the dealer's website to find that they'd gone even lower than that.

I did some research and found out I was looking at a 2002 Ford powertrain with an excellent reliability history. My wife and I looked at our finances and looked at the cost of the vehicle and found that it's well within our budget.

Yeah, ok, so it's not really a Ford* on the surface, but it's a Ford underneath (which will help keep repair and maintenance costs down). The fuel economy is good for a V6, and it was a literal steal price-wise and hardly will put a dent in our monthly budget. It's a luxury car, but it's an older luxury car. It has lumbar support in the front seats, which I need, and it's not a standard so I'm not always shifting and throwing my back around. Most importantly, it has a working A/C unit. I will be able to breathe on humid days.

I'm disappointed that I had to make a financial outlay of any sort, just as we were starting to get ahead again, and I'm even more disappointed that I have to get rid of both my truck and my big bike, but as my physical health has changed, so have my priorities.

Here's to riding comfortably and healthy, and hopefully having enough good days that I can still ride the scooter.

* For those wondering, it's a 2002 Jaguar S-type 3.0L V6. They are extremely inexpensive to get into used because they are a foreign car; however, those with a Ford powertrain have excellent reliability and are not as bad on repairs as those without the Ford parts.