Technically Geeking: Buying a Car Aug19

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Technically Geeking: Buying a Car


a blogumn by Justin Time
Researching the car data

Researching the car data

First off, I’m proud that my blogumn pressured China to change its policy about censoring computers. Nice job, self. The timing was fortunate, since I now have to turn my attentions to a much more difficult task – buying a new car. I’ve avoided it for the most part my whole life.

I remember going with my father when he bought the Merkur XR4Ti that would later be my car in college. It seemed exceedingly painful for him.

First, he went and looked at the car, test drove it, thought about it, told the salesman he was interested, but we left after hearing the offer. A tormented week of investigation passed – looking at other dealers, reading up on the car, comparing it to other models in the same class. A lot of nail biting. He wanted the car from the original dealership, so we went back. That’s when things got ugly.

I sat there in the showroom, trying to entertain myself while my father haggled endlessly with the salesman, questioning everything, arguing constantly, raising his voice, and at one point storming out of the showroom to stand outside and brood. He eventually came back in and closed the deal, but I never understood if he got a good deal or not. One thing I was sure of – buying a car was hell.

Now that my wife and I are in the buying game ourselves, I feel slightly more comfortable and in control. Armed with ConsumerReports’ New Car Price Reports I feel confident that I will get a fair price when the time comes to negotiate. And shopping for cars is fun.

But deciding which car you want is tricky for a geek. Most people just go for what they like (Beetle), follow the trends (Prius), or fall prey to marketing that feeds on insecurity (Hummer). But the geek must research the technology currently available and make a sound decision based on data such as safety and reliability reports, fuel efficiency, environmental impact, cost of ownership, and most importantly, what cool gadgets does it have?

For example, we are looking at Volvos, Audis and Volkswagens. I thought it was really cool that the Volvo had a USB port in the center console. But then I looked at the VW, and it had a freaking iPod port in there. Then you have to decide about getting a navigation system or not. On the one hand, integrated nav units are so much easier to use with one hand and they look a lot nicer than something glued to your windshield. On the the other hand, they cost about $2k, as opposed to $200 for a dedicated unit, or $100 or less for an iPhone application, like the new Tom Tom. Speaking of iPhone applications, I didn’t find any good ones to help with the car buying process.

Another geek decision that I have been wrestling with is Diesel engines – are they worth it? Sure they get much better MPG (eg. 47 mpg highway in the Jetta TDI) and they are cleaner burning, but diesel gas costs more, so it might not save much money. It would save some trips to the pump, however.

Then there’s all-wheel drive, sunroofs, heated seats, Bluetooth, tire pressure monitoring, satellite radio, and the list goes on. It’s quite exciting all the gleaming technology that will be in our new car, but then part of me longs for a strong old car without a computer or a climate control system… It’s that non-geek part of me that says things like, “one more thing that’s gonna break.”