CarQuest 2004

I really don’t want to get a new car. I’m completely and utterly happy with my ’98 Jeep Wrangler, and the thought of ditching it in favor of a conventional car strikes a discordant note within my very soul. Yes, the Wrangler’s soft-top occasionally leaks, and yes, the interior is filled with a dull roar even with the hard top on, but nothing — absolutely nothing — beats driving it on a early summer morning with the sun brilliant and yellow in a perfect crisp robin’s egg sky.

And yet … the Jeep is six years old. Six years of 100-mile-per-day commutes have racked up the mileage, and it’s reach that point where you start contemplating whether the cost of repairs outweighs the cost of replacing it. In the last few months, a few minor things have gone wrong with it. Well, as minor as $150 and $200 repairs can be. And the thing does guzzle gas, but I’m content to let it keep on slurping down regular until the repair bills become unbearable.

My wife Sue’s vehicle is also a Jeep — a 1996 Cherokee, and it’s entering into the same golden years as the Wrangler (“golden” as in it takes a heap of gold to maintain them). At some point in the next two years, one of these loyal cars is going to falter, and we’re going to have to replace it with a car. The horror…

With this in mind, Sue and I have begun talking about what kind of car we’d like to get.

Sue wants to check out the hybrid cars — the gas/electric mutants with the allegedly awesome gas mileage that are groping for a foothold in the U.S. I’ve got to say that as geek, the idea appeals to me. I mean, sure, it’s not a time-traveling hovercar, but it is at least a bit more futuristic than your normal gas guzzler. And I — as a capitalism-loving libertarian — would enjoy passing all those tofu-downing leftists in their antiquated, pollution spewing 1980s era cars with the Greenpeace stickers on them. (Almost as much as a enjoy passing both Republicans and Democrats with my Wrangler and its admittedly cryptic “Cthulhu For President: Why Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?” bumper sticker).

So we’re going to look at the hybrids, though I’m some what skeptical about their mileage claims — observant readers will note I’ve been posting more car-related Netheads to the site, and a few by indicate that hybrids aren’t quite all their cracked up to be. Speeders and city drivers find that their mileage drops down to 35 mph. Admittedly that’s far better than the Wrangler, but still a far cry from 45 or 55 mph. Seeing as how the speed limits in New Jersey are 65 on the highways I travel, and how if I’m not traveling at that speed, I’m usually in stop-and-go traffic, I expect my own mileage with a hybrid would not be as exceptional as I might like.

So what am I looking for in a car? I’m not sure — it’s been a long time since I went car shopping, and then we were looking at Jeeps — but I do have a few criteria:

  • Good Ground Clearance: I’m 6’2″, and I absolutely despise cars that are so low to the ground that I feel like I’m falling out of them when I get in and out.
  • Easy Back Seat Access: With the baby, it’s important that we be able to easily get Jordan in and out of the backseat. I also want to be able to reach the backseat from the front with a minimum amount of stretching.
  • It Needs To Be Comfortable: Given that I spend at least two hours a day commuting (and some days that’s as much as three or four hours) the car must be comfortable. I can’t afford to spend that much time in an uncomfortable car
  • Gauges, Gauges and More Gauges: This one I can attribute to my parents, who always wanted lots of gauges in their cars so that they didn’t have to second guess at what might be going wrong. I agree with the wisdom of their ways — there are few things more annoying than cars who’s gauges are reduced to little more than a speedometer and gas gauge.
  • Good Mileage: I want something that’s getting at least 35 mph highway, though I’d prefer something even better.
  • Gadgets: Hey, what can I say? I’m a geek. This isn’t a make it or break it thing for me, but I wouldn’t mind a few gadgets in the car — like one of those mileage calculators, an internal compass, or a holder for my iPod (ok, the last one’s a stretch I know).

The CarQuest is only just beginning, and I intend to post more on this to Nuketown as the quest progresses. If anyone out there has suggestions on a car that might fit my preliminary criteria, I’d love to hear ’em.

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