Category: personal

In Which I Drive into My Own Car with a Lawn Tractor

This post is pretty much just what it says in the title. Yours truly, Genius Driver Extraordinaire, drove into his car Saturday with a new (to us) lawn tractor. Why? Because I’m an idiot. But we already knew that, and you want the juicy details, so here you go.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend blessed with a long memory, we were given a lawn tractor last week. I was really looking forward to cutting down on lawn mowing times. Saturday, I finally had time to take a look at it. It needs some work (new battery, new tires, there’s something up with the way the blades engage, and it looks like the gas tank might need to be switched out. We’re having it looked at.) But I wanted to actually mow the lawn, so I jump started the battery and hooked up the air compressor I have for my car tires. All was going well. My car’s hood was open and door was open as I got the tractor ready to go.

Once all was looking good, I unhooked the tractor and started it up. No problems. Then I decided to drive it off to another corner of my driveway so I could get my Civic back in order. That’s where things went wrong.

My old lawn tractor used a pedal to control its acceleration. This new one has a hand lever you set. So if you want it going faster, you move the hand lever to the speed you want it to be, then leave it there. You can still put on the brakes when you need them, but as soon as you release the brakes, it’s as if your foot was on the gas pedal.

I released the brakes. The tractor roared into motion, eager to slice down any grass in the vicinity. Unfortunately, there was no grass.

Only my Civic and its invitingly open driver-side door.

Time slows down in moments like that. You can see something idiotic is about to happen. You wish you had made different choices. You regret any number of things. But there’s just no getting around the Yuck that’s about to happen.

I panicked. All knowledge of basic vehicle operation fled from my head. I couldn’t have stopped a brick at that moment. The tractor pushed into my car door and proceeded to bend it backward. I came to my senses, sitting up off the seat of the lawn tractor, which activated the kill switch, but the damage had been done.

Sigh.

It’s not a huge dent in the door. Just a slight crease. But the door itself won’t shut, which I’ve been told is a bad thing when you’re driving at freeway speeds. Denisa took it to our mechanic this morning, who recommended a body shop. I’m thinking hundreds of dollars, which wasn’t high on my list of Things I Wanted to Spend My Money On. Between tuning up the lawn tractor and fixing my car door, I might have been able to just buy a new lawn tractor.

However, hindsight is always something something, and I’m pleased to at least report that once my lawn tractor had terrorized my Civic, it went on to cut my lawn with the greatest of ease. No one was injured. which is a good thing. And it’s only money, right?

But note to self: next time I drive an unfamiliar vehicle for the first time, maybe I should do it far away from anything expensive. Out in a wide open area. Like the middle of my lawn.

 

Answering the Unanswerable

Every so often, I take a look at my blog statistics to see which articles are performing well. And one article that’s just hung in there for years is the one I wrote on getting into BYU. Here we are three years later, and it usually picks up a few views every day, day in and day out. I don’t link to it (well, other than just now), don’t mention it on Facebook. It’s out there in the wild, attracting views from the public at large.

Today, when I saw it had picked up some more, I wondered what it was about the article that attracted eyeballs. Why that one and not others? And I think the reason is that it scratches an itch people have. A desire to answer an unanswerable question. Because when people start googling “getting into BYU” or “how hard is it to get into BYU,” they don’t really want to know that answer. Sure, breaking it down statistically is interesting, but the question they really want to know the answer to is “Will my child get into BYU?” And that’s a question no one can answer until BYU’s admissions process answers it one way or the other.

I understand this desire, however. The thought that if I can just research things well enough, I’ll be able to figure it all out. (Whatever “it” happens to be at the moment. Right now it’s cars. Sometimes it’s trips to Europe or Disney. Who knows what it will be tomorrow.) But as I’m constantly reminded, sometimes research just has its limits. You can get all the information you want, but you still won’t be able to know if that particular car will be reliable in the future, or if the airfares will go down in price next month, or if Disney will have a better deal later.

The problem is, because the internet is so big and vast, it’s easy to think you just haven’t looked in the right places. And to make matters worse, sometimes you haven’t. Google doesn’t point you in the best direction every time. It relies on the search query you use, and sometimes you’re using the wrong one. After hours looking in less helpful places, you stumble across something that’s way better than anything you’ve seen to date. And then of course you start to wonder if there isn’t something even better, just around the next corner.

At some point in time, you have to accept that you’ve got limits. That you have to make a decision. Send in that application and hope for the best. Book the ticket.

But for people like me, you’ll still always wonder if there wasn’t something else you could have checked or read that would have given you even better information, which in turn would have made All the Difference.

Honda Fit vs. Toyota Prius: Fight!

I wrote up a post yesterday about the deliberating I’m doing as I buy a new car, but when I posted it to Facebook, it was with a simple question: should I go with a Honda Fit or a Toyota Prius. I mainly did that because I wanted that feedback, but I wanted it after people had gone through my post to see the question in context. Some people did do that, but I have a feeling many chimed in with their preference and left it at that.

Not that I’m complaining. The more data points the better. But at the same time, I thought it might be useful to post a follow up (partly due to a request from my brother in law) about the pros and cons of a Honda Fit and a Toyota Prius. Because “better” is a relative term. What will be better for one person won’t be better for another. We all have individual needs and values, so that influences these sort of decisions.

Anyway.

First off, a big disclaimer. One of the biggest limiting factors for me is the need to have a reliable car. I want a car I can have as good a chance on depending on as possible. This means I’d really prefer to be able to have my own mechanic look at it. He’s a person I’ve been using for 10 years, and I know and trust him. Other mechanics are great, but better to have the one who’s got some skin in the game keeping me happy. But I live in rural Maine. There simply aren’t that many used cars here to pick from. So where in a more populated area, I might be able to have more flexibility with what I picked, I’m constrained by what’s available here, to an extent. If I found a really good deal in Portland or Bangor, I’d drive and try to make it happen, but it would have to be very persuasive.

There’s also a bit of a time constraint. The Buick’s registration expires at the end of September, so I’d like to have a new car by then, so that I avoid having to renew it and make any repairs I need to for it to pass the safety inspection. So I have about two months. Not a tight schedule, but the clock is ticking.

With that said, here’s where I am right now, mentally:

Areas Where the Cars are Evenly Matched

  • Dependability: both are rated highly by Consumer Reports and other review services. Both have many people who speak out in favor of the car. Perhaps the Prius might get a bit of an edge here, as I’ve heard multiple people tell me of theirs lasting past 400,000 miles, which I have yet to hear from a Fit advocate, but really, they’re neck and neck.
  • Cost: Honestly, the Fit is cheaper in the short term, but as you factor in the gas savings for the car over the length of time I’m planning on using it (at least 10 years), then that ends up getting canceled out, even if gas stays as cheap as it is now. When I budget, I budget long term, so that savings is a real factor for me.
  • Interior space is similar in both. For a subcompact car, it’s impressive what Honda’s been able to do with its design of the Fit. For it to be even compared to a mid-size car is a feat.
  • Winter handling is meh for both. The Prius has a bit worse clearance. The Fit is lighter. Neither are going to get me through a raging snowstorm in Maine, but that’s okay. It’s not why I’m buying them. I’ll likely get snow tires for either.

Honda Fit Advantages

  • Maintenance for the car should be more straightforward. There’s no hybrid battery to worry about, so that’s one less thing to break.
  • Style: I think the Fit looks like a car that’s more fun to drive. The Prius has some strange things going on with its rear windshield. It looks funky.
  • Trunk space: the Fit has a big trunk, but that comes with a qualifier. It’s a subcompact car. So it’s a “Big trunk for a subcompact car.” The Prius has a good size trunk for a mid-size car, which is what it is. I’ve looked up cubic feet capacity of both, and they’re a wash that way. But the Fit has seats that are very adaptable, and I tend to think for moving stuff, the Fit would be the better car. (Which is not an insignificant plus. Denisa and I agree that would be very useful to have.)

Toyota Prius Advantages

  • Safety is a bit better for the Prius in my book. Crash ratings are about the same, but I tend to favor heavier cars over lighter cars. A Prius has the Fit beat by 500 lbs, and it’s just a bigger car.
  • Fuel efficiency: the Prius gets 50mpg on average. The comparable Fit gets 30mpg. It’s not even close. That’s great for my pocketbook, and I get to have that smug sense of superiority whenever I talk to people who get worse gas mileage. Saving money, the planet, and my ego in one fell swoop!
  • Bells and whistles: A used Prius has a lot of sweet perks, even at the base model. Bluetooth connectivity. LCD screen for selecting music. Keyless entry and start. For a guy who likes gadgets, the Prius has an edge there.

In the end, they come out about even, which is why is such a hard decision for me. It’s likely going to be made up by what I can get a good deal on locally. I’m leaning Prius now, but that could change depending on how negotiations go.

I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, thanks to all of you for your helpful input and suggestions.

The Joys of Shopping for a New Car

Denisa’s Buick is beginning to show its age. It’s a 2001, and we’ve happily used it for many years now, but it’s at the point that it’s beginning to need repairs. Nothing too outrageous. Some leaks here and there, and the promise of more repairs to come in the future. The car’s only worth around $1,500, and it’s not like putting money into it will make it more valuable. Sure, we could repair it now (and who knows, we still might), but every bit of money we put into it is a bit of money that we could have put into a new (used) car.

So we’re looking for new wheels.

Of course, since I’m an obsessive researcher, this is quite the process. Basically, it’s the simplest of research questions: “Which car is best for Bryce’s family in 2017?” But like many simple research questions, answering it proves to be fairly complicated.

The first part is easy. We know what kind of cars we don’t want. So sports cars, trucks, and minivans are out of the picture. (We’re not getting a minivan. We have three children. They all fit in the back seat of a normal car. End of story.) It’s been nice to have the Buick because it has a bigger trunk, so when we need more space to haul stuff to the dump or something like that, we can. (The Civic is lovely, but it’s a tight fit.)

Cost is an issue, of course. We want to buy a used car, because they’re cheaper, and we want a reliable car, because we’d like to have it for quite some time to come. In my experience, “reliable” automatically rules out American and European cars. I’ve had a Pontiac and a Buick. Both have a definite shelf life that’s quite a bit shorter than I’d like. For me, that means we’re down to a Honda or a Toyota. No, they’re not the most “fun” rides in the world. They’re reasonable, practical cars. And Denisa and I are reasonable, practical people. It’s a match made in heaven.

But which model? We thought about mid-size cars, but they were usually too pricey. But smaller cars have worse trunk space. So for a while, we thought we had it figured out: we’d get a Honda Fit, which is a subcompact car, but has a huge trunk, since it’s a hatchback. It’s got great reliability and reviews, and we know friends who have them and are very happy with theirs.

But there are no Fits in the immediate area, and so I kept researching while we evaluated our options. And my research into hatchbacks brought me to the Toyota Prius, and the wonders of a hybrid. (Which meant a whole new slate of research. Reliability of hybrid batteries. Buying used hybrids. That sort of thing.) And 50mpg really trumps 30mpg, you know?

Sigh. Even between those two models, there’s the question of how many miles is too many. What style would we prefer? Which year? I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of research, and there’s always something new to investigate. Some new question to answer.

Even once that’s over, you have to buy the actual thing, and that’s where I really don’t like things. Negotiating at a board game is great fun. Doing it over a car, with real money involved? No thank you. There’s this nagging feeling that you’re doing it wrong.

Perhaps the solution to all of this is to just fix the Buick for the short term, freeing up time to do a more leisurely search for a used car. Except that it all takes time. Time I don’t have a ton of. And I think I’d keep researching and thinking and reading and wasting a whole lot more time. And so just buying the car seems like the way to go.

In any case. Honda Fit or Toyota Prius. If you were to buy one of those and hope that it would last you around 75,000 miles or more of driving, what year would you get, and how many miles would be too many to have on it when you purchased it? If you know anything about used cars, I’d love to get your input.

Plugging Back In

Coming back to work after an extended vacation is always a process. Scratch that. Coming back to life after an extended vacation is always a process. And each time you might think you’ve thought things through ahead of time, but in my experience, each time there’s always a bunch of things you didn’t account for. So today, I’m getting back up to speed in practically every arena:

  • Emails are always the biggest troublemaker. I took some time while I was away to check in now and then, but all that really does is put out any immediate fires and cull out the easy emails that can just be deleted. What remains are emails that need me to actually take some actions. No fun.
  • Weight/Health is another area where I need to get back in line. I stepped on the scale this morning and discovered I’m still not over my goal weight of 195, but only because I’m literally 195 right now. While I was away I didn’t exercise, ate way too much sugar, and didn’t watch my calories in the slightest. Honestly, I’m surprised I only gained 7 pounds. But I’d really like to get down to 175, believe it or not, and now that I actually don’t have any trips scheduled in the next while, I’m hoping I have the time I need to just get back into my routines and stick there for a while.
  • House work. We still have a bunch of stuff around the house that needs doing. The biggest thing is the batch of furniture we got a month and a half ago. Denisa and I need to finish putting up pictures and deciding what goes where, and then we need to sell the pieces we’re no longer using. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. Especially since the place we’ve been sticking all the stuff we don’t know what to do with is the guest bedroom. And we have guests coming in a few weeks. (Uh oh.)
  • Lawn work. That lawn keeps growing. It’s been mowed recently (thank you friends!), but it needs to be mowed again. (More on that in the hopefully near future.) I know Denisa is really stressing about the garden, too.
  • Writing is there as well. I managed to get some done while I was away, but not nearly enough as I should have. That ends today. Back to the grindstone.

Beyond that, there are the tons of little chores that just need doing. Cleaning and shopping and letters and who knows what else. As always, I know that we can get on top of all of them, but it’s going to take concerted effort. I’ll make way too many lists, but one way or the other, we’ll get there.

Starting by finishing this post. More to come tomorrow as I go back to my regular blogging routine, as well.

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