May 18, 2015

Car Trouble

By Crabby McSlacker

Yes, this is another gripey post, bringing yet more Cranky back to Cranky Fitness. Um, yay?

Our subject today: New cars and why they suck.

I already have an adversarial relationship with cars. I think the more we can avoid being in or around them, the healthier we will be.  Walking or biking? Great! Riding around sitting on our asses? Not so great!  Let alone breathing exhaust-filled air or getting mowed down by a driver who is too busy quaffing his caramel triple frappucino and angrily texting his ex about about the kids' orthodontia bill to notice where his car is pointed.

However, depending on where you live, driving can be a necessary fact of life.  Our old car crapped out over the weekend, requiring the kind of repairs that would cost many times what the car was worth, so we were forced to do some quick shopping.

We wanted something economical, with a hatchback for dump runs (our trash removal service doesn't do yard waste) that wasn't totally hideous looking.  We wanted something used (cheaper) but relatively low mileage, as living on the tip of Cape Cod makes repair issues a huge hassle.

Well, it turns out almost all new cars are in my mind, pretty hideous, except for sexy Mini Coopers, one of which we flirted with for a while.

Hey baby, going my way?

But then we discovered the nearest repair place would be several hours away, and there was practically no warranty on the car, so we took the high road and came back a more boring sensible choice:

Yep, a certified used 2013 Honda Fit with 7500 miles on it.  It's a tiny car, but clever engineering gives it pretty impressive cargo space when you fold things down the right way. We ponied up $1200 extra for a 100,000 mile bumper-to-bumper zero-deductible warranty too, so barring any apocalyptic car-destroying disasters, we're probably set for a while.

Yep, I'm short and squatty, but I'm cheap!

However the new car buying thing was an aggravating experience for two reasons:

Windows? Where The Fuck Did They Go?

The Fit has better visibility than many new cars, but ALL new cars seem to be competing for how little window space they can provide, ensuring that drivers are surrounded by massive blind spots.


This is supposed to look "sleek" to some people, but it looks squinty and hulky and weird to me.

Plus, and I know this is freakishly weird: I actually like to be able to SEE WHAT'S AROUND ME when I drive.

Head Restraints Placed Way Too Far Forward Because of Insanely Stupid Safety Requirements

If you are tall or of large girth or prefer to slouch while driving, this is not a problem.  Your head will not be shoved forward by the head restraints in new cars, forcing you into a tortured seating position that resembles the letter "C" as in Cramped and Crumpled and Completely Cranky.

But to protect the large people and the slouchers from whiplash, all the smaller people are now being forced by the idiots at the NHTSA to hunch forward into painful positions, and dealers are not allowed to modify or swap out these monstrosities.

Some makes are worse than others, but they all suck.

A quick look at various car forums suggests that one option might be to flip the headrests around backwards, but this seems a little unsafe in case you are in fact hit from the rear and need the restraint to be in the same zipcode as your head when it snaps back.

My extremely inelegant solution at the moment is to put a pillow (yes, the large kind you sleep on at night) in the seat, then secure my lumbar support pillow on top of it.

Makes for a pretty sexy car interior, right?

But it's less excruciating to drive this way.  I googled for back support products, but the only one that looked appealing was a couple hundred bucks and I'm thinking I might go pillow-case shopping instead.

So, what do you guys look for in a car?  Any bitter complaints or great finds?


  1. Death Ride GrandmaMay 18, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    Well, I love my Mini Cooper. It's small, reliable, decent gas mileage, easy to park, and fits two bikes in the back as long as we remove the wheels.

    I actually tried going without a car a few years ago. I lasted about a year and a half. Of course we still had one car in the household, so I could beg an occasional ride. Ironically, I generally needed those rides to get to group bike rides that left early from lovely but tough to get to places. But I really don't love having to ride in rain when it's dark and chilly, so back to the Mini I went (I had another one before).

    But I am close to their service department, so it's easy - and I don't have to go there much.

  2. I look for how smooth the test drive is first. How the car looks on the outside is secondary. We spend more time on the inside of the car, so the interior needs to be appealing with tons of options. We all need to keep a reliable mechanic on call in case things go sour after the warranty runs out.

  3. Just had to replace ye old minivan after 13 years and almost 100,000 miles. Got a nice enough gently used minivan but it doesn't do anything for me. I can't wait till we are out of the need for a minivan!!! I HATE - LOATH - DETEST car shopping. I did pretty good though, as the salesman reportedly only made $33 on the deal.

  4. Crabby,
    I'm with you, we never buy new anymore. I don't hate all new cars, but I do hate the pricing. :) As long as it's reliable, practical, and somewhat non-hideous, I'm in. I suppose that defines me as the worst car fan ever. :) That said, it would be hysterical to have an Edsel like that one! I'd actually probably opt for one of those very small cars, although with behemoth cars still everywhere, there's some concern about being squished by them.

    Cheers, Dave

  5. I have a friend with a Genesis Coupe and what we have done is take the headrests out turn them around and slide them back in. They still work fine and are much further back :-) A pillow also works of course.

    I drive a Jeep, a real Jeep Wrangler, not a frankenjeep (four door Wrangler) or a suv made by Jeep.
    Classic old school. Most everything is manual except the basic stuff. I'm not recommending it as the gas millage is very poor, but I bought it when gas was a lot cheaper..who knew?

    At least your car looks nice :-)

  6. Your seat set up made me laugh out loud!!! I have never had a car. I do know how to drive, but prefer to be a passenger. Congratulations on your new wheels…even though there are some issues!

  7. I like the Fit! I've heard great things about them.

    I tend to go with a) what's the use (commuting, family haul, pulling the camper) and then b) most fuel efficient, and c) best warranty/reputation for not breaking. New or used just depends on the market when I'm buying. That means we drive 1. a 2006 Prius (bought new at the time because hi, resale value meant used wasn't much cheaper), 2. a Kia Sorrento (fits 8 and has 4 wheel drive for when the weather is uncooperative, also bought new because double the warranty of similar models and half the cost of the others new (or the same as a 10 year old version) (yes Highlander, I'm giving you the stink-eye)), and 3. a Toyota Tacoma with 180K+ miles on it (which mostly spends it's time sitting in driveway waiting for camping season or a full load of recycling to haul, bought used when some friends moved to Alaska and the price was perfect).

    But mostly, this is what I want in a car:
    (warning: gratuitous language included but it is at least accompanied by a hilarious New York woman who doesn’t think it’s funny) Awesome fast, super cool, and it's an EV. Now, about that $120k price tag...

  8. If it has four wheels that all go the same direction at the same time, plus A/C and a radio, i will make it work. Yes, i have to use a back support and pillows so i can see, but that's because i'm so short.

  9. Congratulations on the new to you wheels. I prefer old style crank windows and doors that do not automatically lock. I hate having to depend on power to open things. Also, I like to see the front end of the car while driving and it is damned difficult with most designs. Also I hate the hell out of the fact my Ford Focus has only one key unlocky thing and it is only on the driver's side. There should be another one on the front passenger door. There's one on the trunk, but no trunk release inside the car. In short I like the old ways, dammit.

    1. AMEN on crank windows and non-auto locks. I swear, life got a lot more challenging when those features automated. If nothing else, it is a heck of a lot easier to break into your own car when it is a crank window!

    2. Oh, I so agree! Cars are getting bossier all the time. My pet peeves are: intermittent windshield wipers that think they know better than the driver how often they should be wiping (this morning, in good old San Francisco summer weather, mine wanted to go steadily rather than every few seconds), and those outside mirrors that tilt down when you are backing up - fortunately I've never had a car with one, but have had to drive a few. Grrr.

  10. I TOTALLY agree with you on the headrests being way too far forward on most cars! I think they are made for people who tend to recline their seats back, whereas I usually sit with my seat back ramrod-straight and so the headrest juts way out. My solution is to recline the seat a bit and basically just not lean against it at all... not exactly ideal :(

    I drive a Jeep Cherokee because I wanted something that would do well in snow/ice and on trails (I bought it when I moved to Colorado), but also get good gas mileage. I average about 28mpg, which I think is pretty good for a small SUV!

  11. Oh my gosh I just laughed at the seat modification. That is hilarious. What does trouble me is that if people don't like it, modify it, or don't use the seat properly than it probably isn't working. I am constantly giving my car reiki...begging it to just hang in there! Sam

  12. Oh, I'm sad that you didn't get the Mini! However, I'd recommend getting a brand new model so you can get the 3 year boot-to-bonnet warranty. That FIT is pretty cute, though.

    My kid's both have Ford Fiestas and their headrests are crazy angled like yours, which bug the heck out of me. I thought it was just me, but I'm glad to see I'm not alone in wondering why in the heck they have to be so drastic with the angle!

  13. I last shopped for cars in 2005. Oh, dear. Your report of headrests discourages me, because the ones I have now are bad enough. 109,000 miles on the Cruiser, 50,000 on the Jeep (because, gas.) I hope they keep going a long time.
    Leah, I was annoyed when buying the Jeep in 2004 to find that it didn't come without electric windows, but in the eleven years since, I've had no trouble, and now that my left shoulder is giving me so much pain I'm quite glad not to have to crank it all the way down at the bank drive-through. Getting manual transmission was enough trouble: the dealership had to go and fetch me one from several hundred miles away.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. I have a 2005 Prius with almost 85,000 miles on it that is going strong. It has some dings and whatnot on it, but runs A-OK so I am hoping to keep it for a while longer. I do like the Fit, not only because it is small and economical (the things I look for mostly in a car) but I like to think the name has something to do with it too. :)

    I've been thinking about whether or not my next car will be another hybrid, or just a very small subcompact with good fuel efficiency. Most of the time you pay a premium for the hybrid option, so I'm about to build a spreadsheet that will help me figure out if that premium pays off over time. (I figure it depends on how long you keep the car - I'm not sure I knew I'd keep this current car so long, so I'm pretty sure it's worked out over time, considering that since I've had it we have routinely hit $4 and near $5 per gallon gas prices.)

  15. We have a VW Golf which we are both very happy with, despite the fact that I am barely 5' and Husband is 6' 2". When we got our first VW (a Jetta - probably somewhere around 2003?), and I discovered that I could adjust the seat vertically so that I could actually see the front of the car for the first time in my driving career, I was thrilled.

    I'm with you on the head rests though - it's like the are made for one size of human and I'm not sure how that can be good for the rest of us.

    1. Adjust vertically??? I must check out VW again. When I did that car shopping back in 2005 I was vaguely interested in a Golf (Must.Have.Hatchback.) but the car salesmen at the dealer near me put me off by acting like Car Salesmen, unlike the Chrysler dealer's where my father and I had been buying cars for, at that point, twenty-five years. I'd forgotten what it's like to deal with people who don't listen to what you say and try to sell you what they have instead of what you want. But I have never known a VW owner who was unhappy with their car.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    2. Before I got married, I had a Cavalier that I had got in my hometown. My husband was not a fan of the Cavalier, he's always been a VW fan. When we went to the Chev dealer here in SJ, the sales guy we spoke to was a complete jerk. He completely turned me off that dealership and we have been happily driving VWs ever since. You'd think it would occur to them that how they treat people is going to affect whether they can sell cars to them or not.

    3. Mary Anne, I am a hatchback lover, too! Before my current car I had a VW Golf, and while I only had it for three years, there are some things about it I really miss. The interior and control panel seemed much nicer than my Toyota, and it rode like a dream. (I had the TDI version.)

  16. Well I am one of the big people and I drive with a sofa seat behind my back so they must not have made that design for me either. My problem is long legs and short arms so the fit of the seat is everything. After that it has too be a hatchback so I can load up lots of stuff. The Mini Cooper actually fits me perfectly with no extra cushioning but, I'm too tall for it so if I am first in line at a stop light I can't see the light only the roof and the back window on a Cooper is way too small. I'm like you. I like to see.
    I don't have a car and don't plan on getting one until I retire and by then they will have that self driving situation worked out and I can lounge wherever I want in the car then.

    1. Yes, I want my self-driving car soon!

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

    2. Yep won't that be great! No more trying to determine what the driver in front of you is doing. Drunk? Hot coffee in your lap? Now we will know it is computer malfunction. We can just yell "Reboot!"

  17. CONGRATS on the car! Been so long since I even looked that I am not sure beyond economical mileage here in SC! :)

  18. the ONLY ONLY car Ive ever had and LOVED was my NoCal electric fiat!

  19. I love reading all these great comments on the various pro's and con's of these different kinds of cars. Will save me lots of time next time we need to shop. Which hopefully won't be for a long long time but you never know... softball sized hail and flying cows and such are hard to predict!

  20. Ugh, cars are made so horribly these days! It's bad enough that so many people have their license even though they can barely drive (is that just my city, or are drivers getting more reckless every year?) - it does NOT help matters that cars aren't even made that well.

    :) Hoping I can put off needing a car for as long as possible...


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