No we didn’t get a minivan even though we’ve heard they’re so wonderful.
We’ve been coming to terms with the fact that our beloved 19 year old Honda with 300k+ miles* on it wasn’t going to keep going forever. The weird little old car quirks were just adding up. Changing the interior temperature from heating to cooling requires stopping the engine, popping the hood, and reaching down to manually twist the valve next to the heater core. Rolling certain windows down is risky since there’s no guarantee they would make it back up. The turn signal light is all skiwampus because the double sided foam tape holding it in is losing its stickiness. The tape deck (yes it has a tape deck) no longer works because someone stuck a pair of tweezers, a screwdriver, and a small toy in there. Not to mention the chorus of shimmies, rattles, clunks and squeaks we’d grown accustomed to were making us nervous to drive it out of town.
It all started on Monday when I was casually browsing Auto Trader when I should have been working. Actually, no it didn’t start on Monday. I’ve been lurking around Craigslist, AutoTrader, and Consumer Reports kind of obsessively trying to find a car that didn’t seem to exist: the legendary reliability of our Honda, more room for us and to haul stuff (you should see the gymnastics we have to go through to go camping), and 40+ mpg. We investigated the Subaru Outback (“state car of Colorado”), but found the fuel economy disappointing. The Toyota Prius was too small and the new bigger one was too expensive . (We did test drive one, though, and it was seriously like driving a spaceship.) Then I was chatting with a coworker the other day about this dilemma and he mentioned to me that VolksWagen makes cars that run on diesel that get excellent gas mileage. He owns one and really likes it. They even make some in the uber (German diction intentional) practical wagon form.
So anyway, back to Monday. Lo and behold there on Auto Trader was a 2010 Jetta SportWagen TDI with heated leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. A quick check of Consumer Reports and Edmunds revealed the price was good too. I was worried it was too good to be true, but the Carfax checked out. Yelp reviews for the small dealership were overwhelmingly positive too.
Tuesday, we dropped the kids off with some friends and went for a test drive. It was like a dream, but with more traffic. Apparently the car was owned by a pro cyclist who quit being a pro cyclist, got a real job, and couldn’t afford the payments anymore. He kept impeccable maintenance records and other than a few faint bike tire marks on the roof of the trunk, the car was in mint condition.
We were feeling pretty good, so we called our mechanic to see if he had time to inspect it. The second we told him we were looking at a Jetta Wagon TDI he flat out said, “Don’t buy it. VolksWagens are really unreliable. You should buy a Japanese car.”
We drove home in our old Japanese car sad and wondering if we had just been blinded by how toasty our butts were in those heated leather seats. That night we scoured the interwebs and made a bunch of phone calls to find further evidence to make a conclusion. Consumer Reports rated the Jetta TDI about the same as a Subaru that everyone is always raving about. So, statistically, it’s not really more unreliable. More searching revealed an enthusiast website for TDIs where we found a mechanic right in Golden who works on them exclusively.
Wednesday I called him and arranged to take the car to have the “diesel genius” inspect it. I knew I was in the right place when I saw the whole parking lot in front of the small shop filled with VW’s and Audi TDI cars. I was greeted by a friendly labrador and soon found myself out in the car with Anuthee as he’s reading the codes from the onboard computer. He swears like a sailor, but seems to really know his stuff. While he’s inspecting the car, someone calls him about a dead battery and he tells them the twelve digit part number for the replacement off the top of his head. The inspection revealed a few minor things, one of which he tells me VW should fix for free under warranty, but overall the car is almost brand new. Additionally, when I asked him about my mechanic’s negative response he made me feel better by saying VW sometimes gets a bad reputation for being unreliable not because they’re actually more unreliable than other cars, but because most mechanics don’t actually know how to fix them. I’m relieved to know that if something ever does go wrong, we have a mechanic who’s going to know what to do with it.
Thursday, I negotiated a slightly lower price, we signed a million documents, wrote a huge check, and took home our new (to us) car. The whole thing was quite the whirlwind. We feel sad that we literally kicked the Honda to the curb, but our new wagen sure has a lot more swagger.
* I don’t actually know how many miles the car has on it because the odometer stopped working about 5 years ago around 260k.