Car Shopping

An interesting aspect of life as we move through the pandemic…car shopping.

Three years ago, Susie and I decided to trade in our five year old 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited. It had been a great car, but because it was the car we’d used for our “Big Trip” in 2016, it had over 80,000 miles on it, and had started to cost us some repair money. Having never done it before, we investigated the world of car leasing. As we get older, we like the idea of having a new car every 3 years, and of not tying up the full purchase price of a new car, but rather only paying for the years we would be using it. We also decided that since we sometimes had been forced to ask friends to pick up things for us that didn’t fit in our sedan, we would look at the world of small SUVs. We were not looking for something the size of a Chevy Suburban and as I did my usual due diligence on what was available, I liked the Honda CR-V. Car-like, good reviews, great gas mileage, and when the seats were folded down, enough room to load our Christmas Tree and all the ornaments to get them from our storage place to our home. We now had our target.

Late spring of 2018, we decided to stop in at our local Honda dealer, Boardwalk Honda in Egg Harbor Township and take a look at a CR-V. We walked into the showroom and met a salesman named Brian Ford. After laughing that a man named Ford was selling Hondas (yea, probably the 10,000th time he’d heard that) he showed us a CR-V that was on the floor. Susie and I sat in it in almost all the seats and liked the way the car felt and thought the size would be perfect for us. We told Brian that we were still going back and forth between buying and leasing, and we promised we’d come back and see him when we made up our mind.

Over the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth. One day we were going to lease, then the next day we were going to buy. We continued the discussions like this till we decided one day it was time to put up or shut up, and the final decision was made to lease. Having never leased a car before, I read up on it on the Internet, and on Monday June 11, 2018 we went back to Boardwalk Honda to talk to Brian about the particulars. Things happened faster than we envisioned, and that afternoon we no longer owned a 2013 Hyundai, but were rather the new leasers of a 2018 Honda CR-V EX-L in Sandstorm Beige. We were scheduled to travel back to Long Island the next day, see some Doctors, and then meet Krissi and our not yet son-in-law Mike for drinks and dinner. We made the trip in a brand new CR-V with less that 20 miles on the odometer!

In the ensuing months and now years, we’ve grown to love our CR-V. It was just the right size, was comfortable to drive, got incredible mileage (30+ driving 70-80 MPH on trips – 25+ around town) and as our daughter said, “Unless you look behind you, you don’t even know your driving an SUV.” We’ve loaded and unload our Christmas things 3 times, shopped at Lowes and Home Depot, made 3 trips to Florida, and countless trips to visit our son’s family in North Carolina, to visit Krissi and Mike in New York, and our Maryland family too. It’s just been the perfect vehicle for us, and we had every intention to turn it in at the end of the lease, and start all over again! Then came the Pandemic.

Today’s cars are lightyears ahead of even those that were produced 10 years ago. Our CR-V has Adaptive Cruise Control that uses radar to judge the speed of the car in front of you and slow you down. It has Lane Keeping Assist that uses the radar and cameras to direct the car back, should you wander out of your lane. It has emergency braking, which causes the car to break itself if you do not heed the warning it gives you. It has Side Warning Sensors that warn you if there is a car in your blind spots on either the right or left side. In short, the car thinks and is there at the ready if you, the driver, don’t respond. How many chips do you think every modern day Super Car uses??? Then came the chip shortage!

A lesson that the world auto makers learned a long time ago from Toyota, was a concept called “Just in Time” parts inventory. The Japanese were famous for having parts delivered to their assembly lines when they needed them, saving the expense of storage. When the world shut down with the pandemic in March, 2020, automakers the world over cut orders on parts including chips. Many of those in the semiconductor business switched their production from the chips used by the auto industry to chips used in consumer electronics, like 5G cell phones. However, the pandemic did not derail the sale of cars as much as was expected and the auto industry faced much more demand then they’d anticipated, but unfortunately the supply of chips they needed just wasn’t available. Ford had thousands of F-150 pickup trucks (the best selling vehicle in America) built but unable to be finished due to the chip shortage. Honda, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen also have individual models that have lost more than 10,000 units to the chip shortage in North America. The obvious solution would have been to just increase the capacity at the car maker’s suppliers, but given how difficult and expensive it is to build semiconductors, the reality is that just wasn’t possible!

So what was the effect of the chip shortage? Car prices went wild! Used cars went through the roof, with year or two old cars selling for even more than they cost new! New cars were selling for above sticker price, if you could get them at all, and all the “normal” rules of the car buying business went out the window. According to our lease contract at the end of our lease, we could buy our CR-V for $18,45, but today a 3 year old Honda CR-V with 40,000 miles on it is worth over $24,000! Crazy! In checking the inventory at our local dealers on line, I found 3 or 4 of our models, rather than the 30-40 there were 3 years ago. Although I really didn’t want to buy the car, I was afraid that as our lease had less than 2 months left, I didn’t know what else we could do.

Just the other day, I decided that I best give our salesman a call, and see exactly what the situation was. I discovered that Brian was no longer a salesman, but rather the Finance Manager at Boardwalk Honda, but as an established customer, he was happy to deal with me. He confirmed that they only had a couple of CR-Vs in stock and since we are kind of particular on our color selection, what they had in stock or what they were getting delivered in their next shipment did not meet our needs. I asked him what to do, and he said that the factory has told them that they are getting more chips and expect assemblies to ramp up in the next 3-4 months, and that if we waited, they would probably have exactly what we wanted. I asked him, “So are you saying I should buy the car?” and he said, “No, just call Honda Financial and extend your lease.” Turns out I can tell them I’d like a 6 month extension of the lease, and since it’s really month to month, just terminate it when we start a new lease with a brand new CR-V. Now our only problem is, do we want an Aegean Blue or Radiant Red CR-V, and will it be a 2021 or 2022 model. Stay tuned…

The Number One Question We Get Asked

We honestly thought that the next time you heard from us, we’d probably be on the road, or just about to start our Big Adventure, but because we keep getting asked the same question over and over again, we thought it might be worth exploring the question, our answer, and our reasoning. For as long as we have been contemplating and talking about this trip, almost every time it comes up in conversation, we get asked this question. In fact, just yesterday, at a lunch with some former workmates Sue was asked it, while at almost exactly the same time, Frank was asked it by our Dentist. Invariably, as we are talking about our route and some of the stops we’re making, someone pipes up and says, “So are you renting a Motorhome for the trip?” Our answer is always the same, “Nope…we’re going in our 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited and staying in hotels.” Sometimes you see a little disappointment at our answer, because I guess this is the kind of trip many see doing in a Motorhome, but for us, it’s just not what we’re looking to do, and here’s why.

PRICE

Here’s the first downer for using a Motorhome, unless you already own one, the cost of rental. They are not cheap vehicles to rent! From research we’ve done, it looks like a smaller Motorhome, that would be perfect for 2 people rents for around $100 a day. Then, there is a fee of 35 cents per mile driven, plus it gets about 9 miles to a gallon of gas. On the other hand, our 2013 Sonata with 47,000 miles on it is fully paid for. Any service costs that we’d have to pay in preparation or during the course of our trip would be normal wear and tear items that we’d already have to pay for, and it will get close to 35 MPG on the highway all day. “But you’ll save the cost of hotels in the Motorhome”, you might say. Well, lets take a day out of our trip and compare the costs of the two styles of travel, and you decide.

For argument sake, lets take a day when we travel 300 miles and as a stop, let’s talk about our visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

imageMotorhome

Daily Rental………………………………$100
Mileage Fee………………………………$105 (35 cents X 300 miles)
Cost of Gas……………………………….$ 75 (300 miles @ 9 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Campground………………………………$ 63 (KOA Hill City, SD)

Motorhome Total……………………………..$343

 

imageSonata

Daily Rental……………………….$000
Mileage Fee……………………….$000
Cost of Gas………………………..$ 22.50 (300 miles @ 30 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Hotel……………………………………$ 86.51 (Econolodge, Keystone, SD)

 

Sonata Total…………………………….$109.01

Some might try and throw in the expense of food, but as we already travel with our cooler and supplies for breakfast and lunch, the only meal you might be able to argue about would be dinner, and we’d bet the difference there would not be enough to tip the balance towards renting a Motorhome. Add in the fact that our current plan is to be on the road at the very least 2 months, and to cover upwards of 6,000 miles, and you can see just how much the Motorhome would cost us in terms of daily rental, mileage charge, and gas! Score one for the car!

CONVENIENCE

Ever notice that when you see a Motorhome driving down the highway, if it’s an owned Motorhome and not a rental, it’s almost always towing a car or some motor bikes on a trailer? That’s because if they didn’t have this other form of transportation along for the ride, every time you’d go anywhere, you’d have to take your home with you! Think about it. You stop for the night at that KOA Camp Ground near Mt. Rushmore we used in the price example. We’re staying two nights in the area because there’s a lot to see, so let’s assume we’re doing the same renting a Motorhome. That first night you pull in, get the unit level, hook up the electric service, the water, the cable TV, and you settle in for the night. The next morning you’re off to Mt. Rushmore and what do you have to do? Yep, unhook the water, electric, cable TV, put away anything and everything you took out of it’s storage the night before, and like the turtle, head off to Mt. Rushmore with your house on your back. Then you get to Mt. Rushmore, and you’re not looking to park a car, but a Motorhome. Everything we’ve read, parking for a Motorhome at a lot of these sites is limited, and in many instances far away. We’ve also read that in places like Yellowstone National Park, it’s even a bigger pain to try touring in a Motorhome. But say you do have a successful day touring around the Mt. Rushmore area with your rented Motorhome. When you are done for the day, do you get to open the door of your hotel room and flop on the bed? Nope, you have to start the hookup procedure all over! And what about any cities that may be on your itinerary? How convenient do you think it’s going to be going around Denver or Salt Lake, or even Las Vegas in a Motorhome? All reasons that we think the car wins again.

LOCATION

You know the old Real Estate adage, Location, Location, Location. Well, when you are talking about campgrounds where you can spend the night in a rented Motorhome, it also comes into play. Campgrounds need lots of space, and because of that, are often farther afield from tourist destinations than hotels. In the Mt. Rushmore example we used earlier, the hotel we have reservations for is a mere 8 minutes from Mt. Rushmore, while that KOA we used as an example is 30 minutes away. The more populated the area, the bigger that time difference. You can stay in a hotel in Denver or Salt Lake, but a campground will probably be well outside the area that you wish to see, which will mean added travel time, and then the nightmare of trying to park the Motorhome! Some may disagree, but for us, another win for the car!

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Back when the kids were young, we owned a succession of pop-up campers. For about 6 or 7 years, we towed the pop-up behind our van. Many times, it was to return to a known campground where we went every summer, but there were also sightseeing trips that we went on. One year, it was up to Mystic, Connecticut, another year a 10 day journey through New York State and into Canada. On those sightseeing trips, most days we stayed one night in a location, so each afternoon it was set up the camper, and the next morning it was pack it up. Different campgrounds every day, setting up and knocking down daily, dealing with dirt and campground bathrooms, finding parking at tourist sights for our van/camper combo, driving down the road with a vehicle that was more affected by wind and the force of passing tractor trailers than a car….we’ve been there, and done that. It was great back when we did it, and it may be great for many people today too, but it’s just not what we want on this trip. Once again, for us, and based on past experience, the car wins out!

So, no, we’re not renting a Motorhome for our Big Adventure. We will be driving our Sonata, staying in a succession of national chain hotels, and National Park hotels, and enjoying clean sheets and good air-conditioning (or heat) every night! Nothing against Motorhomes and if your own one, we’re sure that they are a great way to travel, but it’s not just for us! The trip itself is going to be a Big Adventure enough for us, without adding the cost and inconvenience of a rented Motorhome. We’re just not prepared for that Big an Adventure!

Hope that answered your question.