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I Was a Frustrated Customer at Car Showrooms, but Made the Obvious Decision

2011 May 5

By Larry Teller

Being a patriot who wants to do right by our still-struggling economy, I recently started looking for a new car. Well, to be honest, approaching another summer without car air conditioning didn’t delight.

The car I was replacing was 17 years old and, beside no A/C, had gradually lost other non-essential but nice-to-have features: FM and eventually AM radio, keyless door locks, two door locks (but, shucks, no one would steal the car), speed control and intermittent wipers. I’d figured in recent years, what’s the difference? I’m only driving six miles roundtrip to a commuter train. And, besides, the huge trunk provided a handy way to take my bike for repairs; the car was paid for; the insurance was cheap; it reminded me of the sweet day we drove our baby daughter home from the hospital; my friend the mechanic was always eager to fix things; I’m not wild about car salesmen……

It’s been, thankfully, years since I walked into a showroom. Do you, too, dread the experience, beginning with the sweet greeting, followed inexorably by the required question “What do I have to do to sell you a car TODAY?” My specs were simple at the three places I visited: compact car, four cylinders with good gas mileage, comfortable seats, several safety gizmos, any color but black or white, and—here’s the feature that, I learned at all three places, was the root cause of conflict—but I just felt I deserved: heated seats.

Here’s what I learned, unhappily: in order to buy heated seats, you must buy a “weather package,” which is available only on higher “trim” versions, which only come with a larger engine (and also requires, in the fancier trim package, a moon roof which I can happily live without), which has lower gas mileage, which was one of my most important criteria.

So, the frustrating choice the car companies shrewdly force us to confront is whether keeping our tushes toasty on those freezing Monday mornings is worth spending an extra $3,000 (the weather package and higher trim line) and losing, at least in the three compact cars I considered, 2-3 miles per gallon (“EPA estimated—your actual gas mileage may vary.”).

I hope it’s obvious from this tale how I resolved this showroom conflict. How would you?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

33 Responses leave one →
  1. Mike M permalink
    May 5, 2011

    Would heated, electric pants be an opotion?

    I’d get rid of the car and bike to work. Then either rent, carpool, or take a taxi on days you can’t or won’t bike. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint, save $$$, and feel better.

  2. Scott Casper permalink
    May 5, 2011

    So we get gypped out of the rest of the story and never learn what car you bought?

    Obviously Larry has a lot of money to be looking for a new car. Most of us have to settle for used cars and are desperately hoping that hybrid cars start making it onto the used car market soon. Taxis are also fine for people who are loaded, but are outrageously expensive for the rest of us and not an option.

  3. Lina-EPA permalink*
    May 5, 2011

    Hi, Larry
    Love your blog entry. Glad you were strong when entering the showroom. I confess I was weaker in selecting some of these packages the last time I bought the car. It’s unfortunate you can’t pick and choose.

  4. Larry Teller permalink
    May 5, 2011

    This from the original poster (Larry): Over 2-3 years, I’d considered three options–keep the old clunker until it stopped running (remembering how hot it is on summer days, baking in a lot all day); buy a new or used car–used if the price difference was big enough; or try my best to follow Mike M’s advice to bike most of the time. Although I love to bike, convenience and time-saving on rainy, freezing or heat wave days is important to me–so relying on taxis or rentals on those not-infrequent days wouldn’t work. And I’m no kid anymore, so there are also days when my bones say “no” to a rush hour bike ride. And finally, there’s the schvitz factor and the time needed for a shower once at work. So, with some frustration but no shame, a replacement car it was to be.

  5. Jonathan permalink
    May 5, 2011

    I was hoping this post was going to ask the question: why do consumers have such limited options when it comes to alternative-fueled vehicles? Really we’re doomed if 2-3 MPGs is the only thing we’re concerned about this day in age. #fail

  6. Amy permalink
    May 5, 2011

    I usually buy used cars, keep them well-maintained, and drive them until they are ready for the parts yard. My last car developed electrical problems and oil and gas tank leaks, so it had to go rather suddenly. I was sick of being stranded and trips to the repair shop, so I wanted a new or relatively new car. I found that most used cars hold their value so well I decided I might as well get a new car and have the full warranty. I cared about environmental impact and safety, not flattering myself with luxury doodads.

    I bought a 2009 Honda Fit. It gets FAR better gas mileage than the EPA ratings. I get 33mpg in winter city driving and 40-50, usually around 42mpg highway. Air conditioning a few days a year knocks it down a few mpg. The smart seats and cargo room can carry as much as most SUVs and small pickups. Most people are not hauling furniture and such on a daily basis anyway.

    This car is not a hybrid, and only cost about $16,000. That so many cars are for sale with much worse gas mileage is a disgrace. For that matter, my first Honda from the 1980s got better gas mileage than many on the road these days. People might think they can’t afford a hybrid and give up on worrying about fuel efficiency, but my car matches or beats my neighbor’s hybrid for a fraction of the cost because it isn’t loaded with luxury features.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    May 5, 2011

    From Larry, the original poster: I agree that there are far too few choices for efficient cars, and suppose that the very quick gasoline price spiking of recent months is, or will, change offerings–at least, sad to say, until gas prices recede. I was surprised at the relatively high cost of 2-3 year old used cars and, like Amy, bought a new car. I only drive about 3,000 miles a year, so I wasn’t as concerned about small differences in mpg as I would be if I drove 10,000+ miles. Too, I keep cars well over 10 years, which cuts down on resource use. Nothing is simple environmentally in choosing what to buy–consider, for example, the enviro tradeoffs of mining, using and disposing the materials in many hybrid batteries.

  8. Larry Teller permalink
    May 5, 2011

    From the original poster again: I agree it’s unfortunate that choices for efficient cars are so limited. I imagine that the recent spike in gas prices will shift offerings to more efficient cars, at least, sad to say, until gas prices recede. I was disappointed to learn that the price of 2-3 year old used cars is so high, and so I wound up buying a new car, like Amy, for the warranty. A 0% loan was also an influence. Enviro buying is rarely easy if you consider the many tradeoffs. Since I keep cars forever–17 years until a few weeks ago–and only drive 3,000 miles a year, I do try to reduce resource use and am not fretting so much over fairly small mpg differences. I’m not an expert, but have read some about the enviro impacts of mining, using and disposing the materials in some hybrid car batteries. Nothing is simple.

  9. Ken permalink
    May 5, 2011

    As a diAbled Veteran I have never econmically been in the position to purchase a new car. Sounds nice to me. I just purchased a 20 year old Govt surplus vehicle. I hope it runs.

  10. Zac permalink
    May 5, 2011

    @Ken – thank you for your service. I really admire another disabled vet I know in WA state whose daily swimming and cycling leave me hard-pressed to keep up! So much for my having all 4 limbs and eyesight. He’s a fantastic role model for anyone who gets to know him.

  11. Larry Teller permalink
    May 6, 2011

    @Ken, I’m with you. I wore USAF blue for 28 years and have only strong, warm feelings for other vets, and especially those of us who didn’t return or didn’t return healthy. Good luck with your new old car.

  12. Linda permalink
    May 6, 2011

    I’ve been thinking of replacing my 2003 PT Cruiser — it’s a great car for my lifestyle, but it’s starting to show age (maintenance costs are starting to be a pain in the pocket) and it never did have great gas mileage. I’ve taken good care of it over the years, but I really do use the cargo space to haul cargo, so it is wearing out. I would love a nice, eco-friendly vehicle, but it has to be able to cope with life on a dirt road, it has to be willing and able to haul two or three hundred pounds of construction material, compost, wire fencing, the occasional dishwasher, or what-have-you, and deal with a city/highway commute of 25 miles each way. Plus, it has to be accessible to a very short disabled veteran. I can no longer scale “Mount SUV”; nor is my body happy falling down into some sleek little skateboard with doors. Larry, I feel your pain. Where are the fuel thrifty cars for folks who do more than just commute?

  13. May 6, 2011

    Look into aftermarket seat heaters. A friend had them installed in her car. Her husband and son managed to do the installation.

  14. Ron Peters permalink
    May 6, 2011

    As a small business owner in the HVAC trade I have as my principal service truck a 1997 ford van in decent shape. I keep it maintained and drive it in the most economical fashion possible. However I need to keep it stocked with tools and inventory which in my industry means weight. I have no options at all. The one truck that will work for me a Dodge Sprint is not only foreign made but runs on diesel which is more costly than gasoline.

    I would convert to natural gas which would be easy for me to do and reasonably cost effective, but would not be supported by any local fueling stations.
    I talked to my local natural gas supplier (a field service technician, not the paper pushers in the office). His comment was not word for word but essentially “We are getting rid of our natural gas rigs too”. Then he went on to give me the (very valid) reasons. The only one that was really bad is that there are no manufacturers of compressor stations for private use available.

    I know about the one made in Italy that has to be sent back to Italy every 3000 hrs for a rebuild which is a joke. He told me one is available out of China that is not AGA certified, which would make it a liability insurance nightmare. If you don’t believe me Google Natural gas compressors and pay attention to the website and forum dates they are all many years out of date.

    COME ON USA, start building small private use (home station) compressors here. We will never get CNG going until we can actually put it into our tanks. Everything else is already set up all we need is available compressors made HERE at a reasonable cost.

  15. Larry Teller permalink
    May 6, 2011

    @Al, Thanks for the idea, which is news to me but, unfortunately, 3 weeks too late. I should have asked, via Greenversations, BEFORE buying the unwanted moonroof, fancier stereo, larger engine, etc. I’ll know better next time, which I hope is in many years. Thanks, all, for your interesting replies to this blog.

  16. Anonymous permalink
    May 6, 2011

    He’s had the same car for 17 years…..!

  17. Anonymous permalink
    May 6, 2011

    No, my point is there ARE fuel efficient choices out there and they’re not all expensive hybrids. There are many great small hatchbacks already. But automakers have known how to make more fuel efficient cars for years

    I’ve spent my adult life in upstate New York and Minnesota and never needed heated seats. $3000 plus gas costs buys a lot of coats, jeans, long underwear, and snow pants.

  18. a. rose permalink
    May 10, 2011

    I have a very efficient compact car with heated seats. I bought it used and have put over 100,000 miles on it. I am very happy with my VW Golf TDI. I get 40 to 50 miles per gallon depending on the driving.

  19. Car Air Conditioning Repair permalink
    May 25, 2011

    think of it this way, no a/c means less fuel used.

  20. wiwik permalink
    May 29, 2011

    i gree with this
    I would convert to natural gas which would be easy for me to do and reasonably cost effective, but would not be supported by any local fueling stations.
    m/

  21. gerald permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Turbo is necessary for boosting up the speed and gain momentum in driving experience.

  22. Forex Review permalink
    July 15, 2011

    I agree it’s unfortunate that choices for efficient cars are so limited.

  23. D.B. Lloyd permalink
    August 19, 2011

    Very easy to relate to your comments. When are the car companies going to get a clue? What better way to gain customer loyalty then by giving us, the customer, what we want, the way we want it.

  24. Mary W Mulligan permalink
    October 1, 2011

    Just disregard all the sales talk and go with what you want.

    Mary

  25. magnetic locks permalink
    October 8, 2011

    I think it looks fantastic ! Thanks for the share!

  26. cardiff electricians permalink
    December 12, 2011

    Good, helpful info,
    thanks
    Chris Davies from

  27. Eye Laser Surgery permalink
    December 23, 2011

    Heated seats are a great addition but not at that price tag. Those forced packages add to the frustration of car buying.

  28. June 19, 2012

    Hi Larry,

    It was a pleasant opportunity to read your experience and views. I opened your blog as I found the title to be catchy enough. I loved this line – “other non-essential but nice-to-have features: FM and eventually AM radio, keyless door locks, two door locks…” – this is a very witty way of saying the thing. Yes, I can realize your experience in the car showroom. But from my experience I can say that there are some car showrooms that provide excellent customer service throughout the process. And I believe all car dealers should provide the same.

    Please keep sharing your experiences as from now on I am going to keep an eye on your forth coming posts.
    Thanks!

  29. July 25, 2012

    Hello larry,
    Interested post, when i was reading it i was thinking about my situation. same here dear.
    i wish you good luck

  30. Christopher Davies permalink
    June 15, 2013

    Seems like a good blog, this is the only page i have read tho, but so far so good, very informative :)
    If you dont mind me asking, what template did you use for this blog? Looks very professional if you dont mind me saying :D

  31. Sarah Davies permalink
    June 17, 2013

    $3k to keep my tushes toasty! I would rather take a hot water bottle as and when needed.

  32. Steve Davis permalink
    September 26, 2013

    It is great to know that you have purchased an obvious car despite your frustration. I think that we should not pay attention to the other cars and get the car which is decided before going to the car showroom.

  33. Hummer Hire Brisbane permalink
    October 12, 2013

    Thanks for the informative post you’ve shared. Keep posting.

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