Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One For The Thumb

On the left is my 2013 Chevy Spark which barely needs half a parking space but believe it or not has four doors. On the right is car salesman Chris in front of some larger vehicles.

  In November I wrote about my visit to Clemons Chevrolet in Marshalltown when I not only won a $5 Wal-Mart gift card, but also received a tour of all the new GM cars none of which cost under $16,600 (NOT including tax, title, and license fees). Between then and now, my trusty Kia Rio passed the 95,000 mile mark, which prompted me to start looking for a new car a couple of months ago without waiting for cheap gimmicks in the mail to lure me in to a car dealership.

  On January 2nd, 2010 I made an Internet inquiry for an inexpensive car at seven in the morning. Within an hour Des Moines Imports had emailed me an outstanding offer for a stripped down Kia Rio and I drove to Des Moines that morning and bought the car after a quick test drive. The car has been in a word OUTSTANDING. All I do is get the oil and tires changed and the Kia Rio has never left me stranded, unlike my Chevy Aveo (clutch), Geo Metro (Dashboard), and Chevy Cavalier (engine sensors).

  With a track record like that, it was a no brainer for me to call Des Moines Imports and ask them if they had a stripped down Kia Rio for me, but the salesman told me they didn’t have any. That led me to request Internet quotes like I did in 2009, but the lowest price I could find was a $14,800 for a Kia Soul. That was so close to the list price that I felt I could keep on looking. 2 weeks ago I did another Internet search for a car, but this time instead of a Kia, I requested a quote for the cheapest GM car, the Chevy Spark.

  Why would I pick another Chevrolet car after I just recounted the times I’d been left stranded? Well, I was hoping I’d have thousands of reasons and besides, Ben is still driving the Aveo (95,000 miles), Matt is still driving the Cavalier (110,000 miles) and our 2004 Chevy Venture is still running good at 85,000 miles so it’s not like the cars are lemons – they just had some problems and the crummy GM service (as recounted here) made me want to look elsewhere for a car.

  I got an email from the Jon the Internet Sales representative from Bob Brown, the same dealer I had purchased my five Chevrolet cars from. Instead of getting a quote, I got a sales pitch asking me if I was familiar with the ‘programmable 7-inch diagonal touch screen’. I wrote back to Jon telling him that I was interested in a low price and not spending time being upsold and that if we had to discuss ‘7-inch diagonal touch screens’, I wouldn’t be getting a car from Bob Brown.

If you want a car that costs more than the Gross National Product of some countries, this Camaro has just had it's price reduced to a economical $64,250! I think they had to lower the price to make up for the fact that this Camaro has merely half the doors my Chevy Spark has.

  The next day I got an email back from the Internet salesperson getting down to brass tacks. He said the dealer would have to trade with another dealer for the car and asked me what options I wanted. I told him I wanted a radio. It seems that Gonzalo from Clemons Chevrolet was right last November when he said that power windows and air conditioning were standard on all Chevy vehicles. The only Sparks the dealer could get all had power windows and air conditioning, but he did manage to find one with a manual transmission and I got a few hundred dollars off the price for having all the extra equipment.

  The Friday before last we had our last chess club at St. Francis. I drove from club to the dealer, met Chris the salesman, test drove the car, and signed all the paperwork. Chris didn’t try to upsell me, but the finance guy tried to sell me a rust proof package. I said no and when he asked me why I told him that of all the Chevy vehicles I ever bought the only one that rusted out was the one I bought the package for but it didn’t rust out until the rust proof warranty expired. With all the power windows and power steering and power brakes, I did get the extended warranty and I hope they’ll honor it if I ever have to use it. I did mention my problems with the Aveo’s clutch not being covered under the ‘bumper-to-bumper’ warranty and also that the incident was featured prominently in my ‘award-winning blog’ so maybe if I have future problems I can get a little extra consideration.

The $43,000 electric Chevy Volt will save you almost $7,000 in fuel over five years.
Not the kind of green I was expecting.

  I decided to leave the car on the lot for a week and last Saturday, Kathy drove me down to the dealer and I picked up the car as I had arranged. Chris the car salesman was writing up a sale of a used car, but as soon as he was done arranged for my car to be washed before I left. While I was waiting I took a look around at some of the new cars on the showroom. There was a Camaro that had a retail price of $66,020 but was on sale for only $64,250. I assume they were marketing the car to the rare people suffering from a split personality disorder that would case someone to spend SIXTY FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS on a car but only if they could save $1,800 first. There was also a Volt Electric car (despite the name, the Spark is a gasoline only car). The Volt costs $43,000. Assuming an average mileage of 32 miles per gallon for the Spark (27 city, 37 highway), I could expect to buy 3,125 gallons of gas over 100,000 miles. If I paid an AVERAGE of 5 dollars a gallon, 3,125 gallons would cost me $15,625 which would be about half the price difference between the two cars. I didn’t count any ‘green’ tax rebates but I also didn’t count the cost of charging the Volt’s battery ($3 a charge) or any gas I’d have to buy when I exceeded the 40 mile range of the batteries. I also looked at a $55,000 SUV which was really a $47,000 SUV with the optional Luxury Package that included heated seats and a rear seat entertainment system. I thought a $47,000 vehicle wouldn't leave any luxuries to be desired but I thought wrong.

If the base $47,000 Tahoe does not have enough luxury (even with four doors!),
don't fret - this $55,000 model comes with an optional luxury package including heated seats!

Monster truck to go...
  I was looking at a $55,000 Silverado Truck that had a base price of $41,000 but was tricked out with a $14,000 package that made it look like a monster truck when Chris the car salesman told me my car was ready but he wasn’t allowed to let me leave until I activated the six month free OnStar feature of my new car. The OnStar is a magic genie or a civil liberty nightmare that can give directions, call for assistance, allow for hands free calling, perform diagnostics, or even unlock my car in case I get locked out (if I had power locks). OnStar knows where you are at all times and I don’t doubt for a second that it can't listen to your conversations and someday it will be able to take video of you while driving. I pushed the little blue ‘O’ button and was greeted by a robotic voice asking me if I wanted to activate my OnStar trial by code or by talking to an attendant. I repeatedly said I wanted to talk to an attendant, Chris repeatedly said I wanted to talk to an attendant, but the automaton voice kept telling us it could not understand our response and repeated the question. After two minutes, the automated voice told us to please wait for an attendant.

  Once I was waiting for an attendant, Chris’s job was done. We said our goodbyes and I headed a few miles away to the Half Price Book Store. About halfway to the bookstore, Brenda the OnStar attendant started talking to me through my car’s speaker system. Brenda took my name and information, activated my account, told me about all the things OnStar could do for me (like call an ambulance in case of an accident), and tried to sell me some OnStar phone minutes. I only had one question for Brenda which was if it took over five minutes to get ahold of someone to activate my account, how long would it take to get ahold of someone in an emergency situation. Brenda proceeded to tell me that the emergency division was much better staffed than the activation division. I felt better hearing that since I don’t know how to swim and while I was waiting for Brenda I had a vision of being swept away in a raging flood and calling OnStar as my tiny car quickly filled with river water only to be told by the friendly automaton voice to please wait for the next available emergency technician and that my call was VERY important to them. Brenda then tried to sell me more phone minutes at which point I arrived at Half-Price Books and bid Brenda and OnStar goodbye.

I can open or close every window in my Spark with my left hand. On the right is a convenient beef stick tray. Both are standard options on the 2013 Chevy Spark without the need to buy an additional luxury package.

  After my side trip to Half-Price books, I headed back home. There was an auxiliary sound jack so I could plug in my amazing iPod and listen to music from my Rhapsody app. The sound in the car was really good and the only problem I had on the ride home was when the car started vibrating like crazy on the highway. After a little trial and error I realized that when I was playing with the power windows I had opened the window on the rear passenger door which caused the intense vibrations. Interestingly enough, my tiny Aveo had the same problem. I closed the window and had a smooth ride home.

  I’m sure people will ask me how I like my car and when they do I’ll tell them what I always say : ‘Ask me in a couple of years’. I will say now that the Kia Rio was the best car I’ve ever owned and will make a dependable backup for any of the other four cars we have. If anyone had ever told me that I would someday own five cars I would have said they were nuts but here I am with five cars. As I got home and parked my white Spark right behind my white Kia Rio and took a picture of both of them, a guy with a truck and a trailer pulled up and asked me ‘How do you like that electric car?’ and when I told him it wasn’t an electric car he said ‘Then why do they call it a Spark? Because it’s so tiny?’

The 2009 Kia Rio (l) and the Chevy Spark. Welcome to Marshalltown, Chevy Spark!
You have a tough act to follow.