Saying Goodbye To Your Car – Buying A New One

I’ve been thinking about this idea of saying goodbye to your car for a while and when I just read this post about selling a Volvo and buying a new Prius, I thought I’d share my thoughts also.

I traded in my 2001 Saab 9-3 SE last month on a shiny new electric car: A Chevy Volt. More on the Volt later.

I found the process of deciding on a new car and going through the purchase process much more difficult now than I did 8 years ago. Part of the reason was that the Saab was the first car that I ever owned that I really loved. And part of the reason was that there are no cars on the market that did what the Saab did as well as it did them for the price.

I know that Saabs are not known as popular cars. They’re quirky and sometimes unreliable but for the quirky girl that I am, my car was perfect. Here’s why:

  • In a time when oil & gas were cheap the 9-3 had an average of 25 mpg (28 hwy) and carried 4 people easily with plenty of room for luggage/stuff in the trunk.
  • In a time when big engines were becoming more popular for more power, the Saab had a small 2 liter engine with a powerful turbo that engaged with a sport button. Giving you lots of power on demand without sacrificing fuel efficiency.
  • It was an elegantly designed car. The interior was both sporty and had burl-wood on the dashboard, a great balance to have.
  • And most of all, those clever Swedish engineers allowed the back seats to fold down, and sloped the back window all the way to the bumper to add a hatch. This made the car as effective as a station wagon at hauling things, and I made use of it!  So many sedans have a back window design that could accommodate this, and yet they don’t design hatches on them. So frustrating.

There were negatives to the car too. The SAAB did break down in really weird ways and at the end had an unknown unsolvable electrical problem that drove me to the brink of screaming-anger when it would leave me stranded for 30-60 minutes while doing errands.  It was like flipping a coin on whether the car would start if it was still warm from driving, and it kept getting more frequent. And my brother kept saying my car was “Borked”, like the SAAB company. Heckling never helps even when it includes Muppet references. The rust on the fenders and bottoms of the doors was just annoying.

I really struggled to find a car I liked for a long time. The used car market where I usually look was decimated by the cash for clunkers program and a lot of natural disasters leading to smashed cars. Also cars 3-5 years old didn’t have great fuel efficiency. I was left with only new cars as choices for the first time in my life. I needed something innovative and revolutionary to talk me out of my attachment to the SAAB.

I considered the Buick Regal since it has a turbo charged GS version, although at the time I was looking, it was not available. It is an attractive car, similar gas mileage as what I had and in the right price range. I unfortunately found the local Buick dealer was inexcusably rude and the car felt small and the interior wasn’t very elegant. It would have been an OK choice, but it didn’t feel like something I would love for 10 years.

Buick Regal GS 2013 in Red via Motor Trend Online Magazine

I considered buying one of the new old stock SAABs shipped over from Sweden on a suggestion from my brother. Someone bought the one I was considering in Chicago while I was trying to transfer funds to buy it. I worked through a deal with a dealer in another state to buy and ship a beautiful chestnut brown one, but couldn’t sign the papers when I read how excluded everything was from the 3rd party warranty and how SAAB/GM held no responsibility for this quirky 9-5 at a pretty high price and no MPG gains over the old one.

Saab 9-5 Brown Auto Show via Flickr

I briefly considered a suggestion from a dealer of an Infinity sedan because Consumer Reports really likes their quality and the cars are elegant. But the gas mileage sucked.

Infiniti G37 Sedan in Grey

Soooo… I came back to the car I had been watching develop for a long time. The Volt.

I was initially very excited about the car when it was a concept.

Then when I saw the real deal, I was not impressed. It looked cheap and somewhat Delorean back to the future-ish.

chevy volt concept vs reality car - the truth hurts

Then I saw the price. Woah, no way.

Then we heard about the government rebates and sat in a Volt a year later at the auto show. (the first year you couldn’t get close enough to see them). The car was more elegant on the inside than the outside. And it was a practical 5 door.

So we went back and payed more than the car should really be priced at, for the size and looks of it, but we admitted we were paying for the technology development and the novelty of it being new and not so much for the car itself.

Chevy Volt 2013

Am I happy with the Chevy Volt? Yes, it does impress me in different ways than the SAAB did. I don’t spew emissions when I’m driving most of the time now and its a lot faster than people think. I still spend most of my time driving in the left lane and I think its important for people to see an electric car in the left lane passing them. This car is very quick, capable and fun to drive. (sporty) Sure, I sacrifice some battery life driving that way, but I’m still way ahead of the efficiency I had before.

What are the drawbacks other than the price? The trunk is really small. The radio doesn’t have that DVR rewind feature that the Buicks have. It costs more than most luxury cars it doesn’t look like one, and it has the same brand badge as a really cheap Sonic.

Brand aside, the Volt is the best car for us for the next 5-10 years. As gas prices continue to rise and my job will be moving from 25 miles away to 50 miles away I needed a fuel efficient car that I would still be able to put a baby seat in and have the capability to answer the phone wirelessly with Bluetooth. And its a revolutionary technology platform for a car. I like things that are different when they’re really better and I think this car really works.

2013 chevy volt red driving fast in left lane passing all the priuses

My husband likes it a lot too but I think we may need a larger vehicle for kid related stuff so we need GM to make a larger version of the Volt before we buy another one. And he isn’t really ready to say goodbye to his blue 1998 Acura Integra GSR either. He may possibly be more attached to his car than I was to mine.

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SAAB Car Company – Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to SAAB cars. I viewed the TopGear UK (season 18/Ep 5) show this weekend at my brother’s request, and found that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had some nice and not so nice things to say about the loss of SAAB (Swedish) car company late last year.  Since I still drive a 2001 9-3 SE turbo 4-door hatchback (117,000 miles), this episode review is also a summary of my thoughts on losing my brand and the history I have with my car.

First off, I was surprised to see the TG UK guys mentioning the SAAB cars at all, since it has been about 5 years since they have included any SAAB cars for review or inclusion in their show.

Their review segment provided a look back into the history of SAABs that included some interesting and odd findings:

black vintage saab top gear uk 2012

1. After WWII the SAAB company found that the need for their airplanes was greatly diminished and put a wing designer to work designing a car for consumer purposes. The result? A profile of a car that looked like the profile of a wing.

Top Gear James May Driving a Vintage Saab

2. Some of the earliest SAAB cars had issues with small 2 stroke motors that required the gas & brake pedal to be used at the same time since these (lawn mower) engines mixed the gas and oil together, lubricating and fueling the engine all at once. When driving down a hill there was still a need to lubricate the engine, hence the gas/brake pedal use together. This resulted in some issues with brake failure as James demonstrates in the photo above.

3. They also cite that in later years GM had several budget talks with SAAB engineers about making their cars the same as another brand/car/platform with just the badges/grille/tail lights different (like how GM is trying to cheapen/kill Buick right now by inserting Chevys like the Sonic as the Verano) and SAAB continued to defy them until their last days by making vastly better cars in safety, design and usability. I am glad that someone told the arses at GM that this strategy never works, it only cannibalizes your market by making expensive cars that look just like the cheap ones. On the other hand, SAAB was massively in debt because of their decisions and that did lead to their end.

saab history cars ads

Image from Flickr

4. Top Gear also showed the old SAAB jets in almost every advertisement possible. The only ads I remember were the quirky hand drawn animated ones that starred my car. I thought the “Born from Jets” line was a more recent one, but in reality it was a very tired and worn out marketing line that has no actual relevance to the cars. The only similarity between the cars and the planes is that they were both made from steel. It is too bad they never came up with an ad for “the smartest people on the road” featuring the geek-eliete with their vintage framed glasses and european scarves that are so popular these days.

Jeremy & James also went into detail about some of the best hits of the SAAB years.

1. They demonstrate quite literally that if you drop a SAAB on its head (upside down from 8 ft off the ground) it is much more surviveable than a similar BMW dropped from that height. Nuff said.

2. They also point out that in their opinion, SAAB drivers are some of the most educated people driving. Not car education, just generally well-educated folks. They keep referring to architects as the target market, but the people I have known to drive SAABs have been doctors. At least that is who introduced me to SAAB cars, and I have been driving one ever since.

My take on things:

Even though I bought my SAAB used in 2004 (for $14,000), I will agree with the TG guys that these SAAB designers/engineers have always been quirky and brilliant at the same time. I had previously owned 2 almost-identical ruby red 2 door Buick Regals and this black-midnight-egg car seemed so much more sophisticated, luxurious, sporty and european. Because it was.

1. I found the origami folding cup holder both hilarious and very functional in a small space, although when the coffee mug gets stuck and you yank upward to release it, the mug hits the rear view mirror and splatters coffee all over the dash.

2. I decided that I really like a Turbo charged engine for both efficiency and power. There was always a small turbo lag, but then it kicks you in the seat and take off whether you have the sport button on or not. All this, and I get 25 mpg average and previously I was getting around 18 mpg with a much slower car.

3. I found out that heated leather seats are a necessity in Chicago. No matter that they are a dark grey/black and require layering towels on them in the summer after sitting in the sun for hours so you don’t burn your bum.

saab car full of stuff

This is what moving looks like with the hatch full.

4. I don’t know how I ever lived before I had flip down seats and a 4 door hatchback for carrying things. I have impressed so many loading dock guys when I transform the car like origami and they remark “what kind of a car is this?” while loading furniture/TV/boxes in the back. It also made moving to three different locations a lot easier. Did I mention it hauls like an SUV and gets 25 MPG?

5. I am quite proud that with the SAAB sport button on, I can usually beat my husband’s Integra GSR in a drag race. This may be because he has to waste time shifting gears manually and I don’t. (I understand that isn’t the proper theory but he doesn’t shift quickly)

But it hasn’t been all wine, roses and warm heated seats with the SAAB.

Some of the funniest moments have been when it fails.

And SAABs fail in the most spectacular ways possible. And when I say spectacular, I mean expensive and weird.

saab won't start

SAAB won’t start – service men pushing it from the car wash

1. For the last 6 months I have had issues starting the car after running errands, stopping at the store and getting my car washed. We initially thought it was a water/rain related problem shorting out the electrical and security systems because after 30 minutes of inactivity it always starts fine (yes it has done this exactly 7 times). This past weekend I had this happen again and found that after locking myself in the car it started fine. Bizzare.

Towing after the fuel pump line crack spewing gas problem

2. I had a fuel pump line crack after some Chicago winter snow hydroplane-ing in the alleys (which don’t get plowed and you just drive through them as fast as possible so you don’t get stuck) which resulted in my 16 gallon tank of gas being spewed out all over I-88 on my way to Aurora, and it was empty within 60 minutes. It is freaky when you smell gas and you turn the car off and see nothing dripping, no puddles, nothing. Then see the gas gauge dropping by the second as you drive. Freaky-Weird-Bizzare.

Saab at service dealer

Somebody at the dealer liked my car enough to park it like this.

3. I had to replace the turbo at 80,000 miles within a month after the 6 year warranty expired. I was on my cell phone in the showroom with customer service yelling that “this is why nobody buys a SAAB twice”. They paid for 1/2 the $3,000 cost.

4. I have also had the odd collection of failures like the LED dashboard displays ($800 each) and the electric antenna (stuck up then, stuck down now) as well as small things like headlights that go out and come back at random, regardless of the age of the bulb, the air conditioning system needing to totally be replaced (both the condenser and the compressor) Another $3,000.

5. The brakes always squeak when I am backing out of parking and the electric side view mirrors broke within a few months of the warranty expiring. The fog lamps have never worked. And the wheel wells are rusting because of the salt on the roads in Chicago.

A little burlwood on the dash makes a girl happy.

All these things have gone wrong so, why am I so reluctant to give up this car?

It is unique, my black egg car looks like nothing else available today, and is the only car that I have ever seen that combines the best of all possible features into one. In this crazy over-diversified car market where there are too many companies and too many models to choose from, I really enjoy a car that gets all of the qualities you want in one vehicle. I am waiting for another car company to see the value in this all-in-one-car strategy because I think they will win a lot of the public’s respect and sales. Here are the strategy highlights:

koeneggsaab

We had hope for a few weeks that it would become a koeneggsaab, but that never happened. I also wondered why Alfa Romeo didn’t buy SAAB since they made quirky cars also and the 9-5 looks a lot like several alfas.

1. Safety (I have never had to test this) Having not had an accident, I would say that great brakes are a plus, airbags a must and a structural frame that can be dropped upside down is a differentiator.

2. Luxury/Comfort (don’t go overboard) But leather heated seats and an upscale interior is a must. A little burlwood on the dashboard makes a girl happy, but no chrome and no carbon fiber or suede. (ick)

3. Sport (for everyday use) Use of Turbo 4 Cylinders has recently caught on with Buick via Opel. I want an e-Assist and a Turbo in the same engine. Possibly a supercharger too.

4. Fuel Efficiency (25-40 mpg) More would be even better.

5. Convertibility (hauling in a hatch, see A7, Panamera) I see so many sedans on the road that could become a 5 door without changing much. Once people have the availability of this feature with a luxury car they won’t ever want to buy anything else.

6. Reliability (ok they could have been better) But over the years I have been driving my SAAB I have had some great long distance trips and most days I get to work just fine, no matter how cold it is outside. Those Swedes knew how to make a car for the cold Chicago winter.

The 9-3 lived outside for the first 5 years I had it.

Someone came to this post with the search term “saab born from jets, killed by assholes“. Congratulations for being the funniest search term I’ve seen this week.