New car time has come
around again. Sigh. My wife and I had
been interested in hybrid technology for
a couple of years, but we had felt the
cars that employ it were a little pricey
for our budget, especially since we’re
now in the process of trying to adopt a
kid from China.
Besides, both of our vehicles — a ‘99
Toyota Corolla and a bare-bones 2000
Toyota Tacoma pick-up—were paid off,
free and clear, and we had gotten
pleasantly accustomed to the absence of
a car payment from our monthly expenses.
Of course, both vehicles had come to
look like junk—my Tacoma, most notably,
is missing its front bumper. But they
both ran like the proverbial tops, and
had given us next to no trouble over the
years since we bought them new.
So we more or less resolved that our
next car would be a hybrid, but that we
wouldn’t take that leap until we had
finished beating our current rides like
Then, one evening about two months ago,
I had just finished filling the wife’s
Corolla with gas, and I reached for the
plastic door handle to get in. Perhaps
the handle was defective, or perhaps my
subconscious resentment at paying
current Arizona prices for a few gallons
of petrol gave me Incredible-Hulk-like
strength and rage (I rather like the
idea of the second theory).
In any case, the door-pull snapped off
in my hand. Only after fumbling and
grumbling for a few minutes did I
establish that I could work my fingers
up under inner part of the handle, pry
it forward and open the door.
This new procedure for entering the car
was quickly and colorfully declared
unsatisfactory by my wife. But the car,
alas, was no longer under warranty, and
a local import-car specialist broke it
to me that repairing this problem would
require removing the door, and would
thus cost more than $200.
My wife and I then made the mistake of
watching Chris Paine’s remarkable film
Who Killed the Electric Car? on DVD.
This straightforward documentary
chronicles GM’s introduction, in
California, of an electric vehicle, the
EV1, and the almost simultaneous
undermining of the model, ending with
every specimen of the car being rounded
up from the customers that had leased
and in many cases loved them (almost all
of the cars were subsequently
By the time the film was over, I was in
a half-homicidal rage at our country’s
latter-day commitment to timidity and
My wife wasn’t much calmer—she just
quietly noted that if there were a
Toyota dealership open at 10 o’clock on
a Monday night, she’d be buying a Prius
So this past Friday, we made the leap
and traded in the Corolla, broken door
handle and all, on a “Package 2” Prius,
“Silver Pine Mica” (goldish/greenish/silver)
From its “smart key” to its energy
monitor to its rear-view video, it’s by
far the most technically fancy,
Star-Trek-ish car I’ve ever owned.
At this point we’ve still driven it very
little but my early review of it is a
big thumbs up. It handles nimbly, has
some get-up, and looks pretty. So far,
our only major complaint is the
not-so-hot visibility out the narrow
rear windshield; that’s going to take
some getting used to.
It’s still too early for us to know how
well we’ll do with regard to emissions
and gas mileage, but obviously we’re
excited to find out.
But it’s this issue, above all, that
perplexes me about the American
responses to electric or hybrid
technology. Why can’t we get jazzed up
about kicking the oil habit? Is it the
machismo, the implied potency that has
somehow become associated with internal
I worry about global warming, and I
consider myself at least a moderate
tree-hugger, but I don’t see why either
is necessary to be enthusiastic about a
car that slashes our fuel expenses.
Why are we so committed to giving our
money to the Saudis, or to rotten U.S.
By the way, a few days after our
purchase, came the inevitable:
We started seeing TV ads offering
terrific savings on our model Prius.