Living in Society

Personal Transportation

2019 Chevrolet Spark LT

Our 2002 Subaru reached the end of its life. The frame is dangerously rusted and other repairs are needed. We can’t get parts for it. If we could find used parts there is no assurance of their quality. If repairing it was possible, what else might break that we couldn’t find parts to repair? We decided to replace the vehicle as quickly as is practicable.

The fact we need motorized personal transportation is a result of our 1993 decision to live in a rural area. Back then, living within commuting distance of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and the Quad-Cities sounded good. I wanted the flexibility for work. Over time, I worked in all of these places. When in February 1999 I took a job in the Quad-Cities, gasoline was $1.029 per gallon. We inherited a 1989 Cadillac in excellent condition and I continued to commute rather than relocate there. Things have changed since then. We retired and turned our lives inward.

Our need for transportation is real. We have the same existential errands as other septuagenarian retirees: getting groceries and other household items, medical appointments, and occasional trips to the county administration building to take care of business. With the coronavirus pandemic, our trips for socialization have diminished, yet that may change going forward. It all takes transportation.

We spent time researching what kind of vehicle we wanted to purchase and first decided on a new plug-in electric hybrid like the Toyota Prius Prime. A number of friends drive a Prius and they recommended it. The future of personal transportation is electric and we were ready to make the transition.

After family discussions I called the dealer to discuss ordering a plug-in electric and secured a loan to pay for it. It turns out dealerships are subject to allocations from the manufacturer, all Prius products are made in Japan, and the waiting time for a Prius Prime to be delivered is well over six months. In fact, the dealer said he couldn’t accurately predict how long we would have to wait after specifying and ordering a car. For other Prius models, the wait time is less, three to six months according to the dealership. We couldn’t wait that long with the issues affecting our auto.

Our go-to dealership for used cars is the Ford-Chevy dealer in a nearby small town. I arrived around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and they had my contact information in their computer database from the last purchase. We discussed new vehicles and they have the same problem Toyota does: allocation of vehicles from the manufacturer is less than demand and there is a long waiting time. We looked at used vehicles.

Their website had 147 used vehicles in inventory, but the in-person inspection revealed only a couple of them were suitable for us. The sales representatives at this dealership are paid on salary vs. commission and made a conscious effort to be honest and straightforward about the cars without exerting any kind of sales pressure. I identified two options and went back home to discuss. We returned to the dealership later that evening to buy a 2019 Chevrolet Spark LT. Used cars are currently expensive and selling quickly. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity on this particular vehicle. It took longer than anticipated to finish the paperwork so we returned the following day to meet with the business office and finalize the deal. The vehicle was delivered to our home less than 24 hours after I first arrived at the dealership.

On Saturday we went on a day trip to Des Moines in the Spark and it meets our expectations. As a subcompact hatchback, the cargo space is less than we would have liked, yet it will serve until we are ready to go electric. It drives well and there are a number of electronic gizmos to figure out, including how to display Google maps on the touch screen using my Android mobile device. When I bought my first auto in the 1960s, accessories like that didn’t exist. The fuel economy is better than our 2002 Subaru. We were able to make it to Des Moines and back without refueling. Importantly, we can start planning trips again.

I don’t want to contemplate the day when I have to give up driving. I have octogenarian friends who continue to drive and hope to be able to go at least that long. I don’t relish the thought of moving into a city to be closer to amenities. We navigated this crisis in personal transportation and reached a point of stability for now. That may be all we can ask in June 2022.

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