Monday, August 17, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

I'd been thinking about buying a hybrid for some time. But both my husband (Tom) and I have been relatively happy with our cars. We had no real need to buy a new one.

For me, automotive happiness = no accidents, no breakdowns and only routine repairs.

Recently however, I experienced the unexpected with my 2000 Honda CRV: a couple of pricey valve jobs, a "clogged" radiator and leaky oil pan gasket.

I had hybrids on my mind and I was seeing them everywhere.

But I was not ready to trade in my CRV.

Tom's 1996 GMC Jimmy was still clunkin' along, getting 18 mpg at 170,000+ miles on the odometer (with a cracked windshield, a new battery, new tires and a new alternator).

It was the promise of the new federal "Cash for Clunkers" program that pulled us into the showroom at Markquart Toyota in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on June 20th. We were in the parking lot, heading towards the showroom when Rebecca Singer opened the door and asked if she could help us.

We went inside, sat down and discussed the "Clunkers" program, the Prius and the packages. The Clunkers program was still just a proposal in June. The dealership had a handful of "3rd Generation" Priuses scheduled to arrive in July. And we found a mid-price package that appealed to us.

When the "Clunkers" program gets out of Congress, I told Rebecca, we'll buy one of your July-delivery Priuses. But we won't put any money down until we know we qualify for the $4,500 rebate.

When the new hybrids arrived, Rebecca took Tom and I on a test drive in the only Prius left unsold.

The "technology" was a little daunting at first with all the computer displays, but the car handled well - and we while we were driving it, we stopped to watch Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches and two 8-point bucks (in velvet).

The Prius we tested didn't have the navigation package I wanted, but the heated seats and lumbar support appealed to Tom. If we wanted to put in an order, Rebecca said there could be a very long wait. Or we could buy this one.

Okay, I said. We'll take it, but only if we qualify for the rebate.

Then the "Clunkers" Bill passed, but no one at the dealership seemed to know for sure how the process would work. Rebecca promised to call as soon as they knew.

She called two days later. Bring a check for the down payment, the clunker's title, registration and proof it's been insured for the past 2 years. We did all the paperwork on July 30th and went home to wait for the call telling us that our "clunkers" application had been accepted. That night, TV newscasters reported the program would be out of money July 31st.

The situation changed the next day - with the news that Congress was adding more funding to the "clunkers" program.

We waited another two weeks before I contacted Rebecca. She said "you have to buy the car today." So on Thursday afternoon, August 13th, we did it. We turned the GMC Jimmy over to Marquart Toyota, wrote the check and drove away with the Prius.

Tom had a case of buyers trepidation - he was not convinced we made the right decision. I was pretty sure about it - but could I remember how to "read" the digital displays.

So, we took the slow route home - the scenic route along the lower Chippewa River via Meridean. We took our time (48 miles in 3 hours), stopping along the way to watch birds and getting to know what this amazing vehicle can do. (55 mpg).

By the time we pulled into our driveway, I was convinced. What a great car!

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