During the big snowfall we had last year, my wife’s rear-wheel drive (RWD) Volvo 940T provided her with a few anxious moments when it slid sideways during a slow left turn and then would not drive up the short, steepish slope of the sitter’s driveway. All this within about a half mile of our house proved to be a little seed of dissatisfaction. Formerly, we’d put a 40# cinder-block in the trunk for winter driving that, at a cost of probably less than $10.00, sufficed nicely to aid in RWD rain and snow traction. Now that the trunk of that car seems junked-up with kid-stuff, and we’ve moved to a new location evidently leaving the cinder-block behind, and the Caution-Lady’s desire for greater safety features generally, and especially in winter and during our treks North, we’re looking for a replacement.
I first looked at a Toyota 4Runner, because we’ve got a friend whose 1998 4Runner has been reliable since new, and although he’s replaced it as a daily driver, he is keeping it for mountain getaways. The 4Runner I test-drove at a dealership a couple of weeks ago was the four cylinder model known to have higher fuel consumption than the six cylinder model. The car I drove had seen rough use, had been inexpertly repainted, and was otherwise unsuitable for Caution-Lady.
Last weekend, here at Stepford, I test-drove a Lexus RX300. The model year was 2001. Great car, loved it, wanted to buy it, but couldn’t get past the price-tag. There’s not a car on earth that is worth more than $10,000.00 to Caution-Lady or me. Later that day, somebody tipped me off to the fact that RX300 has a known transmission problem – they frequently quit by 70,000 miles. The car I drove had about 94,000 miles on the odometer.
Yesterday was a hot day in Middle Tennessee. During the morning hours we had a workman in the house doing an install. Meant I had to stay home, Caution-Lady and Seventy-Six went to the store. Before we knew we’d have to be home during the early part of Saturday, we had made plans to have lunch in a nearby town with a favorite relative. We were late getting to lunch. I drove out and picked her up and my wife and son met us at the restaurant. At one point, my car’s exterior temperature sensor registered 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We took two cars because I had to leave after lunch and drive to Franklin, Tennessee, to look at a 2001 Volvo XC70 or Cross-Country wagon.
The drive to Franklin was uneventful except for the inevitable happenstance of getting stuck behind two or three people who slavishly adhere to the belief that a speed limit is only to be approached very slowly, if at all. Sort of a false-religion of the highway which I oft repudiate, suiting action to word.
The Cross-Country’s seller and I had agreed to meet at a Shell station near the I-65, but we hadn’t talked about the fact that there are two of them. The car, when I saw it, was absolutely beautiful. One minor door ding on the driver-side, some scuff marks probably from one of those rubber-nubby automatic car washes. My guess is that the owner detailed the car himself to judge by the pride-in-ownership quality of work. Car looked great inside and out. All of the automatic windows, sunroof, door locks, mirrors, seats, etc., worked fine. The car’s air-conditioning blew cold, comfortingly cold like a refrigerator in the heat of Franklin’s asphalt gehenna.
Behind the wheel, I shifted the automatic transmission from Park to Drive, but apparently did so in “Auto-Stick” mode. Pedal about halfway down to the floor the tachometer’s needle approached 6000 revolutions per minute before I realized something was wrong. The seller figured it out before I did and switched the transmission into its normal auto-trans mode. My guess is that the “Auto-Stick” feature is intended to serve, in a manner that does require significantly more operator interaction, the same purpose of the old 850 automatic transmission “Sport” mode. Although the car pulled slightly to right and the wheels had a slightly unbalanced feel at highway speeds, it was a pleasure to drive.
The consensus at Brickboard’s All-Wheel-Drive XC forum is that the 2001 XC is to be avoided because it was the first model year on something called the “P2 Platform,” and Volvo “doesn’t do first years well.” I have a cousin who’s got an ’01 V70, the standard wagon model and characterized the problems he and his wife have had with that car as “bad ju-ju.” If I were a pagan, I would posit angry Swedish Viking ancestor retribution for selling out to Ford Motor Company. Additionally, my mechanics, guys I like and respect and who stand to gain monetarily if I buy a car with problems, have stated that the 1999 and 2000 models should be avoided at any price. Which leaves the 1998 as a model year reasonably priced and a platform that is essentially that of the AWD 850 that was available in the Canadian market in 1997. However, the mechanics had nothing bad to say about the ’01, which either means they haven’t had many customer cars that year with serious problems, or they are easier to work on than the 1999 or 2000 models.
I am getting tired of looking for a car. I may drive to Lowe’s tomorrow after work and buy another cinder-block. If I don’t buy anything, then I’m already the price of the car I didn’t buy richer than I would be if I bought the car.
The point of the exercise, however, is to find a safe, reliable car for my wife and son that does not slip much in ice and snow, and hardly at all on rain-slick roads and occasional mud.
Update: I’ve been Mapquesting locations of cars found on the Internet for driving directions back home, and Pricelining flights to said distant locales. Cinderblock more cheaper but Caution-Lady must have a car.