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Mercy of Kalr

Started: 2019-09-18 19:19:59

Submitted: 2019-09-18 23:34:23

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator buys a lightly-used 2018 Subaru Impreza

Four years ago, as my venerable Honda Civic was showing its age, we contemplated our options for a second vehicle and ended up buying my parents' Honda Odyssey minivan, in order to have a car large enough to fit our household -- including our au pair -- for any adventure we might have. We moved both cars with us to San Francisco three years ago, and even managed to fit both of them in the tandem garage, but it was clear at the time that the minivan was not long for this world (and was distinctly oversized for 98% of what we needed a car for in San Francisco), even as we failed to come to any sort of consensus over what sort of vehicle we actually wanted.

When we moved to Wallingford in December last year, Calvin wanted to stay at his public school in Ballard, and we found a preschool, Our Beginning, in Fremont and enrolled Julian. Our move mostly lined up with the expiration of our au pair Sasa's two-year term. We chose our next au pair, Alejandra, based in part on her ability to drive (including her possession of an Oregon driver's license; she was extending after spending a year with a family in Portland). We asked Alejandra to drive our kids to their schools, and designated the minivan for her to use.

The minivan, though, continues to show its age. It's been in several minor collisions, one of the sliding passenger doors doesn't automatically lock, the other passenger door has a broken handle, and though the battery is currently stable we're paranoid it won't remain stable. We were clearly approaching the point where we could put more money into the vehicle than it was worth; and though nothing had gone tragically wrong yet it seemed like it was only a matter of time.

The next problem was understanding our requirements. Most of the time we don't need to fit the whole household in a single vehicle. Five days a week our vehicles are used to commute to and from school and work. On average once a weekend is short day-trips and other errands with less than the whole household. It's only a couple days a year (maybe two or three percent of the time) that we go on longer trips with the full household where we really need a vehicle that can comfortably fit three adults and two kids and a trunk full of camping or skiing or whatever equipment. So maybe it's ok to spec vehicles for the household that do 100% of what we need 97% of the time, and we can rent a large SUV or minivan when we need one for a lower total cost of ownership than actually owning a large vehicle that we don't really need 97% of the time.

(I really want a Tardis car, larger on the inside than on the outside, three rows of seats and a full trunk but still fits inside a compact parking space; but the pesky rules of physics get in the way and make the car I want impossible.)

This freed us from looking at another minivan or a large SUV and let us focus on comfortable, fuel-efficient compact cars with oodles of safety features (to help the less-experienced drivers in our household avoid collisions more of the time). Kiesa looked up vehicles for teen drivers in Consumer Reports and came up with a list that included the 5-door Subaru Impreza. I liked the Impreza when I test-drove it four years ago, so Kiesa looked at pre-owned inventory (trying to figure out which vehicles had EyeSight, the most fancy of the fancy safety features) and found a 2018 Impreza in Bellevue.

Kiesa and I left our kids with our au pair and drove to Bellevue on Sunday, the first day of September, to look at the Impreza. (I was on-call for my service, but with a 30-minute pager SLA I could leave the house and do most things as long as I had both phones and my laptop and I could respond to a page within 30 minutes.) The salesperson at the dealership told us it was the dealership's service loaner, which explains why it was only a year old. We took the car for a test drive, heading east on I-90 towards Issaquah to get a feel for the handling and the safety features. I turned on its lane-following feature, and it nagged me to keep both hands on the steering wheel, then proceeded to gently adjust the steering to keep the car in its lane. I actually had trouble figuring out what was my own steering adjustments and its steering adjustments as we drove (and then I couldn't help but wonder about the Air France 447 problem: what happens when the robot assisting the driver runs into trouble and needs to hand control back to the human driver; and that seemed like something I should be worrying about at a time other than when I was driving a robot-assisted car down the interstate highway).

Kiesa test-drove the car as well; then we took a quick look at the current model Forester and confirmed that the back seat wasn't large enough to fit comfortably fit three adults. The salesperson gave us a slightly-reduced price for the car, and we said we'd think about it.

We drove down the street to Starbucks, which turned out to be mostly closed for construction but they had parked a Starbucks coffee trailer in the parking lot and were serving from there. It was a bright end-of-summer day so we sat in the partial shade on the patio and tried to figure out what to do about the car. Doing nothing seemed like it'd get us into trouble sooner or later, so the next question was whether we really wanted to pursue a compact car that would only fit us 97% of the time; or whether we wanted a larger vehicle to eek out a few extra percent. This seemed to be the only 2016 or 2018 Impreza with EyeSight at a dealer closer than Portland (and I did, briefly, consider flying to Portland to buy a car, then thought better of the idea). So we decided to go for it, buying the pre-owned compact car for a bit over $23,000.

(It did occur to me along the way that we paid less for a lightly-used car than we did to fix the roof of our house in Wallingford.)

That left the question of precisely how we were going to convey the money necessary to buy a compact car to the dealership, especially on a holiday weekend when we couldn't trivially move money between bank accounts. We returned to the dealership, confident we'd figure out something (the dealership being, obviously, very interested in making it easy for us to give them money). It turned out we actually had enough money to cover the entire car purchase sitting in our checking account (albeit technically allocated for other purposes, but more than adequate to float the purchase for a couple of days while we moved money from a savings account). (It also occurred to me along the way that I have several credit cards each with a credit limit adequate to buy the car; but the dealership would only accept a $5k charge on a credit card.) Once we actually got to sit in front of the dealership's finance guy (which entailed more waiting than seemed strictly necessary -- shouldn't the dealership be most interested in making it easy for me to give them money; the delay gave Kiesa enough time to head back to Wallingford, pick up our kids, and return) I ended up charging $5k on a credit card and writing a personal check for just over $18k -- making it the largest personal check I've ever written by a large margin, and probably the only personal check I've written over the $10k Federal reporting limit. (It was not the largest check I've held; that would be the cashier's check representing the equity from selling our house in Longmont in 2012.)

At length we wrapped up the purchase and headed back across Lake Washington with the new lightly-used car.

Mercy of Kalr, a 2018 Subaru Impreza, in Wallingford
Mercy of Kalr, a 2018 Subaru Impreza, in Wallingford

That left only one question: what to name the car. I proposed (and I think we've accepted) the name Mercy of Kalr (the last word pronounced like "KA-ler"), after the ship Breq is given to command in Ancillary Sword.

I have every expectation that Mercy of Kalr will serve us well for many years to come.