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Sunday, 13 December 2009


There should be an advance bloviation alert for both of these Sunday columns, because I doubt there are any topics that generate more personal interest than cars and houses, and that includes cameras. For your car, given your specs, I sincerely hope you looked at the Subaru Forester. It's comfortable, four-wheel drive, mileage in the mid-20s overall, lots of room to carry stuff, and not too costly, with a 60,000-mile drive-train warranty. My son has had a number of Subarus, and routinely drives them to 150,000 miles.

I've never cared much for cars that you "coddled," I've always favored serious drivers -- stuff that could take you long distances without beating you up too badly. So I never paid much attention to aesthetics. Then, I went (by chance) to a show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts of Ralph Lauren's car collection. I was absolutely astonished by the cars, and even more astonished by my own reaction, which was that the cars stood up to the paintings. Boston has a gorgeous collection, so that's saying quite a bit. And to tell the truth, Ctein, you'd look terrific behind the wheel of a 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. I mean, it's YOU.

I was just at the dealership yesterday. Thanks for helping me keep perspective!

Ctein, I know this article is about buying cameras, but I was struck by the tangle of contradiction that you seem to be. On the one hand you don't really care for cars which seems to be pretty much a feminine mentality, and on the other hand you don't like to shop which is as manly as it gets. I bring this up because I don't know any guys that don't like cars; I know plenty of women who like to shop though :).

Me, I love cars and I hate to shop, oh, unless I'm shopping for cars.

Don't know if it's close enough to be useful, but there are Zipcars (zipcar.com) at the Daly City BART station. Might be worth looking into if you only drive 1500 miles/year...

1500 miles?? Use cabs. Cheaper & Easier.


You're probably already aware that it's also a good way to stop shopping:) I have all the camera(s) I need and some, so applying the logic hat removes the need to shop most effectively. Now I can get on with driving, sorry photographing, that much more easily, because the sure thing is that worrying about what to buy stops me making pictures now more effectively than anything I can think of.


Perhaps you would like to share your car shortlist here?

A perfect 0.1 car!


So what did you like?

We LOVED our VW camper (1998 model), we called it "Westy". Had it for a few years, and decided to get a NEW one, while they still made them. So in 2003 we bought a NEW VW Weekender. The new VW was OK, not lovable. After 3 years sold it for more than what we had paid for it !!!

Replaced it with a Honda ;-)

Now... I wish we had never sold the "Westy". Sometimes, you don't know you have a good thing going ;-)

I should have never sold my 43 Ltd either.

Like many large cities these days, we have a car share service (actually two). A modest membership fee gives one access to a fleet of cars, trucks and vans parked throughout the city, with hourly and daily rates, booked via web or phone.

Thus, some people who need 1.1 cars (or 0.1 cars) find that they need only buy the 1 (or the 0), and share the 0.1, generally for less than 0.1x the cost of ownership. And that 0.1 of car is a magic car: it can be a van, a sedan, a two seat convertible, is reasonably well maintained, and never gets old.

That option, when available, changes the shopping calculus. (Not sure how it would affect the headache.)

I think that goes for camera shopping, too, when one can rent that rarely needed piece of equipment.

Ctein, I feel with you. Just make sure your new car will be a german car and you would not regret anything.




Do you live in an area where "Zip Cars" are easily accessible? If so, then this may be a solution to your 0.1 car need.


Ctein, I've been extremely happy with a Toyota Prius as a second car, which after I drove it for awhile became my primary car because of the gas mileage and room. A very well thought out vehicle, you would be amazed at the room available. But you can tell I've gotten on in years after owning almost one example of every desirable make on the planet - all I care about now is good mileage and an air conditioner and heater that work!

Consider buying a low mileage, 2-4 year old car (still under warranty) from the original owner in a cash transaction. Make sure they have all the maintenance records, and that the car has NEVER been in the body shop for more than $500 worth of work. Check the Carfax and have the vehicle looked at by your mechanic. Many of the small five-door styles (like the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa) in such condition can be had between $10-15K on Craigslist/AutoTrader/etc. With proper care these cars should have service lives exceeding 200K miles.

My wife and I are in a similar situation, and when our second car died, we decided not to replace it. Now we get by on one, which is annoying about once a quarter, but most of the time not an issue. If I lived in SF, I'd consider City CarShare or ZipCar. But our town of 3,000 does not have that option.

Have you considered those programs? Might save the entire buying hassle.

Here are some options to consider for your car: Maybe you can merely rent a vehicle when you need to move large things. Don't get a car at all (other than the one for Paula, of course). If you decide that temporary ownership isn't for you, then I'd say getting a used car is far more sensible, and in fact you can probaqbly get a used SUV/van for pennies on what they sold for new, if the SF market is anything like the LA one. For your car, I wouldn't get hung up on gas mileage, since driving 1500 miles per year is pretty much negating the value of super high efficiency. I suspect you'd pay more in a purchase premium than you'd save in the purchase of fuel. As well, a used vehicle is somewhat more 'green' in the sense of being materially 'sunk cost', no new resources used to build and transport it.

These are just some simple thoughts to coonsider.



You only need to be concerned with one statistic for your future vehicle: its turning diameter. If this is greater than 36 feet, forget it, you will not be happy with its maneuverability, in the City or in the parking lots. This information is usually specified in the brochure.

I used to work as a sales manager for VW/Audi (ducks thrown tomatoes) and got to drive the newest all the time including doing race laps in the S series on race courses with pro drivers. Then I would go home and head out in my old Westfalia, which I still consider the best vehicle ever made, though I can't afford to maintain one now. Check out a 5/7 year old Jetta TDI wagon. Mileage and room for all the stuff.

For the .1 car, depending on where you live you should look into something like zipcar or citycarshare. My girlfriend and I are considering getting rid of one of our two cars and replacing it with a zipcar membership.

Just buy a Toyota.

Try BMW in between my Corolla for 10 years and currently using a Prius (2009 V3?). BMW is too hard to maintain (and got some reputation on this) as there is always some minor thing pop up. I always saw BMW/Benz/Ferrari in broken state in the city, not one I saw a Toyota so far. Really, Toyota is no doubt a very boring car indeed. But if you just want to have a car, that is it.

BTW, not sure about car made in America. Except for a retro by C, American brand car here is made in Europe. Hence not sure about that line.

In summary for day to day professional use, Nikon D700 or EP2/GF1 then! I think not Leica M9 and have no knowledge of Kodak these days.

Just buy a Honda Fit. It's Honda's cheapest car, is very comfortable to drive (I'm 6'2"), gets about 35mpg, gets good safety ratings, and can fit the occasional big item

I routinely carry 107" rolls of seamless in mine and have fit a chest freezer and full size oven/stove in at other times. It's also comfortable enough for average sized adults in back.


I hope you're going to buy a hybrid or fully electric car, or perhaps a bio-fuel car. I can't imagine a good justification for a full-blooded fossil fuel car to be on any ethical person's short list.

I feel very very much the same way about cars. They are just tools!

My cars are scraped up within the first minutes of ownership...and I don't care any more than I would care if my hammer was scratched on first use!

(Yes, I am talking more specifically about cars but this is also generalizable.)

I have one key criterion that might be different than yours though.

I don't want to have to think about my car(s). I don't care to do maintenance or have to deal with mechanics. I don't want to do anything but oil changes and inspections during the (at least) first five years of ownership. As a result, I will only choose cars from companies that have a proven track record for reliability. This results in a very very short list of companies I can purchase from.

From there, I apply my other criterion and come to a very quick decision.

Three options for a second car: A scooter; occasional rental; or a taxi.

Taxi, by the way, is not as crazy as it sounds. Me and my wife have no car at all. We would not be driving a lot if we had one (only I commute and the train is much more convenient). We've done the math and it turns out that using a taxi for those occasions we need that kind of transport comes out quite a bit cheaper over time than owning our own vehicle.

Cheaper still would be renting a car on occasion. But my wife doesn't drive, and I haven't renewed my license - too much hassle when I never use it - so that's not an option, currently.

I'm first? Or maybe the approval process hasn't kicked in yet.

I am like you - I have a basic list of requirements, and that narrows down the list.

What we have found useful is cars.com - it allows you to search for a given sequence of years (useful when a model lasted across several years) in a radius expanding outward from a zip code (obviously, yours).

You can then comparison shop quickly. This is a mixture of private sellers and used car lots, depending on your location. You can see a variety of features about the cars.

I recommend starting at about 3 years old, and 60,000 miles. If you look at the value over time curve, this is approximately where the downward trend in the value of the car begins to level off, giving you the best value for the car for the remainder of its life.

Case in point: we bought our last vehicle at 3 years old and 59,000 miles. It was a hair over $11,000. My friend bought the same vehicle (a Dodge Grand Caravan) brand new, for approximately $36,000. His had the new car smell. Mine did not. His smell cost him an extra $25,000 dollars, with an advantage of only an extra 59,000 miles. Plus, my van had all the kinks worked out.

You have perfected an advanced decision making strategy. In this day and age, with so many choices, you have to determine where you are going to spend your hard-earned nerons: buying cars, or determining if prints are well exposed?

I'm the same way: some decisions I just figure out what I want, and then choose any one of a number of choices which satisfy my criteria. The final product doesn't make much of a difference. But in some spaces, where I'm particular, I've very careful about my choice: does it do what I want it to do? Is it going to meet my needs over the long haul?

Modern life is complicated.

After keeping an old station wagon for those hauling jobs, I realized that it was a lot cheaper to rent a van when I really needed to haul stuff, or get it delivered. Get a little car and the number of your local Enterprise rental location.:-)

You need to concentrate on the car service provider that you like. Ask them what vehicle to buy. If you don't care about cars, I bet that you do care about not caring about what the service guy is doing

It's hard to believe that anyone into photography does not see cars as objects of art to be admired and photographed even if you don't have any interest in owning or driving them. Does a classic Rolls Royce Silver Ghost not look like a beautiful design to you? A Mercedes 300SL of the 50s? A Ferrari Lusso? Even a lowly new Beetle? Have you even been to the Rodeo Drive Concours in Beverly Hills or the Art Center auto design shows in Pasadena? (A couple of years ago, Luigi Colani was there - the designer who first made ergonomic cameras instead of the boxes they had been previously.)
And didn't you take a camera to the auto show? The opportunities for photography are amazing!
http://www.jimhayes.com/cahome/LAS6leaper.jpg or http://www.jimhayes.com/cahome/LASD06-3.jpg for example.

VW Jetta TDI sport-wagon would be my recommendation. A friend has an older TDI and the worst mpg he has seen is 35 when he mashed the pedal on the floor continuously to see how bad it would do. Over 50 on the highway.
Once my Volvo 850 dies (177k and still going strong) I'll be getting one.


I am Honda Civic person albeit still driving one that is ten years old. However if it was shoved on me, a Honda Fit; the Civic and yes too the Corolla here in Canada is getting expensive. WE have lots of extra taxes here so
anything less that C$20,000 out the door is a bargain. As I get older I want a slushbox and air conditioning. They get taxed extra here, wastes fuel so extra taxes. Which will
make the small engine work.
Hybrids are not going to last;
long term too expensive.
Looked at Hyundai, or Kia?

If your wife is driving that mileage every week, get a one or two year old model Toyota Corolla or Civic off
lease with low miles and dump it after the value drops out of sight.

Good Luck!

Ctein, doesn't zipcar serve the Bay area? That would solve the 0.1 car problem immediately. It certainly works around Boston, during the tenth of the year that I spend there.


I realized two things about myself. The first is that I truly couldn't care less about cars; they don't do anything for me. No aesthetic/emotional/visceral reaction whatsoever.

The second thing is that I hate shopping!

Describes me perfectly too.

Well, here comes the inevitable listing of cars you should look at. I just bought a Honda Fit, and I really like it. the base base model, standard, very functional vehicle with the seats dropping flat to make for a surprisingly large cargo area. Sit in the car and it feels like a big car. Get between 35-38 mpg. Like it, recommend it.

My car needs are about the same as yours, and a couple of years ago I got a Honda Fit. It's brilliant! Lots of head and leg room, great gas milage, and with the unique folding rear seats (really, you should check that out), I can pile an amazing amount of stuff into it. Big stuff too!

Well spoken. I drive a 1988 Volvo 240, and I have a mechanic I trust. It's possibly the world's most non-sexy car. When the wheels fall off, I'll consider something else.

It's got less than 180k miles on it...I hope to drive it to the Moon.

Some 14 years ago, my wife & I bought our current house on 6 acres of property - about 1.5 acres or so of which is lawn. We bought a used Cub Cadet lawn tractor which mice destroyed (blown engine) and the tractor was too old to repair.

So I spent many nights poring over specs & prices & reviews on the current crop of lawn tractors, then we headed off to the power equipment store. I was looking at a nice Simplicity tractor, while my wife (who actually enjoys mowing) was taken by a Scag zero turn rider. Too expensive, I told her. (There was no price on it, but everyone KNOWS they're expensive). So she asks the salesman anyway. About the same prices as the Simplicity. It doesn't have a trailer hitch to tow a garden cart around, I tell her. So she asks the salesman anyway. Oh yeah, we can put a hitch on it for you.

Two weeks of research shot down in an instant by those infamous words "I like this one".

We looked at HourCar some, since there's a location down the block from us. The structure seems to work for exactly one thing: running out to pick something up and coming right back. It doesn't seem to work for going on school field-trips, going to a party, going to a photo shoot, going hiking in a state park; nearly everything we'd do with it requires the all-day rental. Since these things are springing up all over, they must meet some common set of needs, but I haven't been able to figure out what it is.

Oh, and Craig Norris: The premium on the Prius was way too high, and I couldn't manage to get to test drive one (not available at dealers). The primary cars in the final short-list were the Camry, the Hyundai Sonata, and the Subaru Forester. The Camry hybrid got surprisingly little benefit from the hybrid feature, and lost a good chunk of the luggage capacity.

Here's my advice for car buying: http://roberts-rants.blogspot.com/2005/10/automotive-advice-for-young.html

Ctein's shopping method makes a lot of sense for things you treat as appliances. So long as they meet a minimum set of objective criteria, then price and reliability become the chief concerns.

For me that works for the vast majority of purchases, but I've learned that I have strong subjective concerns when it comes to cameras, cars, and computers. My D-SLR was the "wrong" camera by most objective criteria -- 6MP when 8 or 10 was becoming common, more expensive than most competitors, and not from the "Big 2" so lens and accessory availability (and respect from others) was lacking. But it 'worked' for me in a way that the competitors didn't, so it's what I bought.

With cars it's similar. While I actually think that underpowered small cars can be a lot of fun, Toyota's offerings have always left me cold. They are reliable, hold their value well, etc. but to me they completely lack character. They're appliances where I want art (not with regards to looks, but in the feedback they give when you use them). I'll even take bad-but-entertaining handling over numb steering feel. So, smart choice or not, I'm unlikely to ever purchase a Toyota.

The important thing, I think, is to understand which things you can buy on objective criteria and be content vs. those that must possess some hard-to-define quality for you to be happy with. Don't try to rationalize the subjective purchases -- accept them for what they are and just try to avoid having too many of them.

On appreciating cars, I think that todays cars are like todays cameras and yesterdays cars are like yesterdays cameras. I can appreciate the build of my Rollei TLR or the silky film advance of an old 35mm SLR. New cameras are ambiguous blobs of me-too plastic. Sure, the E-P1 looks a little different, but it doesn't have the same look & feel as a 70's compact rangefinder. When I first saw the ads for Fords new Mustang (a few years ago) I thought it was the most ineresting sports car I'd seen in a long time. Then I took a ride in a friends and realized it's still a Ford. It's a more expensive, sportier version of my Focus, but it comes from the same place. With cheap plastic trim, gaudy decorations and a production line feel.

We've purchased two new vehicles in the past couple years to replace two that went into forced retirement :) One was to be an SUV with room to haul stuff, the other a compact car with good fuel economy. That was about it for requirements. I did a little research to rule out a couple and favor a couple, but ended up buying what I thought was the best bargain at the time. (In the case of the econocar, it was before the economy crashed and while gas prices were high, so it took some time to find even a relative bargain).

We do have a 1978 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that has more charm than all the newer cars I've bought combined. (Like an old house, that charm comes with some headaches !) I was going to liken it to my Rollei TLR, but it's probably more like an Argus. (Germans everywhere would cringe if I tried to make an analogy between the Jeep and anything German !)

Hey, getting the right hammer is no small thing. You might as well say it's "just a camera, it takes pictures". This one does it for me:


I can't speak from personal experience but after weeks of research, my friend reported that the Fit had the best Price:Mpg ratio of any new car. This was in 2007, so your mileage may vary. (Though it seems to fit with the group consensus, doesn't it?) I looked at the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe and decided that if I had to have a station-wagon type thing, it had a good Price:Mpg:Volume ratio.

I wish that I could come up with a name as cool as 'happiness minutes' to describe those ratios.

Ditto the FIT. Great car, not much dough, will run forever.
Unfortunately we get a little too much snow to rely on a fwd car to get to town so we drive a CRV which is also a stunning example of a bulletproof transit appliance.
Ours is a 2007 and it replaced a 1997 CRV that had 230,000 on the clock when we traded it in.
The car still ran like a train but Mrs.Plews was sick of looking at it and let's face it, keeping the women happy is our primary purpose on this planet.
Can't lose with either choice. They are both cheaper than a Leica S2. That has to count for something.

I notice so many people have fallen for "just buy a Honda!" "look at the Subaru", etc.
Would you say "just buy a Nikon!" "just buy a Canon!"? Not so; you'd at least have the slightest justification ("I find 1.5x crop-factor works better for me than 1.6x") and probably ask the intended purpose before jumping in prescribing a subjective panacea to someone else.

This observation is where Ctein's article shows genius.

Ok, replacing a heavily-used Toyota sounds rational, but replacing your VW bus with such low yearly mileage too? Just because a car is old doesn't mean it needs to be replaced. Heck, my family still uses an old Studebaker Pup to haul the big items from the hardware store every once in awhile. Then again, I'm curious to see how long my, 360,000+ mile, Dodge Cummins will go.


I'm surprised no one has suggested the Subaru Outback yet. Any Outback from 2003 and later (earlier models had issues with the head gaskets) is an extremely reliable (if well maintained), safe, economical and versatile car.

Plus, the all wheel drive system will make quick work of most inclement weather that one will ever encounter.

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