Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dear Bobby Rahal—You're the Best—Love, Me

No, I'm not adding the Formula 1/CART driver to my lust list. I've never met/seen the guy, and racing is wayyyy down on my "favorite sports" list. Actually, it's not on the list.

But Bobby Rahal owns the Toyota dealership where I got my 1998 Corolla. She has over 120,000 miles on her now, and is mimicking her owners ailments. A couple of weeks ago I took her in for a noise issue. The noise turned out to mostly be rubbing axle boots, a non-issue. But the clanking and groaning that had finally made me take it in turned out to be too much play in the axle bearings of the left front wheel (causing the wheel to not want to turn) and frozen calipers of the left front brakes (requiring a fully rebuilt brake). I became poorer by a grand.

But there was a problem. Now, I trust these people. I've been going to them for 15 years (my prior car was from Bobby Rahal Honda) and they've never done me wrong that I can tell. But when I drove into the parking lot B.R. (before repair), my alignment was perfect. It should be--I had just gotten new tires two weeks before that. When I drove out the next day, my car was going straight, but my steering wheel was cocked five degrees to the left.

I was out of town and playing catchup after that so I didn't get to call until this week. After some mild badgering (just a little, they never actually told me no), they agreed to do a four-wheel alignment at no charge. That was done this morning. The clerk told me when she talked to the technician he didn't think it could have been something he did, but she said it didn't matter, they'd agreed to do it. He found the rear toe was out of adjustment and when he went to inspect it, the tie rods were seized. He heated them and adjusted them, then did the alignment, and I drove out of there perfectly.

And they still didn't charge me.

Now, I have no idea what would have caused such a thing. There's still the fact that I drove in straight, and drove out crooked. But they treated me well, and for that they continue to have my loyalty (except when I can get tires for $150 less somewhere else--other than that, it's my FULL loyalty).

On a similar topic, my husband had to get a new car this week. His company decided they don't want to do company cars anymore, and his lease was up, so he traded his 4Runner in for a Camry Hybrid.

What an experience! Now, I know there's some controversy about hybrid technology. My Honda Civic hatchback was getting nearly 50 mpg over a decade ago. So cars built to minimize gasoline use should be able to get a lot more. I do believe the technology is there and compromise has suppressed it. However, the Camry is a much bigger car than my hatchback was, and I had Power Nothing, not even air conditioning. So the two vehicles can't be compared.

Anyway, this is a pretty loaded car. It has an MP3/auxiliary jack and Number One has already connected her iPod to the excellent sound system. It has dual temperature controls in the front, plus separate controls for the rear. A sun roof. Reading lights in the back (which honestly, is pretty much all the kids care about). The rearview mirror dims automatically and shows compass direction. The head room is what Jim needs, and he actually has more leg room than he had in the 4Runner (which is weird, because he's not a tall man).

The Synergy Drive or whatever it's called is awesome.

I've already incorporated my first experience with the car into my book. It is a keyless ignition system. You carry a key fob that unlocks the driver door when you get close. Then the fob has to be inside the car. So we got into the car, me in the driver's seat, and here's how it went:

J: "If you don't press the brake, when you turn the car on, it runs the auxiliary power." *points to Power button on dash, behind steering wheel*

N: *presses button* Dash lights and radio come on

J: "Now when you hold the brake down and press it again..."

N: *foot on brake, presses button*

Camry: *silence*

J: *points at dash* "Okay, it says 'ready'."

N (thinking ready means "turn me on now"): *presses Power button again*

Camry: *rolls eyes*

*dash lights go off*

J: *slaps forehead*

Seriously, that's how it went. When you start the car, the only indication is the ready light. When you put it in gear, it's still dead still, not even any vibration. It's only when you take your foot off the brake you can hear the purr of the engine kick in.

Driving is totally distracting. The way the system works is that when you're accelerating or going up a hill or something like that the gas engine powers the wheels. When you're driving at a steady pace the battery kicks in to drive the wheels. But if you're coasting, the wheels recharge the battery! It uses the kinetic energy to restore power. I love it! Unfortunately, there's a very cool display that shows what's powering what, and an indicator for your gas mileage that shows your exact mileage at that moment--so it might be 40 when I'm moving along, 10 when I'm accelerating, and past zero, into Eco Drive, when the power cycle is reversed. Yeah, I tend to watch that a lot.

There are a couple of small drawbacks. The battery stuff is in the rear, so the trunk space is probably less than half of what I've got in my Corolla. We'll probably need a car top for week-long vacations. The other thing is that when you're stopped the engine doesn't run, so when you start again a jackrabbit start isn't really possible. We have to allow for more room when pulling into traffic or merging. Except for that tiny hesitation from a standstill, however, the pickup is marvelous. It drives like a dream, and the seats are incredibly comfortable.

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